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Why are we Americans so gun crazy?


Date published: 9/23/2013

BOWIE, Md.

--Is America crazy?

Twelve people killed at a secure naval installation virtually on the front porch of the federal government, eight others hurt, the shooter shot to death, and it's just another manic Monday, another day in the life of a nation under the gun. So yes, maybe it's time we acknowledged that gorilla in the back seat, time we asked the painfully obvious.

Is America crazy?

You know, don't you, that Muslims watched this unfold with a prayer on their lips: "Don't let him be a Muslim. Don't let him be a Muslim. Please don't let him be a Muslim." Because they know--the last 12 years have forcefully taught them--how the actions of a lone madman can be used to tar an entire cause, religion, or people.

In the end, almost as if in refutation of our ready-made narratives and practiced outrage, the shooter turns out to be a black Buddhist from Texas. It is a uniquely American amalgam that defies our love of easy, simplistic categories.

As we are thus deprived of ready-made cultural blame, the story will likely fall now into a well-worn groove. Someone will disinter Wayne LaPierre of the NRA from whatever crypt they keep him in between tragedies and he will say what he always does about how this could have been avoided if only more people in this secure military facility had been armed. And we will have the argument we always have about a constitutional amendment written in an era when muskets were state of the art and citizen militias guarded the frontier. And politicians will say the things they always say, and nothing will change.

Is America crazy?

Infoplease.com, the online version of the old Information Please almanac, maintains a list of school shootings and mass shootings internationally since 1996. Peruse it and one thing leaps out. Though such tragedies have touched places as far-flung as Carmen de Patagones, Argentina, and Erfurt, Germany, the list is absolutely dominated by American towns: Tucson, Memphis, Cold Spring, Red Lake, Tacoma, Jacksonville, Aurora, Oakland, Newtown. No other country even comes close.

In 1968, when Robert Kennedy became the victim of the fifth political assassination in five years, the historian Arthur Schlesinger famously asked a question: "What sort of people are we, we Americans? Today, we are the most frightening people on this planet."


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