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We love our guns more than our families and our children

Feb 23, 2016

According to police, the Uber driver arrested in Kalamazoo admitted to the shooting spree that killed six people and wounded two more on Saturday night.

They do not, however, have any idea why he did it. Frankly, I have no interest in why he did it, regardless of whether he was mad at his wife, wanted to impress ISIS, was in love with Taylor Swift, or any other of a thousand meaningless “reasons” such people give.

What fascinates me is the degree to which our response to our increasingly frequent mass shootings has become highly ritualized, a mere matter of routine. There are public expressions of remorse and shock. Television shows us flowers and teddy bears piled at the shooting site.

Newspapers go off to interview the relatives of the victims and find someone who just narrowly avoided getting shot. There was a prayer vigil at a Kalamazoo church. The governor, in boilerplate language almost certainly written for him by members of his PR staff, issued the standard communique:

“The shootings are a senseless act of violence that claimed the lives of innocent citizens. Our hearts are broken for the victims’ families and friends, and I join in mourning their loss,” he said, in words that can easily be recycled for the next mass shooting.

The only different touch was that he added “we will lower the flags for six days to honor each of the six who died.” That immediately raised two questions: If the little girl victim now fighting for life eventually dies, will she get a day of lowered flags too?

And also, why aren’t the flags being lowered for the nine victims of Legionnaire’s disease who died after the governor’s men switched to the river water in Flint?

I don’t expect an answer to either question. What I found even more fascinating was that no one even pretended to offer anything meaningful to stop the gun violence that costs our nation about 10,000 lives a year. There’s a good reason for that, and we might as well admit it: We love our guns more than our families and our children.

That’s the bottom line. Yes, I know the Supreme Court ruled eight years ago that the Second Amendment meant people have the right to possess a firearm for lawful purposes. But in that narrow, five to four decision, the court also specifically said that governments could limit that right in all sorts of ways – including prohibitions on concealed weapons.

We aren’t willing to even try and do any of that. We have become resigned to the fact that the gun lobby and the fanatics of the National Rifle Association own our elected representatives, and that doing anything about this is impossible.

So we don’t. We accept that before long, we’ll have another mass shooting, the way we accept that we are bound to have more snow. Can’t be helped, we say, and turn back to our smart phones. Well, it can’t be helped only because we aren’t willing to do anything about it.

Hypocrisy has its limits, and we might as well admit that in our society, we value our guns more than our lives. That’s the truth. I have no idea whether it will set any of us free.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.