Yesterday a deeply disturbed man committed an unspeakable crime in Isla Vista. He was motivated by the worst forms of misogyny, sexual entitlement, racism, and privileged narcissism, and engaged in a horrific murder spree as a form of deranged personal protest that women would not submit to his ownership. It is true that that sort of entitled patriarchalism is a sickness that besets our culture, and should be curbed in all its forms.
But it's also important not to focus too much on this one man's motive. The motive is less important than the common denominator between this crime and all the other massacres that have become a dull roar in America: easy access to guns.
Because the fact is that in all these shooting sprees, the motives tend to be very different. Hasan, the original shooter at Fort Hood, was motivated by Islamist religious fundamentalism--a fact that the Right hyped strongly for their own prejudicial reasons, and still do. The Columbine shooters seemed to be motivated by a different sort of social resentment. Adam Lanza's issues remain unclear to this day. The Navy Yard shooter had personal grievances related to his service. Gabby Giffords' shooter was driven by paranoia. The Virginia Tech shooter had still other problems. That the Isla Vista shooter was motivated by a disturbing, manic, entitled misogyny seems more accident than pattern in this context.
All of these shootings do seem to have some form of mental illness at work, but that itself is a cop out. The vast majority of the mentally ill do not engage in mass violence, and many of the mass shooters were not formally identified as mentally ill until they performed their barbaric acts.
The single common denominator in all of these incidents is the gun. It's that simple. Most of the shooters either obtained the firearms legally (as the Isla Vista shooter did), or had easy access to them by living in a household with someone who had obtained them legally.
Without the gun, these killing sprees would have been far less deadly. Yes, the Isla Vista shooter killed his first three with a knife, but it would not have gone much farther than that had it started at all. Knife sprees are extremely rare and extremely difficult to accomplish. Guns depersonalize killing, embolden deranged killers who might otherwise be on the fence, and make their jobs infinitely easier once they decide to go through with the grim task. They also provide an easy blaze-of-glory suicide mechanism for them, when otherwise they might be looking at the possibility of a far less glamorous lifetime in prison.
Mental illness exists in other developed countries. Radical Islamism does, too. Sexual entitlement and misogyny certainly do. Unpopular loner kids exist, too, as do disgruntled employees. But none of these things are causes of mass murder sprees in, say, Germany, France, England or Japan.
The common denominator is the gun. It is always the gun, and it will always be the gun. We can try to fix the other social problems all we want--and we should. But until we fix the gun problem, we will continue to offer the lives of ourselves and our children on the altar of this insatiable, bloodthirsty Lord we euphemistically call the "gun rights movement." Year after year, month after month we will continue to propitiate this monster with our blood and tears until enough of us decide that we have had enough, overthrow its foul priests and sack the tainted officials corrupted by its bloodstained lucre. Until that day the NRA will simply take our children, group by group, to its yearly Lottery because, after all, that's the way we've always done it. For freedom.
Cross-posted from Digby's Hullabaloo