Today all the predictable images on TV. Anderson Cooper in his well-starched polo, on the ground as they say, with yellow police tape stretched out behind him. Shell-shocked kids talking about playing dead to people watching in their living rooms eating dinner. Videos being uploaded to social media of blurry running and gunshots and kids screaming Oh My God. Voices arguing on social media over gun control. #Florida, #Guncontrol, #NikolasCruz. The familiar refrain found in the headlines: What Do We Know About the Shooter? Politicians avoiding the issue of gun control and liberal news organizations trying to portray objectivity in the face of abject madness.
Today people are talking about mental health more than after past school shootings. Or at least this is the way it seems to me. Yes, better mental healthcare, I think to myself. I know the unavailability of adequate mental healthcare is indeed part of the problem at hand. But the more I listen, the more I understand what they really mean when they speak about mental health. When they speak about mental health, Trump and his republican cronies don’t mean providing free access to good mental health services for all across the lifetime, they mean taking guns away from the ’emotionally disturbed’, they mean stopping those suffering from mental illness from acquiring guns, they mean providing grief counselling to traumatized children and family after there has been a massacre. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with these things. These are all important discussions to have. But the more I listen, the more I realize that today mental health is just a scapegoat. It’s a scapegoat for the guns that so many Americans and gun lobbyists are inexplicably bafflingly mind-blowingly unwilling to relinquish. The politicians aren’t talking about mental health care, they are talking about mental health. And they are talking about mental health as a way to avoid talking about guns.
Even as they talk about mental health, they also condemn yesterday’s shooting as an act or ‘pure evil’, of ‘hatred and evil’. In my mind, these are two seemingly incompatible views. Denouncing something as evil means writing it off as beyond salvation. When we say something is pure evil, we are invoking the idea that this thing is, in its very essence, pernicious. Rotten to its core. When something is evil, the implication is that its badness and malignancy are permanent and defining qualities. So two things: Is the problem mental health or is the problem evil? If the problem is mental health, then let’s address this. If the problem is the latter, well how does one address the unknowable, unpredictable, immutable quality of evil? There’s a third possibility. Maybe these men believe mental illness and evil are synonymous.
The rhetoric is not well thought through, because it is irrelevant to these politicians. They do not truly intend to address issues of mental health in any adequate way, nor are they willing to address the question of gun control, which in this case is arguably much more important.
One shifty-eyed teenager spoke on camera last night. He told Don Lemon that the shooting had reminded him that “anything can happen anywhere”. This struck me. While it is technically and existentially true, it is a reality we have to suppress in large part as we live our lives. Looking over our shoulder and around every corner is an untenable way to live. And yet here we are, another day another school shooting another news cycle. Anything can happen anywhere. And anything continues to happen almost everywhere.