A shooting spree just occurred in Seattle, Washington, claiming the lives of five people, plus the perpetrator. As to be expected, the details are horrifying: the man walked into a café like any other client, then began opening fire at everyone inside. As he fled the scene, he shot and killed a woman at a nearby parking lot, hijacking her truck before driving off somewhere to kill himself.
As in most such instances, the gunman was allegedly mentally ill. It remains to be seen how he obtained a gun, namely whether he stole it from a family member or friend (which is often the case) or managed to purchase it himself (which also tends to happen, as with the 2011 Tuscon massacre).
I know these kinds of incidents are rare, and the number of unfit people who use guns is smaller than the overall population of gun owners. But how many times can we write these off as isolated tragedies before we have a real discussion about the high rate of gun violence in this country? I’m all for gun rights, but every freedom has its sensible parameters for the sake of protecting the public at large (as well as not so sensible ones, but that’s a different story).
And before anyone says it, I’m not letting this single event color my entire view on gun politics in this country; my current musings were triggered by this incident, but informed by the many others that have occurred before it. I know full well that we can’t stop every madman or criminal from slipping through the cracks. But this sort of thing seems to occur far more than it should, and in any case, gun laws are hardly the only factor involved – plenty of other countries have high rates of gun ownership without approaching our uniquely high level of gun violence.
Personally, I believe much of this has to do with our relatively permissive attitude towards violence in general, exacerbated by the high rate of fractionalization, inequality, and disunity in our society; there is too much fear and animosity between all the different communities that make up our nation. It’s hard to measure if that’s being reflected by our uniquely high crime rate, and I frankly don’t have the time to explore the topic further at this point, but it’s something to consider.
Another point of concern for me was the fact that the killer’s relatives were apparently “not surprised” that he did this. They anticipated that he had the capacity to harm people, and they made no apparent effort to do something about it? As details emerge, we’ll see if they did in fact try, but in any case this raises the issue about how treat mental illness in this country, both institutionally and as a society. It seems that we still don’t take psychological problems seriously enough, nor do we have a developed enough mental health apparatus that could better address such problems.
Indeed, I recall reading how the US not only imprisons more people than most developed nations, but also institutionalizes far fewer people than the Western average – suggesting that people we’re otherwise putting in prison or ignoring should really be given mental health treatment. Of course, that’s not going to change so long as most Americans treat mental illnesses as nonexistent, taboo, or something that doesn’t require “real” medical treatment like physical health problems do.
Finally, as per my morbid nature, I can’t help but ruminate on the sheer horror of this event, as far as what it says about the randomness of death. The people going to that café did not expect that it would be the last time they’d live. Few people who die ever see it coming. And who comes out of a neighborhood parking lot expecting to be shot and killed? As the article mentions, there have been several such incidents of random death in Seattle, including a man getting shot by a stray bullet as he was driving with his family.
I go to cafes, park in public lots, and drive through the streets. I could just as easily be a victim of these random occurrences. It’s terrifying to imagine that, even as I write this, someone could barge right in and shoot me dead. While unlikely, it’s clearly not out of the realm of possibility. The rareness of these incidents makes no difference to the victims – or those who, like myself, are aware that they could be victims.