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Cindy Handler Headshot

Trigger-Happy in America

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Lately, if I turn on the news and I'm in one of my more mordant moods, I start wondering why the NRA hasn't launched a lucrative travel channel show. They could start each segment with "Today's shooting comes to you from..." and do a travelogue on this particular American locale, while everyone's interested and their eyes are trained on it. If the mass murder of the day took place in a church, maybe they could focus on the houses of worship in the area; if it took place at, say, an immigration center, as it did in Binghamton last week, the piece could take a look at the different nationalities represented there. The series would never run out of subject matter, and would never cease being timely. It could be as rambling and far-reaching as this great, big, gun-crazy nation of ours.

Such a show would be no less illuminating than coverage of these events tends to be now, with reporters always ending their segment posing the unanswered question of "Why? Why did he do it?" As we've learned the hard way, it's pointless asking why the gunman of the moment murdered all these innocent people, whether they're family, strangers or a combination of both. He was depressed, he was a loner who kept to himself, he'd just gotten divorced/lost his job/flunked out of school/been rejected by the army, he felt that he had nothing left to lose, he was a sociopath, he was otherwise mentally ill. Let's face it: It's irrelevant what motivated him to do it. He did it because he could.

Each and every one of these shooters was angry and alienated, and able to get his hands on some firepower that could hit multiple targets in a hurry. This is undeniable; it's a tautology. That's why we never read reports about bat, knife or nunchaku-wielding maniacs who bust into public places and rack up a dozen victims in minutes.

The last few weeks have been particularly brutal in terms of this type of "Coming to your town soon?" body count. There have been 48 high-profile gun murders in all, including the 13 at the immigrant center in Binghamton, eight at a North Carolina nursing home, six in a Santa Clara home, ten in southern Alabama way back in mid-March, as well as the four police officers in Oakland and the three in Pittsburgh. Is this surprising? Not really, considering that we're experiencing an economic crisis that's unlikely to be over any time soon. With unemployment at the highest rate in 25 years and foreclosures up 18 percent since January 2008, savings decimated and employers asking their workers to make unprecedented sacrifices, there are more reasons than ever for the depressed, armed and potentially dangerous to "snap."

Of course, no one just "snaps"; that's just something witnesses say to make sense of the seemingly nonsensical. Disturbed individuals spiral downward over time, and if they don't get the social support and/or medical help they need, they fall apart. A better explanation of why these shooters insist on taking a lot of innocents along with them is that they want to commit suicide by cop and go out in a hail of bullets. More often than not, it's the awareness that the police are closing in that finally prompts them to shoot themselves in the head.

This begs the question of why gun enthusiasts are so sure that concealed and carried firearms deter people intent on perpetrating random acts of gun violence. Their thinking may be "Well, he may get the ones who are unarmed, but he's not going to get me." Yet these crimes happen all the time in states with conceal and carry laws. Did the shooters just not get the memo? Or do they not care, because dying by gunfire is exactly what they want to do? The inevitable presence of guns nearby not only doesn't stop them from shooting, it's usually the reason they start shooting.

In any event, this argument is four decades old. With everything our leaders have on their plates now, it's not likely to be resolved, or even affected, by legislation any time soon. But it behooves those who believe that America is safer when as many of its citizens as possible are armed to explain why the ever-increasing rise in gun ownership hasn't discouraged mass shootings, as it's supposed to in theory. And while they're at it, if they're going to oppose all gun control measures, they should come up with their own plan that works to combat this tragic, uniquely American problem.