“Violence is as American as cherry pie.” — Black Panther H. Rap Brown
Did Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, suspects in the San Bernardino massacre, just hand the GOP nomination to Donald Trump? Will his poll numbers soar into the stratosphere now that Muslims with foreign-sounding names have been identified as the shooters who killed 14 people and wounded countless others?
Even before Trump came along with propane tanks of bigoted rhetoric, Islamophobia had been burning through the cultural landscape. He and rival Ben Carson poured on fuel, with Carson declaring that no Muslim should be eligible for the presidency and Trump swearing — wrongly — that throngs of American Muslims rejoiced in the aftermath of the 9/11 atrocities.
After last month’s terror attacks in Paris, Trump’s support wafted ever higher; he now claims the allegiance of nearly 30 percent of the GOP electorate, according to a Quinnipiac University poll. And even some Democrats have endorsed the uncharitable view that Syrian refugees should be subjected to such stringent background checks that they would be virtually disqualified from asylum in this country. Farook and Malik have likely intensified that fearful response.
Still, there was in the couple’s rampage much that was peculiarly American, not foreign. Farook, indeed, was a U.S. citizen, born in Illinois. His wife had a green card, a document allowing her to live and work here legally. And while investigators are still searching for a motive for their homicidal impulses, the attack had many of the hallmarks of the quintessential American mass shooting.
No matter what inspired the couple, whether Islamist extremism or perceived workplace grievances, they were mimicking countless other American mass shooters who find some twisted glory in gunning down other citizens — strangers, passers-by, co-workers, moviegoers, schoolchildren. This is a peculiarly American phenomenon, a homegrown form of madness.
And it centers around an irrational — a completely unhinged — embrace of firearms. Using almost any definition of “mass shooting,” the United States has more than any other country. (Most researchers discount homicides that are gang-related or have robbery as a motive. They also leave out domestic violence, counting only those incidents that occur in public places.) And staging them has only grown more popular. Mother Jones magazine, which has analyzed data for the past 33 years, concludes that there have been more mass shootings in the U.S. since 2005 than in the preceding 23 years combined.
According to University of Alabama criminal justice professor Adam Lankford, we account for less than 5 percent of the world’s population but 31 percent of its mass shootings. From his study of other countries, he has concluded that easy access to guns is a prominent factor.
But a significant portion of the population — and of conservative political leadership — refuses, just flat-out refuses, to see any link between the proliferation of firearms and the increase in mass shootings. Indeed, the gun lobby insists — and I couldn’t make this up — that the country would be safer if there were even more guns in every home, automobile, school, church, synagogue and nightclub.
The lunacy that pervades our worship of the Second Amendment — our warped reading of it, anyway — is so wildly perverse that it eclipses our fear of terrorism. Here’s what the gun lobby has insisted upon: Even if Farook had been on an official terrorist watch list, he still would have been legally permitted to purchase the semiautomatic assault-type weapons he allegedly used to gun down his victims. Yes, you read that right.
And GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina repeated that bit of gun-lobby gospel in the wake of the San Bernardino massacre: Even people on the terror watch list should be allowed to purchase firearms. There you have it — a tightly woven web of crazy that logic simply cannot penetrate.
Whatever motivated Farook and his wife, easy access to high-powered firearms allowed them to kill quickly and efficiently. Indeed, that’s the common element in the epidemic of mass shootings that has shaken the country. Yet that’s the one element we refuse to do anything about.
(Cynthia Tucker Haynes won Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007. She can be reached at email@example.com.)
COPYRIGHT 2015 CYNTHIA TUCKER HAYNES. DISTRIBUTED BY UNIVERSAL UCLICK
Weapons confiscated from last Wednesday’s attack in San Bernardino, California are shown in this San Bernardino County Sheriff Department handout photo from their Twitter account released to Reuters December 3, 2015. REUTERS/San Bernardino County Sheriffs Department/Handout