Life, Liberty, And The Pursuit Of MASS CASUALTIES
by Marc Belisle
Our generation faces a trial: what do we do when our first two inalienable rights, life and liberty, come into direct conflict with each other? The ‘liberty’ of the criminally insane to gain easy access to firearms is a far bigger and more immediate threat to the nation’s life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness than anything the politically insane libertarians believe the government might wish to do to them.
Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis “left a trail of … red flags” that could also be considered cries for help from a man who may have realized that he was spiraling out of control. He is merely the latest in an ongoing series of young men who, in hindsight, obviously should have had more access to mental healthcare and less access to firearms. Alexis allegedly heard voices and had been arrested for other disturbing gun related incidents, but allegedly had a concealed-weapons permit. Adam Lanza had complex but obvious mental health issues but used his mother’s unsecured assault weapon against her and then an elementary school. James Holmes shot up a theater after buying weapons and 6,000 rounds of ammunition online. He initially pleaded insanity, and was allegedly seeing a psychiatrist prior to the shooting. His mental health information is not available to the public, but his court-ordered psychiatric evaluation is reportedly 128 pages long. Jared Lee Loughner was visibly spiraling into severe mental illness for years. The first official documentation of his problems comes from a concerned teacher who specifically mentioned depression and schizophrenia 5 years before the shooting. He had no trouble buying a gun, shooting a Congresswoman, an 8-year-old child and others. These are a few of the most recent and high profile examples, but I could go on for pages.
Mental health care has been gutted since 2008. In an effort to balance budgets, most states have eyed public mental health services as a politically expedient expense to cut from the budget. As a result, over $4 billion has been cut from mental healthcare nationwide in the last four years. This is the greatest cut to mental healthcare since the 1960s when the government stopped institutionalizing most mental patients.
The meager gun control bill riding a wave of 90% public support for background checks died in the Senate. The NRA cracked the whip, spent millions, and Congress declared to the nation that all the blood in that elementary school classroom is meaningless when the NRA is handing out checks. Since then, the media have generally been complicit in sweeping the story under the rug. Having bought Congress, the NRA is consolidating its political empire by making an example of its political enemies at the state level. It is actually conspiring to have democratically elected state representatives recalled for doing their jobs.
And so, the nation was once again totally horrified and totally unsurprised this week when a lunatic plowed through a crowd in minutes. Look. Forget all the laws, all the philosophy, all the morality and let’s go back to square one. The bottom line is this: the absolute ground zero of our republic is that citizens have an inalienable right to LIFE and LIBERTY. In the United States, because of the “liberty” of the mentally ill to buy guns, we have made it easier for these kinds of people to buy guns than to get mental healthcare. This national decision to make access to guns easy and access to mental healthcare extremely difficult is a societal disease. You have the right to drink and the right to drive, but not the right to drink and drive. You have the right to smoke a cigarette and the right to fill your car with gasoline, but you don’t have the right to smoke a cigarette while filling up your car. America’s combination of gun-philia and healthcare-phobia is national drunk driving, societal lighting of a cigarette at a gas station. As long as Loughner, Holmes, Lanza, Alexis (who will be next?) can buy weapons, they are a far greater threat to the LIFE of every citizen than the gun-rights advocates’ fantasy Hitler is to their particular LIBERTY.
On an even deeper level, though, it belies how violent American society is becoming. Aaron Alexis actively participated in 9/11 rescue efforts in New York City. Allegedly, his father associated that experience with the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder and anger management issues. In a sense, Aaron Alexis epitomizes the arc of the 9/11 epoch, from the attack to the soldiers returning with PTSD and committing suicide. What began with Reagan supporting violent jihadists against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s turned into al Qaeda, who took out their grievances with violence. We responded with violence against Afghanistan in retaliation, and against Iraq for completely unrelated reasons. We responded with violence in indefinite detention and torture. We’ve violently pursued al Qaeda, the Taliban and civilian ‘collateral’ across Afghanistan and Pakistan in an endless drone campaign. While we weren’t looking, Wall Street violently robbed the whole economy. The Occupiers who protested it were violently gassed, beaten and arrested while the perpetrators got 7-figure bonuses. Since the crash, we’ve violently thrown people out of their homes, off of unemployment, off of Medicaid and off of food stamps. The Tea Party Congress threatens more violence against the economy unless the President promises to allow the violence of being uninsured and being denied coverage for preexisting conditions. America’s hometown football coach Joe Paterno turned a blind eye to years of violent rape while young football players in Steubenville bragged about and recorded violent rape. Fracking and pipeline companies violently rape the environment. Violent Stand Your Ground laws allowed George Zimmerman to kill an unarmed boy walking home and was found not guilty of murder because he used a gun to kill him. While a killer goes free, the private prison industry violently cages hundreds of thousands of nonviolent drug and immigration offenders for profit. In the midst of it all, 30,000 people per year are dying violently at the end of a gun barrel, a rate that rivals countries with ongoing civil wars.
While all of this is happening, the United States pays almost as much for its military, the most exquisitely violent machine ever built, as the rest of the world combined. We are a nation that is mortgaging our democracy and our future to fund history’s most expensive war machine, an anachronistic relic of the Cold War that still must be fed, and to line the pockets of a select few of history’s most violently wealthy capitalists. The same media that giddily sold us Iraq is now jabbering about why Alexis did it. The simple answer is, it makes perfect sense in the context of his life in America at this moment of history. The Navy Yard shooting is merely a symptom of America’s national mental illness.
More soldiers who, while doing their duty, have committed violence abroad, are coming home with PTSD. The military has taught them that violence is the solution to the problems they face. The military teaches them not to be weak and seek help for their mental health issues. This results in a plague of soldier suicides (and rape). But it is also likely to result in more violence in the United States. And not just from soldiers. Because, in a sense, that whole attitude that pervades the military—don’t seek help, solve your problems with violence—has taken over American society and is conquering our democracy and particularly our inalienable right to life. Aaron Alexis pulled the trigger on Monday, yes, but our national worship of guns and violence went on another rampage at the Navy Yard.
Marc Belisle | Staff Writer | The Everlasting GOP Stoppers
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