It’s Not About the Motive. It’s About the Gun. Again.

One of the challenges in writing about gun violence in the United States is the repetitive nature of it. Every time one of these preventable massacres occurs, writers of reasonable political intelligence point out some basic obvious and commonsense truths. Then nothing is done. Then the next entirely predictable massacre takes place, and the Right trots out all the usual inane defenses of American gun culture, and we have the same stupid debates as if it all hadn’t happened the previous time, and the time before that and the time before that.

In that vein, I’ve said this before, but that doesn’t mean I don’t need to say it again: we need to stop focusing on the motives of the killers, and start focusing on the gun.

After each of these mass killings–I refuse to call them tragedies because tragedies tend to be inevitable and unstoppable, which these killings are not–Americans always want to know why. What was going through the mind of the killer? Can we learn the signs in advance? Who was to blame? (Besides the gun, since everyone knows we won’t do anything about that.)

So in the wake of the Isla Vista shootings by a sexually frustrated and entitled young man, we had a discussion of misogyny and male entitlement. After the Fort Hood shootings conservatives had a field day attacking Islam. After the Charleston shootings liberals had an effective punching bag to talk about race.

Now we see each side attempting to use the latest shootings for its own political advantage. Those on the left are pointing to the shooter’s self-described conservative Republican views and his misogynist sexual entitlement syndrome. Those on the right are working themselves into a frenzy over his atheism and his alleged targeting of Christians, going so far as to suggest that Christians start arming themselves in response. And so it goes.

But all of this needs to stop, because it’s pointless. Almost by definition, people who intentionally walk into a public space and indiscriminately kill large numbers of people don’t tend to be sane or have clearly thought out motives. More importantly, other industralized democracies also have angry, lonely, crazy people from all over the political spectrum.

Other countries have mental illness, instant celebrity culture, sexually entitled men, radical theocrats, radical atheists and violent movies/video games. But they don’t have this problem.

Further, we know that no matter what cultural elements may be present, enacting gun control dramatically reduces the problem. We already know this to be true from the experience of Australia, which has libertarian frontier culture and demography quite similar to our own.

Trying to focus on the motives of a mass shooter is a fool’s errand that plays into the hands of those who like the status quo. Focus on the gun, because that’s the common denominator and the ultimate cause of the problem.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.