Most of the people who clung so tenaciously to the claim that there was no such thing as climate change have since retreated to the (relatively) safe position of “OK, yeah, so there is such a thing as climate change, but human activity has nothing to do with it.”
We’re seeing a similar thing happening with guns. For decades, we were subjected to every lame comeback, whine, deflection and outright lie from gun fetishists who swear that there’s no connection between guns that are designed solely to kill dozens of people in a minute or two and the recurring real-life nightmare of dozens of people being killed in a minute or two.
We used to hear that guns didn’t kill people, that they were just a tool (not unlike the person who would say such a thing). But as we see more and more instances of these horrible weapons (that should be illegal) firing flesh-ripping bullets (that should also be illegal), even the mass-murder apologists are starting to scurry for cover. They can’t come up with a reason why something so awful should be in the hands of even the most law-abiding citizen, so they change the topic. It’s not about guns; it’s about mental health.
A guy, hopped up on racist politics spread by social media, drives eight hours to a minority-majority town on the Mexican border to “kill Mexicans.” Is he insane? I don’t think so. In order to meet the standard for serious mental illness, you’d have to stretch the definition to a point where it’s like saying that a phallic symbol is anything does something that’s longer than it is wide. If somebody that we wouldn’t do, that doesn’t make him nuts. It just makes him a butthole.
Obviously, the phenomenon of mass shootings is relatively new, coming into being at the confluence of advances in gun-making technology and a responsibility-shirking national legislature with nary a single scrotum to be found. We can’t go back 100 years to study this phenomenon and try to determine if mental health issues are a common thread. However, today’s mass shooter is obviously seeking attention, much as did the political assassin of the past.
Were all of those assassins mentally ill?
Let’s look at some:
• John Wilkes Booth was simply a Confederate sympathizer who was mad that the antebellum world of mint julips and slave labor was coming to an end. He wasn’t mentally ill; he was just a racist with a grudge and an opportunity.
• Charles Guiteau shot President Garfield because the Garfield Administration wouldn’t give Guiteau the consulship he thought that he had earned by working in the Garfield campaign. It’s weird; maybe he wouldn’t have become a shooter if he had been given a job at the Post Office.
• Leon Czolgolz was an anarchist who got fired up after listening to a speech by Emma Goldman and then went and shot William McKinley. Crazy? Not really. But what is crazy, in retrospect, is that Czolgolz did the dastardly deed in early September and, after being tried and convicted, he was executed the next month!
• The assassins of the 1960s were all despicable, but not mentally ill. Lee Harvey Oswald had weird politics, but that’s not crazy. Byron De La Bechwith, the cowardly killer of civil-rights activist Medgar Evers, was John Wilkes Booth 100 years later, just another racist Southerner. James Earl Ray was yet another racist Southerner, but if you ever want to check out something wild, look at Ray’s life in 1967 and ’68. He broke out of prison in Missouri, where he was serving a 20-year sentence for stealing $120 from a Kroger’s grocery store. (Great lawyer, huh?)
After breaking out, he lived for brief times in St. Louis, Chicago, Montreal and Toronto. He then moved to Birmingham, Alabama, where he somehow bought an almost-new Ford Mustang, which he then drove to Acapulco. He eventually returned to the United States; he lived in Los Angeles for a while before heading down south again. After he killed Martin Luther King in Memphis, he drove to Atlanta, then made his way to Toronto. He got a fake Canadian passport, flew to London, then Portugal, then back to London. He wanted to go to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) because there was an apartheid government there. He got arrested at Heathrow Airport and extradited to the U.S.
Nobody ever found out how he was able to do all that stuff, but you can’t help but think that there was a 1960s version of the Koch Brothers in the mix somewhere.
To be fair, insanity does come into play occasionally. John Hinckley tried to assassinate Ronald Reagan in an effort to show off for the object of his obsession, Jodie Foster. I’ve always wondered what Hinckley’s reaction was when he found out that Foster is gay.