Here’s a modest proposal, one that makes perfect sense in 2018, when our nation has never been more divided: Rather than an American flag colored red, white and blue, as we’ve had for going on 242 years, perhaps it’s time to change the Stars and Stripes to our new official colors.
Black and white.
I say that because every issue nowadays appears to be exactly that for most Americans – black or white, either-or, Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, pro or anti. With no issue is this more apparent than when it comes to the mass shootings that continue to occur at an unprecedented clip. How bad is it? America makes up five percent of the global population, yet over the past 50 years we have produced more than 30 percent of the world’s mass shooters.
Our answer? So far, not a damn thing. That’s because every time a lunatic opens fire with an AR-15 in a school or a movie theater, a government building or a Las Vegas concert, we line up in two factions and scream at the top of our lungs.
On one side? Those who see gun control alone as the answer – and the National Rifle Association and Second Amendment diehards as the enemy. On the other side? The “you’ll limit gun ownership over my dead body” crowd. They see mass shootings not as a gun problem, but as a mental-health problem, because “guns don’t kill people, crazy people kill people.”
Here’s a news flash. Both sides are absolutely right. And both sides could not be more wrong.
The truth? Mass shootings are exactly like every other complex social issue we face in America: Nuanced events determined by multiple causes, impossible to prevent with a “one size fits all” response. The solutions to such complicated issues are themselves complicated, not black and white, nor either-or. No set of solutions will prevent every mass shooting. But a set of solutions that weaves together BOTH sensible gun-control laws AND better mental-health screening and services would be a good start against what has become America’s weekly ritual: Wholesale slaughter by killers who, in retrospect, inevitably had not one problem that required solving, but two – access to high-powered killing machines and serious mental issues that could have been red flags, but somehow got missed, as was the case with Nikolas Cruz of Parkland, Florida, infamy.
I can’t say with certainty that the Parkland massacre would have been prevented by a comprehensive approach combining stricter gun laws – like forbidding the mentally ill from buying guns, for starters – with better mental-health screening – including potentially committing someone like Cruz, who exhibited more red flags than a Soviet military parade. But here’s what I can say: Doing nothing is unacceptable. Yet that’s where we find ourselves, because of the societal and political gridlock created by our insistence on approaching mass gun killings in an exclusively “either-or” manner.
The truth? We can continue to view this issue as black and white and do nothing. That approach will help political candidates stoke their bases and attract votes, but it will not stanch the flow of blood in our streets, schools and public spaces. Or we can open our minds to the complexity of this issue and do what America used to do, back when we weren’t simply a collection of red states and blue states united by little more than geography, 325 million partisans who would rather make Facebook posts than save lives.
We used to solve problems in this country. Now, screaming is what we do best. And funerals. Because we’ve had so much practice.
– David Leibowitz has called the Valley home since 1995. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.