Recently, the United States has experienced a spate of innocent people being shot and murdered over the most trivial of social interactions. Two high school cheerleaders in Texas, who mistakenly got into the wrong parked car, were allegedly shot by the 63-year-old man inside at point-blank range. Sixteen-year-old Ralph Yarl went to pick up his younger brother and was shot in the head when he rang the doorbell of the wrong house. Kaylin Gillis, lost with her friends in rural upstate New York, was allegedly killed by the 65-year-old owner of a home when they mistakenly pulled into his driveway. And in Florida, according to police, 43-year-old Antonio Caccavale shot an 18-year-old grocery delivery driver who was lost.
The most recent minor-interaction-turned-deadly started with an apparently drunken Texan firing his AR-15 into the air. When his neighbors asked him to stop because their baby was sleeping, he allegedly murdered most of the family, executing five people.*
Clusters of events can be sheer randomness; however, these random shootings seem to be a uniquely American phenomenon. It is easy to say, “It’s the guns, stupid,” because it’s true: Without this country’s easy access to firearms, these shootings would likely never have happened. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find that many of these killers share a uniquely American mindset, one engendered by decades of political dogma.
There’s an old adage that says if you give enough monkeys enough typewriters and wait long enough, sooner or later you’ll get them to type a Shakespeare play. Give the monkeys methamphetamines, and you’ll probably get it even faster. The frequency of these shootings leads me to put this spin on the old adage: If you give lots of people lots of weapons and subject them to lots of paranoia-inducing media that glorifies gun violence, sooner or later even the most innocent social interaction will turn into a potentially life-threatening situation.
Part of the paranoia and fear causing these murders originates with conservative outlets like Fox News, which glorify gun-wielding civilians who threaten or kill people. They made heroes out of Kyle Rittenhouse and Daniel Perry for shooting protesters. Mark and Patricia McCloskey were lionized by both conservative media and the Republican establishment for threatening protesters with guns at their St. Louis home. Remember how they were lionized at the 2020 GOP convention as heroes? This isn’t a new phenomenon; more than a decade ago, Fox News personality Sean Hannity went to the mat for George Zimmerman after he killed Trayvon Martin.
The message from these outlets is consistent: America’s cities are dark, dangerous places full of violence and depravity. Transgender anarcho-communist antifa Black Lives Matter agitators have destroyed the hearts of multiple urban centers and are working to destroy the entire country (taking everyone’s guns away in the process).
This absurd perspective is not even remotely true, but it doesn’t have to be. The constant high-volume propaganda aimed 24 hours a day, seven days a week at the 60-and-up crowd convinces many of them that the world is ending, and only their guns can stop the apocalypse.
Republican leaders aren’t any better. Donald Trump consistently used the term “American carnage” in his first campaign to convey this idea of urban chaos and collapse and suggested “Second Amendment solutions” to problems. The recent NRA conference was a cavalcade of GOP presidential candidates declaring their devotion to maintaining easy access to weapons, while promoting the idea that the solution to all the gun violence is—surprise—more guns, more people with guns, and more people using guns. Donald Trump promised a policy to pay teachers to pack heat. Mike Pence promoted massive numbers of armed guards as a solution, and Nikki Haley touted her record as governor of South Carolina expanding “stand your ground laws” that encourage people to shoot first and ask questions later.
Never mind the fact that the U.S. already has the loosest gun laws on the planet this side of Somalia (which has lacked a functional government for over 30 years). Never mind that we have more than twice as many guns per capita as Yemen (in its ninth year of a bloody civil war). We still, somehow, don’t have enough of them. A sizable portion of the country believes that an armed society is a polite society, and that the only thing stopping a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. A recent poll found that 45 percent of Americans believe that adding more guns into the mix would somehow finally bring down crime rates. By arming ourselves to the teeth to protect against gun violence, our country creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Far too many of these sixty-something Fox News viewers see themselves as the heroes of the story, bravely saving America from imagined enemies ... whether that enemy be a lost deliveryman, or a kid picking up his younger brother. They assume they’ll be praised for their actions and become heroes to the right, and that prosecutors will decline to press charges (as they did with Caccavale), or that they’ll beat the charges (like Zimmerman and Rittenhouse both did). If not, they are confident they’d get a pardon (like Perry or Chief Gallagher). They’d be famous on their favorite networks and talk radio shows.
Think of America as a nation of 330 million paranoid drug-addled monkeys with 400 million guns. And somehow, people are still surprised at how often we shoot each other. Almost half of the country thinks that the solution is more guns: that somehow eventually, the carnage will simply die down into some sort of standoff where everyone just glares at each other from inside their armed enclaves.
We all must interact with one another on a daily basis, whether accidentally or on purpose. When you add paranoia, fear, and the potential of gun violence to every interaction, they all have the potential to turn deadly. Statistically, it is inevitable that more innocent misunderstandings will turn into slaughters.
While it is increasingly obvious that there’s nothing we can do to reduce the number of guns, we could try to get conservative media outlets, Republican politicians, and the NRA to stop convincing the public to hate and fear people that are different, while encouraging them to build an arsenal the U.S. Army would be envious of.
Who am I kidding? That is never going to happen. You’re better off investing your retirement savings in lottery tickets. Just like the ubiquity of guns in our lives, the likelihood of random social interactions turning suddenly deadly is here to stay and will probably even grow in frequency: as American as Mom, AR-15s, and apple pie.
* This article originally misstated that the Cleveland, Texas shooter was still at large. He was arrested last week.