In the ongoing national discussion about gun legislation in the wake of several mass murders in Connecticut, Illinois, Arizona, Virginia and elsewhere, little attention has been paid to the symbolic significance of where these killings have occurred and what these locations suggest.
The most horrific shootings have happened at malls, movie theaters, churches and schools. These sites suggest they are not just targets because large crowds happen to gather there, crowds that are, in the mind of the shooter, mostly anonymous.
These sites are also prime symbols of an American culture geared to mainstream success in a pragmatic, competitive society (schools), cultural religiosity (churches), the excesses of consumerism (malls) and the addiction to media violence (movie theaters and video games).
In short, it is a culture addicted to power in various forms, and since that is the national ethos, the response of reactionary citizens is ludicrously predictable: Give us more guns and bigger guns in more places so we can fight power with power.
The shooters themselves both imbibe this cultural ethos and feel profoundly alienated from it. For them, one gun is not enough. They feel compelled to have more and more lethal weapons for their suicidal assaults.
And what more significant way for them to “make a statement” and “become someone” in the face of their alienation from a society they both despise and mirror than to murder as many anonymous people as possible in places that are primary symbols of a culture fixated on power and material success, a “success” measured by consumerism?
In the current discussion of how to deal with these recurring tragedies, maybe the wrong issues are being discussed, and maybe some deeper issues not being addressed.
John F. Desmond