So what do we make of all the violence in this poor benighted country of ours? How do we reconcile the killing of 111 people during police encounters in the US during one month (March) with a total of 52 people killed in the United Kingdom during the entire 20th century? How do we deal with the fact that the United States has the largest incarceration rate in the world, a country with 4.4 percent of the global population but 22 percent of the prisoners? And how does all this relate to our out-sized military with a budget greater than the next nine countries combined?
This problem is quite personal for me. I am an alumnus of Virginia Tech, which was the scene of the worst massacre by a single gunman in US history. In April 2007, a mentally ill student methodically killed 32 people and wounded 17 others before taking his own life. He started his rampage at the dormitory I had lived in decades before and then crossed the campus to kill the rest of his victims in the academic building where I took most of my engineering classes.
I learned about the Virginia Tech shootings while I was on a business trip to Washington, D.C. I remember discussing it with my colleagues at the Washington Navy Yard, several of whom were also Virginia Tech graduates. Little did we know that the Navy Yard itself would become the scene of yet another mass shooting in 2013 after I had retired. The shooter in this incident killed 12 people and wounded three others. I actually called some of my friends at the Navy Yard during the incident. They were holed up in a cafeteria while the police searched for the shooter.
In 2009, Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army major, fatally shot 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, and wounded 30 others. This was the worst mass shooting on a military base. Well guess what? It turns out that he was himself a graduate of Virginia Tech.
It seems to me that effective gun control is essentially non-existent in this country. The shooter at the Washington Navy Yard was able to easily circumvent strict gun control laws in the District of Columbia by buying his weapons in nearby suburban Virginia.
Have you noticed how many times I have brought up the State of Virginia? I lived in the state for ten years before moving to California in 1977. My last residence was in the Norfolk area. Within a few blocks of my apartment, there were three murders within a six-month period including the killing of the former mayor of Norfolk. The murder rate in Virginia, and in fact the rest of the country, was running out of control in the 1970's. Homicides are lower now, but still unacceptably high by first-world standards.
In spite of all the violence, it appears to be more difficult than ever to institute effective gun control laws in this country, especially in the Deep South with their open-carry and stand-your-ground laws. Behind all of this stands the specter of the National Rifle Association, which has successfully fought effective gun control on behest of gun manufacturers.
I actually understand why many people would want guns, especially if they think their personal safety is in question. I remember the riots in Los Angeles after the Rodney King verdict when the Los Angeles Police Department withdrew from the scene leaving shop owners on their own to defend their property. Who can forget the pictures of the Korean shopkeepers with their rifles cocked and loaded awaiting the mobs approaching their stores?
So this is my somewhat rambling discourse on violence in this country ... with a personal touch. There is no doubt that we need much more effective controls on guns. In fact, I believe we need to get rid of them. But I also think we need to search our hearts and answer this question: why is our country so violent? Why do we encounter so many bullies in our midst, not only in playgrounds but on the political stage? To bring it home, why do we have people in Camarillo so willing to throw f-bombs at us while we sit at our booth at the Fiesta or Farmer's Market? Why was my young daughter subjected to profanity by teens in trucks when she participated in a peace rally at City Hall before our ill-advised venture into Iraq? And why do we hear such outrageously bellicose statements on right-wing radio and from "normal people" in their comments in the newspaper, Facebook, and other social media?
Sometimes I wonder whether we are descended from uniquely violent people who were exiled from Europe to the New World. Was this the beginning of that American phenomenon, where people loudly trumpet their Christianity while paying no heed to the true message of peace and forgiveness by their anointed savior, Jesus Christ?
Lots of questions but few answers ...