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Viewing America’s gun crisis from the shores of Korea



One consequence of living on the other side of the Pacific is that, because of the extreme time difference, news from America hits these shores at odd times of the day (or night). This is especially true with school shootings.

I’m usually fast asleep when they go down, which makes them the first item I read about when I groggily come to in the morning, slip on my readers, and take in the events I missed during my slumber from the screen of my phone. 

And each time it’s the same. I shake my head while I feel the pit of my stomach widen and suppress the urge to pinch myself. Ah man, not again. I scan the headlines, making a somber note of the death count, knowing full well that after I put down my phone, take a shower, and return to the device, this number will likely have ticked up.

I also know that I am consigned to spending the rest of the day brooding and obsessing over the event.

Not just constructing a macabre video feed in my own head of the slaughter, but then entering a one-man debate on the overriding issues, the issues that quietly loom or even pretend to hibernate in between shootings, only to blow forth like a geyser in a period of feverish intensity for a few days as the bodies are packed away and the talking heads babble and froth before, just like that, all is quiet again.

Until the next massacre, that is, which these days seems to require shorter and shorter wait times.


They say that travel broadens the mind, and I generally believe this, despite encountering a not insignificant number of Western nitwits during my nearly two decades abroad. That said, being out of my country for so long has sharpened my perceptions of it, or at least I’d like to think so.

Though I was already deeply critical of America’s myriad flaws well before I left for South Korea – that exotic land of kimchi, gun control, and national health care – standing on this side of the ocean and gazing homeward has somehow put things in deeper contrast. When you’re in the middle of the tire fire, it can be hard to see just how big it is, or what’s feeding it.

I’ve written before on this, how over the years all of us Americans abroad have had to act as ambassadors and even more, explainers. “Why do you have many guns?” we are frequently asked by well-meaning non-Americans.

I used to have a mini-lecture memorized that I could deliver on the drop of a dime, illuminating the country’s frontier past, individualism, hunting culture, plus a healthy dose of modern electoral politics, but I’ve given up on that shtick. I no longer even try to articulate the whys and whats, because trying to make sense of insanity is a loser’s game.

Overwhelming stupidity

Crazy is just crazy, and at this point, I’ve found that most foreigners have come to recognize this as well. They too realize just how utterly off its head the United States is when it comes to guns, that the weapons themselves have become some immovable force that the rest of us are seemingly powerless to stop.

It frustrates me, of course. It makes me bang my head against classroom whiteboards, yell at brick walls, and rant on Internet comment threads. It’s a nauseating cocktail of anger, sadness, helplessness, and shame that I know most all of us feel. It at times makes me want to burn my passport and causes flashes of hatred for my own country.

What I despise most of all isn’t just the insanity of doing nothing, but the overreaching stupidity of it all. It’s just so colossally dumb. It’s a grand, industrial-strength, weapons-grade idiocy that only the United States could really pull off.


This especially goes for those zombies who still, through trembling, spittle-covered lips, parrot those pro-gun lines that have been blasted forth from the barrels of the National Rifle Association (NRA) for decades now.

A childhood friend left a comment on my Facebook page admonishing me for “blaming the inanimate object” instead of the human, which is so devoid of actual thought that it doesn’t even warrant a response. It reminds me of a few years ago when another of these folks tried to push the notion that if there were no guns, crazy people would still commit mass murder with spoons. This is where these guys are at.

These so-called arguments are all made in the worst of faith. Knowing that the older lines have been sapped for all that they’re worth, the newest tactic is to claim that these mass shootings are the result of a mental-health crisis, rather than a ridiculous proliferation of (and easy access to) firearms.

This, of course, is where Texas Governor Greg Abbott went straight after the Uvalde child murders, saying that the state needed to “do a better job” for mental health, despite his administration cutting more than $200 million earmarked to do just that.

The fact that the most recent school shooting in Nashville, Tennessee, was perpetrated by a trans man has only served to exacerbate this “let’s blame mental health” tactic (many on the right view trans issues as mental illness), while also ripping away the sheet and exposing the venomous hatred of trans folks that has been percolating under the surface of American culture for some time now. 

I live in South Korea, a country with a spotty and poor mental-health system. I see people having breakdowns in public all the time, yet I don’t have to worry about someone who’s having a breakdown gaining access to instruments of easy death. If guns were widely available here I’m convinced there would be a mass shooting every single week.   

What’s clear to anyone who hasn’t been kicked in the head by a horse is that the pro-gun people have no arguments. As in not one. Their position is intellectually and morally bankrupt.


It’s indefensible, and I think a lot of them even realize this at this point, as I’m seeing less and less of the “Guns don’t kill people people!” horse manure, and more of the “It’s in the US constitution, deal with it!” as their go-to, the rhetorical equivalent of “tough luck.”

Moreover, they (as former president Barack Obama adroitly pointed out) cling to their guns as totems, as symbols of identity. The reason the right-wing gun crowd rabidly resists any attempt to reform access to firearms has nothing to do with public policy, but rather groupthink.

Gun-control measures are seen as an attack on their tribe, and conceding any inch of ground would mean a victory for the libs, which, in their indoctrinated minds, is a worse outcome than hundreds of dead kids.

The fact is this isn’t about any high concepts of self-protection or fighting tyranny for the rank-and-file gun nuts. They like their guns because it makes them feel powerful. It’s the same reason so many of them drive massive intimidation trucks.

Modern capitalist society has largely emasculated men, and owning firearms and giant vehicles is an attempt to reattach something long sliced off. Accuse me of armchair psychoanalysis here, but it’s plain to see.

And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Capitalism. Is it any wonder that young people are souring to a system that not only shuts them out of housing and health care and burdens them with usurious education debt, but fails to protect them in school from getting mowed down by a whack-job having a bad day?

The fact that this malevolent culture has been erected by a massive corporate lobby that pays off enough politicians to scare their gullible constituents into buying more guns is obvious to anyone paying a modicum of attention.


The fact that this is clearly harming the greater good while immensely enriching a tiny few who do everything in their power to maintain the status quo, even if it means the periodic slaughter of children, is the very definition of the system that enables it.

Perhaps if it was their kids getting killed they’d change their tune, though I, for one, am not holding my breath.   


Source: Asia Times


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