Unsafe, Anytime, Anywhere in America

6 June 2014

I don’t know what Santa Barbara is like now, but when I visited it in the summer of 1970, it was the least likely setting for a mass murder rampage one could imagine. I had hitchhiked out to California from New York (this was 8 years before Jeffrey Dahmer started making Hitchhiker Bouillabaise and permanently discouraged that mode of free transportation), finding myself surprised to have arrived after only four largely sleepless days, and without incident except for the time I shared the driving and fell asleep at the wheel outside of Reno, Nevada. Santa Barbara is on the coast, north of LA, on America’s scenic highway 101, nestled into the hills overlooking the cobalt blue Pacific Ocean, and clear and sunny probably 364 days of the year.

My first reaction to the news was “Here we go again”. Some mad-at-the-world young man goes down to the gun shop, loads up on handguns and hundreds of rounds of ammo, goes out to the streets and starts shooting up Dodge City. Those unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time find their lives cut short. The circle of grief starts with their parents and ripples outward like a California earthquake through their friends and relatives.

To stop this kind of thing from happening again, you would have to understand why and how it happened. My first reaction, before I knew the facts, was that the primary factor had to be the easy access to weapons and ammo in America enabled by the NRA’s relentless campaign to ensure that everyone, including terrorists and the mentally disturbed, have unlimited access to the weapons they need to kill the rest of us, quickly and efficiently. My own theory as to why we have 30,000 people a year murdered by guns in America, versus far less in other countries not embroiled in a civil war like Syria, Iraq and South Eastern Ukraine, is that killing people with guns requires no personal courage, and can be done semi-remotely, making it feel more like a video game than a heinous crime. But in Elliot Rodger’s case, he killed his first three people with a knife, so the involvement of guns only allowed him to kill more people, quickly, before the police closed in and he took his own pathetic life.

Rodger’s had been in treatment since he was eight years old. He seems to have retreated into his own world, and built a narrative that laid the blame for his isolation on pretty young women who didn’t reciprocate his affections. In his pre-rampage rant, he said he “couldn’t understand why women weren’t attracted to him.” Well, duh, as the Valley Girls would put it.

I don’t think there is a young man alive who hasn’t experienced the frustration of unrequitted affections at some point in his life. The difference is in how Rodgers dealt with it. And, yes, the “you’re a loser if you aren’t rich, adored by women and successful” culture hammers at our egos 24-7, and the younger you are, the more it bothers you. But I don’t we should look for something wrong in our culture, or, less, think that we are going to change it in time to prevent the next 1,000 rampages.

Just as I was going to hit the “post” button, the news came of another student shooting in Seattle. How many more of us have to die before America says, “Enough”?

Rupert Scofield


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