There are moments in life when circumstances suddenly come together to reveal a great truth that had previously eluded you. It can be a truth about yourself or someone close to you, or about your nation.
But once it happens it changes the way you feel about yourself, or others, or your country for good.
Watching the Irish people get handed a $61 billion bill for the misdeeds of the nation’s high-flying bankers was one such moment in my own life; watching the same Irish people meekly accepting this outrage was another.
In those rare but unforgettable moments a truth about a person – or a nation – can be revealed. Sometimes it can be an uncomfortable truth. That’s often what happens when something you once dimly suspected is finally proved.
Here’s something that I can prove. The United States has an estimated 283 million guns in civilian hands.
Each year about 4.5 million firearms, including approximately two million handguns, are sold here. The number of guns per household has actually only increased since the 1990s.
Since guns are so ubiquitous they can easily find their way into the hands of bad guys, but they can also easily find their way into the hands of young people, the mentally ill and anyone nursing a grudge that momentarily snaps.
Our daily headlines are full of exactly what happens when anger and easy availability of guns are combined.
The statistics about gun violence in America are astounding. One in three people in America know someone who has been shot.
On average 32 people here are murdered with guns here every day. Every day 51 people here kill themselves with a firearm. The U.S. gun homicide rate is 20 times higher than the combined rates of 22 countries that are our peers in wealth and population.
What fascinates me is how meekly the American people accept these eye-popping facts. Like the Irish, they are no petty people, but like the Irish they do not protest when their Congressional leaders repeatedly ignore their outraged calls for stronger gun laws (90 percent of voters favor stronger laws) or background checks.
Having a gun in your home makes it 22 times more likely it will be used to kill or injure in a domestic homicide, suicide, or unintentional shooting than to be used in self-defense. You’d think that would make people reconsider, instead of holstering up and taking their firearms to Chipotle for another ghastly demonstration of their right to be intimidating idiots.
Think of how easy it has been for the unbalanced here to settle scores using guns. Think of all the mass shootings.
Think of one of the most recent ones. The weekend rampage in California by Elliot Rodgers, 22, was the latest reminder of what happens when guns easily find their way into the hands of the unbalanced.
It’s a fact that the mentally ill are much more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it, but we can say with certainty that despite his mental health issues Rodgers was in part motivated by virulent misogyny, racism and the desire for retribution.
Being white, male, heterosexual and well to do, Rodgers said that he felt entitled to what should have followed: the preferential romantic interest of young women.
When that didn’t happen on the schedule he felt it should have he said this in his final message to the world: “College is the time when everyone experiences those things such as sex and fun and pleasure, but in those years I’ve had to rot in loneliness, it’s not fair… I don’t know why you girls aren't attracted to me but I will punish you all for it.”
Gun violence is one way the weak can express their long simmering contempt for others, we have learned. There have been 31 school shootings since Columbine after all. In all that time there has been no change whatsoever in the regulation of guns here.
Rodgers was involved with several online men’s rights organizations, many tracked by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that tracks hate groups. Contempt and even hatred for women is frequently expressed on their pages. They are often like-minded communities that can condone and share shockingly misogynistic views.
Living inside of these enabling bubble communities can tip borderline personalities over the edge. We have seen it time and time again.
And each time the NRA wants to convince you that it’s just an individual problem, but it’s becoming entirely apparent that it’s also a cultural one. It’s time we admitted both and tackled them head on.