If the Uvalde school shooting would have happened in ancient times they would have said the shooter was possessed by a demon. They probably would have said, after Uvalde and Buffalo and Sandy Hook and going all the way back to Columbine, that anyone resisting serious gun control measures and especially on the public sales of automatic weapons, was possessed by a legion of demons. But demons have gone out of style.
I know some people still believe in demons but not like they used to. In the first century, give or take a few hundred years, they believed that demons inhabited people, places, and things. Demons were everywhere. Folks didn’t exactly know what demons were but they knew they were dangerous, cruel, and up to no good. Nowadays people are more inclined to look at abhorrent behavior as the symptom of a mental health issue. Even so, some forms of social deviance and violent behavior can seem more plausibly pinned on demons just because they defy any other explanation.
In ancient Greek, the word for demon didn’t connote something bad or evil. It was more like a spirit or a muse, and could even be an inspiration from an intermediary between the gods and humans. But two centuries before Alexander the Great, the Persians introduced to Judaism the notion of supernatural evil. Demons came via the influence of Zoroastrianism and ended up in the later parts of the Hebrew Bible. All of which then influenced Christianity and Islam. But demons have at least one major down side.
If the shooter in Uvalde, or any other killing rampage, did it because they were possessed by a demon, then they aren’t responsible for it. Likewise, all the evil that comes from having lax gun laws and a culture that glorifies guns cannot be tagged to those who stand in the way of changing the laws if the devil makes them do it. Frankly, the notion that American gun violence can be fixed by spending billions more on mental health services strikes me as hoping for an exorcisms to cure the problem.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all in favor of pouring as many resources back into public mental health programs as possible. We ripped the guts out of it in the 1980s and are living with the consequences. Plus, the social plagues that instigate and exacerbate mental health problems are legion now compared with the relatively innocent days of Michael Jackson and Captain and Tennille. But lately the advocates of openly accessible AR-15 assault weapons and other demonic gun rights, have created a red herring out of mental health. The problem of gun violence, they say, is not enough mental health treatment options. More, we need more, so the crazies don’t shoot people.
Like I said, yes to more resources for mental health. Maybe it will even stop a few folks that otherwise might leak their own struggles out the barrel of a gun. But what about white nationalist militants? What about homophobic warriors or misogynistic haters? Are those mental health cases or demons? They are creatures of the social swamp, and whether or not we can do anything to heal their broken minds, denying them guns is the first and last answer to the problem.
Tim Long, Just Up the Hill from Lock 15 says
Spot on observation about community mental health, Fr. Cam. The funding for that is a fraction of what it was 30 years ago. And sometime in conversation, just for the experience (I have..), suggest raising the property tax levy by ten or twenty percent (which would translate, on average to $400 or $800 per year, here in relatively high R.E. tax Illinois) to replicate earlier funding levels, and support those things being discussed there: social workers, mental health court, alternatives to incarceration as a far less expensive, and far more effective response than dispatching the police, and time in muni or county lockup. In the generally kind, selfless and well-meaning group I was with, the response was crickets. And conversation drifted to something more benign. I drifted out to the patio. If we’re not willing to contribute to a social order that is kinder, less violent, and more humane, well, I have an old British 3-speed to refurbish.
And, re guns: here’s a conversation stopper for the “gun rights” discussion. In 1934, so publicly horrified were we at the random death and injury stemming from gangland turf fights, the Federal government effectively banned (with a tax) sale and possession of the model 1928 Thompson submachine gun for its ability to quickly fire 50 rounds from one magazine, and the sawed-off shotgun for its conceal-ability and close-in lethality, and the nation cheered. Even the NRA was favorably disposed. The Armalite / Colt M-16 (and the civilian AR-15), on the other hand, is a far more lethal, far more portable weapon because that’s what it was designed to be, in replacing the heavier infantry rifles and ammunition of the Second World War. Worse still, it’s relatively easy to manufacture and relatively inexpensive to buy. Still worse, it’s become as much fetish item as firearm within that crowd. Indeed, an Iowa legislator recently offered the excuse that the AR-15 was worthwhile for its ability to dispatch varmints, presumably out on the old Iowa family farm (which notion is both quaint, and nearly extinct, btw). From my experience, if there’s a ground squirrel problem in the cattle pasture, they can be just as effectively diminished with your grandfather’s Marlin model 39 lever action .22, in a far less dangerous manner, and not that it matters if you’re also feeding a fetish, a far less expensive manner than with an AR-15. I’d be astonished if that legislator had ever been on the working side of the a pasture fence or dealt with a broken foreleg on a Guernsey. But excuses are endemic in discussions of the “public good” these days.
As a friend sharply observed, an Excuse is Just the Skin of a Reason, Stuffed with a Lie.
But now, I really do have a 3-speed awaiting attention, something I can actually do something about. Thanks, as always, Fr. Cam, for the wandering out onto the limb.
Cam Miller says
“an Excuse is Just the Skin of a Reason, Stuffed with a Lie.” I’ll remember that one.