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Mass Murder is Okay with US

In our country, it is okay for someone to mass murder people praying peacefully at a synagogue.

Which shouldn’t be surprising, because it’s already okay to mass murder people praying peacefully at a church in Texas.

Or a church in South Carolina, particularly if the victims are black.

As well as at a Sikh temple.

It is also okay to mass murder students at a high school.

It is also fair game to hunt down and murder people in a movie theater.

Or at an outdoor concert.

Or a nightclub.

After the Pittsburgh shooting on Shabbat this past weekend, the Democratic governor of Pennsylvania stated, “This is not who we are.”

With all due respect to a politician I would certainly vote for if I lived in his state, I agree and I disagree. It is true that this is not us--99.9% of us, even some of the most disagreeable conservative voices and even most anti-Semites, are not despicable enough and evil enough to take a gun and murder helpless individuals. So the shooter is not us--at least directly.

However, we made the shooter. Our country and our culture made him, just as they made the others. We did so in two distinct ways.

First, as has been well documented by opinions over the last few days, the current president and his ardent supporters created an environment that empowered the hate. Maintaining an admirable tone of dignity, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette states, “In much of our culture, high and low, left and right, young and old, there is an undercurrent of hate. Hate is not a natural condition, but a learned thing.”

Many have noted that the atmosphere of vile intolerance starts at the top. New York Times columnist Charles Blow writes, this current president “has flirted with the deepest racists and Nazis and it has not gone unnoticed, least of all by them.”

Writing in the Chicago Sun Times, Jesse Jackson notes:

Rain comes from the top, never bottom up. The president rouses fears of an invasion of an alien caravan coming this way. He invents the claim that terrorists have infiltrated the caravan. He lies that Democrats are to blame for not fixing our laws, although he torpedoed a bipartisan reform bill. . . Furious, the murderer in Pittsburgh, who raged about a Jewish humanitarian group that helps resettle immigrants in America, arms himself with an assault rifle and three handguns and assaults the synagogue. The president says the answer is to arm synagogues and churches and schools.

It’s not just the current president playing these deadly games. The National Republican Congressional Committee harped on long-standing anti-Semitic tropes in an attack ad showing George Soros--sitting atop piles of money--as the “funder of the left”. An arch-conservative congressman in Florida posted a tweet linking Soros--with no evidence--to the “caravan” of immigrants making their way through Mexico. And House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy took several days to delete his own tweet claiming that Soros, Tom Steyer, and Michael Bloomberg were trying “to BUY this election.”

The second factor that empowered the gunman in Pittsburgh is the same thing that has occurred repeatedly in our recent history. Angry individuals armed with overwhelming arsenals have the ability to inflict devastating carnage on a mass scale. After each such event, someone is likely to say, “We should not publicize this.” But the act itself is political. When someone takes a gun and mass murders people, he is making a statement: one, I am inflicting horror on these civilians, and two, I show the power of my gun, and fuck you to all you gun-hating liberals.

Forgive my language. I don’t usually write that way, but extreme acts require extreme responses. Our lax gun culture allows these things to happen, and those people who wield their weapons do so to show they can. We must make it political, and we must not stop trying to seek solutions to gun violence--whether it is in response to the sudden horror of events like that in Pittsburgh or to the slow trickle of agony inflicting communities where this is an everyday problem.

We all have our reactions to the Pittsburgh horror. As always after a mass shooting, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is ready with an editorial. How does he write the piece so fast? Well, he’s written it before and it is primed to be published--because he knows another such event is certain to happen. As he adds at the beginning of his latest column, “The massacre of 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue on Saturday, allegedly by a man with 21 guns registered to his name, was terrifyingly predictable.”

Then there is my son Ben Markbreiter, who spoke eloquently at a vigil in Montreal. Noting how the event in Pittsburgh scared him, Ben added, “We can’t let our fear push us back down. We can’t just sit and let our community wallow in fear. . . We can’t let one man take us down. We are strong, we are mobilized, and we are powerful.”

We must continue to call out those who embolden hatred, just as we must continue to fight for sane gun laws. Above all, we must vote with the objective that sometime--hopefully--in the near future, shootings like this will no longer be okay.

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