Our American Values are Killing Us

Our American Values are Killing Us

On Wednesday evening, a man shot and killed three people inside a Wal-Mart in Thornton, Colorado. The victims were ordinary Americans doing the most American thing of all—shopping at a big box store in the suburbs. We don’t know if they were there to buy clothes for their children or groceries for their next meal. Maybe they were getting started on their Christmas shopping. The suspect in the shooting is also an ordinary American—a middle-aged white man with a string of business failures, too much debt, and a history of making racist statements to the neighbors.

This man casually carried his loaded gun into a major American retailer and opened fire. He wasn’t the only person in the store who was packing heat, but those other gun owners didn’t stop him from killing his victims. In fact, police say the other gun owners impeded their investigation. According to a report in The Denver Post, it took more than five hours to identify the shooter, because investigators scouring through security footage “had to follow each individual with a firearm until they could eliminate them as a suspect.” Thanks in part to this initial delay, it took more than 12 hours to apprehend the man. The “good guy with a gun” is a myth. I know there are good people who own guns and carry guns, but they are of no use against a “bad guy with a gun.” And all these good Americans carrying guns in public places make law enforcement’s job that much harder. The good guys are part of the problem.

If you think I sound bitter, you are sorely underestimating my mood. I am sick of living in a country where daily mass shootings barely register in our national consciousness. We’re the gun country. If you think we’re known around the world for something more noble, you have not watched or read any international news lately.

Americans can’t even talk about guns without devolving into a raging mass of Us vs. Them. It is despicable. I am not anti-gun, as I’ve said before in this space, but I am firmly against a society that allows and encourages ordinary people to stroll through a major American shopping center while armed to the teeth. Even in the Wild West, gun owners were required to check their firearms with the local sheriff before entering town. The lawmakers of the time knew that no one could feel safe when anyone might be armed. But we’ve abandoned the common sense measures of our ancestors. Today people believe they need to be packing heat to shop for lightbulbs. It is utterly ridiculous and dangerous.

I know that many of you believe gun restrictions are useless, that criminals don’t follow the law. But other nations have figured this out. America is home to more mass shootings than any other developed country. This is not a fluke. Other countries, in the aftermath of their own mass shootings, have passed sensible gun laws. Politicians in other countries have sacrificed their careers to limiting the number of guns on the street. And it has worked. Maybe we can’t eliminate mass shootings or gun deaths in America, but there is solid evidence that we could greatly diminish the number of people killed. We could save lives if we chose to do so, but we have decided that gun ownership and gun money are more valuable than the lives of ordinary Americans.

We are no longer the Land of the Free or the Home of the Brave. We are slaves to greed and home to anger and divisiveness. Forget Friday Night Lights or Sunday morning church services. The most American event of all is the Wednesday night massacre.

And we aren’t going to do one thing to stop it. God bless us? No. God damn us.

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Tiffany Quay Tyson

THE PAST IS NEVER, a southern gothic novel steeped in local lore, is available now. The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance deemed it an Okra Pick. Tyson's debut novel THREE RIVERS was a finalist for both the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction and the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Fiction. She was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi and now lives, writes, and teaches in Denver, Colorado.
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