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As Exceptionally American As It Gets

| June 17, 2016

mass shootings american exceptionalism pierre tristam

Until the next one. (Adam Y Zhang)

Every nation has its recognizable rituals, its routines that make national character stand out more distinctly than anything else. Brazil has soccer or Rio’s carnivals. Saudi Arabia has the Hajj around Mecca. Spain has Valencia’s tomato-throwing day or the running of the bulls in Pamplona. Ireland has St. Patrick’s Day and India has Diwali, its five-day festival of light.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive.com flaglerlive We have mass shootings.

As in any undisciplined and carefree nation, our national ritual doesn’t happen on set days, but it happens more often than any other nation’s famous rituals. It’s at once more surprising, like a flash mob, and more reliable: you can bet your lifesavings it’ll happen sooner than later, assuming you’re not in the line of fire.

By some measures it happens almost every day. By more conservative measures it happens about once a month: going by the obliteration of four or more people at a time, there’s been some 200 mass murders since 2006, not at all a bad count for monthly regularity, though as yet there’s no magazine or cable-TV station devoted to the custom.


Like all major multi-day rituals, this one has its predictable set pieces, its prescribed liturgy. All participants usually know how to play their part, and they play it very well. We’ve all had a lot of practice. Victims of course get killed, maimed, disfigured, or debilitated for life. Mountains of flowers grow and bloom as if irrigated by the grounds where blood flowed, like the red poppies of Flanders. Candles burn the length of a wick that usually measures the distance to the next massacre. The president makes a speech, filling in the blanks of the same speech recycled for dates, place names and maybe number of dead.

There’s the obligatory debate on whether it’s traditional murder, hate crime or terrorism, a modern-day replica of the middle age’s scholastic disputations over the length of a saint’s beard or a heretic’s propensity to burn more crisply than a Catholic. If it’s terrorism, for example, it justifies a new crusade, which has very little to distinguish it from the old crusades except that it also applies at home, where Muslims would be somehow banned and an inquisition dusted off.

It’s also the perfect foil for the country’s gun-raving maniacs locked and loaded on NRA dogma: The latest mass murder that would have been impossible without easier access to guns than to Xanax is chalked up to a war for civilization, a weak president, political correctness, big government, liberals, the media–anything but guns. There’s an inescapable parallel with the Black Plague, which was blamed on Jews, foreigners, gypsies, bad air, bad wine, god’s wrath–on anything but flea-ridden rodents.

Guns are our plague’s rodents, sanctified even when they’re the only instrument of mass-murder. The bigger the guns the bigger the halo. The same assault weapons made for soldiers and mercenaries are worshipped like relics from the cross. The only problem at the scene of the murders, to hear the NRA’s dirty Harrys rationalize it, is the absence of more people with more guns. “From 2001 to 2010, 119,246 Americans were murdered with guns, 18 times all American combat deaths in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” writes Gen. Stanley McChrystal, a former commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan. That’s about 40 nine-elevens. McChrystal calls that “a national crisis.” The NRA sees it as a fundraising opportunity. It sees it as a reason to besiege legislatures until they pass more permissive gun-toting vigilantism concealed as laws. Lawmakers who go through the motions of proposing more gun control are vilified as apostates, queers or traitors. No regulations change. Nor does the broken record. But gun sales, like those mounds of flowers, soar.

Then there’s the dissection of the shooter. Whatever his background–right-wing zealot, Muslim zealot, black-hater, Jew-hater, gay-hater, self-hater, postman–the shooter is demonized. The shooter, that most common of American creatures motivated by one of so many choices in the gallery of American grudges, is termed a mental case, an aberration, a character on the fringe of fringes who in no way represents anything recognizable. Then he’s added to the massive database of recognizable mass killers.

If the attacker happens to be Muslim, there’s also the pathetic reaction of American Muslim leaders who immediately condemn the act and declare themselves more patriotic than Betsy Ross’s dog, as Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic or Baptist leaders would never have to do if the mass murderer were, as he more often is, Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic or Baptist.

As for the rest of us, we scream, we cry, we mourn, we fear for our children’s safety, we tinker with our Facebook profile or write recycled columns as pathetic as those Muslim leaders’ pronouncements. And so it goes until the next mass killing, the next display of national character, as predictable as Thanksgiving, Christmas and July 4th. It doesn’t make you proud to be an American, necessarily. It shouldn’t. But it unmistakably makes you feel like one. In that, we’re unbeatable.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here or follow him @PierreTristam. A version of this piece aired on WNZF.

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31 Responses for “As Exceptionally American As It Gets”

  1. Just me says:

    Guns are not the plague a lack of decency on the part of the killers is. As a kid we had them at 13 or so we went hunting and target shooting. We walked down the street with them a few times a cop came by and asked where we where going and if we wanted a ride. he left us with a have fun be safe. Its not the gun its something we have lost as a people. in this last one it IS about islam and the dominant view of it today. A view that kills and for many if not most who don’t do the actual vile acts if fine within their view of islam. Most of those killed by the islamists are themselves muslim just not the right kind in the view of the islamists. Its no great shock that this sight looks to blame America its citizens and the Constitution for this evil act. No don’t look to the one or the ideology that drove him. Don’t ask how was he looked at by the authority’s time and time again and nothing was found or done. Yup lets just take away all of our constitutionally secured right then bad guys will no longer be bad guys.

  2. Knightwatch says:

    We are the most violent of the “western” nations. Coincidently, we have by far the most guns in private hands, estimated at more that 300 million. More than 33,000 people lose their lives annually with guns, and many tens of thousands more are injured and traumatized. Yet more than two-thirds of our citizens continue to defend the 2nd amendment in its broadest interpretation – the individual right to own and carry guns. Most disturbingly, many of them regard gun ownership as a hedge against a tyrannical government. Not quite what our founding fathers intended (“a well regulated militia”).

    So, we have an all but intractable problem. It seems that there’s far too many Americans who are willing to accept collateral damage as an acceptable price to pay in defense of their sacred constitutional rights. At least far too many for legislators to take responsible action to curb the violence. Thus, we suffer gun violence, we mourn we protest, we debate, and we do nothing.

    American exceptionalism… yeah, right.

  3. Chris Goodfellow says:

    Well put Pierre. But to put it more simply: it has become entertainment. All the hand wringing aside, we cant wait for the next episode.

  4. August Maxwell says:

    I dont think we need to have automatic guns, they arent a need & I think less lives would have been lost and more oppotunities to overpower him, if he had of had single shot guns. It wouldnt have been the first time a citizen attacked an armed person, but kind of hard to do, when youre getting sprayed with bullets.

  5. Sheila Zinkerman says:

    Progress Not Prayers. Votes Not Vigils. Be informed. Do Something. Start by calling the politicians below who put loot before lives. In addition, do not vote for any politician who does not vote for gun safety legislation. Check their record before you vote on votesmart.org.

    Now that you are warmed up, visit these popular sites and do more! Get on their email lists and text alerts. Take action. Their text messages will tell you what you can do. Here are some very active organizations who are passionately working for a safer America. Become familiar with their sites, their accomplishments, and take action. It is Time for Progress not Prayer Time. We can help fix our gun violence problem if we work together.

    Everytown.org, Coalition to Stop Gun Violence csvg.org, momsdemandaction.org, bradycampaign.org, americansforresponsiblesolutions.org, Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence smartgunlaws.org, Violence Policy Center vpc.org, States United to Prevent Gun Violence ceasefireusa.org.

    From “The Nation” website:
    “Here are the top 20 lifetime recipients of cash from the NRA (1998 to 2016) serving in Congress. While many of them offered “prayers” for the victims of gun violence, they refuse to pass the gun-control laws that might have saved their lives instead. 
Below you’ll see how much each congressman thinks those lives are worth.”

    Call Them and tell them to stop selling their Nay gun safety votes to the NRA.

    Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt (R)
    $60,550
    (202) 224-5721
    Alaska Rep. Don Young (R)
    $55,650
    (202) 225-5765
    Ohio Rep. Steve Chabot (R)
    $54,100
    (202) 225-2216
    Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R)
    $52,250
    (202) 225-5431
    Texas Rep. Pete Sessions (R)
    $51,650
    (202) 225-2231
    South Dakota Sen. John Thune (R)
    $44,155
    (202) 224-2321
    Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson (R)
    $43,750
    (202) 225-5531
    Alabama Rep. Robert Aderholt (R)
    $43,749
    (202) 225-4876
    Kentucky Rep. Hal Rogers (R)
    $41,400
    (202) 225-4601
    Minnesota Rep. John Kline (R)
    $40,750
    (202) 225-2271
    Georgia Rep. Sanford Bishop (D)
    $40,650
    (202) 225-3631
    California Rep.Ken Calvert (R)
    $40,550
    (202) 225-1986
    Oregon Rep. Greg Walden (R)
    $37,250
    (202) 225-6730
    Missouri Rep. Sam Graves (R)
    $37,100
    (202) 225-7041
    Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan (R)
    $36,800
    (202) 225-3031
    North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr (R)
    $35,700
    (202) 224-3154
    Louisiana Sen. David Vitter (R)
    $35,250
    (202) 224-4623
    Kentucky Rep. Ed Whitfield (R)
    $34,850
    (202) 225-3115
    Pennsylvania Rep. Tim Murphy (R)
    $33,500
    (202) 225-2301
    Texas Rep. Joe Barton (R)
    $31,500
    (202) 225-2002

  6. Marlee says:

    My question is…why?

    Why is gun violence in our country the highest in most nations in the world?

    If we can answer that truthfully we can begin to change.

    For starts….I think we need to think about and research how much money the NRA is pouring into the pockets of Congress.

  7. Layla says:

    Happens to be Muslim? These are not enraged Episcopalians. Have any here ever been proud of America?

  8. DaveT says:

    I find it interesting that my handgun has not taken a shot at me. After all according to all the “experts” GUNS SHOOT PEOPLE. Cars kill people, that smartphone kills people, that 5th of whisky kills people.. The tragic issues here are deranged, sick people filled with hate kill people. If you get down to it and step back for a moment, anything in your home can kill you in the right hands. Anything from Home Depot can kill you. I don’;t see a band on cellphones that cause deaths each day by people texting while driving and we let people out of jails that have used a car to kill people while drinking.
    Sure lets just get rid of AR-15’s, I don’t care, there gone. And then someone with a pipe bomb kills 168 people like in Paris. No guns were used in Paris. So then what, start getting ripe of pipe, and the ingredients. What if someone kills someone with a kitchen knife, it still come down to the one common denominator, ‘deranged, sick people filled with hate”‘ will kill people and will use whatever they can find to do it. America needs to grow up and look at the real issues here. As far as I’m concerned AR-15’s are history, but twe still have people filled with hate killing people and they are still here doing what they want to do.

  9. Brian says:

    No surprises here from Pierre – he falls in lockstep with his gutless hero Ojamba to come out and blame AMERICA for this massacre. Let’s not blame the scum Muslim trash that perpetrated this attack – let’s blame an inanimate object! While the AR was firing bullets, did anyone hear it pause to shout “ALLAH AKBAR”? Was it the Glock that called 911 to pledge allegiance to ISIS? Was it the weapons who wallowed at the same mosque with the only American suicide bomber in ISIS? Of, course, everyone knows that Barak Hussein Obojangles won’t call it Radical Islamic Terrorism because he is a spineless failure when it comes to confronting terrorism.

  10. IMO says:

    August Maxwell. stop listening to the lies of democrats. The sale of automatic firearms is prohibited in this nation without a permit issued by the federal government.

    Yet we have Congressman standing before the media cameras advising “Anybody can go into a gun store or a gun convention and purchase a fully automatic weapon.

    Either they are outright lying or just plain stupid. There isn’t a weapon in inn this nation that someone can purchase that comes anywhere close to the weapons carried by the Police or our military.

    An AR-15 Hunting rifle is no match for an M-16.

    So sick and tired of this leftist progressive deceitful propaganda.

    Just this week you had that idiot Congressman Grayson advise the media a person can fire 700 rounds in a minute with an AR-15. Total hogwash. There isn’t a human being on this earth that can pull a trigger 700 times and reload an AR-15 twenty + times in a minute.

    AR-15! AR-15! AR-15! That’s all we hear from these people. Well guess what a Glock 17-18 or 19 pistol can fire more rounds in a minute than an AR-15.

  11. Knightwatch says:

    Why are we the leader in gun violence, Marlee? Because we have lots of angry, stressed or otherwise murderous people and way too many guns. Because it has become acceptable behavior to own guns and carry them into our shops and restaurants, our churches, theaters and malls. Because we admire, even idolize, gun toting, god fearing, super patriotic tough guys on TV and in movies. Because we use them routinely to to commit crimes, to settle disputes, to threaten and intimidate those we don’t like, and to end our own lives and the lives of those close to us. We do all this because we can. Guns are everywhere and easily gotten hold of in moments of anger, passion and madness.

    It’s sick and it’s sad, and there’s no end in sight. Keep your prayers and your candles ready.

  12. Jim R. says:

    Obama and Hillary’s solution is more bombing in Iraq and Syria, exactly what promotes the hatred of the U.S. More bombing means more so called terrorists willing to die to inflict damage on the aggressor nation.

  13. Outsider says:

    And yet another Islamist terror attack today in Kenya. There are 147 dead university students.m anyone want to guess who did it?

  14. Knightwatch says:

    Be real, Dave. Try some logic. Whisky is not specifically designed to kill. Nor are cellphones, cars or anything you might buy at Home Depot (don’t say rat/ant poison… I’ve got too little patience). Guns are there for killing. Assault-type weapons are designed to kill lots of people. I don’t know what you do with your guns, but far too many people use theirs to kill human beings. Almost 9,000 homicides, over 19,000 suicides and several thousand accidental deaths by guns. Guns are the leading cause of death among people 25 years old and under. Guns harm almost one adolescent each day In America.

    So, what do you think we ought to do to reduce these numbers?

  15. Defenderofthesecond says:

    Knightwatch, just because something is designed to kill, doesn’t mean it is the problem. Inanimate objects are not the problem. It’s the people who are the problem. So you succeed in banning assault weapons, what is stopping some crazed lunatic from building a pipe bomb (which also designed for killing)? Nothing, and a pipe bomb can do much more damage than a gun. But youre not harping on that, now are you? You’ve fallen for the democrats lies, and will do anything they say. Don’t give me statistics on how many deaths occur by gun every year, as for that doesn’t show the real problem. You neglect, as most followers of idiocy do, to show the numbers of how many SANE people own guns that there is never an issue. But no, you won’t do that because then you’ll be stuck with no argument. You want to look at numbers, look at all the fucking numbers and stop being the propaganda slave for the democrats.

  16. Geezer says:

    Watch out for angry Unitarians….
    N’ah, just kidding. They’re the mellowest group I’ve encountered.

  17. DaveT says:

    And yes you can go to home depot and buy everything you need to make a device to harm others, do your home work. You really didn’t understand the post Knightwatch, oh course those items are not designed to kill but they do in fact kill people daily in this country.. What should we do about “guns” well for starters, , nobody buys a weapon that has been on a watchlist. Any weapon purchase requires 3 days of research before any approval is given or there is a denial. All government law enforcement agencies must share data on possible individuals that could do harm to others. Regarding the AR style weapons no real need in civilian life. I used a Mk14 and a MK17 in Iraq and Afghanistan and really don’t need one at home. And the government needs to get serious about the treat we have at home with home grown terrorist. But until we replace the members in Congress its not going to happen. That’s up to the voters. Fifteen percent of deaths among people age 15-24 are death by homicide. In 2011, 68 percent of all homicides against people of all age groups in the U.S. were committed with firearms. Accidents account for 46 percent of deaths among people in the 15-24 age group. Motor vehicle accidents alone account for a third of all deaths. Yes the US is broke maybe the voters can fix it in Nov.

  18. Veteran says:

    In Florida it is illegal for a person with a concealed carry permit to bring a gun into a bar or night club. Law abiding citizens will obey this law. Criminals and terrorists will not and are pretty certain no one else will have a gun so they go in the club and wreak havoc. If there was a good guy with a gun at Pulse that night maybe Mateen could have been stopped before he killed so many. I see many responding to the article want guns to be gone. Does anyone think the terrorists, criminals and nut jobs are going to give theirs up. You are living in a dream world.

  19. Layla says:

    I think that we need to find out why the Feds are not enforcing our current law, much like illegal immigration.

  20. JJ32164 says:

    When every second counts, the police are only minutes away.

  21. karma says:

    2001-2010- NRA 119,246………….2010-Planned parenthood-765,651

  22. Nancy N. says:

    So all the NRA huggers claim that getting rid of the guns in our society won’t stop gun violence. Well, Europe and Australia have very strict gun laws and virtually non-existent gun violence.

    Why is that, then, that you think that strict gun control wouldn’t work here when evidence shows that it works in those places? Does American “exceptionalism” include us being inherently more violent and evil than those countries? Is that your argument?

  23. Common Sense says:

    The second amendment doesn’t give you the right to own an AR-15.

    This tragedy was perpetrated by an American, albeit a mentally unstable individual. Now that his history has been exposed it has become obvious that he was a tragedy waiting to happen. And yet there is nothing in our laws that prevents such an individual from easily buying weapons.

    Why is it so hard for gun advocates to see that something must be done?

    Thank you sheila for your information.

  24. Outsider says:

    My apologies for my error in stating there was a terror attack “today” in Kenya. The USA Today page has links to articles which I did not realize we’re dated, and was working with just a few hours of sleep. My point remains unchanged.

  25. Just saying says:

    Federal Assault Weapons Ban – September 13, 1994

    Oklahoma City bombing – April 19, 1995

    A determined enemy will always find a way.

  26. Sherry says:

    EXCELLENT article, Pierre! I agree with you completely!

    Once the NRA smoke and mirrors . . . and “talking points”, used over and over again my so many commenting here. . . is cleared away, the bottom line is that thousands of innocent people are dying and millions of families are being destroyed, in the ridiculous name of “MY SECOND AMENDMENT RIGHTS”!

    While the Second Amendment literally puts gun ownership (muzzle loaders in those days) in the context of a “WELL REGULATED” militia. . . the NRA has paid off enough of our legislators to keep any reasonable “REGULATIONS” from being enacted and enforced. Why, the CDC is not even allowed to collect reasonable data in order to generate accurate statistics on gun injuries and deaths!

    If you saw a child playing with matches or person carrying around a shoulder fired missile or bomb. . . would you not support taking away that DANGEROUS tool immediately, and then later finding out why that person felt the need to act out in such a way that posed a very high risk to others.

    Where precisely is the line drawn between your #$%^& Second Amendment rights and MY rights to safety, peace. . . and LIFE, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

    Assault weapons are made for no other purpose than specifically to MURDER MANY HUMAN BEINGS! BAN THEM from being owned by any and all civilians! BAN them COMPLETELY and IMMEDIATELY!

  27. Knightwatch says:

    That is pure radical republicaNRA BS Layla. That’s the signature irrational argument of the conspiracy-driven right… “why don’t they enforce current laws”. In fact everyone is doing their best to enforce the laws on the books. Most gun laws in this country are state and local, not federal. Do you not know that? Do you seriously think cities and states, red and blue, do not vigorously enforce their current laws? The Orlando shooter obeyed the law. He legally bought the rifle and the pistol he used to shoot over 100 people. So, too, did the San Bernardino shooter, the Boulder shooter, the Charleston shooter, the Sandy Hook shooter and Fort Hood and Columbine and Virginia Tech shooters. All legal firearms. And what does immigration enforcement have to do with these mass murderers? All were U.S citizens. None were illegal immigrants.

    So, enlighten me… which laws do we purposefully not enforce? Whose police force is culpable? Where, specifically, can we point to willful malfeasance, with proof?

    And can you recommend some “tightening up” we can do to better enforce current laws. How about increased taxes to bolster firearms law enforcement? How about universal background checks to weed out some of the suspected and the unbalanced? How about national gun registration? How about limits on the firepower? How about longer waiting periods to give law enforcement more time to check the credentials of gun buyers? How about linking “watch lists” to applications? Any of this ring a bell?? All rejected by rebublicaNRAs legislators across this long-suffering nation. You and your republicaNRA apologists regurgitate the same tired old nonsense, and people die by the tens and dozens and hundreds and thousands.

    You have a lot to answer for this year. You and your favorite fascist.

  28. Layla says:

    Today they are trying to ban knives in Britain. What next? Baseball bats, frying pans?

  29. Sherry says:

    Why don’t I just list the absolutely STUPID, fear filled talking points so that they do not need to be played again and again like an insipid, boring worn out record:
    1. Guns don’t kill people. . . people kill people= “right” so let’s just arm ourselves and kill all the people!
    2. The Second Amendment says= The Second Amendment actually says “a WELL REGULATED militia”
    3. “They” want to take ALL our guns away= NO. . . “They” just want reasonable gun safety laws to be implemented and strongly enforced on a national level so that guns cannot be easily bought in one state and transported to another= A ban on assault weapons, a thorough background check/restrictions on those unsuited to own guns, limits/tracking of weapons and ammunition so that private/internet/gun show sales are regulated.
    4. Cars, knives, baseball bats can kill too= Too STUPID for a retort, except that cars are generally more regulated than guns!
    5. The NRA received less campaign contributions (AKA legal bribes) that other organizations= So what, it’s all complete corruption of our government at every level. Campaign reform is very badly needed. Still 2 wrongs don’t make a right!
    6. We are America and have nothing to learn from the experience of other countries= Yeah, that kind of arrogance will get us nowhere, except showing our lack of evolution as a civilized country! Why should we bother to learn from others or from history.
    7. If we armed every man woman and child, we would be safer= Completely illogical and STUPID. . . not shown by any experience or statistics. . . in fact, just the opposite is proven. . . but, that is in other countries. . . and we don’t need their advice=STUPID!
    I’m sure there are plenty more. . . but , it’s time to enjoy more of beautiful Toulouse, France!

  30. Jim s says:

    Ahh! The scent of arrogance? Just step around it.

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