In the end, changes in the law won't matter much, although, of course, the easy availability to civilians of military-style assault weapons is hardly immaterial. The core problem for America, however, from the starkly compelling standpoint of lone-wolf mass murderers, is not fundamentally legal, political, or institutional. It is, rather, that we inhabit a relentlessly imitative and dreadfully conformist society, one that is deeply troubled, fervidly anti-individualist, deliriously unhappy, and obscenely dysfunctional. For those who fail to "fit in," the corollary anger can spiral into monstrous violence.
Today, almost every young person in this casually merciless land desperately wants to be well-respected and "connected." This person already knows that our vaunted individualism is merely a convenient lie, and that any "rugged" attempts to defy our mass society will end in humiliating failure. In a country where everyone is ultimately defined by what he can buy, it is already understood that meaningfully tangible rewards will come only to those who have finally learned to surrender their once-untransferrable individuality.
Some observations are obvious, but still need to be understood in a broader context. Each of the recent mass shooters was manifestly psychopathic, but this does not mean that each planned his annihilatory spasms in some sort of civilizational vacuum. On the contrary, such meticulous plans are never conceived in a neatly detached private universe.
In all the most recent cases of American mass murder, pertinent mental distress and disorientation were dangerously intertwined with a larger national landscape of ubiquitous violence. By intersecting with their own personal demons, this fractured and fragmenting landscape provided the indispensable environment within which otherwise unimaginably sinister plans could actually be concocted.
Where has America gone wrong? At its heart, the problem of young people who systematically and dispassionately shoot blameless and anonymous others stems from a society that proudly loathes an individual, any individual. Driven by an almost irresistible need to conform at all costs, we have now learned not only to tolerate mass society, but to glorify it. In consequence, functioning under carefully choreographed rhythmic urgings to worship every inane and distracting technology, we are now frequently more attentive to our "apps" than to our children.
Social networking has become much more than a helpful and pleasing set of relationship opportunities. It has become the new American religion. To act against its expectations is not just unacceptable. It is blasphemous.
For the most part, whether in business or in education, any American who would dare to affirm personal value apart from the larger "team" is promptly pushed aside. It is, nonetheless, precisely this sought-after absorption by a group that can corrode personal responsibility and authentic community. On occasion, as we have witnessed, it may even transform cruelty and mass killing into a singularly welcome vision.
"Long live death!"
To the darkly lonely one who feels himself unable to "belong," to find some sufficiently sustaining acceptance in the group, an inconsolable despair can become overwhelming. Again, the "remedy" for this gravely painful condition, a sort of residual "sickness unto death," may have to be found elsewhere, that is, in very ritually orchestrated preparations for mass murder.