US Mass Shootings: Gun Issue, Mental Health Issue… War Issue?

Caitlin Johnstone
7 min readNov 9, 2018

Ahh, the day after a high-profile mass shooting in America: the only time Republicans will ever pretend to care about the mentally ill.

A man, pictured above, killed twelve people with a gun at a California bar yesterday, then turned the gun on himself bringing the total number of dead to thirteen. Like a disproportionately high number of mass shooters in the US, he served in the military. He reportedly suffered from PTSD as a result of his experiences in Afghanistan with the US Marines. America’s war in Afghanistan is the longest war in US history.

We all already know the script by heart now. A loud demand for gun control legislation will come from Democrats and progressives, while conservatives will insist that America’s mass shooting epidemic is a mental health issue, not a gun issue. This debate will rage on impotently for a few days to a few weeks, and exactly zero changes will be made in US gun policy or in mental health care. Happens every single time.

That’s really the only debate Americans are allowed to have about these shootings, and it’s already seeing arguments cranked out by both sides marching everyone into their respective partisan stables. The spectrum of acceptable debate has been narrowed down to two opposing viewpoints which cancel each other out, neither of which will ever come anywhere remotely close to inconveniencing anyone who has real power.

You should always be skeptical when you see a popular line of debate like this. Noam Chomsky said, “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum — even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.”

The propagandists who manipulate your society are constantly trying to narrow that spectrum of debate to the point where it’s just empty bickering which poses no real threat to real power. They want you arguing about whether or not Democrats are better than Republicans, not whether the two-party system is rigged for the elite class that owns it.They want you arguing about Trump’s rude tweets and the hurt feelings of Jim Acosta, not this administration’s persistent advancement of longstanding, world-threatening neoconservative military agendas. They want you arguing about whose speech should be censored on the internet, not whether there should be internet censorship at all. They want you arguing about who is and is not a “terrorist”, a label that is useful only to the government agencies who leverage that word to justify increasing government intrusiveness. They want you fighting to control the position of an on/off switch that isn’t connected to anything.

The plutocrats who use mass media propaganda and alliances with opaque government agencies to manipulate public thought to their advantage do not actually care if civilians are shooting each other, as long as it doesn’t damage their investments. They do not care how many bullets you are allowed to put in your gun, nor do they care if the mentally ill receive adequate treatment. They care very much, however, about their ability to manufacture consent for the endless military campaigns they wage for profit and geopolitical dominance.

It is already well documented that individuals who’ve served in the US military are at least twice as likely to commit mass shootings as the rest of the adult population, and this should surprise no one. Being exposed to meaningless acts of slaughter can break your mind, which is why there is a suicide epidemic among US veterans. Couple that factor with PTSD and the way servicemen are psychologically conditioned and desensitized to the killing of human beings, and you’ve got a recipe for mass murder when those men come home.

Of course, not all mass shootings are committed by veterans; two-thirds are committed by people who’ve never served in the military. And I maintain that those shootings are directly related to US warmongering as well.

The three most overlooked and under-appreciated aspects of the human experience are (1) consciousness itself, (2) the extent to which compulsive thinking habits dominate our lives, and (3) the extent to which we are influenced by domestic propaganda. American society is saturated in war propaganda, and has been for a long time, to the extent that hardly anyone even notices it anymore. It’s like that old joke about the two fish who are asked “How’s the water?” by a passing duck and then turn to each other to ask “What’s water?”; things like ubiquitous flag worship, intelligence and defense agencies influencing Hollywood movie scripts, the way the mass media consistently rallies in support of every new military campaign while ignoring the endless ongoing nature of old ones; these things are all so pervasively normalized that they don’t stand out against the background much.

But they are very abnormal, and they have real consequences. If we lived in a healthy, peaceful world where wars suddenly started happening, every single person would recoil with horror and do everything in their power to stop it. But because it’s something we’re born into and indoctrinated into accepting as normal, it just gets taken on as a natural part of life, and because Americans happen to live where the western empire concentrates most of its military might, they are the most pervasively propagandized people on earth. So now it just slides right into their minds unchecked when CNN stages a fake interview featuring a little Syrian girl reciting scripted war propaganda, when US media squeals with delight every time Trump bombs Syria, when war criminals like George W Bush are humanized and embraced by his ostensible opposition, the way dangerous new cold war escalations are being continually advanced against Russia while the mass media tells US liberals that Trump is too soft on Putin, to name just a few very recent examples.

If war propaganda didn’t significantly impact the public psyche, nobody would use it. The correlation between mass murder in the US and domestic war propaganda has not been scientifically researched, because the suggestion that domestic war propaganda exists in the US has not gained mainstream acceptance. Anyone who paid attention to western media’s unforgivable facilitation of the invasion of Iraq knows that corporate news media is such a reliable a partner to the US military that it may as well be a part of the military itself, but the first order of propagandizing an ostensibly free country is to hide the fact that that country is being propagandized. If it entered into mainstream awareness that the powerful people who control the mass media are using it to manipulate the way Americans think, perceive, behave, and vote, trust in those outlets would fall away and the ability to propagandize the masses would be lost. Americans not realizing that they are propagandized is itself a product of propaganda.

Lack of scientific inquiry notwithstanding, what else could explain the uniquely American mass shooting epidemic? Surely access to firearms is a factor, but other countries like Switzerland have similarly liberal gun laws without anything like the level of violence seen in the US. Surely mental health is a factor as well, but neither mental health problems nor lack of healthcare is a problem unique to the US. There is nothing like the mass shooting epidemic in the United States anywhere else in the world, nor indeed anywhere else in recorded history. Name me one thing unique to America that could possibly explain its unique mass shooting problem besides the fact that the American psyche is necessarily pummeled with war propaganda day in and day out in order to manufacture consent for US war agendas, and sometimes the mind gets bent so far it breaks.

Again, I am not saying that guns or mental health aren’t factors in this phenomenon, and I am not saying that these aren’t debates that Americans should be having with each other. But the fact that domestic propaganda can undeniably be found throughout the US media and the fact that mainstream psychology is completely ignoring its effects means that there are definitely leviathans moving beneath the surface of social consciousness which have yet to have any light shone on them.


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