Extrospectives: America’s Kabuki Theater – The Mountain-Ear

Kabuki theater originated in the early 17th century when Japan was ruled by the Tokugawa shogunate. This ancient form of drama is known for highly stylized performances. Costumes, makeup, and masks are used to create elaborate physical caricatures of each subject.

In its earliest incarnation, kabuki was performed by female dance troupes. It often featured salacious themes and (for the time) suggestive choreography. In 1629, women’s kabuki, known as onna-kabuki, was banned because the shogunate believed its erotic content encouraged moral depravity. In the yaro kabuki tradition that followed, male actors played all the roles, and ritualized drama was given priority over dance.

The result of this politicized evolution is an art form defined by a litany of traditions and taboos. The scripts follow centuries-old formulas, as do some of the costumes and masks. Controversial issues are resolved. Meaning is mainly conveyed through inference.

America’s endless debate over tragedies like Uvalde has calcified into a modern-day form of kabuki theater.

It’s not hard to imagine Biden and his allies wearing masks of sadness and outrage as they denounce the gun lobby. It’s even easier to picture NRA chief Wayne LaPierre in black kumadori makeup (meaning villainy in the kabuki tradition) as he replies, “Only good guys with guns can stop bad guys with guns.”

Aside from repeating unyielding political differences, our response to mass shootings has evolved into a series of rituals that get nowhere while ignoring hard truths that underpin gun violence.

Liberal pundits point out that most Americans support universal background checks, longer wait times for purchases, and red flag laws to remove guns from unstable individuals. This is true. They also claim that the only way to meaningfully reduce gun violence is to eliminate the Senate filibuster. That’s disingenuous.

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Progressives say the filibuster unfairly blocks the will of the majority and undermines American democracy. But the filibuster is working exactly as intended, restricting controversial legislation that lacks bipartisan support in a tightly divided Congress. This includes new gun control laws.

There is little openness about the massive amount of gun control that would be required to keep America safe.

New York Times Columnist Charles M. Blow recently conceded, “The truth no one wants to tell—those who understand opponents of gun safety laws, and the reason so many of them oppose new laws—is that no single law or package of laws will do to solve America’s gun violence problem.”

Mr. Blow acknowledged that Republicans “view gun safety laws as a slippery slope that could lead to broader legislation and even one day to national gun registries, requirements and bans. I see it the same way and actively hope so.”

There are an estimated 400 million firearms in America, over 98% of them in civilian hands. At 120 guns per 100 people, reducing the rate and managing the circumstances of purchasing new guns will only have a modest impact on gun violence. For gun control to make a significant dent, the number of guns in circulation must be drastically reduced.

There are a few policy ideas — like a massive government gun buyback program or a national gun ownership age of 21 — that could influence gun violence without being crushed by SCOTUS, but they’re not the focus of our kabuki debate.

And there are more hard truths lurking behind the theater.

Matthew Yglesias wrote in Bloomberg: “Progressives need to move beyond a strategy of tweeting harder, ranting more and blaming the financial clout of the now-nearly defunct NRA. They must come to terms with the fact that reducing gun violence will require more policing and incarcerations, not less.”

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In 2020, handguns accounted for 59% of all gun homicides in the US, while assault weapons accounted for just 3%. Handguns are easy to conceal.

To find illegal handguns, police need tools to stop and search people. But post-George Floyd progressive dogma dictates that stop and search policies are discriminatory, and that the low-level crimes that facilitate police stops under a “broken window” philosophy should not be enforced in minority communities.

Even without the filibuster, illicit stockpiles of guns will not be reduced when progressives exempt members of their coalition from complying with the law in the name of social justice.

As Mr Yglesias noted, “calling for new rules while reluctant to enforce existing ones is a burning credibility with conservative voters who see a left eager to punish their hobby and reluctant to punish criminals”.

Addressing the role of mental illness in gun violence is also an irreducible challenge.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently called mass shootings a mental health issue, sparking outrage when the mainstream media accused him of scapegoating an already victimized population. In a classic “whataboutism,” Abbott’s critics called him a hypocrite because Texas spends less on mental health than any other state. They also point to the number of bills recently passed by lawmakers that encourage rather than restrict the use of guns.

In the United States, an average of 45,000 people die from guns each year, and their circumstances vary greatly. If our goal is to improve security, we cannot confuse gang and drug-related shootings with crimes of passion, robberies, or mass shootings.

Improved data analyzes are increasingly showing that mass gunman pathology differs markedly from other forms of gun violence. There is mounting evidence showing a strong link between mass shootings and suicide.

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A study shows that most mass shooters experienced severe social alienation and suicidal thoughts in the 15 years prior to the crime. Many have left footprints by blaming others for their anguish, depression, and falling self-esteem.

Incidents like Uvalde should be understood as suicide by mass shooting. Alarming as that is, it means that improved social media profiling and other early detection tools could ultimately prevent more of these events than gun control legislation.

The satirical website The Onion routinely responds to mass shootings with a headline: “‘No way to stop this,’ says only the nation where this happens regularly.” Posing by Second Amendment and gun control factions is a kabuki game that keeps us going prevents exploring alternative solutions that could accelerate the quest for a safer America.

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