Pie in the Sky

December 16, 2012

It seems like shortly after the bullets stopped, but long before the tears dried, the blame began. Some questioned school security. Others implied poor parenting. Some blamed God. But the most public of pointed fingers blamed gun control laws, and by proxy, our President.

For the record, let me state that I am in favor of gun control laws. It has never made sense to me that a person needs a semi-automatic weapon to hunt deer. Despite my “TIME OF TROUBLE” upbringing I’m not paranoid enough about government to think that I need to “defend myself” someday. When friends post pictures of themselves at the shooting range, I am wholly unimpressed. In fact, it bothered me that the Democrats basically gave gun control the Voldemort treatment in this past election treating it as “the issue that shall not be named”.

Some people think that now is the time to talk about gun control, because if not now, then when? Michael Bloomberg took a shot at President Obama over his vague charge for “meaningful action”. Piers Morgan, who from his extensive time on reality TV shows, apparently has a gift of speaking trash to power, tweeted that Obama’s address to the nation amounted to “weasly words of comfort” when action was clearly needed.

I understand why people respond this way. When a problem occurs, we want to find ways to fix it or prevent a recurrence. Leaders talk about taking action so that a tragedy like this NEVER HAPPENS AGAIN. In order to prevent a problem, we want to find out why the problem happens, and that results in blame. This becomes especially convoluted when the shooter takes his own life. We try to put together a picture of why they would do such a horrible thing, but find no satisfactory answers. In addition to this, there is no public trial to satisfy our need for justice. Therefore, in order to assuage a feeling of helplessness, we try to manufacture a tangible solution.

Perhaps, I’m just not seeing things clearly, but I don’t see the connection between gun control laws and preventing this particular type of tragedy. Tragedy yes, but not this kind. Strict gun control laws exist in Norway, yet a massacre still occurred there. Canada is much more progressive on this issue as well, but they certainly haven’t been immune to this problem.

To me, blaming gun control laws for what happened at Sandy Hook reeks of opportunism. It seems like attacking Iraq after 9/11. It’s taking a tragedy and using it to push an agenda.  Unlike Iraq, in my opinion, the pushers tend to come from a much more reasonable position—that fewer guns will result in less violent crime. However, to someone who loves their guns and their 2nd amendment rights, the call for increased gun control based on this massacre probably seems about as ludicrous as blaming Saddam Hussein for what happened to the Twin Towers. Frankly it makes advocates for gun control seem less credible.

In addition to the credibility issue, I don’t think the American public is ready to give up its guns just yet. Over the past two years, we’ve had mass-shootings in Arizona, Nevada, California, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Washington, Colorado, Minnesota, Oregon, and now Connecticut. The past two years. Eighteen precious kids dead on Friday, resulting in a few calls for more gun control from a few politicians. The needle hasn’t moved. It almost seems like Americans have an endless capacity to stomach this poison as long as they can wash it down with some freedom. So I guess I don’t really agree with the “now is the time to act” crowd.

I believe that even with this tragedy, the gun-control talk will die down. The NRA won’t be losing sleep over this, or any members either. So fingers will be pointed at other industries. The right will probably blame Hollywood as a purveyor of violence. Some may blame video games in desensitizing young men to commit these horrifying acts. Others will point to security breaches and call for more guns in the hands of ordinary citizens.

However, while addressing the issue of violence in our culture is certainly worthwhile, and taking measures to improve our security is reasonable, these won’t necessarily prevent a tragedy like Sandy Hook from happening once more. So what can be done to prevent such horrifying acts from ever happening again?

Honestly, I don’t believe there is anything we can do to prevent such senseless violence. The amount of freedom we have is not compatible with a life of safety. It would be safer to live in a police state where houses are searched on a daily basis, airport-style security checkpoints exist at every Jamba Juice, and security cameras monitor every conversation. But does that sound like a better life? While perfect safety seems appealing in the light of terror, it changes to fiendish oppression when the light shifts.

Therefore, within the context of a relatively-free society, we have to live with the notion that this can and will happen again.

While I don’t see any perfect solution, I do think there are measures to reduce the likelihood of another Sandy Hook. First of all, I think these mass shootings need to be studied carefully. What did these young men have in common? When did they first show signs of social detachment? How did their families and those around them react to their differences? In addition to studying those who followed through, research should be done on withdrawn individuals who didn’t follow through on their violent urges. I’ve got to think that for every Adam Lanza, there are several kids who had similar thoughts but stopped short. Finding what kept them from crossing that line seems significant.

I’m guessing that one thing that keeps those urges in check is attachment or connection. I’ve gone through periods of depression in my life, and sometimes my thoughts have wandered to the morbid. However, what kept me far away from acting on any urges to harm myself was the thought of how it would affect others. How they would miss me. How it would hurt. I know some people probably think these young men are monsters who are incapable of such feelings, and at the time they acted, that might have been true. However, I’m guessing they weren’t always that way. If someone could have reached out to these kids before they started to plan out these atrocities, before they lost any sense of empathy, before their view of life became twisted beyond repair, then maybe…

Maybe it wouldn’t take much for kids to get realigned with life. Allowing them to talk with an adult who emerged from those difficult times to live a healthy life could provide just enough light to disrupt the darkness. Putting parents, family members, school counselors, and teachers in touch with resources for identifying warning signs (based on the studies outlined above) and strategies for working with these kids might help. Online communities and support groups for parents who must struggle with raising such children could turn helplessness into hope. Increasing funding for big brother type programs, affordable counseling, and parent/community education programs could be part of the solution.

This may seem like pie in the sky thinking, that basically just giving a kid attention could be the panacea for this type of tragedy. But I don’t think it is any less substantive than the changes that might actually come from Sandy Hook. I doubt Congress acts on any gun control laws, but if they did, the bill would be so watered-down it would be a symbolic victory at best. Parental consent might be needed to purchase extremely violent video games. Movie ratings might change to make it more difficult for teenagers to watch violent movies. More schools might install security equipment. Does anyone think these will be any more effective? I would term these measures, pi in the sky. They may placate our need to feel like we’ve done something, but they certainly aren’t rational.

And even if laws are implemented and government resources are provided, they won’t make a difference until individuals decide to step up. As a teacher, I need to reach out to kids who might be slipping into a world of isolation. As a parent, I need to look for troubling signs in my daughter (kitten personality disorder?) and my daughter’s friends. As a community member, I need to treat all kids with respect and compassion. I need to do more so that more of us can be safe.  This would be meaningful action.

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