Like many people I am still attempting to make sense of the Newtown shootings. The biggest arguments seem to be over the need for gun control. But there is so much more to this tragedy and our condition of violence that needs to be considered. I wish that I had the time to think more about this issue and put together a better organized post, but right now I just have some random thoughts about this situation.
The suicide of the mass murderers is extremely frightening – I may be incorrect about this, but I think we are seeing a new type of violence in our society. Innocent people have been gunned down in the past but usually they were at the wrong place at the wrong time. Another person or institution was the target of our historical killers. I do not remember reading about people going into schools, theaters or churches and just indiscriminately gunning people down.
What I believe has changed is the willingness of the killers to commit suicide. That releases the killer from any concerns of worldly punishment. The killer is going to die anyway. Without the fear of trying to escape punishment, it seems that these killers are capable of doing horror that is more unspeakable than killers in the past. Why this propensity to commit suicide has developed is a mystery to me. But given my belief in human depravity, it is frightening as it increases the damage a person will do before dying by his (I will use male pronouns to describe mass murders until I see a female one) own hands.
There is no single solution – Any solution we create has to deal with multiple problems. The problem is not just that assault weapons are available. It is also problematic that we have a dysfunctional mental health system. It is also problematic that we have video games and media that encourage violence. There are issues of school security and moral values. Anyone who only wants to deal with only one of these issues is not a serious thinker about how to curb shootings in our society.
In fact I am suspicious of those who only talk of gun control or media violence or school security. In our politically polarized society it becomes easy to find a group to scapegoat, be they the NRA or Hollywood, and place all of the blame on them. For this reason, I would suggest comprehensive measures that incorporate all of the above issues so that the “blame game” can be spread around.
I see the biggest problem as violent video games – I am not going to violate the random thought above and claim that violent video games is the only problem. But it seems to me that the biggest sociological difference between crime now and in the past is violent video games. We have had automatic weapons, mentally ill individuals and violent movies for quite some time. But the level of violence in these video games is something that is quite new and quite scary.
Have you seen some of the first-person shooter games kids are playing with? The kid gets to pretend that he/she is the killer. He/she gets to point guns at people, pull the trigger and watch blood spurt out. This is what sociologists call “anticipatory socialization.” It prepares people for future acts. We do the same with a flight simulator. We are training pilots for future events. With video games we are essentially training future killers and socializing them to kill. We may have to rethink some of the license we give to having such violence glorified.These killings will not end – Trust me, I do not want to acknowledge this. But reality forces me to admit that we can take all of the measures we want, and we will still have mass murders in our society. In the Newtown situation I am not sure what could have been done to stop it. The killer would not have shown up on any mental health screens. He probably would have been able to eventually procure a weapon. The school security was not incompetent, yet he still got into the school. Unfortunately, we are going to have these tragedies for the foreseeable future.
This does not mean that we should do nothing. We can hopefully reduce the number of tragedies with some common sense measures. Nevertheless, our goal cannot be the elimination of all future shootings. We are setting ourselves up for disappointment if we have the total elimination of mass murders as a goal. Rather we must realistically know that some shootings are still going to occur no matter what new laws and rules we establish.
We have to stop playing politics with this problem – I suspect that those who only want to deal with one element of this problem are playing political games. They seem more concerned about stigmatizing their political enemies than finding a comprehensive solution. But there are other ways we allow our political desires to interfere with our need to find a solution.
For example, like many people I was disappointed by the unwillingness of the NRA president to consider new gun laws in his press conference. Clearly, there is a vested interest in gun ownership that prevented him from honestly tackling the issue of gun violence. But his argument for the need of upgraded school security is on point. Why not have trained, armed security officers in schools if we can afford it? But this was heavily criticized by progressives who simply do not like the NRA. It is one thing to critique the NRA for not considering gun regulation. It is quite another to reject solutions because they are offered by the NRA. I suspect that many of these progressives rejected school security solutions out of spite against the NRA than out of the merits of that suggestion. I want all solutions on the table so that we can protect our most valuable asset – our children.
These are some of my “random thoughts”. We have to think about these issues if we are going to find a comprehensive answer to the problem of mass murders. I am not an expert in criminology and so I am not in the best position to consider answers for this problem. But I like to think that I can still offer some thoughtful contributions to confronting this issue. It is my hope that all of us will take a deep breath, step back and look at this problem with honesty and insight. It is then that we as a nation will develop the answers we need to confront this evil social problem.