So, ‘broader societal problems’ in Newtown, or not?

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It goes without saying that the GetReligion crew has been closely watching the coverage of the massacre in Newtown, Conn., waiting for religion shoes to drop. So far, other than coverage of the vigil services, the emphasis — especially at CNN — has been gun control, gun control, gun control.

Since I know readers will bring this up, let me stress that, personally, I am in favor of much stricter gun control laws than we currently have in America. However, the fact that this horror took place in Connecticut, a state with rather strict laws, has made the media coverage even more poignant. The guns were legal.

As Rod “friend of this blog” Dreher said, in complete frustration:

Absent a total and draconian ban on weapons, how do you write a gun control law that can prevent a middle-aged suburban Connecticut woman who enjoys target shooting from buying guns?

The question of why this woman felt that she needed an assault weapon will be discussed, for sure. The mind boggles.

But back to the purpose of this blog, which is the discussion of religion-news coverage in the mainstream press.

In most cases, debates about massacres of this kind often devolve into discussions between gun-control liberals, gun-freedom libertarians and various kinds of cultural conservatives who see evidence of various forms of social decay — from violence in our movies, to splintered homes, to increasingly value-neutral schools, to first-person-shooter video games that resemble the programs our military leaders use to make soldiers more willing to pull triggers in combat. Then there are people like me whose beliefs fall in more than one of these camps.

However, The Washington Post has run a short story based on Pew Research Center data that claims to offer evidence of a shocking, and apparently growing, two-way split in the American population:

In the wake of the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, one of the central questions being asked is what this horrible incident tells us about who we are as a country.

Not much, if you look at the polling conducted on this matter since the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007. Since that time, the tendency for people to call these sorts of mass murderers isolated incidents without any broader meaning has soared just as those saying the events are indicative of broader societal problems has ebbed.

Here’s a chart from Pew Research Center detailing polling in the aftermath of the three previous high profile incidents of violence committed with a gun.

Following the Aurora movie theater murders, two-thirds of people said it was an isolated act committed by a troubled individual. That’s a significant increase from the 47 percent who said the same following the Virginia Tech incident.

“Isolated incidents” is supposed to be the conservative, pro-guns option. The assumption, then, is that the “broader societal problems” option is the politically and culturally liberal option in this survey.

That’s interesting, in light of the fact that so many cultural and religious conservatives have, for years, seen these tragic evidence of broader, frightening cultural trends in American life. The Post story, and perhaps the Pew data, does not seem to take this into account. Instead, we read:

Among those who said that Aurora represented a broader societal problem, roughly six in ten believed the priority should be controlling gun ownership rather than protecting gun rights. Among those who viewed it as an isolated incident, just more than 40 percent prioritized controlling the ownership of firearms.

The simple truth, at least according to this poll data, is that the increasing tendency in the wake of shootings like the one in Connecticut is to chalk it up to a troubled person and move on.

In short, I think this story organizes America’s frustration and pain on these issues into TWO CAMPS, when there are at least three.

Where are the religion ghosts in that equation? That would be among the cultural conservatives who see the horrors of Newtown and similar visions of hell as evidence of, well,”broader societal problems” that are moral and spiritual, as well as cultural and political.

Ghosts? I would say.