If the 2012 slaying of 26 people, most of them adorable 6- and 7-year-old students, at Sandy Hook Elementary didn't move this nation to aggressively tackle the causes of gun violence, why does anyone expect the deaths of Walmart shoppers in El Paso and bar customers in Dayton to inspire change?
Writing such a hopeless question is a gut punch. But the last week has made us feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day.
What’s the point?
Solutions to mass violence must involve a comprehensive approach.
We've all been here before and it seems like everything is still the same.
The thing is, Murray's character, TV weatherman Phil Connors, figured it out: Repeating the same day over and over and over, he realized doing the same thing each time wasn't going to change the day's outcome. Once he thought it through, Phil began systematically adjusting his behavior, hoping to earn the affection of his resistant love interest, a colleague played by Andie MacDowell.
That was a movie. Oh, if only such happy endings could be so easily achieved.
Our calendars aren't stuck on Groundhog Day. The truth is a lot of time has passed since Columbine, since Killeen, since Virginia Tech, since Aurora, since Orlando, since Las Vegas. We don't wake up to the same date every day. But we do wake up to a nation in which political figures are frozen in time, offering familiar phrases repeated ad nauseam. Then, it's like they see their shadows and are frightened back into their holes of inaction.
In the wake of last weekend's deadly shootings that left 31 dead and others injured in ways they will deal with for the rest of their lives, maybe we can all be forgiven for feeling we're caught in a similar time loop.
Until the next shooter shocks us all, and the cycle starts again.
Americans are besieged by entrenched political figures who retreat to their respective ideologies just moments after they express respect and condolences. They take up defensive positions, protecting themselves until the cacophony of reactions settle and our minuscule, device-trained attention spans turn to some other, more immediate outrage.
Look, some NFL star is taking a knee!
Oh my, can you believe what the president tweeted this morning about Joe Biden?
Are we headed to war with Iran this time?
What are the Kardashians doing now?
Then, the pressure fades and the political system nudges its way past the outrage over 31 mortally wounded bodies added to our long tally of violence.
So, yes, what's going to be different about El Paso and Dayton? Just because it's a gut-punch kind of question doesn't diminish its accuracy.
It's not as though there's a shortage of proposals. When it comes to potential
explanations for the behavior of killers, or legislative or enforcement responses that might make a difference next time, the people of the United States are loaded with ideas. For every idea advocated, it seems there's someone ready to dismiss it. "That's not it," they say. "It's this."
"Not it's not," comes the response. "It's that other thing."
The reality is it's probably all those things.
You are foolish if you believe mental illness has nothing to do with violent attacks at crowded venues. The internal struggles of the mind, however, are in most cases not a necessary precursor to mass violence. Mental illness today is mostly used as a political term, not a medical diagnosis. Yet, if we can figure out a way to intercede and deliver mental health services to the angry young men who perpetrate these terrible crimes, would that save some lives?
You are foolish if you believe easy access to high-powered rifles with high-volume capacities has nothing to do with the speed an individual can carry out massive levels of carnage. The legitimate constitutional questions are not wiped aside as easily as some gun-control advocates might suggest, but the subject of weaponry cannot be divorced from a search for answers to mass casualties happening too often.
You are foolish if your participation in the debate is rooted in making the United States a gun-free country.
You are foolish if you believe the tone established by the words and behavior our nation's president has nothing to do with fostering an environment of hatred for those who are different.
You are foolish if you believe our culture -- the way we glorify violence as a means to an end -- has nothing to do with inspiring violence.
You're foolish if you believe venting on social media is an adequate response to move the needle. Social media is (1) a disaster for meaningful discussion to have influence on others (beyond entrenching them further in their pre-conceived notions) and (2) a platform easily dismissed by political leaders. Write them a letter. Use every opportunity to engage with them directly. Respectfully but strongly let them hear your voice in one-on-one fashion that has far more impact than a tweet or a rant on Facebook, if they even see that.
And finally, you are foolish if you believe the complexities of violence in our culture can be addressed by anything less than a comprehensive examination of all these factors, and more.
Let's not just "do something." Let's do something that makes a difference.
So, what's our solution? If it were only that easy. What we're saying is we know the solution is not doing the same thing we collectively have always done. So think about it: How can you constructively go beyond what you've done in the past to become a voice of reason in the discussion about mass violence involving guns? How can you be open to others' ideas, even just 10 or 20 percent more open than you've been in the past?
Surely, common ground can be discovered in the unifying desire to stop seeing innocent people die.
Our governor, Asa Hutchinson, can be a leader if he can discern a way to embrace the so-called "red flag" laws, which create a mechanism for a judge to temporarily remove guns from an individual after evidence shows he's a danger to himself or others. He backed off that last week, saying he hasn't seen a proposal he'd support because of concerns about due process. That's absolutely important, and we think achievable when smart people like Hutchinson commit themselves to working out the details.
Legitimate gun buyers -- the law-abiding citizens we hear
about in this debate -- ought to have no problem with tightened background checks as long as they're meaningful and not just window dressing.
As with all matters, a focus on delivering mental health services to those in crisis is a vital component.
Our political leaders as well as our movie, television and video game industries can set examples of self-control in how they treat others and the portrayal of violence in mass media.
Our newspapers can provide coverage that delivers the facts, but guards against story and photo treatments that might appear to glorify or make famous those who carry out deeds of violence.
Ultimately, we must all ask ourselves this: What would you do to help increase the odds that your daughter, son or grandchild (1) would not face the horror of someone intent on killing them or (2) if they did face such circumstances, stand a better chance to escape so that they could live out their precious lives?
Commentary on 08/11/2019
Print Headline: All this foolishness