Monday, December 17, 2012

America's Tragedy - A Commentary on Mass Shootings

I’ve been thinking long and hard over the weekend regarding my words over the tragedy of Newtown, CT.  I think any parent would say that those children are our children, the nation's children, and while very few of us can know what it feels like to be their parents, our hearts ache for them.  This tragedy rips open a wound in our country so large that the scar will be there forever and may never heal.

Last night President Obama spoke at the memorial service in Newtown.  His words were strong, and his message was clear.  With this being his fourth memorial service for mass shooting victims, it is time that this country take a stand.  This cannot continue.

And yet I read of five other similar incidents that occurred over the weekend.  In Indiana, a man with 47 guns threatened to go to a nearby elementary school and kill more children.  In Oklahoma, a student was arrested, luckily, after planning to bomb and shoot kids in his school on the very same day as the Newtown massacre.  In Kansas, two police officers were shot and killed outside of a grocery store.  In Chicago, a city long known for horrible gun violence, two people died and 15 more were wounded in separate incidents across the city.  In California, 50 shots were fired outside of a mall.  I’m sure there were probably more incidents like these.  All of these reports came after we lost 20 beautiful angels.

What is wrong with us???

America has a real problem.  It’s not taxes on the wealthy.  It’s not unemployment.  Despite those problems currently being addressed by our nation’s government, raising tax rates on the rich folks is not going to prevent innocent people—CHILDREN—from losing their precious lives.  Action must be taken to stop this.

So what needs to be done?  Well first, I look at all of these suspects and assailants, and I notice a common theme in them.  James Holmes, Adam Lanza, Dylan Klebold, Eric Harris, Jared Loughner, Seung-Hui Cho.  All males in their late teens to early twenties.  Mostly white.  The correlations between the mass-killing violence and sex and age of the perpetrators, at the very least, can’t be denied.

Today I watched as some guy in his early twenties cut me and three others off on my eight-minute drive to work.  He then had stopped in a left turning lane, and as I drove past him and looked over, he had this blank stare on his face.  He didn’t care about anyone or anything else—just getting where he had to go.  And the other day as I was walking into a convenience store, a twenty-something guy opened the door right in front of me just enough so that he could enter, making me lunge for it instead of holding it open for me.  He was in his own little world, unobservant and/or completely apathetic to the people around him.  Desensitized and uncaring.  Two minor annoyances in the grand scheme of things, but a common theme nonetheless.

This morning I saw something that completely horrified me.  I must warn you, the language here is  incredibly graphic:  As I sat, tears welling up at the corners of my eyes as President Obama spoke at the memorial last evening, these insolent people not only were upset about NBC’s choice of programming (something I can’t even fathom) but actually had the wherewithal to go online and rant about it with such vulgar words.

What is wrong with us??

In examining the demographics of the perpetrators of these mass killings, we’re looking at somewhere between 5-10% of our population by age and race.  Most of these perpetrators have had mental or psychological issues.    Add in the warning signs and red flags, and we can probably narrow it down to fractions of a percent.  So if we say 0.5%, we’re talking about 1.5 million people.  That’s an average of 30,000 per state, or a little less than 500 per county.  I’m speaking in averages here, so some may be many more and others may be many less, but 500 per county doesn’t seem like an awful lot of people to keep track of.  It would at least provide us with a good starting point.

I think the first step has to be identification and intervention.  These people are deeply troubled individuals, and we need to figure out what’s going on inside their heads.  I was reading this article today,, and my heart goes out to this woman.  Obviously her son is one of the ones I’d include.  But we can’t just round them all up and lock them up.  We need to get them the professional mental health treatment they need.  And unfortunately that may be a lot easier said than done.  But it’s a first step, and even if it stopped one massacre, wouldn’t it be worth it?

I’ve read that a couple of celebrities (one apparently now a hoax) came out and commented that God has been taken out of our schools, and that if we had more religion, we’d see less of these situations.  That’s another point that is hard to argue.  I’m not a very religious person myself, but I did have parents who taught me strong morals and ethics.  I was permitted to watch R-rated movies when I was young, but I was not desensitized to the violence.  My mother explained to me that these movies were fiction and that the motives of the villains were unethical and evil.  I learned the difference between right and wrong, and that’s what is important.  I think far too many of us today, especially the younger generations, are not being taught or are not comprehending such a basic idea.  It is morally and spiritually and reprehensibly wrong to hurt or take the life of another individual.

We need to have better security in the places where people gather.  That would primarily include schools and churches, but places like malls, movie theaters, and workplaces where hundreds or thousands of people come together need to be better protected.  Buildings that have more than, say, 100 occupants should be required to have at least one trained security person—someone who is fit enough mentally, physically, and emotionally to handle and hopefully prevent a situation like Aurora or Newtown or Tucson from ever occurring.  I also think everyone over the age of 16 should be heavily encouraged to take a self-defense and emergency response class.  This should be taught in our schools by trained professionals—teachers—who would work full-time in the schools as well and that would lead a crisis team in the event of an armed assailant.  It could even be worked directly into the physical fitness courses.

And finally, our country must have a serious discussion regarding its love of guns.  I'm rather neutral with respect for guns.  I'm not overly fond of them, but I understand the need for them (like hunting deer so that I don't have to hit them with my car).  I have a close friend, a gun enthusiast, that has offered repeatedly to take me to a local gun range, and I’m interested now more than ever to go with him and learn everything he has to teach me.  I’ve fired a few guns in my lifetime—a few times with my father and uncle—but I understand that guns are made for one thing—wounding or killing another animal or a human being.

The Second Amendment states, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  And I agree whole-heartedly with this concept.  But we need to more closely examine the words of our founding fathers.  Even a cursory glance at Wikipedia’s article on the Second Amendment,, will tell you that the right to bear arms seems to have been interpreted many different ways by many different men.  Some mention a “well-regulated” or “properly formed” militia.  One would think that would imply gun owners to be registered and trained.  Others discuss the need to use them “against the red man and the beast of the forest.”  Some of the context seems vague or ambiguous at times, and very much outdated considering some of the language.  Perhaps an amendment to an amendment needs to occur.  And before anyone starts objecting to changes in law, such a thing is not unheard of, as the Eighteenth Amendment outlawed the sale and manufacturing of alcohol and then was repealed by the Twenty-first Amendment.  It’s happened, and I think it may need to happen again.

I’ve seen a lot of talk over the weekend with the usual adage that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”  That’s very true.  The only difference is that guns are specifically designed for the purpose of wounding or killing.  Knives are used to cut many things such as fabric, meat, etc.  A club is used for tenderizing meat or, say, pounding in a post.  Even bombs can be used by destruction companies and for transportation crews in building roads.  But guns serve no other person than to shoot something, and often times the wounds inflicted by them are deadly.

I read someone saying that cars kill more people than guns.  That’s true as well, but cars are primarily used to transport people.  They aren’t primarily used for wounding or death.  And, car owners have rigorous demands, including a title and tag at each sale, driver training, written test, driving test, health requirements, insurance on each vehicle, renewals and inspections, and penalties if these things aren’t met.  By contrast, my friend was able to buy an AK assault rifle through someone on Craiglist a few weeks ago—no questions asked--as if buying a gun is akin to buying used furniture or car parts.  The rate at which these mass shootings are happening, I wouldn’t be surprised if gun violence overtakes car crash deaths in the next few years.  After all, there are four times more guns than there are cars.  And when gun violence starts killing 2 or 4 or 8 times more people than it already does now, what then?

I firmly believe that you must be trained to own a gun.  That should be an absolute requirement--at least a 4-week training course with a permit given afterwards.  I also believe that guns must be registered in a national database.  It would also make a lot of sense that gun owners be required to have insurance on each gun owned, and if you argue that point, imagine your 16-year-old son with mental health issues taking your gun from your house and shooting up a school with it.  You don’t think civil action will be taken against you if you were even the tiniest amount negligent in the handling or storage of your firearms?  And as for other requirements, well, I would fully support health (particularly mental) exams as well.  You would not be permitted to purchase or own a gun until you passed that exam, and just like with the driving tests, after failing so many you'd be done.

But would these measures stop all gun violence?  No, of course not, but making it more difficult for people to legally own guns (and increasing the criminal penalties for violating those rules) would certainly have an impact on mass-shootings.  I can think of at least two—Jared Loughner and James Holmes—who would not have been able to own weapons had they been forced to take mental competency exams, and that may very well have prevented them from murdering dozens of people.

And even further, I don’t understand the need for amassing weapons.  To some, gun ownership is a hobby.  Like my good friend, people have several guns that they collect and shoot at a range.  I don’t see any problem with that.  But owning more than five guns seems a bit excessive.  I don’t think we should necessarily limit the number of guns people can own, but at least if we have them registered in a national database, the government will know which people around town own large number of guns so that they can keep an eye on them (or more importantly their teenage sons with mental health issues).  And if insurance is required on guns, that would prevent people from amassing large quantities of firearms.  Nobody would be willing to pay $50/year on 50 separate guns ($2500) in addition to permits, inspections, etc.

But the bottom line is, if someone has the motive and drive to hurt someone else, and nothing is done to prevent that person from doing so, he is going to do it.  In China’s Henan province, a man slashed 23 elementary school children the same day as the Newtown massacre.  All of those children survived though.  Had the man had an assault rifle, I doubt they’d have been so lucky.  But people will still make pipe bombs, and a pipe bomb tossed into a crowded area could cause just as many fatalities.

If everyone carried a gun, perhaps these massacres could be avoided (a highly reiterated theme of NRA members), but you simply can’t put a gun in everyone’s hand—especially children or hospital patients or the elderly, and most people won’t want them anyway.  That’s not the solution.  And even encouraging more people to carry will only end up putting them in the wrong hands.  Can you imagine how many road rage incidents or skirmishes in shopping lines during Black Friday would end in tragedy if more people walked around with hand guns?

In order to prevent massacres, we can’t just sit here and do nothing.  If we don't take action, this is going to keep happening.  We need to come up with a solution—a combination of actions—to stop the violence.  I am frustrated by the number of pro-gun people who say limiting guns is not the solution and the number of anti-gun people who say prohibiting guns is.  Most solutions are never as black and white as that.  The solution to this problem will happen only if numerous steps and actions are taken.

If a person needs mental help, especially a male in his teens or twenties with violent outbursts, we need to make sure he’s getting therapy and love and medicine.  We need to make sure that these people are cared for, and the duty falls not only on their parents (who are often times overwhelmed and solely blamed) but also on society.  Whether it be through discounts or subsidies to mental health services or outreach programs or whatever, the assistance needs to be apparent, cheap, and readily available for these individuals.  And we need to make sure these people have NO ACCESS TO GUNS.

We need to crack down harder on bullying.  I know it may sound like an unrelated issue, but it is not.  In twelve of fifteen cases of school shooting in the 90s, the perpetrators were bullied.  Kids who are bullied develop deep, long-lasting resentments toward their tormentors (and often school officials who allowed it to happen), and sometimes those resentments will result in retaliation.  Bullying needs to be a crime, and punishments for these crimes should be heavy, including steep fines, school suspensions and expulsions, and even prison in extreme cases.

We need to increase security everywhere—having trained professionals, likely armed, available everywhere to deal with this threat.  I recall my high school, 18 years ago or so, that had numerous doors unlocked during the day and no security whatsoever.  I think it might have acquired a security guard at one point, but from what I heard and understand, the man would not have been prepared at all to handle a situation like Columbine.  That needs to change, and if laws were enacted that would require trained security in high-occupancy buildings—we’d see a huge difference.  And you know, this would be a great job for all of those veterans returning from deployments.  And we need to seriously redefine our civilians’ rights to bear arms.  Not take guns away, but at least make it substantially harder for these troubled individuals to obtain their weapons.  Even the tiniest of steps on this front could make a huge difference.

Please, feel free to debate this with me by posting a comment below.

1 comment:

  1. Give me a call we can go to the range. However You will be expected to come over and learn the rules of saftey and proper gun saftey prior to the range trip.