Nothing is Ever That Simple

Like most of the country on Friday, December 14th, 2012; I was shocked and abhorred by the news that there had been a shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, CT. I was continually looking for the latest news to see if there was any reason why a person would do this. Of course as I was doing people were coming up with there own reasons for why this tragedy happened. People were blaming too many guns, that not enough people had guns, video games, mental health treatment, or the fact that the Bible and prayer has been removed from schools. In many ways such dialogs didn’t really do much to reduce the sick feeling I had about all of it, in fact a lot of it just added to it. It just made me wonder, do we really think that something like this is that simple? I guess I should warn that this may get somewhat long, but if you aren’t giving a simple answer it tends to get that way.

More Gun Control or More Guns?

I understand why people want to blame guns. If the killer hadn’t had guns then maybe he wouldn’t have been able to kill that many people. So we need to make guns illegal or at least make it so that certain types are harder to get. While this may sound really good in theory I wonder a few things about this logic. Are the kinds of people who would perpetuate something like this really going to worry about such laws and regulations? In a time when I’ve seen many articles that have called the war on drugs a failure and a colossal waste of money, I wonder how futile a war on guns may be.

Even something that sounds sensible like banning the sales of assault rifles might seem smart, but looking at the deadliest shootings in the U.S. the most common weapon type is the handgun. These were also the weapons used in the deadliest of the shootings, so while this may still be a good idea, it probably isn’t going to change much. Maybe stricter standards before a person can get weapons in general? This may be good but two of the most recent attacks (the mall in Portland,OR and Newtown, CT) the guns were not actually owned by the perpetrator in the first place, so even extra screening wouldn’t have done anything there, but maybe it would have helped in the case with the shooter in Aurora, CO.

So I guess the question winds up being what will really help? Our government certainly doesn’t have the money or resources to get rid of guns completely, and I know that many would not give their guns over freely, not to mention that a casual reading of the 2nd amendment pretty much spells out the right to bear arms. It is not saying just to be able to bear arms for hunting or sport, but for the ability to secure a free state and not be oppressed. So all the people wondering why anyone would have a gun for something more than hunting, well it is because the 2nd amendment isn’t defending hunting rights, but the ability to be armed to combat those in power if they threaten the free state. I’m not one who owns guns, but if that is the intent behind the 2nd Amendment then hunting rifles aren’t going to do too much against the military power of most armies in the world. You can argue about if that is relevant for today or try to revise the meaning, but that is pretty clearly the intent of the founding fathers. I’m not even saying I fully agree with it necessarily, but the meaning is there regardless.

However, I don’t agree with the people who say that more guns are the answer either. I’m not sure how having everyone armed will make things better. Especially in times of crisis like this, having someone in a state of panic be armed could add to the devastation just as much as they could prevent it. Even the idea of training teachers to be armed or having security guards may sound good, but aren’t a lot of states reducing funding to education as it is? Do we really think that local or federal government really have the funds to do something like that? It certainly doesn’t seem like it to me.

It also doesn’t seem like we’ll have less violence with more guns. Imagine more guns at something like Black Friday. There is already a number of tense standoffs, fighting over products, people getting pushed, shoved, and trampled. Now add guns to a mix like that. Does that sound like a good idea to anyone? It certainly doesn’t to me. Even if a person doesn’t have a gun, they could potentially have easy access to one if lots of people were carrying guns with them. It certainly seems like we could have more incidents that didn’t last as long, more collateral damage, and a culture that lends itself to a “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality. Imagine the potential for an increased number of complicated cases like the Treyvon Martin.

Mental Health to Blame?

I’ve also seen a fair amount of clamoring for better mental health treatment, but this also makes me a bit worried. Most of these gunmen were not labeled as being terrible people even after they did such horrific things. They may be described as smart, quiet or as a “loner,” but as someone who is quiet and at times in my life could have been classified as a “loner,” this make me concerned. Do we automatically fear anyone who is quiet? Those who have trouble making friends, or who would rather have a few good friends than tons of superficial friends? One of the strange aspects of many of these shootings is the “normalcy” of many of the perpetrators. Yes after the fact we can say these people were messed up, but the fact is anyone can snap. I think we already over diagnose and over medicate in the name of mental health as it is. If better mental health treatment is simply a call for jumping the gun for even more people and medicating them, then I think that’s ridiculous.

I’ve also seen an article talking about mental health screening for guns. Again this seems like a good place to start things, only what mental illnesses do we focus on? Autism, which is the mental illness Adam Lanza is reported to have is not usually associated with excessive violence, so how do we accurately measure ones mental illness? Do we also assume that once a person is sane they are always sane? Do we focus on mental illnesses that are actually typically tied to violence, or do we do a broad stroke and say any mental illness? What about in this case where it wasn’t the purchaser of the guns, but her son who potentially had the mental illness? Do we have to have a family evaluation? If all of these things come to pass do we put a stigma on mental illness that would lead to worse treatment of said individuals? Is that really fair, especially for someone who may be quite “normal” but struggle with anxiety or depression? While again it sounds good the consequences of this could be more detrimental than it could be a help.

Violent Video Games?

Or is it video games? I really hate this argument. Oh no they play a shooter and that means that they can kill people. Honesty, I’ve played Grand Theft Auto as well as many many shooters. You do realize that just because I play those it doesn’t mean that I know how to use a gun, that I even own a gun, or that I imagine killing people? We do realize that games like Call of Duty have sales in the multi-millions right? Are we experiencing gun violence in the same degree? No, in fact violent crime has been down in recent years, and according to some people who study mass shootings the rate hasn’t necessarily been going up but has stayed the same long before violent video games even made an appearance. It is possible that some people may not be able to handle the division between reality and fantasy, but again do we ban something like this that may have some minor effect when in the vast majority of people there is no issue? Add in the fact that it seems uncertain if this shooter was focused on violent video games. Some articles are saying it, but they lack any reliable basis for their claims.

We also have to realize that violence in video games are usually within a context and a story. Even open world games like Grand Theft Auto take place in the story with context. You are a criminal in those games, so I can kind of understand why it may not sit well with people. A game that came under fire in this shooting because the shooter’s brother played it was Mass Effect. This takes place in a science-fiction universe which has you battling some humans alongside, aliens and robots in a quest to save the galaxy from destruction. This is a totally different context.

Also it should be noted that pretty much any shooters or games that allow you to kill things that I’ve played do not allow the killing of human children. The world of Grand Theft Auto is devoid of anyone younger than adults, games like Skyrim don’t allow you to attack children without outside modification of the games files, even Modern Warfare 2’s controversial “No Russian” didn’t have children as far as I remember. So with a killing like this, it is really hard to see how violent video games would encourage doing this. Not to mention that a lot of research has been done on the subject and really finds little to no causation between video games and violent tendencies. You can do a search on the internet to find this or simply look at this (I know it is Wikipedia and some don’t trust it too well, but there is a lot of stuff out there).

So while I think that the discussion on gun control and mental illness could be beneficial, if done right and not simply done knee-jerk and thinking that everything will be perfect afterwards, the blame on violent video games I think just misses the point. Violent video games aren’t for children and they are labeled as such, while I do think they are sometimes marketed in ways that don’t always line up with their rating, most stores typically require an adult to buy games rated M. Speaking of arguments that I think miss the point lets move on to the next.

Taking God out of School?

Nothing says Christian love like saying that these attacks were deserved because there was no formal prayer and study of the Bible in public schools right? Right? Honestly, I think people like this need to be smacked upside the head. They think they can speak with any certainty as to why a particular tragedy happened? How do we know it isn’t because the lack of love Christians show to others, or lack of compassion to the poor or marginalized instead of something like prayer in schools?

The Christian church was not founded to be a nation, and spent many of its early years getting persecuted for the faith that it espoused. Yet despite the pagan milieu it found itself in, it grew and more and more followed Christ. I think sometimes we forget that Christianity is not meant to be some state religion or what people accept out of hand. We simply think that going through certain motions makes someone a Christian, when the reality is they may not think about what they are doing at all.

To say that the lack of publicly endorsed prayer and Bible reading was why God let this happen, is not true, and just reeks of self-righteousness and a lack of love. I can understand questioning God during something like this, but the reality is that we are not good people. There is evil in every one of us. We all, given the right circumstances, could be the one killing another person. The very religious and “good” people were the ones that crucified Jesus and persecuted the early church all thinking that they were doing what was right.

Not to mention that sometimes when the church gets too much power it can be the perpetrator of evil itself, not that this negates the Bible or God like some people would say, but it does show that even those who proclaim faith are not immune from evil. We need more than just perfunctory rituals in our schools to guard against evil. While I do think that true faith can and does keep people from acting on evil, we should be wary that just holding some nominal belief in God, even the God of the Bible is really going to change people that much. We simply can’t speak for God as to why this happens. God may have some reason for it, but it could simply be because we have the ability to be evil. That may not be a very reassuring answer for either believers or non-believers, but it’s the most I’m willing to say with any certainty.

So needless to say I think this hypothesis is worthless and needs disregarded by Christians and non-Christians alike. Trying to make things sound all spiritual doesn’t make things more simple or more cut and dry. Saying things like this just makes you seem like a pretty big jerk considering the circumstances.

This Isn’t a Simple Problem

Bottom line here, is that the things that caused this tragedy at Connecticut is not clear cut. Do we probably need to look into something about our guns? Yeah we probably do, but we’re naive if we think this will solve the problem of violence and will end these shootings. Is it possible that we need to look into treatment potential for mental health? Maybe, but again this won’t be the panacea that people are looking for. Do we just need to focus on love or happy thoughts? Well it would be nice, but see how long that keeps up. Even though I’m a pretty mellow person, focusing on love can be hard to do. It is so easy to get mad at other, even those I love deeply. It is so easy to be petty, cruel, and to some degree evil to those around me. Focusing on an abstract love may sound good, but I’m positive that we as humans can’t do that very well even in the slightest, even if we may think that we are.

There are a mix of problems here, that may even go beyond what I hit here. What can be said about family stability, economic disparity, lack of connection to the community around us, the idea that we should be able to do whatever with very few limits or boundaries? Do these things play a role in a tragedy like this alongside of things like guns and mental illness, maybe but it is hard to say. There is no easy answer from a tragedy like this. Those who reduce it to a simple thing like more guns or ban guns are reducing it down too simplistically. They are either naive or simply wanting to get their particular view put out there. I wish I had the answers. I wish I knew what we needed to do to get rid of these shootings, particularly ones as horrifying as this one. The reality is that I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone else does either. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, but it does mean that we should probably be listening to each other better and not just wanting to push our own simplistic answer out the door without thinking it through very well.


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