Guns and Violence, Violence and Guns

The most frustrating thing about the Connecticut shootings was this: my reaction. I was like: “another shooting, tell me something new.” I couldn’t find any horror or anger in myself. It seems like shooting have become the de rigour thing to do in America. Every week brings a new one. They have lost any novelty. I guess I could go on the social networks and fake outrage, only to post cute pictures 1o minutes later. School shooting, argh. Cute cat pictures, awe.

The thing, no one seems to be saying is this. When we have lost our ability to be outraged. When these things get a pre-cut pattern for dealing with (story break-in on networks, national outrage, mention of banning guns, conservative outrage over thought of banning guns, dumb cliches such as guns don’t kill people and why don’t we ban cars spouted).  When it gets this bad. Why don’t we do something? Why don’t we ask ourselves what has gone wrong to get us to this point? Beyond that I wonder why we can’t have a dignified and thoughtful discussion of this without resorting to name-calling, fake anger, and cliches.

For what it counts here is the issues I think we need to be discussing:

1. The modern technology bubble. Here’s the deal, we have in the past 25 years become a self-involved culture. Each of us now lives in a gigantic bubble of our own making. Thanks to technology, we now can choose what gets inside the brain pan. We can pick our news source(s) of choice based on what politics or demographics we prefer. We can pick what music, shows, books, and other entertainment we want. No longer do we really have to spend anytime around people different from us. All day long we exist in a feedback loop designed to encourage and grow only those impulses we desire. If you are an Evangelical you can attend the church tailor made for you, you can shop at the Evangelical book store only offering safe options, you can buy only safe music and movies. Never once in your day will you be forced to actually engage with beliefs other than these safe ones. Maybe you have to interact with others at work or school (but even then with home-schooling, Christian companies, and the rise of independent businesses, maybe not). Even then you can feel self-assured that these strange people are just wrong and evil, because your hand-picked pastor and media talking head tells you so. You can only complain on social networking to hand-picked friends who applaud your discernment (and unfriend anyone who disagrees). In this hyper-charged selfish atmosphere is it any wonder that people are so locked in their own heads, that the horrors of their potential action never registers until after the fact?

2. Modern hyper-realistic violence in the Media. Say what you will, but science is correct on this: our experiences re-wire our brains. Any experience changes how we think. Therefore experience with hyper-violence remodels the brain and causes both de-sensitiveness and comfort with violence. To be sure not all violence is equal. Unrealistic and fantastical stuff has less impact on the person. There is a difference between shooting zombies and humans in games. The brain is able to distinguish between what will never happen (zombie attacks) and what could (facing down a human gunman). Second when consequences are shown for violence, the impetus and sensitivity is lessened or even happened. Over the years there have been complaints about cop shows which show a violent act. However research shows that in the shows in which the violence is seen as abhorrent and is punished by other characters in the same program the message becomes “this wrong.” To that end there is a difference between say Stephen King’s The Stand or even Tarantino’s revenge dramas and the Saw or Hostel movies. That said we ought to be having a discussion about the first-person shooters, TV shows like Criminal Minds, and torture porn like Saw.

3. Guns. Say what you will, Costas was right about this: if there was no gun in the home of that player both he and his girlfriend would still be alive. Say what you will, the level of carnage was different in the school attack with a knife and the school attack with a gun. Guns may not kill people, as the cliche goes, but a sawed off, automatic can take out more people before the threat is neutralized than a man with a knife. When I was growing we had just as many beefs and just as many fights at school, the difference was that none of us could get our hands on guns. When we had beefs, we settled them with our fists, you got to the place you threw a punch or two and then someone broke up the fight. The worst outcome was a broken jaw or a black eye. Bad, but everyone lived to attend school the next day. That changed in high school. There I knew a kid killed playing Russian Roulette. There I knew a kid killed in a drive-by shooting (I also knew the driver of the car and the shooter). There I knew a kid killed jumping out of a gang. The ability to attain guns, changed the outcome of these feuds.

Research back this up. In the past 25 years crime is down across the board. From the high-water marks of the 1970s, crime is down everywhere. You can walk through Times Square and not fear for your life. You can walk through much of our country without concern. Yet this trend hides a truly strange situation: while the number of assaults are down, the number of people killed in those assaults are up, dramatically. The reason, researchers say, is guns. If the neighborhood watch guy did not have a handgun in his truck, perhaps Trayvon Martin would not be a nationally known name. Same with the KC Chiefs player. Same with the Aurora dude. The problem is not with the guns, per se, but with their ability to escalate the damage. We need to talk, not about banning weapons, but have reasonable discussions about how much capacity is necessary, how easily we can get them, and what protections for use we can muster.

4. Health Care (availability and use of mental health services). One twitter user I follow made the following statement: it is easier to get a gun, than to get proper medical care. One of the problems in these shooting have been that in many of the cases, there was someone in oblivious need of mental health services who had not received them. The cost and stigma of health care is such that many people who need to make use of them are not. That needs to change. True, people don’t always know when they need help; but we can also do a better job or looking out for each other. This needs to be dealt with in a real way. This is not about socialism. This is about what kind of society we want to be.

Thanks for listening. You can know go back to spamming by social media walls with your cliches and stupid memes. or we can start a talk, get some action, and change our society so that another kid is not killed at pre-school.

For further discussion:

Want to engage these issues in a non-threatening way, check out Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin, or watch either the movie Brick or Carnage. Not a fiction person, one could also read Dave Cullen’s excellent book Columbine.


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