Since the announcement of another mass shooting, this time at a high school in Oxford, Mich., a sickening feeling persists in the pit of my stomach. Details have slowly come out. We know that a …
Since the announcement of another mass shooting, this time at a high school in Oxford, Mich., a sickening feeling persists in the pit of my stomach. Details have slowly come out. We know that a 15-year-old boy has been arrested for the murder of four of his classmates and wounding of several others. According to reports, the weapon was purchased just days before the killings by the boy’s parents as a “Christmas present” and stored in a drawer. Officials at the school had called the parents that morning to discuss the alarming messages their son was posting on social media that revealed his intent to commit violence. The posts included his cry for help. Despite these forewarnings, it appears that neither the parents nor school administrators did anything more to thwart his tragic actions.
Of course, this horrific incident is being thoroughly investigated to determine the chain of events leading up to the killings and who should be held accountable. The facts gathered will mostly serve the purpose of pressing appropriate criminal charges. But other questions as or more important will likely remain unanswered, such as, “What should we have done to prevent this, yet another senseless attack on innocent children? And what should we do now to prevent it from happening again?”
In a recent interview with the BBC, an expert researcher on gun violence stated that mass shootings like this one are “a uniquely American problem”— both for their frequency and randomness. And yet, he explained, we have done little as a nation to effectively address the issue.
The statistics on gun-related deaths— be they suicide, accidental or intentional homicides— show the numbers just keep rising. Despite our shared shock, and wringing of hands, it begs the question why nothing ever changes. We’ve documented thousands of individual incidents. We’ve conducted the research. The information we need to make change is readily available. Perhaps what we don’t examine closely enough is the speed at which Americans are able to numb themselves to grief and give up any hope for change.
Immediately following the carnage, we are hungry to track every detail and follow every thread of the story. Who were the victims? What is the history of the perpetrator? Was there a motive? But for those suffering closest to the center of the cyclone, what spins through their heartbreak is their repeating question, “Why, why, why?” Although we have stunning statistics that warrant national outrage, instead we defer to inaction. Today, I’m with the parents. Why are we so prone to complacency?
The images of the injured enter us on a visceral level but soon begin to fade amid the distractions of our daily lives. Finding solutions to gun violence, on the other hand, requires greater public empathy and a longer period of engagement with mourning lost lives, publicly analyzing the underlying causes, and identifying steps we can take to initiate effective strategies for systemic prevention and immediate intervention when needed. It will require dialoguing within our communities, respectful and thoughtful debate, and working together to build consensus as we move closer to agreement that enough is enough.
From previous experience, we know that our viewpoints will likely collide. Most of us are innately conflict-averse. After all, getting along sure feels easier, usually works better, and in these times, is probably safer. But if we choose to keep dodging the task and with our focus just on getting along, we should probably expect the usual result of getting nowhere.
Grappling with gun-violence will be hard work. Next question is, are we willing to accept this challenge and actually face the problem? Or, have we already surrendered, believing that gun-violence is now a part of our everyday lives — our new normal? Has numbing ourselves really become the only coping mechanism we have left, living our lives like a game of Russian Roulette?
Personally, I’m not willing to accept that. There are lots of examples in our history where we‘ve reached some magical moment when we collectively asserted, enough is enough. And things began to change. Our clarion call today might be, never again.
How we Americans will come to agree on what the founders were thinking when they wrote the Bill of Rights certainly will be a hurdle. But I think there is room for agreement here, also. The founders probably did not foresee what is happening in America today where so many innocent Americans are murdered every day by so many other Americans. When they included our Constitutionally-protected “right to bear arms,” this isn’t what they had in mind. They provided the framework and were counting on us to apply common sense and a commitment to the common good, as we sifted through their wording to apply them to our particular challenges in the 21st century. Our pathological attachment to a self-destructive interpretation of the “right to bear arms” has disallowed us to advance legislation that would reduce the incidents of gun violence and save lives.
The news from Oxford, Mich., has lost its place among headline stories. Our shared horror has begun to wane, moving us back toward complacency, partly due to our shared perception of powerlessness. A trial date will be announced. People will start talking again about who is charged and whether they will be convicted. Interest will spike for a short time, and then drop back down to “business as usual.” Not so for the survivors and the families of those killed. They are left with the painful burden of grief, and their lives changed forever.
As I look at the police photo of the 15-year-old boy charged in this case, with his tousled hair and blank stare, I feel like weeping. Not because I condone his actions. But because this boy falls into a different category of victims, those who have lost their futures in part due to “our uniquely American problem.” Our nationwide fixation on guns and violence is so deeply embedded in our culture that it is now part of our national identity, a strange form of madness.
How did we get to this point? A part of it is about the money. The making and selling of arms and ammo are highly lucrative enterprises. Weapons come in many forms and scales of firepower. Huge investments are made in their production. And sophisticated information campaigns receive massive funding designed to reach the general public and influence our lawmakers. The goals of these marketing efforts not only sell arms, but also ideas, and shape our national image. Legislators must try to balance the interests of gun manufacturers with the needs for public safety. Factor in their insatiable search for campaign contributions and the puzzle is complete. Despite lots of independent surveys that show the majority of Americans are in favor of laws that will increase gun safety and prevent gun deaths, it has become nearly impossible to pass state or federal legislation.
Now we are recovering from this mass shooting, secretly wondering when it will happen again. Instead, if we were a healthy nation, we would be asserting that now is our moment in history to address our nation’s obsession with violence and addiction to firearms. Our compulsive need to use guns to solve every conflict is a sickness that demands our attention. When so many among us are driven to self-destruction and compelled to take others with them, this is not normal. Ethan Crumbley stated clearly that he could not control his thoughts and needed someone to help him. And the adults who could have responded chose instead to send him back to class. How sad is that?
A nation has its collective conscience. Ours is crying to pay attention to a condition that threatens us all. Let’s admit it. Way too many people own guns who shouldn’t, and too many own types of guns that they don’t need and shouldn’t have. Americans know this because we talk about it a lot. There is no easy fix. Crafting policies and the plans to implement them will take hard work and our unyielding commitment to make it happen. Taking on this issue is a true test of our faith and trust in each other. I think it’s time we quit acting like we can’t.
1 comment on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here
Saturday, December 18, 2021 Report this