Stopping The Monsters In Our Midst

December 18, 2012

It’s taken several days to get up the energy to write about the dreadful massacre in Newtown, CT. Even now, there is a part of me that would rather sit curled up in a ball under my desk than in my chair staring at a blank computer screen.

The reason is simple: there are no words in the human language to describe the grief we feel over the slaughter of innocents, even as the culture we live in goes out of its way to destroy innocence in our young. Aside from a few inchoate tweets, I’ve kept my silence regarding Newtown. I felt that this was simply a matter of respect. I grieve for the people murdered, but my grief is but a drop in the ocean of sadness that the families and loved ones of the victims feel right now. My life continues; their lives are shattered. For me, there is Christmas wrapping to be done, parties to attend, food to cook, decorations to be hung, and carols to be sung. For them, this Christmas season is marked by the horror of children, so damn many of them, in caskets, and wrapped presents that will never be opened. Newtown is never far from my thoughts. I pray for them and weep for them. The images splashed all over the media leap into my mind’s eye unbidden, and sadness pervades. I have not felt this way since 9/11.

There has been no shortage of people looking to capitalize on this massacre. On the Left, the gun control supporters have emerged as they do every time there is a mass shooting, hoping to use the emotion of the moment to trump facts and statistics in order to enact their useless and pointless agenda. On the Right, the compassionate scolds are also out in force. In the Eighties it was cartoons and heavy metal that was leading the youth to ruination. Shock rocker Marilyn Manson and The Matrix got the blame for the Columbine shootings in 1999. This time, the blame is on video games. For the first time, and this is welcome, some people are asking whether this country is doing enough for those who are mentally ill.

There is time to debate all of this, and questions must be asked. Assumptions must be challenged for all political persuasions. The murdered in Newtown almost certainly included the children of Republicans and Democrats alike. The voting affiliations of the adults murdered are unknown, and not germane to the discussion. The parents and families of those killed are grieving equally whether they voted for Mitt Romney or Barack Obama.

As a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment and gun rights, I still ask: Are magazines that hold more than ten bullets necessary for any civilian? Are military style “assault” rifles really necessary for hunters? What are the limits of regulatory power that states can impose? The Supreme Court has already ruled that states can not ban guns (nor do I think it’s a good idea to do so). So at what point does the ability of the states to regulate stop? What type of regulations make sense, knowing that criminals looking for weapons are not bound by the law? Gun control advocates need to offer a specific example: what gun law would have prevented this? Is the solution, as many on the Right are saying, that we need more guns? Tens of millions of Americans own guns and handle them safely and responsibly. If the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary had a gun, would 26 people be alive today? Are “Gun Free Zones” really desirable? The number of mass shootings has increased dramatically since the Gun Free Zones were created in 1990. And with the exception of the Fort Hood shootings, every one of those mass murders has taken place in a Gun Free Zone. The movie theater shooter in Aurora, Colorado went to the one theater in his area that specifically banned concealed weapons, despite other theaters being closer to his home. Does the massacre at Bath Consolidated in 1927 have any lessons to impart about whether the issue is guns or madness? These questions, and many more, need to be addressed by gun control advocates and gun rights supporters. We need to be able to ask without questioning the motives of the other side. Neither the Left nor Right wants to see murdered children.

What role does the culture play? Do violent video games make children more violent, or does it desensitize them to violence? The Newtown Murderer was an avid video game player, according to reports. So are tens of millions of peaceful, law abiding citizens, straight A students, and churchgoing kids. Is pulling the trigger on a video game console really the same as putting a living human being in the crosshairs and pulling the trigger on a real gun? Do video games really teach you to be a marksman? Are the movies and video games today violent because they reflect the culture, or does life imitate art? What is the distinction between the culture and the civilization that creates the culture? Is the problem not the culture, but the civilization? Not to get all Pat Roberston-ish, but does a society that embraces easy divorce, abortion on demand, and unwed parenthood get the culture it deserves? And if so, is the solution to criticize the culture, or look to the society? Does the media with its 24-hour coverage, endlessly splashing the photo and name of the killers, provide the fame (or infamy) that many of these people seek? Would we be better off if the names and pictures of the killers were relegated to page 10 of the newspaper? Would we be better off if the television news reported these events drily, just the facts, and not sensationalizing them? Do reporters really need to approach children to ask them questions about what happened? Again, questions need to be asked.

What is the solution for providing mental health help? Do we really want to give judges and state-appointed psychiatrists the power to put anyone they deem unfit into a mental health hospital? What is the criteria for deciding whether a person should be put away? Is it violence, or just the threat of violence? If the former, isn’t that too late? If the latter, isn’t that punishing thought? There is a terrible stigma for people who have mental health issues. Would the idea of forced hospitalization just drive people further into hiding their problems? Short of keeping people locked up, how do you enforce prescription adherence? The history of government-run psychiatric hospitals is not pretty, and assurances that the government would do a better job if there was just more money are not credible. Would the private sector be better at providing care? Should parents have the ability to commit their children? Many mental health issues now are handled on an outpatient basis…go to the doctor every three months, get your prescription, see you next time. But some parents are living in fear. Sometimes out-of-control kids are taking advantage of doormat parents. These children will either grow out of it or become self-absorbed, but law-abiding, adults. Sometimes there is a genuine pathology at work, and all the time outs and all the punishments in the world won’t help. Some people, including some children, are mentally unstable. This is a sad reality. What can be done to get them the help they need and to prevent them from hurting themselves or other people, before they get a gun, or knife, or pipe bomb? Everyone knew the Virginia Tech shooter was crazy, but nobody would say it out loud for fear of repercussions. What the administrators at Virginia Tech did not know was that the shooter had previously been diagnosed with a severe anxiety disorder. Federal privacy laws prevented this crucial piece of information from being passed on. Thirty-two people paid with their lives.

I offer no answers here. I have some opinions on the subject, but my purpose here is not to state that my beliefs are the correct answers. Before any solutions we need to first ask the right questions. We need to do it slowly, and deliberately. We need to do it away from the emotional maelström that is the Sandy Hook Elementary Massacre. Rampant emotions do not make good laws. For now, let the families bury their dead. Let the grieving process proceed without talking points. The debate about how to prevent such crimes from happening again is when the dust has settled, when the fiscal cliff has been averted, and when the Left and Right can look at these horrific events with a dispassionate eye, with statistics, facts, figures, and logic to bolster their arguments. We honor the dead by not arguing at the gravesite.

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