A month later, still no answers

It is too much for the rational mind to acknowledge, to comprehend, to accept. We cry, “This could not have happened!” But it did happen. Then, “How did it happen?” We hear some few details of how, and turn away in horror from the rest. Next, “Why did it happen?” For that, answers abound, few objective, none useful.

And so we cry, in frustration and near despair, “How can we keep it from happening again?” Many answers, most wrong or incomplete or impractical: Confiscate firearms. Give guns to teachers. Re-populate psychiatric wards.

We want to cancel it, to go back and stop it before it began, to believe somehow it didn’t really happen. But we know it did happen, and we know that, barring impossible luck or improbable legislation and enforcement, it will happen again.

And so we resort to why? Why did it happen? Who let it happen, what mistakes — action or inaction — have we made? Here too, we fall short. Our analyses find too many causes rather than too few. We cannot sort them, assign relative importance. But at least it is a beginning.

We are a violence-prone society. TV shows, computer games, toys, popular novels. They all seem violence-oriented, much more so than any in our past.

Violence-prone, I said. Perhaps it is more nearly violence-addicted. But that is not the only fact of today’s world which contributes to our problems. We are gun-crazy as well. (This may seem at first an outgrowth of our fascination with violence. Or vice-versa. I think they are essentially separate factors which stem from common sources: media saturation and political extremism.)

    [Disclaimer: I am an old man. That does not mean I am out of touch, or delusional, or necessarily wrong. I remember World War II; I served in the Army during the Korean War; I marched on Washington to oppose the Viet Nam War; I wrote and continue to write against our wars in the Middle East.]

Where shall we look for relief, for protection, for, if not an end to, at least a reduction in the deaths? Will Congress enact sane gun-control legislation, not ending private ownership of weapons, but stipulating which kinds of weapons and which kinds of ammunition are reasonable? What need has any civilian for assault rifles, for automatic weapons, for armor-piercing or body-splitting ammunition?

Will the Supreme Court step back and re-consider its tortured logic in defense of NRA talking points?

Don’t get your hopes up. This Court decreed that corporations have all the rights but none of the responsibilities of persons, that money is speech. We have no reason to expect rational decisions; the best we can hope for is less jesuitical hair-splitting and logic-twisting in the name of jurisprudence — an oxymoron, that — or perhaps looking at “original intent” with twenty-first century, not eighteenth century eyes. (More laughter in the gallery.)

Congress? This Congress lacks the courage — or the wit, perhaps — to challenge the Court’s bizarre rulings.

Our prayers and our tears flow for those victims in Newtown. The prayers may help the survivors, the tears may help us. What can we do, though, for the victims? We cannot restore them, cannot reclaim them. All we can do, finally, is try to prevent more victims.

I don’t know how to do that, but one place to start figuring it out is to ask two simple questions.

  1. Which is more likely to kill you, your loved ones, your friends and neighbors:

    • an Iranian nuclear bomb, or
    • a lunatic with a gun?
  2. Which of those dangers have we spent more time and energy trying to eliminate?

It’s a matter of priorities.

42 thoughts on “A month later, still no answers

  1. The whole thing continues to make me feel sad and a little hopeless. Everyday I go to work and think, “How can I keep my 1,000 little bodies safe and sound?” When those around me want us all to carry guns everywhere–welcome to Texas. Thank you for writing this, and to all the others who keep writing, so that maybe, this time, we look for real answers and don’t just let it all get lost in some political somebody’s PR agenda.

    1. There’s no guarantee that talking or writing will solve the problem, but we can be sure it will not go away unless we do talk and write.

  2. When you have too many semi automatic guns in circulation, many individuals are tempted to use these to win their arguments. I head a lot of b/s regarding driving not getting banned because of DUIs. What we fail to see is that the drivers are allowed to drive cars, not B52s and F16s. We need to have sane debates, not fighting matches where each party accuses the other of evil intentions.

  3. This insanity is pervasive, and it’s sad that we can’t work together to end it. Heck, the governor of Mississippi wants to make any efforts to solve it illegal, at least when it comes from the federal government. I hope the next generation learns from the older generation and decides to actually work to help others, not divide them.

  4. As a lawyer, I can’t resist pointing out that the US Supreme Court’s decision in the “Citizens United vs. FEC” case did not say that money equals free speech, but that corporations and unions are persons in the sense of the 1st amendment and therefore enjoy the right of free speech.

  5. I simply won’t cease to ask myself… why? I am not American, I don’t live in the US, but hey, we all have safety-related issues around as well (I myself have been living in São Paulo for over 3 years and, despite my OK feeling, people won’t stop talking about insecurity).
    My last sad thoughts came to mind last night as I was watching TV after dinner and they played an episode of “Preppers” on NatGeo. It felt -in spite of the ‘neutral’ tone of the documentary- as if they were somehow celebrating the fact that so many American citizens appear to be on the verge of lunacy, living in their own delusions (my humble opinion) and training themselves and their loved ones to actually kill people. Kill!
    Upon the shock of losing a relative or friend in the hands of criminals, it is entirely understandable that many people will be nearly mad with thoughts of revenge. We might even be seriously shocked at massacres, serial killing, younameit. But arming yourself with all sorts of weapons, serious ones, ‘professional’ ones if you may, and training, devising plans to kill people?
    I believe even some of my friends and acquaintances back in Argentina, here in Brazil or elsewhere might keep a gun if it was easier and condoned by none other than their Constitution (‘condoned’ all up to me, again; many will see otherwise).
    Shiver to think what we’re turning into. Please keep up the plea.

  6. Thank you for a rational, logical post about an emotionally charged subject.
    Although I was born after World War ll, I vividly recall the Vietnam War and took part in one of the Washington protest marches. 12 years ago, I visited my congressman to beg him to let the weapons inspectors do their job before rushing to war with Iraq.
    I am hopeful that gun owners will listen long enough to hear that no one is taking away all guns–just the ones that are designed for mass slaughter. I have enough faith in the American public to believe that the majority are reasonable, thoughtful and willing to stand up to the political money machine that the NRA has become.

    1. It is precisely your faith that is the answer -to you. And the lack of faith of other citizens (anywhere in the world, for that matter) is the answer to them.
      At a crossroads, as ever, the citizenship.

  7. Thank you for this thoughtful post, and for your articulate way of expressing your ideas. I must confess that as a mother and a teacher, my reaction has been less measured and less gentle. It has taken me all this time to even begin to move past my rage at those who insist upon protecting their right to own and use military style weapons. I detest guns. I can’t pretend that I think of shooting as a “sport” or that I feel safer knowing that people around me may be armed.
    So congratulations on being Freshly Pressed, and thank you again for your rational post!

    1. As father and grandfather (and former teacher) I can appreciate and agree with your reaction. Yet coming from a heritage which includes many serious hunters — and having spent several years in the service, I think I understand the other side as well. There is no absolute solution; we might yet, however, find a sane compromise.

  8. Our continued fascination with firearms and the addiction to violence is not something new, as you yourself indicated. Tighter gun control may keep those weapons out of the insane, but will they infact be weaponless? It may be harder to access but accessability will not be impossible. (Canadian with our own breed of crazy and strict gun laws)

    1. The answer, alas, is no: they will never be weaponless. The only (theoretical) solution might be some sort of total control… which we would find even less appealing and tolerable. Partial answers and band-aids may be our only recourse.

    1. Never any absolute answers, anyway, but we need to keep trying for the tentative, the temporary, the make-do. We cannot let the problems go unattended.

  9. And yet, the fact remains that when people are disarmed they end up at the mercy of the people who disarmed them, who by the very nature of disarming them can’t be proned to liking or tolerating them. A sticky circle…

    On the other hand, if violence wasn’t glorified in books, music, video games, and television maybe so many of these tradgedies wouldn’t happen. If young people were given real responsiblities and consequences for misbehavior… well maybe I better leave that unsaid before the nanny state thinks I’m not fostering a sense of self esteem in society.

    My real view on the constitutionality of gun ownship can be found at http://karenspath.wordpress.com/2012/09/21/defending-liberty-and-the-second-amendment/

  10. “All acts of violence are a call for love,” whether it is in the home or in the country. Changed gun-control will not make one iota of a difference. Perhaps mothers spending more time with their (young) children, or people not being on so many mind altering (prescribed or not) drugs will make a difference. But left-brainers will never, ever look in that direction and they are the ones that comprise government.

    1. I agree that parents (not only mothers) spending more time with children, paying more attention to what they’re doing, would improve all our lives. And we are surely an over-drugged society.

      But I am reluctant to follow you down that left-brain path, because for me, the left-brain/right-brain dichotomy is vastly over-rated at best and downright bogus at worst. I’ve taken several L-R brain tests; some say I’m left, some say I’m right. That spinning dancer who’s supposed to identify you? I can see her spinning in either direction, just about at will.

  11. My father told me many times “if you can’t remember the past, the only thing that will be certain about the future is that the past will be repeated.” I did not grow up during a major war, i did not march on the Capital, but by no means does that mean i’m not a patriot of this great country. I don’t blame the firearms as the firearms did not shoot those people on their own. I do not agree with gun control, for a few straight forward reason(s) One: Connecticut had an “assault weapons” ban already in place, many states have this ban and it is not doing anything to stop these events from happening. The Ten years this country had the same ban in place it did not do one things for the crime rate. The people should not call for laws without facts and evidence to support those laws, emotion is not a justification to infringe on others rights. Two: I’ve spent a great deal of time reading the gun control laws already on the books and just my opinion but much of what the people are finding middle ground on are already laws. Our government is failing to enforce those laws. Which leads to my third: When the federal government has failed it’s people in the prosecution of individuals who try and fail to get arms (roughly .1%, directly from the DOJ website) should we be demanding more laws or demanding out elected officials enforce the laws we already have before we make more laws.

    If our elected officials are not doing for us what we need them to do, why should be not ask them to step down? Since when do governments get a chance to decide which laws to enforce and when, it’s simple really. Someone needs to be blunt and ask , why are you failing us (america) by not enforcing the laws we already live by that could have stopped this disaster?

      1. Sadly sir, i do not. We have the money, we have the people, we have the proof. Yet we have no action to the laws being broken. I’ve sent today 47 letters to the Department of justice requesting an answer to that same question i have not gotten a reply as to date.

  12. I believe in the case of Sandy Hook it boiled down to a very flawed and fatal decision made by the mother of the shooter to teach her son, who clearly had a mental illness, to use firearms in the first place. Her decision to do this shines a light on her own inability to make wise decisions about how to handle her son’s condition. I suspect she was really in over her head with him, as often happens when family members struggle to cope with the mental illness of one of their own. Teaching this kid to shoot and taking him to target practice may as well been an invitation to act out, as he was already camped out in the basement of their mansion 24-7 playing violent video games for days on end. For a man with a mental illness there may have been little or no distinction between the empty result of shooting targets on a screen and the empty result of doing it real-time. We won’t ever know. But those who insist that violent video games had nothing to do with this are sticking their heads in the sand in a nearly pathological state of denial. There is a connection. Something triggered this man. We won’t ever know exactly what it was. No one will ever know what went on in that mansion before it happened either. He and his mother are not alive to tell us.

    Some sort of more strenuous effort to try to identify the potentially violent mentally ill before they snap needs to be addressed by our psychiatric and mental health care professionals. When or if a crazy man drives a car into a building we would never think to make it illegal for everyone else to drive cars. Sanity and reason needs to be applied to identifying possible violent deviants BEFORE they can act. But how can society do such a thing without trampling existing civil liberties?

    1. I don’t think there was a single cause, but you point to the proximate and most significant one: failure to recognize and deal effectively with a seriously maladjusted individual.

      You ask how society can identify and control dangerous persons, before they act, without trampling civil liberties. The answer is, it can’t. Every law, every agreement, every contract, is a compromise. The question is not whether to draw a line, but where. And no one wants it drawn to affect himself, his family, his group.

  13. I understand your view but your statement “What need has any civilian for assault rifles, for automatic weapons, for armor-piercing or body-splitting ammunition?” Is extremely misleading. First automatic weapons are highly regulated and not able to be owned by the majority of Americans, secondly armor piercing ammunition is outlawed at every level and please provide a definition of “assault weapon”. Additionally your comment “This Congress lacks the courage — or the wit, perhaps — to challenge the Court’s bizarre rulings.” is just wrong. Congress is not able to challenge the Supreme Court; their job is to uphold the Supreme Court and the constitution. Though I understand your frustration keep in mind the murderer in Newtown possessed guns illegally and was diagnosed mentally challenged. He committed these acts not a gun. I agree our society is unfortunately a celebrated violent society with very little, if any accountability.

    1. This used to be a counter-attack, pointing out flaws in Blunt’s argument, in about the same way he pointed out flaws in mine. Since we have now agreed to end the battle — a truce, or maybe a cease-fire you could call it — I ought to pull back on my remarks. Sorry if that’s a disappointment.

    2. I’ve received a follow-up comment from Blunt, but I am not going to post it. I suspect if you ask him, he will send you a copy.

      As I noted in the About section, I do not want SOG to be a forum for bickering or clearly unresolvable disagreements.

      My house, my rules; same thing I tell the grandkids.

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