Just a note, this post will meander a bit because there are a lot of things for me to talk about. So let’s start out with the basics:
The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary was a tragedy. It will burn the soul of a community for many years. It will make all of us who hear about it want to hug our children a lot more (especially if, like me, you have children in the same age group as the 20 who were killed). And my thoughts and prayers go out with everyone else’s, to those who are trying to comprehend the magnitude of this.
Now I’m not going to get into the gristly details of what went down, since you can find that easily here. And in the coming weeks, we’ll hear stories about the children who were murdered, the teachers who threw themselves into the line of fire to save children, the stories of the survivors, and everything in the life of the murderer and his family that can be examined.
So the first thing is to practice something called patience. Too often, the first reaction is to scream out we have to “do something” to either prevent this from ever happening again, or to trumpet whatever pet cause you have to “solve” the problem. Because we don’t know everything. We know the shooter was nuts (but no specifics). We know that the weapons used in this case were taken from the home and were owned by his mother. We know he killed his mother first, before going to the school. And we know he defeated security measures designed to keep people out of the school building. So the first thing to do is look at what happened and not just jumping to trying to “solve the problem” since we don’t know everything yet.
Banning guns certainly is not the answer. Now I’m sure people are going to throw stats about percentages of deaths involving guns, etc. I don’t really care. It comes down to a few things that override statistics.
First, gun bans punish those who follow the law. People who want to kill a bunch of kids aren’t those. If we go back through prior shootings, either the weapons were purchased legally and many of the gun ban measures wouldn’t have done shit to stop the sales, or the guns were obtained illegally, which is the point.
Second, the law clearly recognizes the right of an individual to use force to protect their life, liberty or property, so much so that there’s an amendment for this. Again, we’re talking about the law-abiding owning guns here.
Third, if someone wants a body count, and guns aren’t available, then they’ll find another way. At the same time we were hearing about Sandy Hook, there was also a blurb about some guy in china using a knife for the same purpose. You could theoretically rig up a car and find a festival to slice people up. And the worst school massacre of all time didn’t involve a gun. It involved explosives. More on that in a bit.
This is not about a culture of violence either. Batshit crazy people don’t need to play violent video games. They don’t need to watch violent movies. They may emulate some of the things they see because they find validation, but the crazy was there first. And that’s why someone can play 5 games in a row where you stab people to death as your primary occupation and not go out and start stabbing people in the back. The moral debate might play in other settings, but people like these gunmen already dropped any pretense of functioning in civil society.
The root of the killing is mental problems, but sorting the sane from the crazy isn’t easy. The responsibility for the killing always rests on the shoulders of the person pulling the trigger (gun, bomb, knife, gas pedal). In most of those cases, we’re dealing with either someone who doesn’t recognize the right of another individual to live, or someone who is unable to distinguish the fact. For example, here’s a mom who fears her son may be a future mass murderer. The latter are easier, because they escalate from younger ages. The former, however, can’t be detected, short of compelling people by force, to be examined by the state.
This brings us back to banning guns for the insane, first. I have no problem, with documentation from both law enforcement and mental health officials, refusing gun ownership to people who have mental problems and a history of violent reactions. But what about those who don’t have that history. Or they know enough to fake it. Or they slip though a crack.
So this poses a question: Other than cases where there is clear documentation of instability and violence, how far do you go in stripping people of their rights for mental issues? Do you force them to shrinks? Do you look at things they’ve posted online? Thought police? Computer profiling? If you don’t see a slippery slope, then you may not be a slightly nutty blogger who has 2 guns sitting within reach right now while he’s typing this and a list of people in his head that if he were to snap he’d see them exploding like a blood sausage (don’t worry, the list is down to almost nobody now). Or you also may not have a problem with the idea of the government making value judgement on who gets to own guns (as opposed to taking rights away for clear, documented reasons).
So now that I’ve made the point that you can’t filter out all the crazies (who would steal their guns or switch killing implements if they couldn’t buy them), then what do you do about mental health? Well, in short, address it. While you can’t compel someone to take pills to stay sane, and you can only lock them up in the nut house if they are a threat to others, we can be open about mental illness. We can take any reasonable steps to get people help. We can find ways to help those we can, and get the documentation on the people who are dangerous so we can reduce the number of people who could go on a potential spree.
In short, if there’s a part of this tragedy that merits serious discussion, this is it. That, and even every mental health tool may have not stopped him from going a’killin’.
Then there’s the whole locking down of the schools. I have ranted about some of the stupid excesses of schools turning themselves into prisons. I don’t disagree with the idea of restricting access to the building to school hours. However, a couple points jump out.
First, if someone is hellbent on shooting up the school, they’re going to find a way. They had a secure door at Sandy Hook. The shooter defeated it. Again, if someone wants to create a bloodbath, they are going to think it through. they are going to count on certain things happening. And about all you can really do is either duck and cover, or try to tackle and subdue. I would go on about the nature of the gun-free zone (nobody shoots up NRA events or gun shows for some reason), but I think it’s enough to point out that safety is an illusion.
Let me make a point about individual liberty here. Many of the points above, I do mention the fallacy of trying to make things “safe” since, as I just mentioned, safety is an illusion. We should all be expected to act when someone attempts to deprive someone of their life (or liberty, or property) by force. We cannot assume that a benevolent State can magically keep people in line. And we can never punish those who don’t violate others’ individual liberty to maybe stop those who would. If anyone can explain how using force to take liberty from people to stop those who do not respect the concept of liberty will work, let me know. I’ll be happy to verbally demolish you.
If it bleeds, it leads. I’m really glad I don’t have cable, because otherwise I’d have been plastered to the screen, watching the looped footage as every gory detail and tear-strewn story played over and over. I intentionally stayed away form much of the coverage. Because two things happen. One, you begin to think this happens as a regular thing, not as a rare and horrific tragedy. And two, it’s easy to jump to conclusions when you’re looking at pictures of dead kids and do stupid shit to “solve the problem”. I think I’ve covered that, but while this is news, the news breeds a lot of bad shit in the process.
And the worst of this is the idea that, because we can see it all on the news, that we are living in a horribly ultra-violent world.
And now, for some perspective. I mentioned above that safety is an illusion. That is simply a recognition that bad shit can happen and that there is no practical way to stop it, just clean up afterwards, grieve, and move on. That brings us to the deadliest school massacre in US history. This time, it was Michigan, 1927. 38 children, 2 teachers, 4 other adults. The killer was a school board official. He used explosives to blow up the school with the kids in it, then blew up a car and himself when people came running.
This was before 24/7 media and security theater though. It was simply accepted as a tragic and evil act, the people mourned, and life went on. No national outcries, no screams to “do something!!!!!!”
And we really don’t have to. Despite the proliferation of all the “bad” things that are being held up as the cause of all this violence (see all of the above), we are less violent now than at any time in history. As with everything, what we see we tend to believe as the truth what we see. And when the news, which has always looked for death and mayhem, since it is news, has 24 hours a day to fill and a whole world connected, we get to see body counts in real time.
So in the end, we will mourn the loss of so many innocent lives. We will try to understand why. But we must remember that such horrors are the exception. And we can never live if we believe that these horrors are the rule.
So go, hug your kids (if appropriate), and live.