I believe every conscious American has the same concern as we suffer another mass murder. And I make this comment because this may be the one point we can agree on in our current state of polarity.
To avoid being possessed by one narrative or the other, I want to suggest we take a look at the state of our society rather than engage in the argument “guns kill people vs. people kill people.”
As much as I’d like to say, “get rid of the guns, and the mass shootings will stop,” if I’m going to be intellectually honest with myself, I’m compelled to ask why didn’t I ever hear of a mass shooting while I grew up with guns all around me?
The plain facts are that people with guns kill people in this country in orders of magnitude more than in any other developed country. Another basic fact is when I grew up, all my friends and I owned guns
Back then, I heard of gangland shootings, murders of passion—lovers killing rivals. I heard of any number of different kinds of killings. But I never heard of mass murders happening in churches, synagogues, concerts, grocery stores, malls, and schools. We certainly had the guns and the ease of which to buy more.
I remember walking into a Western Auto store (where I regularly bought ammunition for hunting) and purchasing a pistol and ammunition. No questions asked. No waiting time. So, what happened?
Whatever it was, it happened to our society. It created a culture media that gave sustenance to our darkest impulses. It nurtures the worst parts of us. And the scary part is we all have those darkest impulses. We live in a violent culture. We glorify violence. We celebrate it in our heroes, sports, entertainment, and politics. Even some religions preach the need for violence to save the country from this or that boogeyman.
But we can’t figure out that adding encouragement to those dark impulses helps them grow to the point where they get out of control. The perpetrators are ordinary people whose darkest impulses are stimulated past the end of their ability to control them. So they strike out, and people die.
It would be much easier to blame it on mental illness. That takes us off the hook. After all, “what can we expect from a mentally ill person. We can’t do anything about that.” But, sorry, that’s not going to cut it. Yes, a few perpetrators are mentally ill for sure. But every other developed country has mentally ill people, but they don’t have the mass murder rates we have.
No! This is our problem, all of us, this society, our society. And we make up our society, for better or for worse. So, it’s time we take on the responsibility for what’s happening almost every day and ask ourselves, “what am I doing to encourage or discourage violence in my part of society?”
That’s where the answers lie. Not in the gun lobby, the lack of political leadership, the dire state of our entire mental healthcare system, or the failure of our educational system. It’s the failure of each of us to demonstrate the kind of behavior that serves our children and teaches them to be the best they can be. Their natural darkest impulses gain control when we don’t do that, and we know how that turns out.
Finally, from Irish poet William Butler Yeats:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
If we’re going to stop the killing, we need to stop the destruction of a moral center in our society. And that starts with each of us.