Wednesday, August 8, 2012

It should be shocking, but…

How many mass shootings have we had this year? Maybe three, four, five…and the year is a little more than half over. While the circumstances and locations may be completely distinct, the scene is all too familiar. Young men – I’m not sure if I’m aware of a mass shooting carried out by a woman, yet – who for whatever reason are suffering from some psychological issue that never gets addressed, somehow manage to stockpile a cache of weapons without anyone being the wiser. Sometimes the guns are bought from friends or illegally; sometimes they’re purchased (along with rounds and rounds of bullets) from the local Walmart. But somewhere along the line the dangerous thoughts and plans turn into a reality. I don’t know what that point of no return is. Maybe for some of these young men it was purchasing the gun. Maybe it was just deciding one day that they were going to go through with it. Maybe they didn’t actually make up their mind until the shooting actually began.
I read a very powerful book about the Columbine shooting by journalist Dave Cullen. Cullen attempted to get more to the heart of the who the two gunmen were, rather than just paint them as mass murderers. Certainly Cullen was sensitive to the fact that the town of Columbine still had to live with the losses they suffered that day, and so did not try and justify or explain their actions, but instead tried to understand at what point they had made the decision to go through with their plan to kill their classmates and destroy their school. To use the Columbine shooters as an example, it seemed that the two boys made this decision at vastly different times. Eric Harris seemed to make the decision long before Dylan Klebold did. Harris did most of the planning, and seemed to be determined to carry through with it from the beginning. Klebold, on the other hand, seemed much less hell bent on killing his classmates and suffering the consequences of those horrific acts. But whatever the timing, this plan went into action long before the events unfolded. So it begs the question, how many other people have plotted awful crimes of this nature, but simply didn’t follow through with it? What stopped them? What didn’t stop those that did follow through with it? What happened to those that felt that way at one time, but stopped before killing someone? Did they go on to lead “normal” lives? Are they still plotting? Or are the type of people who carry out these acts determined from start to finish to follow through on them?
These are the scary questions that I think we as a society need to answer. Because the reality is that there are people out there right this minute that are plotting the next Columbine, or the next Virginia Tech, or the next Oikos University, or the next Aurora, or the next Sikh temple. Whatever the motivation, they’re planning these attacks; so the question is how do we prevent it? For most that are planning, they will hopefully just give it up, and move on. But for those that are determined to carry out these acts, what can we as a society do?
I think the problem is that our society has gone off the rails, and these people are the unfortunate culmination of a society that embraces guns and violence as a cultural norm, while at the same time repressing individualism and open expression. People are told that to be stoic is good and that showing or expressing your emotions is bad. So we have bred multiple generations of pent-up, angry teenagers who feel that their only outlet to let society know how they feel is by killing someone. Add this to the fact that young men are returning from war with terrible PTSD, but are unable to receive the treatment they require, so instead of turning the gun on a crowded movie theater are all too often killing themselves.
The question of what to do is not an easy one to answer, but the fact is that an answer needs to be found. The issue of guns is part of it. The second amendment (in fact NO CONSTITUTION AMENDMENT) gives carte blanche to carry any type of weapon, anywhere, at any time. All of the amendments to the constitution have limitations; so limiting access to handguns, assault rifles, huge magazines, rocket launchers, landmines, tanks and nuclear weapons are all perfectly within the scope of the legislature (I guess unless the Supreme Court decides otherwise). But limiting access to certain types of weapons won’t do it alone; the problem is much larger than that. We need to allow our society as a whole to express their feelings in an open, non-judgmental way. It’s not unusual for young men to have homicidal fantasies, but when they’re being treated as freaks or murderers for expressing these fantasies with words or pictures (instead of violence), this turns them off to talking about how they’re feeling; which is something that might potentially prevent them from carrying it out. As with all generations before, we have a lot to learn, but the only way to learn about why people are feeling a certain way, or why people do certain things, is to listen to what they have to say.

I leave you with a quote from The Dark Knight that I think is apropos:

“Nobody panics when the expected people [get] killed. Nobody panics when things go according to plan, even if the plans are horrifying. If I tell the press that tomorrow a gangbanger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will get blown up, nobody panics. But when I say one little old mayor will die, everyone loses their minds!! Introduce a little anarchy, you upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos.” ~ The Joker

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