The recent (Dec. 14) mass killing in Newtown, Connecticut, a town not so far or so different from the one I was born in, sickens me with grief and anger, with hot, bitter tears repeatedly welling in my eyes over the last several days. The only good thing that can be said about this cruel slaughter of 6 and 7 year old children and those who worked with them is that it seems to be provoking the wayward conscience of my countrymen to consider once more some kind of action to limit gun violence in our country. It is hard to be too optimistic about this, however, as we have had similar mass killings in recent years that also stimulated discussions of possible new gun control measures, only for these to quickly fade as America reverted to its characteristic acquiescence in a culture of violence with a society divided between those who think we should have less guns in circulation and those who think the answer to gun-related deaths is always MORE GUNS.
I am in favor of more regulations on the ownership and distribution of guns, such as a renewed ban on assault rifles and other rapid-fire weapons, which are designed for battlefield carnage, not the civilian needs of personal protection or hunting, and an ending to the bizarre loophole in our gun laws that make "gun shows," bazaar-like sales of all manner of guns and gun paraphernalia, exempt from most regulations in effect at regular gun shops, making it easy for people to buy the most dangerous types of weapons and huge amounts of ammunition with few questions asked. I think there is a lot that could be done without interfering with the right of people to own some guns and use guns for sport and self-protection, while indeed quite deliberately interfering with the foolish and dangerous belief of many in this country that Americans should be allowed to carry and use guns anywhere, anytime, anyhow.
Should you respond with the gun-rights battle-cry of "Don't infringe on my liberty! Second Amendment rights!!!," let me suggest a bit of context here. No liberty is absolute. No rights are absolute. There are always compromises made in the interest of the public good. (Of course, if all you care about are private rights and don't accept the notion of a "public good," this will probably not make much sense to you.) We don't allow people to drive anywhere they want. You may want to drive on the left side of the street, Brit-style, and may not want to stop at traffic lights, but you accept that kind of restriction of your "freedom" because that is what is needed to ensure a modicum of safety and order in our streets and cities. We don't allow people to walk around naked in public places. Maybe this infringes on a person's self-expression and personal identity, but we restrict it as it is thought to be offensive to public morality. You may want to dump toxic chemicals from your garage or your business into the local river, because it would be convenient for you to dispose of these things this way, but it is not allowed because it would be bad for public health and the environment. Even dogs are no longer free to shit on the streets, sidewalks and parks without their owners "bringing up the rear" and scooping up the poop. Terrible restriction on personal liberty, isn't it? But we generally accept that in all of these cases, personal liberty is not absolute, but has to be tempered by consideration of the public good. I think the same applies to gun control laws. No one is talking about an all-out elimination of all gun ownership in the USA. All that is being proposed are restrictions on the sale and ownership of the most dangerous weapons, and a more careful procedure for gun sales and registration in general.
It would also help a great deal to have NATIONAL laws, not state laws regulating guns. If one state has very tight gun restrictions and the adjoining state has lax laws, all a person in search of the most carnage-inducing instruments of death has to do is drive across state lines and find a gun merchant. For gun laws to be effective, they have to be NATIONAL in scope, and it would be even better to work at INTERNATIONAL gun treaties to avoid the problem noted above from being relocated to the international stage.
My main purpose today is not to argue about gun control, however, even if I have started off that way. I am more concerned with the WHY of our ever-increasing gun violence. Some look at incidents like the one that just happened in Newtown and put the blame on mental illness. That guy was sick, that guy was crazy, they say; we need more mental health services and more screening for mental illness, and then we'll be fine.
I don't buy that argument. It is too easy and too narrow. It may be that many of the people who go on gun rampages have some kind of psychiatric ailment, but this does not explain why they act out their disturbance in the same way, again and again: loading up on guns, usually including the most lethal, high-capacity types, and then seeking out a public area where they enact the same ritualized scenario, again and again: shooting as many people as they can in a short period of time and then taking their own lives, or dying in a hail of gunfire that they bring down upon themselves. These killers are not each coming up with a unique, creative scenario, but all seem to be following the same basic script. Did they create this script, this pattern, this idea, all on their own? If they have, then we can rest easy that this is simply a misfiring neuron or chemical imbalance or thought disorder, the tragic malfunctioning of a diseased brain, and all we need to understand is which psychiatric label to apply to said brain, medicate or lock away the person bearing bad brain, and voila! Case closed.
But these disturbed murderers are not coming up with these mass-killing scenarios, these die-in-a-blaze-of-glory extravaganzas all on their own. Our media is saturated with images and stories of people who live and die by and with guns, constantly shooting, killing, bleeding, more and more bodies, more and more deaths on our television, movie and video game screens EVERY DAY. And our young are becoming addicted to violent entertainment. It may be that for most young people, this exposure causes no lasting harm, at least no obvious inclination toward mass murder, but how do we know for sure? How do we know how many people who resort to guns in killing and maiming others may have been influenced by the flood of enticing violence in our culture? More research needs to be done, no doubt, but isn't it common sense that if we allow our media to constantly bombard people with narratives and images glorifying gun violence, and we then see a trend of gun violence in our society, that our media may very well be contributing to the problem? Doesn't our economy run on the assumption that massive advertising is able to sway people's behavior? Don't we believe that media communication has an effect on people? Well, shouldn't the same reasoning apply to media violence? WE ARE CONSTANTLY ADVERTISING, MARKETING,BUYING, SELLING, MANUFACTURING AND PROFITING FROM FANTASIES OF VIOLENCE AND KILLING. WE ARE TRAINING OUR YOUNG TO KILL AND BE KILLED.
We need to address this larger social context, and not take refuge in false comfort that all we need is to label, medicate or lock away a few disturbed or diseased individuals. Yes, we need more mental health services, not only because of gun violence, but because it is part of having a humane society, assuming we still believe that such a thing is worth striving for. But we need to think more about how we educate, indoctrinate, advertise and seduce people into loving images of blood-drenched, bullet-riddled violence and narratives of glorious killing. We have to start thinking about restricting such pathways to violence, and building pathways that lead to more peaceful and humane places.
Yes, I am talking about censorship, but this is nothing so different from what we already do in certain areas. We do not allow kids to buy pornography. We slap massive fines on mainstream television performances that feature obscenity or nudity. We do not allow terrorists to use media channels to advocate violent attacks.
If in these cases we accept the need to limit free expression where it is seen as injurious to public health, safety or morals, why on earth don't we put limits on how many shootings and deaths can be shown per night per television program or video game? Yes, the entertainment companies, being immoral corporate greed monsters, will scream and cry that this is against free speech, this is un-American, this is against liberty and consumer choice, but we have to keep our eyes on the prize here. Those media companies will just have to find some different ways to enthrall and entertain their viewers and gamers. They may just have to come up with more compelling stories, characters and scenarios and diversify beyond the rote production of images of carnage. If the media giants are incapable of creating forms of entertainment that are not based upon mass violence, then we should take away their broadcasting licenses and put them out of business.
As a Pagan, I pray that all Pagans will focus their spirituality on glorifying peace and nature, not weapons and death. We can be part of the solution, or part of the problem. In a time when our society is so sick and so sad, let's be part of the solution.