Saturday, December 15, 2012

Sandy Hook Reflections - No Easy Answer

Author's note:

I really didn't want this to be my first post on Bath Salts and Skittles. What I envision for this blog is a free-wheeling discussion on anything I find myself interested in, which can and will include politics, firearms, philosophy, poetry and short stories. Sandy Hook has been in the news non-stop since yesterday, so it would be foolish of me to not share what's on my mind.

It appears that the United States has once again been crippled with sadness due to the actions of a madman. And once again, our media outlets have decided to sell little more than the fear and confusion we've come to expect from them in times of crisis. Not that I wish to condone or somehow mitigate the the immense gravity of what happened in Newtown, gun violence of this type remains statistically rare while coverage of such events has expanded thanks to the advent of the 24 hour news cycle. Indeed, from the time I saw this report at a bar in Dedham, Massachussetts at 1130AM yesterday to 1130AM the next morning, the media has been non stop in its often confusing and inaccurate coverage of the tragedy. Between often repetitive reporting, everything from automobies to pharmaceuticals have been advertised, reminding Americans that even when children have been massacred, the malls are open!
But I digress.
Over coverage of events like these serves many purposes - it gets the information out there, allows the media cosumer to comment on it en masse and in the zeal to be first with the information, news outlets report anything - including uncorroborated reports that are usually retracted later. The confusion that follows breeds fear, the fear breeds condemnation and Monday morning quarterbacking, even as the facts struggle to manifest. In this day and age of Twitter and other social media, everyone is a commentator, everyone is a 'reporter' and everyone is politically motivated to blather on about what they think should be done.

The worst part of the media over coverage is that it gives the killer exactly what he (and its always young men) wants - immortality. Kinkel. Woodham. Harris. Klebold. Cho. Laughner. Holmes. Now Adam Lanza gets to chisel his name in a macarbe hall of infamy. Every time his name is spoken, every time some "expert" tries to "get inside the mind" of the killer on live television, only serves to make famous the killer and whatever his gripe with the world was - no matter how unfathomable.

After such a tragedy, its only natural to be wildly upset. Indeed, I remember exactly where I was when I first heard the news of two high school students shooting up a school in a Colorado town I'd never heard of before and thinking how sick these people must be. My sadness turned to anger when I learned later on that their firearms were given to them by other adults, who made their purchases illegally for them. My natural thought, at 22, was to think more laws were needed, more legislation to protect people from unneccessary carnage.

That reaction was tempered almost instantly however by reality. I served as an EMT/Firefighter in various capacities throughout college and had seen my share of gun violence and the results of various home invasions, robberies and suicides. I won't go on and shout the word "evil" from the rooftops, but I will say that there are things and people in this world that are not in our control. We'll never be able to stop someone motivated by an addiction from killing to get his fix. We'll never be able to stop every abusive relationship from resulting in a funeral for a battered woman and we'll never be able to stop the randomness with which violent crime seems to occur on urban streets - something that is almost never discussed unless its an election year.

We simply cannot stop random acts of violence every time. People who want to kill, will kill - as humans, we've lived with this reality since Cane slew Abel. We've demonstrated a capacity to kill unmatched by any other species on the planet with every shove, with every punch, and in a wider sense, with every war we've fought.

As an Atheist, I naturally reject the idea that tragedies like these are the result of a lack of prayer in schools. I don't see how praying to a mythical being is somehow going to safeguard our children or society as a whole. While I don't think religion is the answer, I do think awareness will go a long way. Consider the previous school shootings; what is the common thread tying these tragedies together? All were males, all had access to firearms as we all do, yes, but in all cases, inadequately treated mental illness was a major factor in their lives.

Our attitude towards mental health, one forged in shame and mockery, is deplorable. Our culture derides the very notion of a citizen seeking professional help for the demons that possess them. When the few do attain help, its limited; crippled by a lack of available healthcare funds to treat them coupled with an inability to apply meaningful civil committments to the most dangerous cases. This attitude is further exacorbated by an entertainment culture that uses Psychiatric patients as little more than convenient punchlines to jokes or as the deranged villians in violent films and pop-television. Society is so callous to the suffering of the mentally ill that it took nearly 100 years of war for American service personnel to get meaningful help for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Even now, knowing what we know, these patients, who we owe more than a thank you to, hurdle a mountain of bureaucracy and machismo to get so much as a modicum of treatment.

Again, I recall my reaction to Columbine. I was working at a radio station in New Hampshire when it happened. I remember wanting to choke the DJ when it came over my monitor, thinking the whole thing was a sick attempt to be Howard Stern. When the gravity of that situation became all too real, I experienced first hand in a press room, the rush to judgement. The attacks on music, culture and of course firearms ownership in the United States. Nothing has changed even 13 years later; society sees fit to blame everyone and everything except the shooter and our own inability to realize that a callous populace no matter how inadvertently, helped create this situation. Make no mistake, mental illness is not and will never be an excuse for such ghoulish acts, but to deny it and blame the usual suspects is nothing more than a recipe for failure.

I am as sickened by the rush to blame the NRA and gun owners for this as I am the talking heads at Fox and MSNBC shoving microphones in the faces of the Newtown children who will be forever traumatized by what they saw and heard yesterday. When something terrible happens, it seems as if Americans have one set reaction and that is to form electronic lynch mobs on Twitter and Facebook. Make no mistake, if your reaction to this tragedy is to politicize something as immovable as Roe v Wade, if your answer is to play the same old song of more gun control while ignoring the mental health crisis facing this country, these children, these teachers will have died in vain.

Over the last 12 years, Americans have made themselves perfectly clear: they do not want more gun control. Indeed, concealed carry is the law in every corner of the country and applications for licensure and training is at an all time high. Its time to change the conversation on violence; focus more on the root causes and less on the object. I beg any reader to realize this is a huge and multi-faceted problem, but to go down the same path of political sniping and spin is an exercise in futility.

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