Friday, December 28, 2012

It's About Our Culture, Not the Guns...

What has changed about American society over the past 40 or so years so that mass killings, which were once a rarity, are growing commonplace, especially among young people?

Is it the gun laws? Realistically, they have only gotten stricter over that time frame.

Is it the technology? No, we had semiautomatic pistols and rifles back then, too.

So what is different? If you are as old as I am, think back…

Things were very different when I was growing up back in the 60s and 70s. My mom was a stay at home mom, as were most of my friends’ moms. We lived in a neighborhood where, if a kid did something out of line, a neighbor was sure to let his parents know, and consequences followed. By the same token, if you were scared or hurt, or needed a hand, you knew there were any number of grandmas and moms that you could turn to for help. Communities looked out for the children and old people in their midst.

It sounds idyllic, but NYC in those days wasn’t any picnic. There was a lot of violent crime. And yet, although I grew up in a bad neighborhood where I could easily have obtained an illegal gun, it would never have occurred to me or my schoolmates to do so, much less to go out and hurt innocent people. Kids today are growing up feeling isolated and unloved and hopeless, and in that headspace, it does occur to them.

What is different?

The crux, I think, is that far too many young people today seem to be lacking a sense of self worth sufficient to value their own life as sacred. Without that, I doubt it is possible to value others' lives. How hopeless and worthless does someone have to feel to be capable of this sort of heinous act? These killers go into the situation fully intending to die in the process of taking as many others with them as possible.

Gun laws will not fix the fundamental social disconnect that is infecting too many people today. Where is the sense of community, of family, of belonging, that makes something like this unimaginable? There is so much about our society that needs fixed, not just gun laws (and CT and NY have some pretty strict ones!)

How about we fix the system so that we actually value families, so that surviving as a one income household isn't something beyond most people's imaginings, so that kids see their parents for more than a couple hours a day, for more than a hurried dinner and nagging about homework, and actually feel valued?

How about we address the gulf between quality of life and support for average families that exists between our country and many European nations? Decent parental leave, affordable healthcare, a living wage, a realistic chance to succeed, fair taxation at all socioeconomic levels, an education that is more than high stakes test prep that is stressing young kids in ways that can't be good for mental health?

How about we make mental health parity more than just hollow words a bunch of politicians sling to pretend that there isn't a crisis in services for sick and vulnerable people who may be capable of such horrors (as well as the rest of us with less dramatic difficulties).

How about we do more than just knee jerk the obvious least common denominator solution and look at the root causes of violence in our society--poverty, addiction, mental instability, hopelessness--- rather than simply condemning a tool that is as good or bad as the person wielding it. Taking away guns (if such a thing were actually feasible) will not eliminate violence. Addressing the underlying causes has a much better chance of producing meaningful change.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Irresponsible Journalism Endangers All New Yorkers

The imbeciles at the Journal News who published an interactive map listing the names and addresses of law abiding gun permit holders in several New York Counties have endangered the public with their astounding lack of judgment. Even the Brady Campaign is condemning this poor excuse for journalism:

The Journal News' fear mongering invites neighbors to substitute their judgment for the pistol permit licensing authorities of these counties, who have subjected the permit holders to fingerprinting, background checks at the state and federal level, and have required them to provide references as to their character from fellow county residents, all to add fuel to the fire of polarizing us versus them insanity that they have fed us in the wake of the tragic murder of 20 innocent children and their teachers and school personnel at the hands of a madman. They have just placed the children of over 32,000 law abiding citizens at risk from the threat of gun thieves, who now have a road map to their doors, as well as identified all of the other households in those counties as potentially softer targets for home invasion crimes (though perpetrators might still be surprised to find a long arm pointed at them in some of those homes.)

This could have been reported in a responsible way, by listing the number of permits in each neighborhood, without giving identifying information to criminals. Oh, but people want to know, so that their little darlings are not sent on playdates to the homes of these presumptively (by the Journal News, anyway) evil and dangerous individuals who the state has vetted and who have committed no crime, they say.

Well, if you are allowing your children to visit someone's home, why not simply ask the question: "Do you have any firearms?" But don't stop there. Ask how they are stored. Your neighbor may not want to give you the GPS coordinates of his gun safe, but most people will be more than happy to tell you that they store their weapons in accordance with state law and that they are locked away from casual visitors. If you haven't had that much communication and contact with these people, why are you entrusting them with your children?

Lazy and irresponsible parents who assume everyone shares their antipathy for or fear of firearms and who therefor neglect to teach their children gun safety are more dangerous to their young than the law abiding gun owner next door. Every child should be taught that if they ever see a gun, they should LEAVE and tell an adult immediately, and never to touch a firearm!