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.

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