As we begin to welcome friends and families into our homes for the holidays, the joy of the season has been overshadowed by last week’s horrific events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Surely there will be conversations and arguments that will divide us on exactly what we should do next to end this epidemic of mass shootings in our country. The conversations will go back and forth on gun control, on a possible ban on assault weapons or guns in general, on the loss of life specifically due to guns used in illegal ways, on our Second Amendment rights, on the Gun-Free School Zones Act and so forth.
As we struggle to understand how this tragedy happened, we will mull over a series of considerations. We will think about our mental health care system and its perceived deficiencies. Some may discuss that, perhaps, the medication being used by mentally ill people may only exacerbate the problem, making certain people even more unstable. Law enforcement officials, however, found that the Sandy Hook shooter, who had Asperger’s Syndrome (high-functioning on the autism spectrum) and may have had personality disorders, wasn’t on medication. Some will also contend that better mental health services might have helped and may help prevent such tragedies in the future, yet there is no realistic expectation that those who need it the most will seek the help they need.
Many will talk about ending the Gun-Free School Zones Act and arming our teachers and administrators to protect against the insanity of those who would cause such tragedies. That idea is predicated on the assumption that teachers, administrators and/or even trained professionals could and would act quickly enough to save their own lives and those of others. In arming our school employees, it is possible that we may also breed the culture of fear into our children as they wonder why all the adults are armed with loaded weapons. Furthermore, what proof is there that more guns equal less violence in this country? How does anyone know what the tipping point is for any given person — adult, child and teenager alike? That also brings up the fact that some of the same people who believe our teachers should be armed are also afraid of a police state, but somehow arming public workers doesn’t fall into the same category of what they are so afraid of.
Some will look to the culture of violence that they believe has been perpetuated in our country by condoning almost any act of violence in our movies, video games, television shows, music, etc. If we choose to blame the entertainment industry, then we may as well be choosing to forgo our First Amendment right to freedom of expression, yet we don’t hesitate to censor nudity or sex.
We can look at statistics about those who have guns in this country and how more Americans are choosing not to own guns, while those who own guns continue to stockpile their arsenals without any perceived rational reason based on actual events. According to the Congressional Research Service, in 2009 there were an estimated 310 million firearms in the United States. While the crime rates have gone down since the 1990s, for the last several years, more than 11,000 Americans are still murdered annually with fire arms. Accidental deaths and suicides account for more than 20,000 deaths. Yet, according to the General Social Survey, gun ownership rates have been on a downward trend. In 1977, 54 percent of American households owned a gun. According to a 2008 national exit poll, 42 percent of Americans own guns. But that doesn’t take into account the mental stability of those who are buying these guns; nor does it reflect the number of guns uncounted due to being purchased through illegal means. Certain people might think a ban on all guns, or more specifically assault weapons, is the right answer, forgoing our Second Amendment rights. Logically speaking, we can’t just disarm law-abiding citizens and hope the gun violence will end. But in a somewhat surprising turn of events, investors in semi-automatic gun manufacturers and distributors have begun selling their stock at a rapid pace. Though President Barack Obama has appointed Vice President Joe Biden to draw up policy positions on gun laws, Americans may just lead the way for the kind of policies they want by driving such manufacturers into the abyss.
Others say that guns should be more regulated, as driver’s licenses and car ownership are. Purchasing guns should involve tests on how to use a gun as well as mental health tests. Also, with every purchase, gun owners should have to purchase a safeguard to protect others, such as gun safes or trigger locks. Many believe stockpiling thousands of bullets is unnecessary and smaller clips and more regulation in the sale of ammunition may be the solution. With a country in such great grief, such legislation may be passed quickly by Congress.
Most will agree there is no easy solution and we default to that common-sense position. But there is one topic that isn’t really being discussed. And that is the idea of community. In President Barack Obama’s speech, he talked about the situation at hand:
“It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize, no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself,” he said. “That this job of keeping our children safe, and teaching them well, is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community, and the help of a nation.”
As a country becoming more polarized and divided, we have become more focused on our individual needs and wants and have isolated ourselves from our neighbors. Unfortunately, we may just be doing ourselves in, as those who are inclined to and actually do commit such heinous crimes slip through the cracks. We can go in a variety of directions with every argument under the sun to fix this problem; but we should open our eyes to the world around us, dedicate ourselves to one another, and develop the sense of community that may be lacking, that may have contributed to these senseless crimes against humanity. The words of an African proverb ring true: It takes a village to raise a child. It also may take a village to protect them.