A Response to the Connecticut School Shooting

Among the various news reports I read summarizing the tragedy at Sandy Hock Elementary, the Connecticut school shooting, I also read a CNN article asking readers to reply to the question: How do we stop the violence? I think this is the right question to ask.

I thought I’d offer some of my own thoughts and opinions surrounding the increasingly common shootings and violence in our country. There are already a number of opinions floating around, but I think it’s important we each add our respectful voice and listening ears so that we can come up with effective solution(s) to this escalating national problem.

A number of tweets on my feed talked about gun control (for and against). Some proposed that responding to the tragedy with politics wasn’t appropriate and wouldn’t be effective. Others said that today isn’t the day debate gun control–yesterday was.

I’m going to do my best to take a principles based approach as I try to answer the question How do we stop the violence?

While I’ve never been engrossed in the debate about gun control, I don’t think it’s the answer to this problem. The premise behind this argument seems to suggest that we stop allowing people to own guns–maybe we even stop producing them at a far extreme–because if people don’t have guns then their will be no shootings which means less deaths and less violence. But that premise seems flawed to me. There’s always someone who will own a gun. Those who want to get a gun badly enough will find a way. And if we increase gun control to extreme limits, it seems we leave ourselves defenseless. Arguably guns are NOT the best and only means of defense. Furthermore, take a look at what happened with the prohibition of alcohol and what’s currently happening with druck trafficking.

I’m not an economist, but let me see I can appropriately recall the problem with illegal drugs. By banning drugs we have effectively created a black market that allows thugs to get rich because they can charge a high price for illegal drugs. And now we are forced to use our tax dollars to try and stop these criminals. Take the word of economists who can put it more eloquently: Saving Mexico and The Economics of Illegal Drugs.

In the 40 years since U.S. President Richard Nixon declared a “war on drugs,” the supply and use of drugs has not changed in any fundamental way. The only difference: a taxpayer bill of more than $1 trillion.

I’m not sure how valid the first point is, that the war on drugs hasn’t changed fundamentally, but it seems sound to me.

Because governments make drugs illegal, the risk associated with transporting them translates to high rewards for those willing to take that risk.

I bring the illegal drug trade up because I believe the economic principles behind drug trafficking will apply similarly to gun control should we ban guns or push to that extreme. Regardless of the flaws in that argument, I believe we as a people must look deeper and I think we are starting to more and more as these issues intensify.

As a segue into my main point, I’d like to cite the comments of a few people who responded to the CNN article I mentioned earlier. The first commenter made these points:

1. Quit sensationalizing the tragedy.

2. Never mention the perpetrator’s name, let them die in an anonymity.

3. Focus only on helping the families of the tragedy.

4. Never discuss what the perpetrator’s motive was; they did what they did, never give justification to their means, never let their ends be met.

5. Quit believing that any form of weapon control will ever make things “safe”, it will not. Guns, Fertilizer, Gasoline, Knives, Baseball Bats, Kitchen and Bathroom Chemicals the list is infinite; bad people will do bad things, the only real control one can hope for is taking away whatever motivation or reward the person has for doing them, and even then, they may try.

I think these points are valid, though they are double edged. In a sense, the press is sensationalizing the tragedy. By sensationalizing the tragedy it seems to validate it, which may be one reason why we are seeing an increase in the number of these tragedies. I wouldn’t name it a primary reason, but it seems to send the message to other potential mass murderers that they will get publicity and send their message to wider audience if they do something terrible and tragic. Furthermore, the CNN article I read labeled the Connecticut tragedy as, and I quote:

…the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, behind only the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech that left 32 people dead.

To me, this almost turns it into a kind of sick competition where 32 is the number to beat.

To add to the commenter’s 5th point, perhaps guns are the chosen weapon because of their ease of access relative to the damage they can inflict. But what happens if we make them less accessible? I don’t think killers will go for baseball bats, but bombs and other weapons seem pretty likely if they want to inflict massive damage. This reminds of a point made in the illegal drug trafficking articles:

Governments also have a hard time stopping the drugs trade because, like any good business, trafficking organizations innovate and adapt. Mexican customs has stumbled upon a long list of ingenious methods to transport cocaine, including one shipment of liquefied cocaine smuggled in red wine bottles. Another recent bust yielded 800 kilos of cocaine–worth an estimated $40 million–stuffed inside a batch of frozen sharks.

After Mexico restricted the importation of pseudoephedrine to slow the manufacture of methamphetamines, drug gangs found another way to make the drug using different, unrestricted chemicals widely used in the perfume industry. “I’ve always thought these guys had a good research and development arm,” says one exasperated Mexican official.

Another commenter made these points:

Instead of the easy knee jerk reaction, perhaps we should be looking at all of the other things, besides guns, these case have in common.

1-A vast majority of these shooters are between the ages of 16 and 26.
2-They are narcissists
3-They enjoy violent video games and movies.

We have raised an entire generation on the theory that we must protect their self-esteem at all costs. Then, while mom and dad had better things to do, we sat them in front of Grand Theft Auto and completely desensitized them to violence.

So, if we stop shielding kids from every possible disappointment in life, so that when they face one, they are prepared for it; if we take the XBox away once in awhile; and if we actually talk to our kids occasionally, we might prevent some of this crap.

Further down the list a commenter brings up the issues of bad home life for children with irresponsible parents, the lack of morals taught in the home, increasing divorce rates of the last decades, abortion, etc. While I don’t think everything he said is correct, I do agree with some of his points. In reply to him another commenter wrote:

You must be delusional if you think more unwanted children wouldn’t simply lead to a higher population of the “individuals” you write about. It’s not about divorce; it’s not about abortion; and it is definitely not about mothers being absent; it’s about mental health.

After that, the Bible debate erupted. Some ask if the Bible is really a good source for moral issues when its filled with violence and unrealistic stories? Others counter. We could go through the list of comments and debate each point much like the replies in that column, but I’ll get to my point and my opinion.

The lack of internal control by individuals breeds external control by governments.

We continue to turn to the government and politics to solve our problem. Government is so much more limited than the sum efforts of each individual. External controls are NOT the best answer. External controls are not the answer to a problem that is rooted in the psychological and emotional conditions of human beings, in addition to their morals and beliefs surrounding the purpose of life. They are an answer that may or may not change things for the better in the short run, but they are not the most effective long-term solution.

I do NOT agree with the commenter who argued the problem is essentially mental health. Mental health goes deeper than gun control but it is not the sole issue here. It is a result of an even deeper issue I believe.

Policemen and laws can never replace customs, traditions and moral values as a means for regulating human behavior.

And I add that focusing on mental health from a sociological, psychological, or purely scientific view will not fix the problem either. We have to take action that will more effectively and permanently change human behavior.

As a deeply religious individual I believe we must necessarily emphasize a return to God in some form or another. I think a majority of the religions in this world (maybe excluding some highly extreme religions) teach about the importance of life, that life has a purpose, that we should love one another, that we should refrain from lust, violence, selfishness, hate and anger.

As a more balanced commenter pointed out not all of us know at this point what the Newtown, CT shooter’s home life was like. Maybe he his parents neglected to teach him morals that emphasized the value of life, maybe not. Maybe he played violent video games and watched violent films all day, maybe not. Maybe he read about previous shootings in the press that influenced his decision to commit mass public murder, maybe not.

At any rate, I personally believe that the world is increasingly turning away from God and turning to themselves and relying on the fundamentals of science for the answers without leaving room for a more powerful Creator or Father in Heaven. While I obviously cannot prove causality, I think this correlates with the increase in violence. Additionally, I believe we are seeing the traditional family lose its significant role as the foundation of society.

It is my personal opinion and appeal to any readers that we should focus more efforts on understanding the meaning of life and seeking some sort of greater power that can influence us for good. Furthermore, that we should emphasize the teaching of sound moral principles that value life to children and youth of all ages. And lastly, that we should share any of our findings with those around us and encourage them to do the same.

My heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones due to the Connecticut school shooting. My prayers go out to them as well in addition to those who are asking “why.” May we all seek and find greater understanding. May greater peace and love abound in our communities and countries.