Monday, December 17, 2012

Seeking a Solution to Violence

           What is the appropriate response to tragedies such as the one that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut last Friday?  Certainly, the best immediate response is to pray for those whose loved ones were ripped away in a matter of minutes.  And, of course, to be thankful that your family is safe.  But what can we do as a society about these man-made tragedies, which seem to occur over and over again?  One argument would be to strengthen gun control.  To me, that sounds like taking a pill to treat the symptoms, instead of addressing the disease itself.  Mass killings have happened throughout history, long before handguns and semi-automatic rifles existed, or as President Obama would say, back when men fought with “horses and bayonets.”  To be sure, knives and swords have surely killed far more people than guns have.  So we can’t really blame mass shootings on the weapons themselves.  To draw on a tired cliché, guns don’t kill people, people kill people. 

            So back to my earlier question.  What can we do as a society about these tragedies?  It’s not just the Connecticut shooting.  It was the Aurora theater shooting back in July.  Columbine 13 years before that.  The NFL's Javon Belcher's murder-suicide earlier this month.  Here in Birmingham, a local restaurant owner recently took his mother’s life and then his own.  Just last week in Birmingham, a federal courthouse employee committed suicide in front of his coworkers.  Over the weekend, in separate incidents, several gunmen were killed by police, one at a local hospital in Birmingham.  A quick reading of the newspaper articles on these events suggests that in nearly all of them, the shooter was suffering from some level of mental disease or distress.  That’s not excusing the crimes.  All of the shooters likely knew what they were doing at the time.  But whether you look at Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris from Columbine High School 13 years ago, James Holmes from the Aurora movie theater massacre, Adam Lanza in the Newtown shooting, or any of the murder-suicides or other recent shootings, there is a thread that seems to connect them all.  Extreme mental distress or disease during the period of time leading up to the shooting.  An argument can be made that strong restraints on gun ownership could have prevented one or more of these incidents.  But an equally strong argument can be made that each of these tragedies would have unfolded in the exact same way.  The sad truth is a motivated killer will find a way to accomplish what he wishes.

            In the wake of most of these tragedies, there has been a common theme: those acquainted with the killer either suspected serious mental issues or knew of the fact that the killer was, in fact, a ticking time bomb.  It was the case at Columbine, it was the case in Newtown, and, tragically, it will probably be the case in the next shooting, unless we as a society are willing to take responsibility for those around us.  Mothers and fathers need to be involved with their children and understand what’s going on in their lives and in their heads.  Wives need to be aware of changes in their husband’s behavior, and husband’s their wives.  Coworkers need to be familiar enough with other coworkers so that trouble can be spotted before it erupts.  Actions must be taken by those family and friends.  Warning signs can't be ignored or explained away.  To this lawyer and writer, admittedly untrained in the ways of the mind, this seems to be the only viable way to get to the actual disease that has infected society for so long now.  I know the solution may not be as simple as I just stated, but it can’t be as simple as taking guns away either.  


  1. I completely agree with the call to more awareness of the signs of mental distress. But I do have some other comments.

    You make the claim that mass killings have always been around, to which I agree. But aren't these kinds of shootings (Newtown, Aurora, Virginia Tech, Columbine, etc) different. If you disregard mass death that happens in wars, I find it hard to name many mass killings that have occurred at the hands of a single individual (Jim Jones is the only one to come to mind at present.) I think we can agree that killings that happen in war are categorically different than the aforementioned type of violence.

    While it may be true that other weapons have numerically killed more people, I'm not sure that fun fact has any relevance. I would presume the leading cause of death throughout history would be malnourishment of some kind. Does that mean we don't deal with other things that cause death? No.

    I agree that you can't blame mass shootings on the weapons alone. But I can blame the combination of weapons and people. I agree that guns don't kill people; its people *with guns* that kill people. We have to address both parts of that equation. The people; which you've argued for here, but also the guns.

    Yes, a person bent on killing can find any number of ways to do so without guns. So here's my question…why do they always use guns instead of other things?

    Isn't it because guns are a distinct kind of weapon. Guns aren't like swords in that guns can be used from a 'safe' distance to kill another. Guns aren't like knives in that that guns kill in a rapid fashion. Guns aren't like other weapons. Severals adult could overpower a person with a knife, maybe only one or two would die in the fight. A person with a gun can kill as many people as he/she wants, only limited by the amount of ammo at hand.

    Now, I agree. The answer isn't *just about controlling guns better. But I think anyone who says that better gun safety and regulations CANNOT be *part of the answer has some priority issues; ones that I am willing to debate, but ones I don't think can be defended adequately.

    1. Guns are certainly more efficient at killing, whether in "acceptable" situations, like law enforcement and war or in "unacceptable" situations like crime. So you are right on that account. If these crimes would have been committed with knives fewer would have died, most likely. But the realty is that technology will always be birthing more advanced and more deadly weaponry. Countless countries have seen their citizenry slaughtered throughout time because only the army had access to resources and weapons. I know we don't typically think of our government as being the type to turn on its citizens with violence, but the time could come when we can't say that. I'm not suggesting that 50 years from now we should all have access to laser beam guns, but I'm not comfortable with citizens being prevented from defending themselves from whomever may threaten.

      The bottom line for me is that the government can react to these terrible crimes by legislating away availability of guns, or it can address the true problem. Is it really a solution to say, "fine go commit your crime, but just use a knife to do it so we can minimize the number of victims"?

      When you buy a gun, your criminal record is checked, and I believe your mental health record, if any, is checked. I know it is when you apply for a concealed carry permit. If we are more proactive in that area, those people can't get guns. I support that. A longer wait period didn't prevent Friday's act. My understanding is that he used his mother's guns and didn't even have to obtain his own. Beyond a total prohibition, which will not happen, I'm not sure what could prevent these acts. You said it best when you called for better education and mental health awareness.

  2. I can't buy into the militia argument - you've got a long way to go if the idea for private ownership is to compete with the armed forces. That may have worked when the 2nd Amendment was penned; in our modern times, the argument not only falls flat but borders on the absurd. Unless, of course, you know how to make several thousand tanks or F-16s for yourself?

    My point is this: why do you say "or" (2nd paragraph)? Your language creates a false choice; either the government can act or it can "address the problem." Can't *part of* the problem be addressed by the government? Or are your choices mutually exclusive, as you suggest when you use the word "or"?

    There is no solution to violence; no one is saying that more gun control will make all people behave peaceably. But even though its not a solution, don't all of us have an interest in reducing the number of victims? I try to think of another crime and see if the logic holds. People rob banks. People are always going to rob banks, can't change that. What can we do to reduce the impact of that crime. Well, the government could decide to regulate how much money is stored at banks at any given time. If there is only $100,000 instead of $1,000,000 to potentially steal, while you haven't (can't) reduce the number of bank robberies, you can reduce the impact. Using the same thought process, would you say that the regulation of the amount of money is pointless because it doesn't reduce the number of bank robberies?

    There is something peculiar about how guns are regarded in our American psyche. We are infatuated with them. We have 5% of the worlds population, and 50% of the guns. I was hosting a discussion group where I posed the question: should Christians carry firearms into church? One the participants asked one of his UK friends what he thought. The guy couldn't understand the question - the notion of open-carry was completely foreign to him, even more so into a church. He laughed at the thought that this was something of real debate here in the states (and especially in the South.) Other countries don't deal with these kind of shootings like we have to here in the USA? What is that about?

    The thought that our gun-saturated culture (which can accurately be described as abnormal on the world stage) has nothing to do with these shootings is shortsighted.