Gun violence is a symptom, not the cause of our distress

WestWordsWEBPresident Obama came to Minnesota this week to tout his prescription for reducing the likelihood of a repeat of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, or Columbine, or Luby’s Cafeteria, or various U.S. Post Offices, or Charles Whitman in the University of Texas tower in 1966, etc.

Meanwhile, the Sandy Hook shootings coupled with the president’s sentiments and actions have done more for a private industry than anything since the product security business exploded after somebody spiked some Tylenol with cyanide in 1982. Far from fearing a crazed shooter, folks around here are saying overwhelmingly that they fear what the federal government will try to do to “fix” the problem. Gun sales are going into the stratosphere.

Meanwhile, the handwringers say we don’t need “assault rifles” and ammo clips capable of mowing down a room full of first graders in a single sweep. A single-shot bolt-action rifle is all we need to bring down a duck or a doe.

I’m not sure about the doe, but agree about the duck. However, that isn’t the cause of all the gun sales.

This is a relatively rural area. People are concerned for the safety of their property and their families, and they know that if somebody attacks either, they may not have time to wait for law enforcement.

Citizens don’t want to be outgunned by people who don’t play by the rules.

The argument that people are more likely to hurt themselves or a loved one if they have a gun in the house is even more flimsy. If we used that argument to ban guns, then we ought to do away with automobiles, too. Auto accidents create far more carnage than accidental gunshots.

Still, I keep coming back to the thought that we keep trying to come up with simplistic solutions to an exceptionally complex social problem. I have said before that we have created a society that is convenient for adults, but not so great for children.

Necessarily, because of space limitations, I have to be overly simplistic myself, but let me take a stab at an explanation.

In so doing, understand that most people still turn out healthy physically, emotionally and mentally. The problem is that we  now have too many people with emotional and mental problems with too easy access to devices such as guns. Getting the guns out of these people’s hands without infringing on the rights of everyone else is what seems almost impossible — not that we shouldn’t try.

One alternative is to give up our constitutional rights and freedoms in the belief that as a species, we are unable to control ourselves. If it’s your first grader that gets mowed down, maybe that seems OK.

The better alternative is to create a society with fewer disturbed individuals, in which every child feels loved and wanted, and every life seems important. But it has taken us a century to create modern society, and it will take that long to fix it. In the meantime, we can expect these atrocities to continue.

To reverse course, we need to begin addressing issues like the following:

First, too many children are being born to people unable to support and nurture a child. Single parents have an especially difficult time.

Second, too many children are not receiving the nurturing they need in the first year of life.

Third, a recent poll found parents to be 7 percent less likely to be “very happy” than non-parents, suggesting that propagating the species is no longer a worthwhile endeavor.

Fourth, through the millennia, just like other species, human beings had to fight hard to survive. Now many people believe the world has plenty of people. That, in turn, lowers the self-worth of the vulnerable.

Fifth, we live in a pop culture that celebrates promiscuous sex, leading to more children born to parents incapable of raising them.

Sixth, we live in a culture where the wants and needs of the individual are placed ahead of the wants and needs of the family.

Seventh, we live in a pop culture that celebrates violence through video games, TV and movies.

Now let me ask some hard questions about these things. I’m not advocating anything but:

Are we willing to stigmatize single parenthood? How about limiting the number of children like China? Or how about proving you can afford a child before having it?

How about demanding a parent stay home with a child for its first year? Or how about limiting the number of hours outside the home that one parent can work until a child reaches a certain age? How about advocating for one culture over another instead of saying there is a moral equivalence among all? Should we make it more clear to citizens that if we want to commit cultural suicide, the rest of the world is waiting in the wings to take our place?

Should we restore decency codes to television? Should we require parenting classes for all? Is it possible to apply the First Amendment to political speech only, and not to the right to watch porn or violence for entertainment?

Until we start addressing some of these issues and asking some hard questions, treating a symptom like gun violence instead of the cultural disease of putting the self above all else is like putting a Band-Aid on a wound caused by leukemia. It will look good, but it won’t solve much.

Tom West is the general manager of the Peach. Reach him at (320) 352-6569
or e-mail [email protected]