The past two weeks have been an incredible challenge for me; one for which I was not prepared. Like each and every one of you out there, I watched--or in my case, read--the horrific events unfolding in Newtown, Connecticut with barely suppressed anger. I wondered aloud what kind of monster would commit such an act, do something that so truly defines "heinous?" In fact, until this day, I'd never been able to truly commit the word to an event.
That may seem a shock to some, that a man as verbose as I would lack the necessary models to describe each and every potent word. On 9/11, I learned the meaning of "atrocity." Shortly thereafter, when a family I knew was murdered by a suicide bomber while eating in a restaurant, I learned the meaning of "evil." But a young man, one who was clearly troubled, entering an elementary school and committing mass murder...it wrecks my mind.
But what truly turned my stomach, aside from the incident itself, was the parade of commentators that followed. The talking-heads of the Media allowed a very short amount of time for the families to grieve before stepping forward to tell us all how WE are responsible for the horror that befell the small Connecticut town.
Make no mistake, I do not pretend to know the inner workings of the mind of Adam Lanza. I am no doctor, I have never dealt first-hand with someone suffering from this level of mental disturbance, and I cannot fathom the anguish suffered by the parents and loved-ones of those victims. I can, however, express MY disgust at the follow-on discussion that has littered the newspapers and twitterverse.
Politicians and pundits saying that WE are the blame for taking religion out of schools. Those on the left shouting that America "is a culture of murder and guns, full of rednecks too dumb to let go of the Second Amendment." Those on the right screaming, "If a teacher had a gun, this whole thing would have ended sooner. The video games and movies are to blame!"
These arguments upset me, and not just because they come across as childish and ignorant. Both sides (and by that, I mean political sides, because that is how the "unbiased media" represents itself nowadays) play a game of pointing fingers and looking for scapegoats when the real issue is immensely more complex. This is not simply an issue of guns in our society, or even of mental illness in our country. There are hundreds of factors that led to the Newtown Massacre, more than we will ever truly realize. To understand evil of this magnitude is not even possible for most Americans (by that, I mean your mind cannot fathom the gross perversion of the disturbed mind).
But these petty squabbles also served to label many Americans, including me, as potential murderers. I saw the same thing during the Aurora shootings, and as far back as Columbine. Are all people who own guns one step away from murder? Are all video gamers imbalanced sociopaths?
I was raised in Texas, which has become synonymous with saying I was raised in a gun-culture. It's true, my family had (and still has) a large collection of firearms. I was trained early on to recognize a weapon and, most importantly, to treat it with respect. All guns are to be assumed loaded and unsafe until an ADULT proves otherwise. Now, at 27, I still look at every pistol and rifle with caution.
I am also a child raised on media, from movie to video games. I've seen Tarantino films and played "Grand Theft Auto." I've listened to rap music and eaten pizza after midnight. Amazingly, despite all the telltale signs that I should be a mass-murderer (according to the news), I am a well-adjusted adult who serves in the National Guard, pays taxes and bills on time, and maintains a healthy and vibrant social circle. In fact, I still consider myself an avid gamer, but am able to hold down a full-time job and do not neglect loved ones.
How can the media paint an ever-growing portion of the global population with such a broad swath? It is unprofessional at the very least, incompetent in my opinion, and a poor excuse for journalism.
Let's start with the most basic issue: Does a video game make someone more violent? LTC David Grossman, author of the bestseller "On Killing," would say yes. Despite my respect for David's incredible research into the psychology of killing, I have to disagree. I would counter that video games desensitize someone to violence, which in turns enables them to kill more easily.
There is a crucial difference. David states that the "universal human phobia" is person-on-person violence, i.e. humans are naturally opposed to killing one another. Think about it. Any time you heard of someone being murdered, didn't it strike you as being just plain wrong? Wasn't Newtown somehow unfathomable?
Video games, like military simulations (of which I am intimately familiar), often put the player in the driver's seat for an intense combat experience. Games such as "Modern Warfare" are as gritty and violent as any R-rated movie, and have an incredible effect of the young and undeveloped mind. Countless studies have proven that video games can make young children more violent, in the same way that action movies can make kids act out violent scenes.
But the solution isn't to ban or censor these video games, or these movies. The solution is for parents not to use video games and movies as babysitters. These games have ratings, just like movies, and children under 18 are NOT ALLOWED to buy them without a parent present.
If you, as a parent, would not allow your child to watch "Black Hawk Down" or "Zombie Chainsaw Sexcapades 12," the don't buy them "Resident Evil" or "Modern Warfare" or "Dead Space." If you are so busy that you cannot take the time to monitor what your children are doing, you need to REFOCUS.
Now, before you comment angrily, allow me to qualify. I am not a parent. I have never had to work two jobs to support a family. However, I grew up in a home where both parents worked long hours. Nonetheless, I was supervised and guided at all times. No infraction when unnoticed or uncorrected. I thank my parents for implementing such control over me, as it allowed me to grow into a mature and focused adult. If all I'd had growing up were cartoons and video games, I would have turned out much different.
And what about the gun issue? Do guns create crime? I can't say I'm an expert on the subject, but let me take a look at my own life. I grew up in a household where the guns outnumbered the people 2:1. My neighbors had guns, friends' families had guns, and even qualified for a Concealed Carry License when I was old enough. Do you know how many of my friends committed gun-crimes?
But how many committed violent assaults?
And I don't credit the laws imposed by our politicians, or the work of the police (great though they may be). I credit the parents and teachers who taught me and my friends to be good people. I credit my father for instilling a sense of right and wrong, and my rabbi for teaching me about good and evil.
On every radio station I've heard the same argument against gun control: Drunk drivers kill far more children than mass-murderers. Why don't we confiscate cars?
First, if you ever make this argument, you are fundamentally wrong in the head.
Adam Lanza would not have been able to sneak an SUV into a school and run over 20 children. If you don't see the difference between vehicular manslaughter and a firearm, then please stop breeding.
We regulate the hell out of our vehicles. People are required to update their licenses regularly, wear corrective lenses, obey highly restrictive laws for travel and parking, and all of it is monitored by the police and traffic enforcement. Guns are regulated as well, with background checks and carry laws. But let's be honest, they are WAY too easy to procure.
Someone close to me owns an assault rifle with a high-capacity magazine. All of this was purchased legally, and they passed an extensive background check. They keep the weapon locked and unloaded in a heavy safe. It is insanely fun to shoot. That said, why is this something people need to buy?
Now, before I alienate my friends and family, let me remind you that I am an officer with the National Guard.
The AR 15 (civilian model of the M16, and the weapon used in Newtown) is an assault rifle. It is sold as a "hunting rifle," but that is just nonsense. Most hunters want a rifle with more punch than a .22 or 5.56 (the caliber of the AR-15). Moreover, a hunter who needs 31 rounds to bring down a buck needs a new hobby. Or glasses.
The M16 is a combat rifle designed to engage targets at ranges of 50-300 meters. It is precise, reliable, and has NO PLACE in hunting.
Nor, I should say, is it appropriate for home defense. It is designed to hit targets at range. In home defense, a pistol or shotgun is more appropriate.
So people say that the AR-15 is designed for that final intent of the Second Amendment: fighting against Tyranny. To be honest, I have no argument against that. If you are stocking up on assault weapons in the off chance that America descends into "Mad Max" style chaos, then you have chosen the correct weapon. But please, be honest when I ask why you have that particular rifle. Don't bullshit a bullshitter.
Now I don't want to get into an argument about religion or politics or any of that craziness. I would appreciate it if everyone stopped listening to the news networks as though they were gospel and actually hunted down facts themselves. Statistics are manipulated all too often, and we are just lazy enough to have the wool gently pulled over our eyes.
Above all else, let's stop having this tired debate and think about the victims of this senseless crime. Give them their peace and leave them be. There needs to be a rational discussion in this country regarding gun control, because a family with a mentally disturbed child should have SOME restrictions for purchasing firearms, just as convicts are restricted from the same.
And we need to address the horrific state of mental health services in this country. For an excellent reference, look up Liza Long's well-written blog on the subject.
As I said at the beginning, I am no expert. In fact, all of my arguments can and should be regarded as nothing more than opinion. If you look at any other post in this blog, it is clear that I am not trying to get into deep philosophical debate.
I'm just another American tired of feeling apprehensive when I turn on the news. I'm tired of hearing about lives cut short. And, most of all, I'm tired of being trying to pass the blame. Haven't we argued enough? Can't we just sit down and figure out what to do next?