Normally this would be a post for my other blog where I indulge in various rants about topics of philosophical or political nature. But I’m also a teacher and things that happen in the educational arena are also in my scope of interest. The shooting on Valentine’s Day at the High School in Florida is certainly an event in the educational arena conspicuous for its violence and horror. Because many of my fellow academicians know that I support the 2nd Amendment conceptually, they have now wagged their degree wrapped fingers in my face screaming some version of “So how can you still defend any right to own a gun since they are obviously evil and of value only to crazies like this kid who wish to kill their comrades and peers?”
Let me start by saying this post is really designed to help start a discussion. I make no claim to having the final answer. I just am absolutely sure none of the knee jerk solutions I hear by pundits or, even less well thought out tropes and memes on Facebook appear to me dispositive or even helpful either. I confess, I do deeply wish I thought the situation could be reduced to such simple and simplistic thinking since it would be so easy to solve and so logical even I might end up supporting some movement to attack the weapon as if it were actually the sentient actor in these cases. But I don’t.
I do completely understand the knee-jerk response to such emotionally charged events. I was stunned at the news. Kids getting killed at all but especially in such a fashion is never, ever, acceptable. And we cannot ever allow ourselves as individuals or as a culture to become so jaded that we start to just accept it as “the way it is.” But if a real and lasting solution is to be found, it has got to come from reason not emotion.
Several years ago (2012) in response to another horrific shooting I wrote, in the other blog, my response relative to the 2nd amendment including recommendations for action. I still stand by that post and suggest you read it for a base line understanding of my thinking at least on a philosophical, conceptual level vis-à-vis the “gun” part of the equation. Here is a link to that post:
Yes, that post and this one are long ones. But is this situation, in your mind, sufficiently important to hear out some ideas that go beyond the insipid one-liners? If not then this cannot, by definition, be all that imporitant to you other than as a chance to show the choir how much you care. I predict within a little bit there will be one of those “I care more than you do” ribbons dedicated to this issue. Meantime…
In that post I noted my esperiences growing up in the country with guns readily available and not ever having a gun of mine demand of me that I pick it up and go out to murder anyone. I know, from my farming and ranching history, lots of people with lots of guns and don’t know a single one who has had one of their guns demand some evil rampage of them. If you have read that post as suggested there is no reason to re-write the details of that history here. Suffice it to say I do not think the solution is wrapped up in the guns, per se.
The other side is also high centered on mental health. I agree that mental health is an issue and one very poorly handled in this country. But the investigations into these major shootings reveal that thinking these shooters are just certifiably crazy and slipped through the cracks is not supported by the data. Among the young, and far more common among adults than we’d like to admit, is the presence of bullying and emotional abuse too often leading to serious depression and suicide. I do not wish to downplay the seriousness of that especially when young lives are self-ended… those are tragedies beyond explanation or acceptance. But it is a different issue than the one facing us for this discussion.
While it is true that over 70% of the shooters have been diagnosed (some post mortem) as “depressed” it is also true that well over 3 million American Adults are considered clinically depressed. So roughly .00000667% of those depressed people have become the perpetrators of these mass shootings. The math does not support the contention. So if it isn’t evil demon-possessed guns or clinical depression that is completely at fault, what might it be? Remember Holmes’s dictum, “When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”
Mental health issues do not stop at the door of depression. There are other conditions that, in my opinion, are far more at play but just as often ignored… perhaps more so when we try to avoid such serious issues when potentially applied to friends or family. If we are serious about stopping gun violence we have to also realize, as Senator Marco Rubio suggested, that we must address the other word in that phrase: “violence.” And the other mental health-related conditions, I would suggest, which allow that violence to happen and appear to run rampant are those of the sociopath and psychopath.
Those mental conditions per se are not new. Individuals devoid of any empathy for fellow humans or an internal behavioral standard that held their disdain and sometimes hatred for others in check have been around forever. Some became famous, or infamous if you will, as hired mercenaries and contract killers from the old west to the gangster ridden streets of the early parts of this century. But there was a difference that is important to put into the discussion: Billie the Kid never shot a school teacher; Bonnie and Clyde did not randomly shoot up schools or churches: Machine-Gun Kelly did not target children or innocent bystanders. They generally did not kill for the sheer pleasure of killing alone. They avoided collateral damage when possible and killed under orders or directives based on real or perceived wrongs committed against them or their bosses, but only targeted those they saw as responsible. Accidents happened but they were not the intention. And it is the intent we need to focus on.
For me, starting with Columbine it has been different. There had been a few other shootings but that was the first one to really catch my attention, perhaps because I was within a couple of blocks of the event when it happened and my good friend and then CFO for my production company had a nephew that survived when his best friend did not. I was working on contract with the Denver Police and was privy to much of the after-action data. The amazing thing is that those kids were so awful at what they were doing, the death toll was not much, much higher. But what was learned from that episode has been true of every following one:
- The perpetrator may have been mentally disturbed but was not crazy and indeed was often fairly or highly intelligent.
- The perpetrators all felt aggrieved in some way by the institution they attacked but expanded that sense of victimhood to well beyond those who actually might have treated them poorly to include guilt by even location based association.
- The perpetrator planned the event in detail and replayed it over and over, sometimes with elaborate contingency plans including stashed weapons or ammo.
- Their more common plan was once on site to kill as many as possible as fast as possible then move to the next target-rich area.
- Most of the time, unless circumstances clearly allowed it, the perpetrator did not expect to survive and in many cases did not want to.
- The perpetrator left a very visible trail of their planning and preparations often very public. They were not shy about describing their wrath and desire to kill those they held responsible for whatever situation they focused on. In written notes and letters and on social media their screeds and “manifestoes” were open and available.
- The perpetrator’s unsocial and antisocial actions and writings formed a history, were known by others, and in a few cases had initiated law enforcement interaction such as home visits or discussions with parents, but NONE of it resulted in preventative action or counseling. This latest one, for example, was in counseling for antisocial behavior but just quit and no follow up was done.
- The people closest to the perpetrators, including the parents, all saw the signs but no one took any action to stop or even just dissuade them from the plan. Many said they simply didn’t believe it. The father of one of the Columbine shooters observed the pipe bombs under construction in his garage and said nothing! Did he think it was a shop project?
Do you see a pattern here? It is certainly an obvious one. At least it is obvious to those of us who grew up in a very different culture filled with ethics, values, parental presence and oversight, and an overall environment that refused the victimhood status and accepted complete personal responsibility for our actions. We were brought up to believe that all – ALL – behaviors had consequences. Good behavior brought good consequences; bad behavior brought bad consequences. Period. Right results came from right thinking. No excuses and no escape from that existed in the system. No one supported the idea of actually beating a child but misbehavior was dealt with swiftly and predictably. A swat on the butt was not seen as a beating but a lesson. The consequences for bad behavior were not meant to be pleasant but to make one reconsider doing it again.
Right resulted only from right actions. The ends did not and could not justify the means because you could not logically or ethically achieve good results from bad means. You could build a beautiful house held together by glorious decoration and strong paint but it would not last and not withstand the storms that would inevitably come its way.
But in this latter half of the 20th century and now into the 21st, we have worked hard to create a culture where actions can be done without responsibility and, more importantly, without consequence. And by an unfortunate coincidence of technology, we have done that in concert with the most incredibly successful desensitizing and alienation efforts aided and fostered and honed by some of the very technology to which we are becoming addicted.
It started with TV. McCluhan was famous for his quote “The Media is the Message.” But he is less well known for a comment of far greater importance. He noted, in the 50s as TV was gaining traction, that previously all means of information dissemination was a complement to reality. It expanded or explained or informed but by itself was NOT the reality it revealed. But television, he held, was rapidly becoming a replacement for reality.
That concept was not lost on the military who proved its accuracy in training programs using video games to desensitize combat troops to help overcome a natural disinclination in most humans against taking another human life. Once that targeted human is sufficiently dehumanized and demonized, it becomes a lot easier to kill it.
Where once only posters and articles dehumanized the enemy, now on a reality- replacing screen, hordes of them could be thrown at the viewer who felt no angst at mowing them down because, at first, they were not real, the blood and gore was simulated… but then a change started to happen and they were not human “like us”… and then it didn’t matter. They were simply the “enemy” who has wronged us in some way.
Meantime TV taught kids that the same actor could be “killed” week after week and still come back. In fact there were several celebrated court cases of young kids killing a friend and expecting them to pop back up like the TV characters had done. When individuals are still in the pre-adult stage of intellectual development they may not be able to actually process all that is necessary to differentiate between fantasy and reality (true in all things from love to mayhem) and when a pattern of acceptance is set from childhood through adolescence, then as adults all bets are off.
Without constant vigilance by parent oversight to reign that in with continual “teaching” of values and ethics, without the concentrated efforts to establish in that child an internally consistent standard of behavior that conforms to cultural understandings of good and bad, the child’s brain and system will develop along whatever pathway is available and easy.
No one, kid or adult, likes things to be hard; we all gravitate toward the easier solutions and actions. When a child’s self-serving nature is unconstrained by parents teaching empathy, consideration, and respect of others, and without demonstrating an unpleasant consequence for infractions, the child-becoming-an-adult will follow the easiest path.
And if that easier path is one offered by gangs or TV or video games, if that life is consumed by the social alienation of the cell phone as babysitter where real, human friends are less and less important than pretend friend counts on social media, then why on earth would we not expect horrendous aberrations to appear with increasing frequency?
Mutual respect is lost in a quest for convenience. Simple but internally registering examples of that started, I believe, with the relaxation of school dress codes. We were taught as kids that one way we showed respect for events (including performers, etc.) was how we dressed to attend them. Remember the old cliché of “Sunday, Go-To-Meeting” clothes? You put on your best clothes to show respect. Even in our farming/ranching community, we could wear jeans to school but they had to be clean AND PRESSED (and slacks were preferred). It was a sign of respect for education.
A week ago I went to a major concert and was stunned by the lack of respect displayed through clothing. I know, it seems like a small thing to those habituated to shorts and flipflops. But it carries an internal message along with the external one. The event, to many, was not worth spending extra effort at even getting cleaned and dressed. So what does that say about one’s valuation of it? Nothing good.
So I believe the prime mover in these horrific events is a society-wide issue of values and ethics, common courtesy and mutual respect that have been lost, all in the interests of “progress and enlightenment” which I believe has achieved nothing of the sort. Removing consequences and cultural norm, carrying tolerance to the point of cowardice, is neither progressive nor enlightening. But it does open the gate wide for unguided child development and leads not to a lessening but an increase in antisocial and violent behavior. Nevertheless, there is also the issue of choice of tools to carry out those unrestrained violent impulses we have failed to derail.
When an immature mind is seeking to perform an event, good or bad, it seeks for the easiest tools with which to carry out the intended deeds. My referenced previous post demonstrated that in the culture I was raised, we all had guns and had ready access to them. But our parenting, training, teaching, and consequent ethics and values were completely different and held us in check. Today we face a world of our own making, one of well intentioned negligence to core issues, one of almost institutionalized irresponsibility and unaccountability for ourselves and our actions. One where it is always someone ELSE’s fault that we are failing at one thing or another and never, ever, God Forbid, our own fault or a consequence of our own behavior. While many feel the rage, a few with less restraint than others, feel justified in taking out that rage on those they see as the source of the problem. They feel helpless, trapped, out of options and solutions. And they just want to eliminate, i.e. kill as many of those people who have or by association have, done them wrong.
Our society is experiencing what I believe is a great and systemic sickness, an ethics killing disease, a values killing virus, a morals destroying assault on our hearts, minds, and souls wrapped up in the most benign, well intentioned sled load of claptrap to ever roll down our roads. It flows in large part from the “Do your own thing” thing of my generation. First it was “Do your own thing but do no harm to others.” That morphed into Do your own thing and let the others get out of the way.” That morphed into “Do your own thing but thou shalt not offend anyone else.” And that has morphed into a place where those who imagine themselves offended now call the shots.
That, of course, means we cannot call out bad behavior because it will make the actor feel bad. I’m sorry, I think bad actors NEED to feel bad and feel the heat of peer and social derision and contempt for it. If you grow up in the world of participation trophies and goodies to your entitled self then of course you are going to be mad when you are impacted by the real world and your failure is seen as what it is – a failure – and you are held accountable for it. If you want adulation get a dog. If you want to live in a “fair” world never leave your home and hope your mom lives forever.
I think we have let things get so out of control socially and ethically that any complete solution will have to involve compromise by all. We’ve not proven ourselves to be good at that in the last 30-50 years but it is time to get real and get busy. We have to address both sides of the “Gun Violence” equation and event history. We have to address both the issues of guns and the issues of violence or we are just stuffing more goods into that legislative sack than it can hold.
Lets take “guns” first since it is the first word in the phrase. I still stand by my comments and suggestions for a national training and licensing system found in the referenced post from 2012. Because it solves all of the issues of background checks, plus issues of competency, plus allows for all citizens to own and carry firearms once the conditions are met I feel it is nearly perfect since it has something to please and something to infuriate all parties. Now THAT is a good start at a compromise.
But I’ve no illusion it is the complete answer since violence can be carried out in so many ways and on so many levels, addressing guns alone is not a complete answer no matter how good it may feel to many. Unfortunately, tackling the violence side of the equation will be much more difficult since it means a change in ethical direction of a non-consequence society to one with very well defined and inescapable consequences including consequences for trying to escape the requirements of parenthood.
And that puts our modern society in a horrible bind, caught square between a highly valued, constitutionally enumerated right and another equally valued right, that of individual and, by extension, social right of self-defense. For all of you wanting an easy, simple answer, I hope you are beginning to see there is no such thing. There is no “one-size-fits-all” answer. Guns per se are not the issue as demonstrated by a place like Switzerland where ownership of private arms including military arms is common but shooting sprees tend not to happen. The difference: the culture and that culture’s values and ethics. Similarly, we are not Australia, or Scandinavia, or Canada and solutions that may or may not, in the end, prove workable for those cultures will likely not work for ours. If this is a uniquely American problem, then we need to look for an equally unique American solution.
Chicago and Detroit have the toughest gun laws in the country and the highest homicide by gun rates. The difference? Again, I think it is a cultural difference. But what about normal, common, American locations such as this last incident in Florida, or in Colorado? How are we, as a society, to protect ourselves against these individuals who seem bent on killing our children? And how can we do it without overdue violence to our Constitution and founding values?
As I said, I think society as a collection of individuals has a right to defend itself against a threat, especially a threat to its children. Regardless of what sets these perpetrators into action, there is one more common denominator to add to the list above; most of them chose an AR15 rifle. Why is that?
Killing a single individual is easy. Killing a bunch of them is more problematic especially for those will little or poor training in such an activity. They want to inflict the greatest amount of fear, death and destruction possible in the time they have before being killed by responding law enforcement.
What to do… what to do… what to USE? AH… again TV has provided an answer: a real machine gun would be better but they are heavy, hard to use, and illegal. A real assault rifle like an M16 or full -auto AK47 would do but they too are illegal and very, very, very expensive. There are other weapons that are more powerful and in trained hands could do a lot more damage than these shooters have managed but they lack the instantly recognizable looks; the scary quality of that silhouette strikes fear far beyond the weapon’s actual abilities to do damage more than other options. The school shooter is about fear and the AR15 is, to most, a scary looking weapon, so he has gained some points just carrying it even if he never fires the thing.
But a debate about the actual merits of the weapon are simply irrelevant. What IS relevant is that seems to have become the weapon of choice. The gun owners’ argument that other weapons share its capabilities is pointless because those are not weapons chosen; the AR15 is. The NRA argues that the AR15 is a hunting weapon. Oh get serious. The rifling, the sights, the grip, the magazines are all designed for combat against human targets. The civilian version of the round, the .223 is inherently less accurate than the varmint hunters’ choice .222 especially in a platform far better designed for very flat long range shooting. Even better for varmint shooting at long ranges is the 220 Swift and .22-250. Better still is the 243. In recommending the .222 I’m showing my ages as that is really no longer the choice of long range varmint shooters and ammo is getting harder to get. the .223 is a cheap and common round but in the AR configuration is still not primarily a hunter design but a combat weapon.
So lets start with this specific weapon, the civilian AR15 and its variants. Step number one is is an overarching one to enact the legislation I suggested in that previous post requiring training and registration for all firearms ownership and then, for those who pass that, they can carry anytime anywhere. That totally eliminates the issue of a well regulated militia.
And it has a good by-product. To make crime go down the best way is to make it an extremely hazardous occupation and make the law so that when someone decides to step outside the law’s constraints they have also just stepped outside its protection and are fair game or in the old English Law sense, “OUTLAW.” Surrounded by a well trained, competent, and armed citizenry crime takes on a whole new persona.
Step two is to enact a tariff on the AR15 that puts it WAY out of the hands of normal folks. And expand enforcement with high fee punishments to those who seek to circumvent the law by constructing their own AR from parts. The tariff is part of the purchase price and also a fee for currently owned ARs
What about currently owned AR15s? Simple, to sweeten the pot, make the owners an offer they can’t refuse. If they claim it is for hunting offer them a swap for a far better .22-250 or .220 Swift hunting rifle (which is less expensive anyway, $600-$800 compared to the AR15 $1,200 – $1,800). If they claim it is for home defense, then offer them the swap of a tactical shotgun ($500 – $700) which is better for that purpose anyway. And what about the turned in rifles? Give them to the military to convert or use for training. The cost of those swaps is much cheaper than they now pay for new M16s.
And lets face it, if our military turns against us, 5.56 rounds just bounce off of tanks no matter how many magazines you have and they are of precious little use against airpower. Sorry, find another argument…
Other than make politicians and activists pleased with themselves that they have actually done something, will even this action solve the issues? I don’t think so. The truth remains, sadly, that the school shooting phenomenon will not go away until it is addressed socially and psychologically. Death comes in all sorts of packages and despite some of the idiot tropes on Facebook, a pipe bomb or two could kill as many or more than an AR15 in unskilled hands and do it faster with far more collateral damage. And they can be made cheaply and quickly.
Here is my personal bottom line. Violence against innocent humans is an issue not of the tools but of the psyche. A valueless society is not a safe society.
So in my opinion, if you want to contribute to a real and lasting solution then start exploring ways to reinvest our society with ethics and values; with parents that are actually present and care. Make society and its individuals responsible for their own actions and for taking action when it is required to derail such an event. Eliminate turf issues between law enforcement entities and smooth the communication channels so it doesn’t matter where or to whom the alert is issued it can get acted upon quickly. Teach kids that if they see something, SAY SOMETHING, then DO something; start imposing consequences for behaviors… and I believe this phenomenon will diminish and ultimately go away with or without the weapons issue.
In the meantime, however, here is another action I would support: