The irrational response to incomprehensible tragedy

posted by Jeff | Saturday, December 22, 2012, 10:46 AM | comments: 0

One week has passed since the heartbreaking tragedy in Newtown, where a man shot his mother, then shot a bunch of first graders and educators. There is no way to explain it, because it doesn't make sense.

My gut reaction, beyond the horror of it all, especially as a parent, was to run right over to my computer and blog about it. But as is the case with most aspects of my life, I thought it would be a better idea to think a little about it. Not only that, but I felt like I would be just another blowhard on the Internet (and I'm probably going to be that anyway).

The reaction of people in general has been completely bizarre, and frankly almost as irrational as the crime itself. Some go off on religious tangents, claiming the end is near. Others draw dire conclusions about the state of our society and culture, based solely on the actions of this one guy (and Obama, of course). Outright annoying is the people who think that political activism is sharing someone else's picture on Facebook with text of some completely inane position on something they don't even understand.

I understand that everyone deals with tragedy in their own way. To be honest, I found it so impossible to wrap my head around this, and was having such a great day with my family, that I simply chose not to think about it. Children are massacred daily at the hands of the Syrian government, and like most Americans, I choose not to think about that either. That doesn't mean I don't care, or that I don't have the deepest sympathies for the families of the victims, it just means that I don't have the capacity to become more deeply involved.

There are a great many issues that are brought to the forefront of our society and culture. Though it doesn't get as many of the headlines as those about guns, I don't think that it's a stretch to believe that there was mental illness involved in this awful event. I'm no psychologist, but I think it's safe to assume that people with average, functioning brains don't commit this kind of act. But what do you do with that information? Screen everyone for mental health problems, medicate everyone, or go back to medieval times and throw people in an asylum? Maybe you just chalk it up as an anomaly that will, in the worst case of exceptions, result in the slaughter of innocent people? I don't know where you start with that.

Gun control is front and center, and like everything else in this country, there's a pretty deep divide. I personally find any interpretation of the 2nd Amendment that implies we should all have automatic weapons at the ready to be completely absurd. When you have more gun related deaths per capita than any other industrialized and democratic nation, 40 times more than the UK, I'm not sure how you don't find at least some measure of causation. It's a strange place we live in where you can't operate a car without a test and a license, but you can walk out of a gun show with a device that can kill a crowd of people.

I'm not suggesting people shouldn't be allowed to have guns. I'm suggesting that the current regulation of guns is completely inadequate. So-called gun rights activists say that regulation only inconveniences law-abiding citizens. I suppose if that's true, then law-abiding citizens have nothing to worry about beyond the inconvenience.

And what about non-government entities taking action? The NRA says we should put more armed people in schools, while retailers like Dick's Sporting Goods have yanked rifles from their shelves.

Regardless of your postion on the political issues, it is necessary to keep some level of perspective. Violent crime has been on the decline for almost two decades, with some upward spikes in that time. The 1994 assault weapons ban, lobbied to congress by presidents Reagan, Carter and Ford, and signed by Clinton, along with legislation to provide for more law enforcement, appeared to greatly impact crime statistics, especially those involving guns. The expiration of the ban a decade later coincided with a rise in these crimes, though it has again reversed its trend.

As for schools, there's no question that even a single life lost in a shooting can't be trivialized. I don't want for a second for anyone to think that I believe otherwise. That said, the drive to school is significantly more dangerous than your child attending school. 80 million kids in the US will go to school this year, and again, while even one child's death is tragic, it's beyond rare.

There is a culture of blame, and desire to attribute senseless violence to something. Even though no scientific study has made a plausible connection to video games, they are again a target. Mind you, the sales of violent video games has steadily increased for years (except maybe this year, which hasn't been good for the industry), while violent crime has been on the decline. To me, that inverse relationship makes video games as likely to be a contributing factor as movies, TV and comic books before that, which is to say it's extremely unlikely.

So even though I'm still in favor of changing the regulation and culture around guns in the US, for this specific and horrific event, I tend to keep coming back to the one conclusion that is easily the least satisfying: One severely broken individual committed a mostly random crime that killed innocent women and children. There is no way to rationalize it. At the same time, I can't conclude that the world is really an awful place... not when I see the outpouring of support for that community, or the efforts of charities, religious institutions and individuals following any crisis, natural or manmade. If we are to hold on to our humanity, we can only conclude that this kind of event is an unexplainable anomaly, and take comfort in knowing that people will take care of each other.


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