Death by “Pistolence” in America.Posted in Articles, Peace, Social Justice
The recent slayings of innocent school children and their teachers and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut by a lone gunman has rekindled the debate on gun violence in our country.
America is a nation steeped in a culture of violence and we see its heartbreaking results from the turbulent streets of Chicago and other cities to the placid, idyllic suburbs of Connecticut, Colorado and Virginia. Death by gun violence is not only an epidemic but an anarchic pestilence of biblical proportions reminding us that ultimately no place is safe in America.
The late great Sidney Harris in a column many years ago commenting on the escalating reality of violence in America, coined the term “pistolence” to depict a mode of gun violence which falls within the larger category of death by violence in American society. Perhaps without sounding trivial we might concur that this “pistolence has become a pestilence in our times.”
Several arguments have again been advanced in the wake of this tragedy.
First, once again there is a call for the elimination of all handguns and automatic assault weapons in America. While I understand the logic of this argument, the possibility of this ever occurring considering the strength and power of the NRA and the gun lobby in Washington will be difficult but not impossible. This “feast or famine,” “all or nothing” approach to the problem of gun violence proposes taking guns away from law-abiding, gun carrying citizens who are not the problem.
The real problem is the the multiple forms of gun access to criminals and people with mental problems. Some argue that there are too many handguns available to Americans in general and that laws limiting the numbers and types of guns owned by all Americans should be immediately legislated.
But this approach will not ultimately eliminate the problem of guns getting into the hands of the wrong people. The problem then is not simply limiting the number of guns that people can own as much as preventing the wrong people from getting such easy access to weapons to commit unspeakable crimes.
However, because citizen outrage and outcries to the Connecticut school shootings have been so resounding, and President Obama demanded categorically that we end the slaughter of our children in his speech last night, the calls for the elimination of all handguns and assault weapons may gain momentum.
Second there is a cry for a tighter screening process for gun ownership in America. This approach puts forth more closely monitored processes of who can qualify to own a weapon. Needed here is a tighter system of management and accountability for the manufacture, sale and use of firearms in America. Just as the CIA, FBI, NSA and other law enforcement agencies have closed ranks and pooled resources to cultivate more unified measures to prevent terrorist attacks on American soil in the wake of 911, similar efforts should be undertaken by those federal and local law enforcement and mental health agencies that have a stake in developing tighter monitoring and more preventive methods for gun violence.
Third, there is a demand for eliminating the adverse cultural influences of violence in America. Here discussion has ensued about the proliferation of violence as conflict resolution in the media and popular culture such as music and video games. Many have argued the subliminal effects of video game usage and how incessant over watching and engagement conditions persons to view violence as the singular option for resolving disputes and suffusing personal differences. Some psychologists and psychiatrists have cautioned against the long-term effects of violent video game watching on brain functioning and how it spawns violence addictive behavior that can result in harmful consequences in real life. One commentator stated that video games create fantasy prone thinking which belie the true horrors of real violence in real life. Seeing bullets draw blood and snuff out lives on a video monitor in no way depicts the real horrors of bullets drawing blood, shattering skulls and tattering flesh in real time and in person.
This approach to resolving the problem is certainly more long-term and at least attempts to identify the psycho-social and physiological sources of gun violence in America. Other attempts may call for a short-term alleviation but not a long-term eradication of this problem. To be sure there are no “either or paths” to resolution. All roads and methods must be considered if we are to seriously tackle this problem and its adverse impact on citizens.
“Guns don’t kill people on their own or by themselves. People kill people with guns.”
Needed is a more systemic approach to this problem. Everything from how this society organizes itself and promulgates violence as a preeminent value in its dominant system of values as well as how people are socialized to “heroically” assimilate those values are critical equations in calculating long-term solutions to this increasingly prevalent problem.
How violence is often affirmed as a legitimate first response to human problems and conflicts should also be analyzed, and more importantly how predatory violence prescribes the use of weapons to bring an unwarranted end to human life.
We should also estimate the manner in which society has historically legitimized the right to marginalize, devalue and violently kill people deemed as “others.” An entire system of personal, moral and human devaluation is established which often sanctions their continuing alienation, persecution and annihilation.
The approach to solving this problem must be to treat it as a dis-ease in which the psycho, social, spiritual, communal, cultural, moral, familial, relational, educational, criminal, political and other factors must be seriously examined and implemented to arrive at healthy solutions. It is not a problem that will be solved overnight, and not one for law enforcement and politicians only, but one that calls for the transvaluation of values and the transformation of our society and culture, a reexamination of how we think, what we do; what we feel and how individually and collectively we evaluate and devaluate other human beings. We must consider the incentives to violence and hatred spewed over the air waves by talk show hosts and the litanies of devaluation and dehumanization giving credence and license that spur trigger ready listeners to kill the enemy. A change in culture and how we approach the various challenges that we face each day as people coexisting in community will help us gain a greater understanding of how we can avoid such terrible tragedies in the near and distant future.
Our hearts, prayers and condolences go out to people of Connecticut and people everywhere who have experienced the tragedies of death by violence and pistolence in the loss of their children and youths, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, grandmothers and grandfathers, family and friends, neighbors and acquaintances, teachers and staff and for a nation that must find the courage to re-examine itself and find systemic solutions to this plague if it is to successfully and safely move into the future.
We all look forward to the end of this terrible scourge of gun violence in America but we must all find ways of advocating and working for an end to it so that people and children everywhere, who are all of our children, can find peace and hope and healing and community amid the human ruins left by this terrible pestilence and plague which too frequently and in a strange and awful way often deadens our sensitivities to it.
The time has come for a serious examination of the causal factors of this issue and implementing solutions that will get to the core realities that compel people to engage in such terrible acts of unrighteous indignation.