Sunday, December 16, 2012

Tragedy in Newtown – Part 2

This latest mass murder in Newtown, Connecticut, is the latest in a series of shootings that goes back many years. I addressed some of the issues surrounding these mass shootings in a previous post. In this post, I just want to give a few personal reflections on this particular tragedy.

As I look back over my 60 some years, I can think of many high profile tragedies that I lived through. Many of them involved guns. Probably the first one of any significance was the assassination of President John Kennedy on November 22, 1963. I remember it vividly. Probably the next series of tragedies that I recall happened in that terrible year of 1968, when both Bobby Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., were assassinated. And we had the Challenger explosion and more recently we experienced 9/11. The events of September 11, 2001, were personal to me for a number of reasons. First, I knew people who worked in the towers who were killed. Also, I witnessed it from my office window as well as on television.

The killings in Newtown were also personal to me. I don’t think I know anybody involved in this tragedy, but I can very much relate to it. We used to live in New Fairfield, Connecticut, a town not unlike Newtown. As a matter of fact, New Fairfield isn’t all that far from Newtown. We have driven through Newtown any number of times, so we know it well. In addition, our two grandchildren attend schools in Danbury, not all that far from Newtown. The Danbury schools were locked down during the crisis.

These killings and superstorm Sandy were events that took place very close to home. Usually it is “other people” in other parts of the country or the world who experience these terrible tragedies. I’m thinking of New Orleans; Joplin, Missouri; Aurora, Colorado; and other parts of the country. But this year, between Sandy and Newtown, we have had devastation and death much closer to home than we are used to.

With Sandy, I believe we are reaping the results of the seeds of destruction we have sown by polluting the atmosphere to the point where we have climate change. With Newtown, we are reaping the results of the seeds of destruction we have sown with respect to filling our children’s minds with violence and garbage. We can’t just keep going on the way we have been. 9/11 resulted in significant changes in our systems of airport and other kinds of security. Sandy will hopefully result in building codes or zoning laws that will prevent people from building in places where it is just too dangerous. Newtown will hopefully result in changes to the way we treat the mentally ill, improvements to gun laws, and perhaps some restraints on what we allow the media to portray.

Pray for this country, because we are confusing freedom with license. Pray that our leaders will do something to address the issues I’ve mentioned. Most importantly, we need God back in public discourse. How do we expect people to behave when we’ve eliminated the transcendent moral compass provided by religious faith?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Tragedy in Newtown – Part 1

The governor of the State of Connecticut made a profound statement in one of his press conferences on Friday afternoon. He said, “Evil visited Newtown today.” Sadly, this is the latest in a series of senseless shootings that have happened in the United States over the past few years. They seem to be coming with increasing frequency. What made this shooting especially evil was not only the number of people killed, 26, but the fact that most of them were six or seven years of age. What kind of person kills little children?

Obviously the shooter is deranged, and I’m sure we’ll find out more about him over the next few days. As with each shooting, there is a lot of handwringing and talk of better gun control. However nothing ever comes of it. While tightening the requirements to own a gun, and limiting the type of weapons that people can purchase (such as assault rifles) at the federal level, would perhaps reduce the number of these shootings, they would not totally prevent them.

How can we stop the killing? I see three problems that need to be addressed in order to protect our citizens adequately. The first problem has to do with gun control. The problem with gun control is that you can never completely control anything by making it illegal. We tried to eliminate liquor and that was a colossal failure. We’ve tried to eliminate all kinds of narcotics, and that has been a failure. We’ve tried to limit guns with stricter gun control laws, and have not been successful. So we can never totally keep guns out of the hands of those that should not have them. But what we can do, is make it more difficult for certain people to acquire a gun, particularly a pistol. That can be done at the federal level by requiring background checks, waiting periods, and other ways to try to prevent the wrong people from acquiring weapons.

The second problem we have is the culture of violence that is prevalent in this country. We see violence in many television programs, movies, games, and books. When a child is immersed in such a culture, I believe they become hardened and do not see violence as particularly wrong. Games and the media have legitimized violence, so somebody who is mentally ill might see slaughtering innocent people as a reasonable thing to do. How else do you explain the senseless murder of 20 little children in their classrooms? I’m not sure what the answer is concerning this culture of violence, but I think there should be much less of it, particularly the gruesome kind of stuff you find in horror movies. From what I understand, games are terribly violent. What are we doing to our kids’ minds?

The third problem we have in this country, that really should be dealt with soon, is the fact that the mentally ill are not properly cared for. Years ago, we emptied out the psychiatric hospitals, turning these people loose with little or no supervision. Not only is that not fair to people who have mental issues, but it’s not fair to the general population, especially when some of these patients may be dangerous. Unfortunately, it’s usually difficult to determine who might be dangerous. You can’t put everyone who acts a little strangely away in an institution. However, there should be evaluations made for those who appear to be mentally ill, and based on what those tests reveal take the appropriate action.

For a so-called advanced, or progressive, country, we are not doing a very good job of protecting our citizens from random violence, caring for our mentally ill, and controlling what our young people see in the media. Unless we as a country address some of these issues, I believe we will have to have armed guards at every school and perhaps in every mall. While that might help provide employment for many people, it is a sad commentary on our society.