The shootings in Centennial, Colorado bring up a topic I have addressed before. Obviously our problems with gun violence go beyond just “guns,” not even just one side of the political equation. But if writing about this can stop one student on the border of bringing a gun to school for revenge, I will write this column again and again…
Once again we’re going to hear how more guns in schools, or wherever, will solve children with guns killing students and teachers. Once again we’ll hear how regulating guns will solve the gun problem. Once again, like Lazarus in Star Trek, we will be stuck in this death grip battle, in a very small rhetorical room from which, in this country, there is no escape.
What if I told you there was something you could do, right now: yes, “you,” about this. It might be a small thing, but still a lot of “small” can make a big difference. What you could do would not offend gun rights advocates. What you might do wouldn’t offend gun regulation advocates. And it could help cut down on gun violence: especially if we reach out to others, and our youth.
I am about to be 60. One of the most horrifying news stories from when I was young was Charles Whitman climbing a tower at a University in Austin, Texas and, as a sniper, killing students and staff. Harry Chapin wrote a controversial song about it years later showing just how disturbed Whitman was. But otherwise all schools I went to had unlocked doors: not just college, but public. Security was provided by hall monitors: fellow students, and the occasional teacher who caught someone without a pass. We never imagined Susan or George might walk through the door with a shotgun or an AK47. Not even at my elementary which was, basically, sitting midst a slum.
A few years ago I went back to my last public school, in the Central Adirondacks, and found it locked up during school hours: how sad.
In all these schools there were students who had been bullied, teachers disliked by most and those who felt rejected by almost everyone. One school was in the middle of the biggest hunting areas in New York State: yet no shootings, not even a single knifing I know of.
In my earliest years my father worked on Park Avenue: that’s why I went to the elementary which, by that time, was a little rough: to be polite. The last few years at Liberty Street I was picked on by two bullies: even had to go to the doctor after being cut up when I was kicked off my Schwinn: all “off campus,” as they refer to it today. I was scared what would happen next and my father had a revolver that looked exactly like a .38, so one morning I tucked the pellet pistol into my pants and headed off to school. I walked up to the property line and stopped.
”This is wrong.”
I returned the gun to my brother Ted’s room and went on to school.
The gun issue, in some ways, has become like this. People have every right to advocate for gun rights, or to advocate for some regulation. But a right to intimidate advocates who gather to talk about regulating? Hold a gun give away of the very same type that shot Gabby Giffords right after she was shot, others killed? Put out fliers with targets over the faces of those they disagree with?
Answer: why, yes, they do… but whether such tactics come from the right, or left, at what point do we stop at the “property” line and not cross over? These days adults aren’t stopping at the property line when it comes to rhetoric or guns, and when it’s guns they don’t have pellet pistols. Why would we expect our kids to have more common sense, more of a sense of what’s right, what’s wrong?
In 2008 Jim David Adkisson walked into a Unitarian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee and started killing congregation members because liberals were “ruining the country.” He was a big fan of Michael Savage and several other pundits known to demonize the left.
I knew a former member of the church, and met some who were killed back in the 80s, to be open and honest here.
In 1994 Paul Hill murdered a doctor and a clinic escort in Pensacola. I met Paul at a downtown church where I performed and also met those he murdered the year before at another Unitarian Church.
Carl Pierson: the shooter in Centennial, Colorado, from all indications so far, was on the other side of the political equation. So I use these examples not to blame one side for all the shootings, all the violence, but to point out these were supposedly adults committing these horrible crimes out of partisanship, hatred and an unwillingness to get along with those who disagree. It can be shown they feasted on a climate of hate pushed by pundits, partisans and some preachers, a “climate” reliant on demonizing those who disagree, framing them in the worst of terms and even in some cases promotes violence.
If adults can’t handle disagreeing, can’t find some middle ground, can’t get along, why would we expect Carl Pierson to do any better? What do we expect from the younger generation who looks upon how we behave? What example are we setting?
Here’s where we get to the core of the problem. The problem isn’t necessarily having guns, or not having them. The problem is our attitude towards each other. Our very partisan environment, our tendency to frame each other in the worst of ways, our insistence on demonizing those who disagree is killing people. It’s killing children and creating killer children. And it is escalating: leading to more violence. I find each side learns from the other. It’s like war, in the sense that when one side cries foul about a tactic the other uses soon you will see them using it too, if they haven’t already. Kind of like how one school shooting seems to only increase school shootings?
Of course children sense all this. And we also must ask with our actions, our words, what we watch: are we encouraging them to cross that line… or teaching them think for themselves so they won’t cross that line?
The solution here is obvious: and it starts with each one of us, and our willingness to moderate and spread that moderation: the meme’ that we can disagree without being disagreeable, that the person who disagrees isn’t necessarily evil, or stupid, or even dangerous. They just provide another point of view.
One way to approach this honestly is not to start the process by automatically pointing to the other side. Start thinking for yourself: assessing how you, and those on your side, might be contributing to all this.
I guarantee some talk show hosts, partisans and pols will hate the idea because what they make their livings off of requires pitting people against each other. But, frankly, I’m not sure we need them as hosts, partisans and pols anymore if they can’t adjust. Hopefully they will have talked themselves out of their jobs.
And, in my opinion, it couldn’t happen too soon.
Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 30 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.
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