Newtown for a new century

IMG_7642What’s in your closet?

Gun control is not the answer.

Yes guns make it easier, and perhaps therefore more probable, for the Lanza’s of the world to kill many people.  But let us remember something which most have forgotten in the past four days: the second amendment has nothing to do with hunting, or with skeet shooting.  Nothing whatsoever.  It exists so that everyday citizens may and will participate in the ordering of our republic; be it widespread resistance to a foriegn invasion, shooting a robber at your doorstep, or (yes) resisting the facistic usurpation of liberty by our own government.  Perhaps that idea is quaint in a modern world of 7 billion people, Facebook, and nuclear weapons, but when viewed in this light and still held as legitimate it is rather clear that guns designed to kill other humans, i.e.  semi-autos with detachable magazines like the 1911 above or the AR-15 used by Lanza, are exactly the sort of weapon the second amendment says we as citizens should have.  Perhaps in an age of madness this is untenable, but altering it will require more than an act of Congress, and given the Roberts’ Courts treatment of the DC handgun law it seems clear that only a formal constitutional amendment will suffice, both legally and as a sufficiently clear statement of a change in national interests.

Mental health care is not the answer.

If you haven’t read “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother” yet you ought to.  Virtually all the criticism I’ve read of this article rings more alarmingly hollow than the aforementioned shallow, unconsidered cries for gun control.  I work with such kids on a weekly basis, and Mrs. Long’s portrayal of mental illness at work in young adults in extremely accurate.  Parents in these situations can do everything right, as it seems from one small glimpse Long did, and still have everything go wrong.  I know of almost no social services which seriously deal with the question of what to do with a young man like Long’s son; one who may never be able to participate independently in society.  Even with more than good enough mothering and an army of inpatient, outpatient, and in-home providers there may be little realistic hope for such children.  How to humanely cope with that is not something our society has considered well.

Nothing is the answer; everything is the answer.

At first blush I’m skeptical of claims that we Americans are experiencing an exceptional period of public violence. I’ve yet to see convincing historical analysis on any side of this question, because this data tends to get lost with the passing years. That 24 hours news is good at making us more attentive and alarmed is probable, but might be besides the point. Madness may be inevitable and often beyond reason, but morality should compel us as a society to think deeply about causation and prevention. Urban areas of our country have too many people. Children and adults both spend too many hours looking at dark screens witnessing and playing at horrific violence. The overwhelming majority of our masculine archetypes are toxic. Too many of our schools at least tacitly support socialization which exacerbates rather than heals marginalization. The first problem associated with more extensive, aggressive, proactive mental health for the Lanzas and Loughners of the world is just this; that successful treatment must be done along with the wilfull wishes of the person in question. Real progress is not a movie-friendly month of intervention and epiphany, but a slow grinding of years and small moments whose efficacy is not seen for years, or decades. I don’t have to many particular policy solutions, but seeing the blankness of public outcry reduce solutions to an inch of bullet points reliably takes away what little hope I might have.

Huge, little things all through our world need to change; even if doing so provides only the most general of hopes that these horrors might be prevented.

24 responses to “Newtown for a new century”

  1. Wow. I might have to re-read this a few times. I look for insight from people with different experiences. So on the mental health side I look for people like you, who live it daily, for keen observations. I think on that side, you have some in here. My take away is a reminder that it’s little things, over long periods of time, there is no easy solution, and for that I appreciate your post. On gun control, I look for my brother for insight. He’s on a SWOT team and lives just miles from Newtown. He wasn’t on the first response, but his buddies were. He’s in Newtown right now on security detail. His daughters go to elementary school four mile away. So for me it’s not the 24-hour news cycle (which I agree is a big problem), it’s real and personal. I’ve been on the phone listening to my brother’s tears. By the way, he was also a decorated US Marine in the first Gulf War and has seen plenty of death.
    So his take on guns? He said the gun was essentially the same weapon they have on the SWOT team. Incredibly accurate “anyone with just a few minutes could be shooting bulls eyes”. Easy to hide “the folding stock”. “Fire as fast as you can pull the trigger”. He says SWOT teams have that so they can be at an advantage, from a distance, from a shooter with a handgun. Once the bad guy has the same fire power, my brother and his colleagues no longer have an advantage. We Stallings hunt and own guns. But as my brother says, “there is no reason in the world for anyone outside of military or law enforcement to have such a weapon, none.” Paranoia about “shit hitting the fan” and needing to protect my family when “everything collapses” is the reason he hears the most. Do you really need hundreds of rapid-fire rounds for that? Until I hear solid arguments about why citizens really should be able to own assault weapons made for killing a lot of people quickly, I’m going to do everything I can to ensure they are banned.

    1. As an engineer, I instinctively look for cause and effect. I also have the benefit of a fair amount of history. Rewind 50 years and you will find no evidence of such a rash of indiscriminate killings or maybe they were happening and it just wasn’t reported. Were guns more or less available then? My father bought a 1911 from the NRA through the mail. It was some sort of surplus sale.

      There are a lot of factors at play; 15 minutes (or a hell of a lot more) of fame for these malcontents promoted by the media, a general degradation of the culture, the psychotropic drug answer to all that ails a person. I would argue that firearms have the least, if any, impact.

      Whoever defines the vernacular wins the argument. The unfortunate shooting is immediately labeled “gun violence” and the non-critical thinking lumpen don’t question at all what they are buying into.

  2. Intriguing insights. Your thoughts echo many of my own — that modern gun rights and technology advances are a tangled mass that would be almost impossible to unwind, and that the policies of a society won’t necessary change the actions of an individual, but they can influence them. There is no answer. Or, as you pointed out, any satisfying answer depends on such a massive web of changes and shifts in cultural values that it’s difficult to comprehend.

    The truth about such a monstrous act as gunning down little children in cold blood at a school is that such acts happen everywhere in the world with alarming frequency, still. That this particular act affected Americans so deeply is because it hit close to home — Adam Lanza could be our neighbor. Those children could be our children. But in the context of the world population of 7 billion, and unrest creeping around the edges of so many societies, Lanza is not a wholly unique monster. Taking away all the guns would be effective if you could actually take away all of the guns, all of them. But since that’s never going to happen, it’s important to consider what we as individuals can do to promote peace and health in our own circles. Even that might not have stopped Adam Lanza, but it’s the best immediate action we’re capable of taking.

  3. Anyone interested in the AR-15, should read The Gun by CJ Chivers, excellent historical account of the AK47(aka Kalashnikov rifle). There are so many of these things around the world that eradicating them would be like trying to stop rabbits from breeding. A gun is a valuable tool that can be used for good and, unfortunately, acts of brutality. The same can be said for cars, hammers and our own hands. I’m sure if they were mentioned in the constitution it would come up more regularly. Dave, great points on the state of mental health treatment, etc. In the every man for himself, pull yourself up by the bootstraps healthcare world, head problems don’t get a lot of priority and I’m afraid we have a long road ahead w/ these folks walking around our streets. Time will tell.

  4. Where to start in diagnosing what is happening to our youth and violence. Nearly two decades of Schwarzenegger/Stallone-style movies and violent video games might have something to do with the problem, as well as selfish and lazy parenting (television and video games as the babysitter) and possibly industrialized and over-processed food. Add to that, the cultural emasculation of today’s man (starting in elementary school) in which man’s historic and cultural role, as well as innate biological imperatives have been diminished and deemed sexist and even worse – unnecessary. Just watch any television sit-com where nearly all of them portray men as bumbling, lazy, childlike idiots compared to their wives. Then there’s the ever-widening economic gulf contributing to the parent’s stress in a child’s home. And we wonder why kids (particularly boys) go off the deep end, snap and turn violent. There are fewer role models for boys and unfortunately the guidelines for maturing males are more nebulous than ever before.

    As far as ownership of guns being an issue, I don’t believe it is. The quantity of said guns and religion surrounding guns is the problem. They are tools and should be treated as such, not as a de facto measuring stick for ones’ penis. The delusional paranoia that pervades a certain segment of society, believing in the impending government quashing of our civil liberties is also an issue. You have more to fear leading a static, self-absorbed life than the abrogation of democracy. Those who let giant corporations gain in size and influence do more to harm our society than a person wanting machine guns off the streets. The idea that the government is going to crumble and America’s gun-owners are salvation’ mantra is still resonant today is mind boggling.

    Since World War 2 we’ve conveniently did away with the probability of a Western industrialized suffering under the yoke of fascism and the eradication of rights we hold dear. The idea the American government is going to go the way of Stalin or Franco is laughable and more so – the fact that a large group of individuals think they are going to pull the trigger on their neighbors and fellow countrymen, all in the name of our freedom. All of this hyperbole has got to be insulting and laughable to all of our European friends.

    Dave, your comment on the the 2nd amendment implying the need for AR-15’s shouldn’t stop there, stinger rockets should also be available to the general public… all for protecting our democracy from those boneheads in Washington.

    Until Americans decide to invest all of their time, energy and passion into raising their kids, instead of the latest iPad, mobile phone or work, the problem is going to get worse. The question I find fascinating is why are a lot of these mass murderers coming from middle-class homes?

  5. John St. Laurent Avatar
    John St. Laurent

    Liza Long’s article was a glimpse into a world that I have always know to exist, but have never peeked into, even during my years as a teacher. I’m at a complete loss in imagining a solution. That “there may be little realistic hope for such children” strikes me as being both probable and profoundly sad.

    When this crisis broke one of the best comments I read stated that we have two roads we can go down. One involves facing difficult social problems like the one above with thoughtfullness and will. The other will entail reactive thinking motivated by the need to appear to be doing something, even if the solution has been shown ineffective.

    Given the political history of the last few generations, I soundly predict the country will travel the second path. The effect, if not checked, will be a dimunition of both liberty and safety.

  6. My opinion falls inline with Dave and John. Acts of mass murder can be perpetrated in so many ways, driving a car through a crowd of people, or setting a building on fire, imagination is the only limit to that line of thinking. So why with 300 million civilian guns in America would our only reaction be to change gun laws. In Great Britain they are busy trying to ban the pocket knives…I guess gun control alone didnt curb their violence issues. I read an article on gun violence yesterday, and was shocked to read the gun deaths in the U.S. have gone down almost in half since 1993.
    I am sad that any of this evil behavior occurs. It am disappointed to read that there can be little positive outlook for some children’s mental development, and really no way of predicting the actions caused by those defects. It has to be hard to work with those people. I feel for you Dave.

  7. First post here–Let me start off by saying what a huge fan I am of your writings both here and on bpl. I keep a pretty lean Internet profile, but have poured over your content here because of your insight, writing style, and your damned enviable proximity to some beautiful country (I know it’s not luck).

    I have to say I’ve been waiting for your insights on this, especially given the secondary mental health umbrella under which his tragedy has been covered by the media.

    While I agree that the issue here isn’t an easy one to solve for all the reasons you list, and goes to the core of the society we’ve become, that there’s nothing meaningful to be done about gun control short of a constitutional amendment is awfully cynical (perhaps deservedly so, given our government’s seeming inability to form consensus). That the original intent of the second amendment and its hitherto largely latent power to order government is prohibitively difficult to overcome, especially in the face of the real power of guns to damage the very fabric of the republic their intended to protect, is an untenable position to take, either intellectually or practically speaking.

    This isn’t about this massacre, or any of the massacres that have been perpetrated over the last 30 years. Regarding guns, It’s about the real daily violence born of the ease of use and attainability of guns weighted against that latent intent of a document written 200 years ago. With 300 million guns in this country, control might be moot or hard to imagine being effective, but at least it’s lipstick on a pig, instead of an ugly fucking pig.

  8. I am highly suspicious of all attempts to exploit this tragedy for political agendas such as gun control. I don’t have cable TV so I haven’t been paying that much attention but some of my thoughts include: What about the meds? I also would like to see the whole “male” aspect addressed (i.e. how come we never see a woman do this type of thing?).

  9. Good comments everyone, thank you. Jerry, I don’t find that article convincing but it does raise a worthy issue.

  10. An interesting take from my brother, who has unique perspective from both USMC and a long history of Montana hunting and fishing organizations (and some pretty well known epic wilderness treks in our state):

    1. Good link Ed, thanks.

  11. Great words Dave. Nice pistol. The Gold Cup were the ultimate in their day.

    I especially agree with this: “At first blush I’m skeptical of claims that we Americans are experiencing an exceptional period of public violence. “

    1. That 1911, and my Remington, shoot a lot better than me.

  12. Thank you David, you are one of the most thought-provoking social commentators I am aware of. I agree, there is no easy, one-size-fits-all solution to violence in our society. Maybe there is no solution.

    I further agree with your assessment of the Founders’ intentions as regards the Second Amendment. I hope we are never faced with ‘facistic usurpation’ of our liberties, yet the future is an unknown. Our nation was founded through armed revolt, and the stand we made was a turning point in human history; rather than trade tyranny for another monarchy, we fought for self-determination, to rule ourselves through the will of the people rather than the whims of an aristocracy. I look at Syria, Libya, etc. and marvel at the courage of simple people willing to die for freedom. Maybe the arms and courage of myself and my fellow countrymen mean we will never have to fight and die for our freedom again.

  13. “What’s in your closet?”

    Clothes. Demons. Old posters. Secrets. Joy. Sadness. Old books. Turmoil. Boxes. Anger. Shoes. Memories. Stereo equipment. Sheets. Hangers. Doubt. Detritus. Faith.

    But not a single gun! And yet, here I am.


  14. Well as an outside observer it looks like Americans are content with gross compromises of some of their other Constitutional rights (first, fourth, fifth and sixth amendments for instance) but they’ll hold dear to the second amendment.

    I find the “resisting your government” argument for owning firearms a bit laughable. The ship sailed on that one a long time ago. The US (and many other Western) governments have vast firepower and generally have the internal legitimacy to use it when they need to.

    And if the SHTF and society falls apart having a whole bunch of guns won’t help you and your family live much longer, except perhaps if you want to eat your neighbours.

    I agree with your point that this is not a period of exceptional public violence. Murder is down in the US (and lots of other places too) but the immediacy of modern media makes these types of events hit home more. However the US murder rate is WAY above most comparable countries. I don’t think guns are all of the reason for that, but I do think they are SOME of the reason. Guns are just so damn effective.

  15. “Yes guns make it easier, and perhaps therefore more probable, for the Lanza’s of the world to kill many people. But let us remember something which most have forgotten in the past four days: the second amendment has nothing to do with hunting, or with skeet shooting. Nothing whatsoever. It exists so that everyday citizens may and will participate in the ordering of our republic; be it widespread resistance to a foriegn invasion, shooting a robber at your doorstep, or (yes) resisting the facistic usurpation of liberty by our own government. Perhaps that idea is quaint in a modern world of 7 billion people, Facebook, and nuclear weapons, but when viewed in this light and still held as legitimate it is rather clear that guns designed to kill other humans, i.e. semi-autos with detachable magazines like the 1911 above or the AR-15 used by Lanza, are exactly the sort of weapon the second amendment says we as citizens should have. ”

    By a strict constructionist perspective, only weapons available at the time of the founding the Republic would have been considered in resisting the fascistic (though fascism did not exist until 200 years later) usurpation of liberty by our own government.” So, David, what is your point? My ancestors were present before and intimately involved in the creation of the United States. Your forebears – when did they come over, and whose prior efforts did they rely upon to succeed?

    1. There is only one word for the strict constructionist interpretation of the constitution: silly.

      1. Ha! Now how to convince Scalia of that…

        Still, what has happened in Syria, Jamaica, Libya, Chile, and many other states could well happen here in the US (10 years? 20 years?). “Well regulated militias” in the 20th century seem to reliably turn into gangs of armed thugs, siding for or against the faction in power, and civilians are caught in the crossfire. Might the states eventually vote to repeal the 2nd amendment to keep that from happening? I’m pessimistic – I think there is no stopping it, and that the US in its current form will self-destruct before the end of the 21st century. Amusing thought – what NATO country will be intervening to ensure terrorists don’t get control of US nukes.

  16. […] my recent post on the Sandy Hook shooting I wrote that “Real progress is not a movie-friendly month of […]

  17. Definitely some interesting and important considerations on the subject.

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