When I first heard about the atrocities in Newtown I was angry. I was outraged. My first response was to shout “MORE GUN CONTROL NOW!” and I did. I posted on Facebook, I tweeted, I even started an online petition. My social media outcries yielded discussions of various sides and opinions on the subject. After calming down a little and reviewing these discussions realized that preventing episodes like what we’ve seen far too often, Newtown, Aurora, etc. is about more than just gun control.
I believe that our society’s propensity toward violence is made up of many layers
Americans – children and adults – are under tremendous stress that naturally results in anger and rage. That anger and rage is mostly suppressed and when it finally bubbles to the surface it results in episodes like those in Newtown. Children today are far over scheduled. They wake up, go to school, go to afterschool activities, go home, have dinner, do their homework and go to bed. They are not given a chance to just be kid – time to play with friends in an unstructured environment and the opportunity to develop their imagination or settle differences among themselves.
Adults are no better – we follow much the same schedule as children except we go to work rather than school When we get home we don’t have “time off” We have multiple “technology” devices that make it “easy” to keep up on what’s going on at work. Even on weekends or vacation we can’t help but check (and reply to) e-mail. We don’t give ourselves a chance to be “off” from work.
And the technology that was supposed to make our lives better and easier has only made it easier to work. Unless we have children – in which case it seems it has made it easier to distract them by letting some gadget entertain or “teach” them. What happen to personal interaction?
Children and adults both miss out on a core element of what makes us human – HUMAN interaction. We’d all much rather interact with a piece of hardware. Even if the people on the other end of those devices are human, they can’t replace the warm smile or knowing grin we get from a real person standing two feet away from us.
Before Newtown I would not have been one to suggest that violence in TV or movies was detrimental but I’ve rethought that position. After Newtown I really analyzed my own personal response to violence. One example that came to mind was the show Burn Notice. This is not a show with a lot of “specific” death, but it does have a lot of explosions and gun play with “bad guys” who get shot but we never know what happens to them. However, a recent episode has the main character, Michael Weston (Jeffrey Donovan), killing another character – Tom Card (John C. McGinley). I won’t go into the details of the relationship between the two characters but when Michael killed Tom I was happy. I recognized this was only television and that John C. McGinley, whom I loved as Dr. Cox on Scrubs, was fine. However, in the wake of Newtown I reflected on my joy over a killing of a person, be it fictional or otherwise. Having had this revelation I began to question the effect of television and movies on our society as a whole.
Another poignant demonstration of this struggle comes from a Bloom County cartoon. In the comic the main characters are watching television and debating if what they are watching is a movie or the news. Finally one of the characters asks the question “Can someone tell me if we should be enjoying this or not?” The point of the comic was that violence – real or scripted – should not be enjoyed. And I agree. I believe we have become desensitized to death and overall violence. Even when an episode like Newtown shakes us nothing substantial changes in our entertainment.
I agree with many who have stated that the episode in Newtown brings to light a need to reexamine mental health in our country. However, this is in and of itself a multilayered topic. On the one hand you have a person like the shooter in Newtown who apparently suffered from Asperger’s. However, the guns the shooter had access too were legally owned by a, by all accounts “mentally stable” adult. I believe that more time, energy and effort, and of course money, should be focused on mental illness, its causes and its effects. However, there is much more to this. Many people have been diagnosed with some kind of “mental illness” – anxiety, depression, etc. and so it is difficult to draw a direct correlation between mental illness and violence. Additionally, children are prescribed medication for ADD, ADHD and similar “mental illnesses” so often that it seems that parents don’t want to actually deal with their children and instead would rather have substitute chemical “parents.”
Finally, there is still too large of a stigmatism about mental illness. Although it is far more accepted to be a patient of a psychologist or psychiatrist there is still the easy label of calling someone “craxy.” Given that the most recent rash of violence seems to originated from younger white males I think that parents of troubled children / young adults may be hesitant to admit that their child has a real problem. This may be because they feel some kind of responsibility for the child’s problems or it may be because of the associated stigmatism. Mental health should be treated the same way we treat physical health and similarly regular checks ups should be encouraged.
The last layer to all of this is gun control. I believe that regular citizens should have the right to own guns for one of two reasons – hunting or personal protection. And with those specific reasons any kind of high capacity automatic weapon is immediately banned.
Perspective gun owners would be required to undergo an extensive psychological evaluation to confirm that they are suitable for gun ownership. Gun owners would also be required to participate in and pass classes and certifications in operating and firing their particular weapon. These classes would be in line with the highest standards that law enforcement agents are required to take. These certifications would, in effect, create a subclass of citizens who were just as qualified as any law enforcement agent to carry and operate a firearm.
If you are a hunter then you are entitled to own a hunting rifle. However, that rifle cannot hold more than two rounds of ammunition and cannot be altered in any way as to accommodate any more than two rounds. If you wish to own a gun for personal protection there are additional rules and regulations. First, hand guns should be equipped with grips that include biometric sensors. This may sound like James Bond technology (and it was featured in Skyfall) but the technology is not that far away and given the right incentive someone will develop it in a cost effective way. Biometric sensors mean that only the legally registered owner of a gun can fire it. Biometric grips would be interchangeable between weapons so a single legally registered gun owner could swap the biometric grip between weapons. If the key/signature between the grip and the weapon did not match up the weapon would be inoperable. Additionally, gun owners would only be allowed to own a single biometric grip.
In addition to controlling guns we need to better control bullets. Much in the same way that prescription medication is tightly controlled and regulated, access to bullets would be tightly controlled and regulated. Hand guns would be limited to carrying between 6 and 8 bullets at a time. Gun owners would be given an appropriate “prescription” to 6 or 8 bullets. Any time they fired their weapon a report would need to be filed and once they had used 4 – 6 bullets in their prescription (and, given the “personal protection” use, this would be highly unlikely) they would be given the opportunity to “refill” their prescription.
Gun owners would have the ability to go to the range to keep their shooting skills sharp. They would be allowed to purchase bullets at the range and a strict auditing system would ensure that the number of bullets purchased were either fired or returned to the range.
I believe that a deep reassessment of the way we live, an adjustment to attitudes towards mental illness, a revaluation of the role of “entertainment” violence and finally a change in the acceptable use of fire arms can result in a far better and more civilized society with less violence.