The sad reality is that this is by no means the only tragedy of this magnitude in recent memory. Virginia Tech saw the most loss of life from a single shooter in our history as 32 lives were claimed in 2007. Columbine witnessed children murdering children. And this madness isn’t isolated to American soil. Wasn’t it just last year in Norway when an anti-government extremist opened fire at a summer camp, claiming 77 lives?
Numbers, though, have nothing to do with the degree of suffering. The parents of Lyric and Elizabeth from Evansdale were on my mind Friday, just as they are today and every day since last July; they know unimaginable loss every bit as much as the parents of Newtown, Connecticut. Sandy Hook, however, has the horrific distinction of being the highest total of little children, none older than 7 years of age, who were massacred while within the presumed safe confines of their classrooms.
Now the subjects on everyone’s mind are gun control, mental health, and security at schools. Those are the subjects that should be on everyone’s mind, but I must throw out a caution— We have a long history of creating cosmetic changes that give illusions of safety, but we fail to address the issues that lie at the foundation of these problems.
After Columbine, we locked school doors, required everyone to wear identification tags and we rehearsed “Lock Downs.” After 9-11, airports require body scans. After an attempted shoe bomber was foiled, we now take off our shoes to have them scanned. But are we safer? Not really, and Sandy Hook is the latest example of that reality.
We put up roadblocks at the obvious places, but the criminally inclined navigate around them, hide among the trees, and wait until we let down our guard someplace else to make their entry where we are vulnerable.
Should we be talking about gun control? Absolutely. The mere fact that purchasing guns in the United States is so easy is sheer lunacy. It is not a fulfillment of the 2nd Amendment, but rather a disregard for the wisdom of our Founding Fathers when they included language that adapted the technology of their time to the realities of their time.
Will stricter gun laws keep events like Columbine and Sandy Hook from ever taking place? Not entirely. New restrictions are necessary and are an extension of sanity, but are ultimately only road blocks.
Should we be talking about mental health? Absolutely. The fact that many insurance companies don’t cover mental health or provide medication for the afflicted is criminal. Clearly, mental health is a real concern, clearly there are people whose chemistry is disabled, clearly there are conditions and environments that create instability and some people are not equipped to cope without help.
Will a more progressive understanding of mental health keep events like the shooting in Connecticut, Arizona, Wisconsin, or in a movie theater in Colorado from happening? Again, not completely. There is no blanket solution for a problem which has so many shades, degrees and capricious qualities to be contained.
What should we be doing then?
All of the above. Vigorously. We must put up those “roadblocks” but also realize those are obstacles to give us some distance while we dig deeper into our collective consciousness. A society that has misplaced its compassion will create criminals.
We must create better support infrastructure, particularly in our understanding of mental health, and we must look at ourselves; we, the adults, the parents, doctors, teachers, employers; and we must become accountable for the world we have created.
We have created a news industry that feeds off this violence by giving tragedies a logo, theme music, and 24/7 coverage that elevates a criminal to a mythical status. This behemoth of media feeds off the revenue.
We propagate that industry with entertainment that reflects the most violent realities; games of destruction and violence, and moreover, games that take children from the real world into a cyber world without real consequences.
We have created a world where we work 9 hours or more a day and we are the ones watching, buying, and consuming while distracted from our greatest responsibility- the protection of those who are the most vulnerable within our human village.
These tragedies are not your fault, they are not my fault, but the society we have conspired to create is complicit. A culture where guns have become like toys in a video game and supplant genuine human interaction with violence; a societal sociopathy where how we feel is being dictated by the very things we want to stop.
Do we have enough compassion for children, for the impoverished, for war ravaged victims before an event that puts them front and center?
We have become argumentative when we need to come together. We have been driven by accumulation when we need to share more of ourselves. And we have taken our eyes off the prize— a safer world for our children.