We Are Caught in a Trap of Our Own Making

I woke up this morning to learn that the shooter’s mother was not a kindergarten teacher, as had been reported all yesterday. Neither was his brother the one who killed all those children, contrary to what was reported for the first thee or four hours after the massacre. The gun that so many people are appalled is legal to own appears now, maybe, to have never made it in the building. Just sat in the car.

I’m with Lindsey in that that every ounce of my being wants to know when it is that we can start talking seriously about what we can do to stop this shit, or at least, make it more difficult.

But I’ve lost faith that we even know what this shit is. We don’t wait to even find out what is really happening. We name a killer based on rumor. We give a woman a job that makes narrative sense. We already have our stories of heroism. And let’s be honest, we know how that goes, because we saw how it went at Columbine. Even the stories of heroism are going to be wrong–either complicated or outright debunked–in the coming days.

Our eagerness to make this understandable works against our ability to understand it.

God, for instance, did not let this happen in order to punish America for taking prayer out of schools. (And my god, if He did? Now’s the time to break faith with that monster. Holy shit.)

Video games did not make this happen. Every generation there is something that is “ruining” kids today–video games, Marilyn Manson, rock & roll music, movies, crack, gin, comic books. But the truth is harder to accept. Some people are poised for cruelty. And they will psych themselves up with whatever they have at hand. Removing violent video games just means that they listen to violent music instead. Removing violent music just means that they read violent materials. Even if they had no contact with popular culture, how would you keep someone poised for cruelty, who is looking for a way to amp himself up, from finding it? Would he never be allowed to see road kill? Would you forbid all Americans from keeping cats that might catch mice or bugs in front of such a person?

More guns would not prevent this kind of thing. It’s time we just admit this to ourselves. It is VERY difficult to kill another person. That’s why they find lots of evidence that these folks work themselves up to it for weeks or months or years. That’s part of the “planning.” Acclimating yourself to kill another human being. The person who is prepared to kill is always at an advantage over the person who is not. The person who is already firing is at an advantage over the person who is not. Anyone at that school who stepped out into the hallway with his or her own gun would have been at a severe disadvantage the moment he or she paused to say “Oh, my god, it’s just a kid.”

The good a gun might do is in lowering the eventual body count. That’s all. Someone with a gun would have to recognize what was going on, realize it was on him or her to try to stop it, and try to get to a place where he or she had a clear kill shot. In that time and in the confusion, lives will be lost. We also have to acknowledge that we are dealing with someone who has walked into a place full of people and is actively shooting at those people–which means those people are all around him. Even if you’re certain you could kill a person on a murderous spree, would you risk accidentally shooting a child to get your best shot? Most people would not. Which means he might kill another two or three people before you kill him.

So, let’s just be honest. Very few gun owners would be mentally prepared, even if they were lucky enough to be in a position, to thwart this kind of attack. At best, they could be in a position to end it more quickly. Maybe. If we expect law-abiding gun owners to try to end these kinds of attacks, what we’re saying is that we expect gun owners to be willing to make collateral damage judgements the likes of which we expect from no other non-trained group of civilians.

If this is the case, if this is what we’re expecting of gun owners–that they carry at all times and be willing to shoot at people they’d think of as children or at least as very, very young adults–then we need to train them the way we train anyone else whose job it is to shoot people at a moment’s notice and we need to provide them with the mental health services people who have those jobs end up needing.

But is less legal gun ownership the answer? It’s very hard to legally own a gun in Chicago, say, and people go to a lot of gunshot victims’ funerals there. A lot. And yes, smaller clips. But are we also going to outlaw jackets with lots of pockets? No one who owns a gun can have a coat?

Plus, that overlooks an enormous silent part of the problem, which Lindsey gets at. There are a lot of guns in the United States. We could probably count the number of parents in this country right now on two hands who are worried their daughters are going to grow up to do something like this.

And I don’t think this is because girls are better than boys or boys are more prone to violence than girls. I suspect, in part, it’s because girls are allowed to be emotional messes and , if they get too messy, there’s an okay chance that someone will get us help. When boys fall apart, they’re told to suck it up, “be a man,” or they act out and end up in jail.

And yet, this doesn’t exactly satisfy me, because there are instances where parents or spouses knew something was wrong and tried to get help and still…

So, I don’t know. I just feel like the problem is so large and so multifaceted and that we want simple, silver-bullet solutions (to use a gross metaphor in this context) and those two things work against ever really coming up with something that will fix this.

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12 thoughts on “We Are Caught in a Trap of Our Own Making

  1. Excellent post. I just dont’t even understand the “wouldn’t have happened if we had prayer in schools!” position. As someone who is not actively religious or Christian, trust me, we hear about prayer and Jesus all. the. time. So It can’t be that the guy wouldn’t have done this is he had just been exposed to prayer in schools, because it would be extremely unlikely for school to ever be the only source of this info. Meanwhile, simple exposure or even belief is not some kind of magic against doing bad things (religious people still do bad things). If it’s that the students and teachers should have prayed more or harder in order to avoid being brutally killed, well, you’re right that that God is a narcissistic monster. If it’s that if *everybody* prayed, every day, through widespread institutionalization of it (like in schools, and presumably to the God of whoever is doing the institutionalizing), then violent things wouldn’t happen, well, I’d invite those folks to fond or form any small, uniform and dedicated religious community and see if they don’t still have intercommunity sexual, domestic, and other violence, however well-hidden.

  2. There are no good answers. There are no practical solutions. To the right of me I hear empty platitudes. To the left of me I hear knee-jerk emotional outbursts. I’m happy to have the “adult conversation”, but no one is going to like how that turns out. The noise and hyperbole (THIS is a picture of a killing machine!) are already in full swing and are of no help.

    Crying won’t help you, praying won’t do you no good.

  3. Over at Metafilter http://www.metafilter.com/122914/Many-dead-in-Connecticut-primary-school-shooting there’s a very good discussion going on, (gun owners and non-) speaking up. I have been neutral on guns in general, while angry at the trivially easy access we allow to them, but this event has definitely pushed me to decide my stance. As the Onion asked yesterday, is the right to own handheld devices that fling lethal pieces of metal worth more of this shit? Patriotic speeches about bearing arms look thin and weak and even criminal next to a class of murdered children.

    But all-out bans would not work, and I don’t see or want a future involving house searches and confiscations. I do see hope in the idea of taxing the shit out of gun purchases and especially ammunition, such that owning becomes something only the most dedicated will do, much in the way that taxing the shit out of cigarettes has lowered the rate of smoking. The old guns are still out there, but guns do degrade over time unless you take very good care of them, and there could definitely be buyback programs to hasten lowering the number of them. Along with increasing registration requirements and rigourous enforcement of them.

    And it has to be nationwide, because the reason there’s so many gun deaths in Chicago is because you can just bring guns in from more permissive places.

    And the NRA responses that have popped up on my family’s FB timelines are breathtaking in their stupidity. How far up your own gun-worshipping ass do you have to be to think arming teachers is the answer? It’s ludicrous to expect teachers to be sharpshooters on high alert while also teaching math and dealing with children. Might as well expect them to be brain surgeons with a scalpel in their pockets ready to operate on little Suzie when she has a tumor.

  4. I’ll take seriously that anything but national “Gee, I’m Heartbroken” week–again– when: we have someone with potential organizing power–Bloomberg, somebody– able to say on television (to coin a phrase) that weapon ownership should be, uh “Safe, Legal and Rare,” step up to form a serious National (or “Mother’s”) Anti-Automatic Gun League, seriously ban those, seriously enforce existing laws (the current admin. has on record a list of tens of thousands of people who gave misinformation on gun applications and have pursued, I hear, 70 of them), seriously pursue health and safety education regarding gun handling, especially in homes with children or mental illness (they’ve already made it illegal for doctors to discuss THAt with parents, in Florida). Support for sanity in this matter has shifted form 80% to under city over the last 15 years, under a constant, unanswered propaganda assault. And,I’m sorry, we work to begin to change the culture, which matters if you believe that culture has power. It needs to be less acceptable or cool to have boys spending their days role playing guys in black or camouflage suits (like these killers always just happen to wear) shooting down every Threat in sight for fun. If we see movement in these directions, I’ll believe that Americans actually don’t want to be on the road to slow motion suicide, or give a damn about dead children who aren’t there own beyond momentary public Grief displays.

  5. Excellent post, B. Not much to add, except to agree that there are a lot of interwoven factors that lead to this kind of thing, and treating one without addressing the others is an exercise in futility. For example, most of the gun deaths in Chicago are products of many factors working together, not least of which are our badly undervalued and underfunded educational system; the racist, classist, and apocalyptically self-perpetuating drug war; communities suffocating under the weight of the aforementioned issues along with generations of poverty and neglect. You could focus on easy access to guns and ammo, but you’d be missing the forest for staring at a tree (albeit a really big and tall one).

  6. There has never been an issue to be dealt with in history that wasn’t multi-faceted, had context, complicating social factors and all the rest. And there have been few permanent “answers.” But so what. We don’t need to intellectualize the workable problem away. There are proven ways we can focus and organize for effective action that is possible–and I’m not saying easy; but these days everything is “explained” as impossible to do–and blood is on the hands of those who do that, again and again and again.. It’s about focus.

  7. I agree, Barry, but your previous comment spells out why this won’t happen. This country is going to burn down in the flames of its own belligerent stupidity, guns and all. All I can say about your prescription for effective action is to hold that thought until the collapse has passed the tipping point.

  8. My thought on the ‘but everybody needs to be armed’ theory is – what happens when the cops come in and there are multiple people with guns drawn?

  9. “The good a gun might do is in lowering the eventual body count. People don’t really think through the idea of arming teachers.”

    Here’s the problem with that idea in a school. You simply can’t have a gun lying around in a drawer with little kids around. That’s an accidental shooting waiting to happen. So any guns in schools would have to be well secured, which, in turn, would create a significant delay in using the weapon against an intrudere and would also require a teacher to turn her attention and efforts away from the students and their immediate safety. Furthermore, a classroom shoot-out between a teacher and the shooter is likely to have significant collateral damage, so you have to wonder just how much it would actually lower the body count.

  10. I’m sorry that my response here turned into a blog post. I just moved it over there so I wouldn’t clog things up.

    You’re spot on with your thoughts here.

    ” As the Onion asked yesterday, is the right to own handheld devices that fling lethal pieces of metal worth more of this shit?”

    Yes. Yes it is. Because it is that right that ensures all the other rights we have.

    Is the right to have a hulking lethal metal bomb in your home at all times worth more of this? I don’t know. You tell me if people should be allowed to own cars.

  11. Yeah, but it only does that symbolically. Literally, if it were you v. the United States Government, the government’s not going to lose. We can’t actually use force to protect our rights. I mean, you can certainly try, but it’s not going to end well.

    Hence the reason that every effective civil rights movement in this country has used non-violent tactics.

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