Make My Day?
At this point many people in the world are probably wondering what the hell is wrong with the USA, what’s with all these campus shootings? It’s not a simple situation unfortunately there are a lot of contributing factors. Anyone who confidently says it’s caused by this that or the other thing is talking through their hat. Since most people spend all their time talking through their hats…many people fall for it. I certainly don’t know exactly what’s causing this problem, but there are certainly a number of things to keep in mind when discussing this.
The first thing to note is that the chances of being shot on a campus in the USA are basically zero and have always been basically zero.Campuses are remarkably safe places as these things go, and it would take dozens or hundreds of shootings to seriously alter that statistic. So right away we can safely conclude that the media has blown this problem out of proportion. At the most we can say that this is a minor subset of a much larger problem, gun violence in the USA. This doesn’t mean that politicians won’t make hay proposing ways to “solve” this problem, or that many people will freak out and change their lifestyles based on their perception of this problem…but the problem itself is rather small in the greater scheme of things.
Moving right along, it’s a safe bet that at least some of these shootings were inspired by a desire for fame and notoriety. More than one mass killer was clearly inspired by same, from Richard Speck to the present there have been killers who sought immortality this way. The obvious conclusion here is that maybe it’s a bad idea to give these types of crime publicity, this is the dark side of freedom of the press.
The easy availability of guns is part of the problem. Unfortunately in the USA any sufficiently organized minority can paralyse legislation on almost any issue, which is why the USA so often lags decades behind the rest of the world. We were the last civilized country to outlaw slavery, lead paint, and any number of other things. (I could write a book on that topic alone.) So despite the fact that there are any number of ways that the availability of guns could be reduced without infringing on anyone’s right to bear arms, nothing but the most superficial laws are ever passed.
And of course America has a long tradition of violent “righteous” retribution, we’re not exactly a peace-loving country. Many Americans seem to think that justice and revenge are synonymous, again a topic for a book. This is tied in with the glorification of guns in the media, from Dirty Harry on. (And before no doubt.) While most of us are not inspired to go on shooting rampages inspired by media violence, some unstable people are. This is something that always gets lost in discussions on media violence, it’s not the effect it has on healthy stable people that matters..it’s how many nutbars get pushed over the edge by it. Some do, again a vexing problem with having freedom of expression.
Prohibition has something to do with all the violence in the USA. When alcohol prohibition led to open gang warfare with machine guns in the streets in the 20s, at least some people citied that as evidence that prohibition was counterproductive. Drug prohibition is such a big and entrenched industry now though that there is virtually no public discussion of its downside. And one big downside is a proliferation of heavily armed gangs in our cities. Yes, there will always be gangs and criminals, but drugs have made them mind bogglingly rich. The old folks may remember that gangs used to fight with zip guns ad brass knuckles, now they can afford the latest in hi-power weaponry.
However, while these are all background issues, it’s fair to ask if anything could be behind the current rash of shootings? Well, on an individual basis, events like this are often triggered by stress. And guess what, it’s stressful times, lots of people are losing their jobs, there’s two wars on, an important if disturbing election is underway, terror fear mongering continues unabated, and any number of other of things are making 2008 an “interesting year.” Combine that with blanket media coverage of same, and I expect a lot more people will be snapping their twigs this summer. Mark my words, this latest shooting is not the last such shooting in the USA this year by a long shot.
What can be done? Well, nothing really. The security industry is going to do their best to install metal detectors in every mall and campus in America, but that’s a wild over-reaction to the problem that will prevent few if any shootings. Any and all of the above contributing factors should be discussed, but again, there is little real public discussion of issues anymore in the USA. So many lobbies and industry’s are so well entrenched and Congress is so corrupt that the only solutions that are ever proposed involve throwing ever more money at the people who failed to protect us in the first place. And of course the religious right will blame “moral decay” while the conservatives will blame “liberal permissiveness.” Yes, we have evolved into a country where it’s all blame, no dialogue. Simplistic black and white thinking in, adult discussion of complex social and historical factors out.
Truth be told, (and our leaders hardly ever say this): There are no simple answers.
Have a great weekend everyone.
(The above image of Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit, it’s an iconic image, and I can’t imagine its use here could in any way impinge on the massive fame and commercial success the copyright holders already enjoy. Credit: Clint Eastwood, Warner Brothers. And yes, this post was hacked out quickly because my computer is threatening to burst into flame. It’s somewhat alarming.)