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The fruits of a culture of violence
"I don’t know about you, but I’m about ready for 2012 to be over."
I wrote that back in February.
It was a few hours after suspected killer John Francis Loring shot himself, a day after he killed 19-year-old David Randle of Sequim, and a few days after Loring killed 68-year-old Ray Varney of Diamond Point.
A week before Loring's demise, a 57-year-old man reportedly pulled a knife on the owner of a Sequim smoke shop and a day before that, an assailant robbed a local market clerk at gunpoint.
On Feb. 25, a Sequim-area man was accused of threatening a woman with what’s known as a “hog splitter” before police intervened.
"In little old Sequim?" I heard several people ponder aloud.
Yes. In not-so-little Sequim. Part of an editorial I never finished.
I never finished it because my notes kept piling up. A child shot in a Bremerton Elementary School, a shooting spree at a high school in Chardon, Ohio, a 16-year veteran state trooper shot in Port Orchard … we hadn't even hit March.
I revisited the column — or rather, I tried — in early June, following the May 30 spree in Seattle that left four cafe patrons dead, and then the killer dead. I almost had it finished … when we heard news of Patrick Boyd Drum's killings of Gary Lee Blanton Jr. and Jerry Ray in Sequim — the second double homicide in the east end of Clallam County in less than four months.
Earlier this December, it was Clackamas Town Center in Happy Valley, Ore., where a 22-year-old killed two and wounded a third before killing himself.
And now, the ghastliness in Newtown, Conn., where 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed 20 school children and six adult staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14.
The murders, understandably, took Americans from stages of horror to grief and outrage, and now have ignited once again the national debate regarding gun control. On one hand, President Obama is planning to have "concrete proposals" in place regarding gun violence no later than January, likely a move to ban certain assault-style weapons and possibly widen restrictions on gun ownership.
On the other hand, the National Rifle Association's executive vice president Wayne LaPierre said last week that the most effective way to protect children from bloody events like that in Newtown is to post armed guards at our schools.
The incident in Newtown should sharpen our focus on violence in our nation, but it's hard to even know where to start. Take a glimpse at the state and national news regarding this story and one's mind begins to spin with perspectives about our culture of violence: Arm the citizenry to protect themselves or protect them by taking away guns? Ban assault-style weapons or everything? What about dealing with the mentally ill? And how secure are our schools?
Delving into the miasma of statistics can further complicate the issues. Find someone who can show you that Americans lead the way in worldwide mass killings and you'll find another that shows other countries have more murders per capita. Find one person who claims guns equal violence and another will show you that a higher rate of concealed weapons equals less violence. Horrible killings like the one in Connecticut seem to be escalating, one person says, while another finds numbers that show violent crimes in the U.S. are on a steady decline.
Somewhere in all that noise, we hear the crying, that we shouldn't argue over these kinds of details when we have the power to make things safer and better.
Or as Michael Gerson of The Washington Post puts, it, "We shouldn't keep accepting the unacceptable."
Root of the problems
One summer quarter in college, I took a class that examined Vietnam War films. (I needed the credit, and frankly what would you rather take — Applied Physics, Advanced Logic or a film class?)
On our first day, our professor looked at us glumly and said, "If you enjoy watching these films, there is something seriously wrong with you."
We love violence, though, don't we? Simply can't get enough of it. Take a look at almost any comprehensive top 10 movie list and you'll find plenty of gunfire, fistfights and murder. (Top five, according to Internet Movie Database users: "The Shawshank Redemption," "The Godfather," The Godfather II," Pulp Fiction" and "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.")
If you think movies and music and what you read has zero effect on you and your friends and your children, you're kidding yourself.
I studied effects of mass media for years and as much as I'd like to disbelieve, what we expose our minds to never leaves; it simply gets filed away. In some, that gets filed in the entertainment files. In others, it's an action plan.
We are a culture that doesn't explicitly abhor and shame the idea that violence is an appropriate response to problems.
Tougher gun laws may help, but only to an extent. Would mass murderers, who seem to be in the news every other week, think twice about killing if they couldn't use a gun? Sure, absolutely. According to Mother Jones, which tracks mass killings, more than 75 percent of the 142 guns used in mass killings were obtained legally. But tougher access to guns likely won't stop homicidal persons from killing. It would only curtail for some time the desire to take the life of another.
And that's the issue. The problem isn't access to guns; it's the desire to shoot someone and use the gun on one's self.
I'm not a gun guy, but I'm also not an anti-gun guy. I don't hunt, but it doesn't bother me that some people do. I believe the Second Amendment does offer the right for citizens to protect themselves; however, it's a pretty tough argument to try to defend the right for citizens to bear military-grade weapons.
Still, the greater, underlying issue is the culture of violence we embrace.
Obama said as much at a news conference Dec. 19, just days after the shooting, when he noted that authorities must work to make "access to mental health care at least as easy as access to a gun," and the country needs to tackle a "culture that all too often glorifies guns and violence."
I have a friend who's a teacher and she was horrified to hear that a parent had in the wake of the Connecticut shootings told their child that if someone starts shooting, to get beneath their desk. The idea that a parent might talk about something so grim and disturbing to a child barely old enough to go to school was jarring. I agreed. A good parent will tell you, however, that children with no boundaries will make up their own, and that's generally not a good thing.
At some point, we need to let our children know that guns, knives and fists are not the way to solve our problems. First, we have to convince ourselves.
Reach Michael Dashiell at firstname.lastname@example.org.