Editorial by Snowden Bishop ~
In the aftermath of the unthinkable violence perpetrated upon innocent Sandy Hook Elementary School children and their teachers in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday, a nation is practically immobilized with sadness and resolved to finally address the controversial and contentious issue of gun control. While this and other recent mass shootings reaffirm the dire need for legislation restricting access to fire arms, such legislation would only serve as a band-aid solution for a much larger problem, the source of violence manifesting in the minds of mass murderers.
As a society we have an obligation ask ourselves how this kind of violence could happen — again. We would be well served to honestly assess where we have failed our youth and find solutions to prevent more young people from committing such unthinkable acts of violence. Why do these events happen more and more frequently now than ever before? How can we prevent any young person from enduring the emotional isolation, spiritual chaos or bodily imbalance that would drive them to hate themselves and others to the point of obliteration?
The mass murderers are frequently described to be “deranged” and “mentally ill” incarnations of otherwise unnoticeable, quiet, “normal” young men. Some speculate that the Connecticut killer had some behavioral issues, learning challenges and a mild form of autism. Is prevalence of so-called “mental illness” afflicting perpetrators indicative of brain damage, perhaps caused by the environmental issues that have coincided with the alarming increase in autism and cancer? How is it that no one recognizes the potential for mass murder when a young person suffers unwavering self-loathing or becomes withdrawn, apathetic and outwardly nervous? Are we so disconnected ourselves?
Could the sensationalization of violence that permeates our media culture be a factor? Young children are exposed to violence in cartoons, television programs and movies. Action figures representing film and television heroes appear not just on the silver screen, but also in lunch boxes and comic books. Playacting is a very important aspect of childhood development. Are we teaching children to identify with these action figures that, while portrayed as well-intentioned heroes, shoot their way through bad guys to become a hero.
Perhaps also we should re-examine the new normal of children addicted interactive video games in which achievement is characterized by killing and annihilation. Young minds are impressionable; if playacting in violent games occupies most free time of children during their formative years, are they helping to produce a new generation of socially disconnected youths both impressed by and desensitized to the violence and destruction synonymous with victory in their plots? What makes that okay? What’s to prevent the player from taking his gun-wielding avatar’s vengeance into a real-life stage of annihilation for heightened satisfaction?
Whether or not such violent games play a part in influencing the mind of a mass murderer remains unknown. What seems obvious is that such activities certainly could not be fostering healthy socialization or exemplifying an acceptable model of behavior suitable for real life situations. At the very least, these games glorify the use of guns to gain power and achieve victory, which can translate to pseudo sense of accomplishment and self-esteem.
The notion that we should address the way young people model their behavior after what they see in the media or win by playing games is not to diminish the urgent need for sweeping reform of existing gun control laws. While most can agree that guns are not the source of violent behavior, and that removing guns from law-abiding citizens would do little to curb violence perpetrated by criminals, who would not be deterred from acquiring guns illegally, the fact remains that the Connecticut shooting and other recent massacres would have been far less destructive had the gunmen not brandished semi-automatic weapons. In Newtown, the gunman fired multiple shots into each of the 20 fallen children within a two-minute period of time using a semi-automatic weapon, which was legally obtained by his slain mother. Armed with six powerful firearms, his mother was no match for the destructive intensions of her mentally disturbed son, who shot her with her own weapon before turning three of her weapons on unsuspecting children and teachers in the protective environment of their own school.
Gun lobbyists gained ammunition to support their opposition to gun control last week, when an equally vicious massacre of 22 young children occurred in China at the hands of a perpetrator wielding a knife. That position is easily shot down when one imagines how much worse such a crime might have been had the same person had access to an arsenal of guns instead of a single knife. Citizens in China do not have easy, legal access to guns like citizens have in the U.S. There is no reason whatsoever that could warrant a private citizen owning a military-style semi-automatic weapon, and yet, anyone can buy such a weapon without so much as an identification check at gun shows.
Somehow we need to remove partisan politics, lobbyists representing special interests and their associated controversy from the legislative debate about gun control and come together as a united nation to support common sense reform. Simultaneously, we must change the paradigm of violence in this country. In order to do this, we must initiate dialogue about the sensational violence that has become a core societal norm modeling behavior and influencing the minds of impressionable children during their formative years.
It may never be possible to make sense of the incomprehensible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, but perhaps we can find solace in envisioning sustainable peace instilled in the hearts of our children. May this tragedy serve as a wake-up call to those with the power to change the trajectory of violence in our culture, so that the lives that have been stolen will not have been done so in vain.
On a personal note, as I mourn for the shattered lives and theft of innocence, I pledge to continue to do whatever I can to be a conduit of deep understanding and messenger of compassionate truth through my vessel and journey as a writer. With the deepest condolences, I wish God speed to the classmates, friends and families of the slain children and educators of Newtown, Connecticut, and to all those who have lost loved ones through senseless acts of violence. May you find love enveloping you, inner peace that transcends your own understanding, and the will to experience unfettered joy again.
This editorial first appeared in AZGreen Magazine. Snowden Bishop is editor-in-chief of AZGreen Magazine, Friends of Africa Magazine and Sustainability in Education. Her work can be accessed at BEAM-Media.com. Follow her on Twitter @SnowdenBishop, @AZGreenMagazine, @Friends0fAfrica, @SustinEducation and @4Gr8rGood.