The new horizon of gun control, part 1. "A Violent Society"

In the wake of one unspeakable tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut last week, the nation is facing yet another crisis which is bearing down on us like a storm. It would have been far preferable to leave such a battle until the tears of the mourners had dried, as I wrote this weekend, but those who would tiptoe in during the darkest hours to seize the high ground have no intention of waiting. By the time Monday morning had rolled around, forces which have been waiting for the perfect storm of outrage were moving to use the deaths of innocents as an excuse to portray this week as the ideal time to “open a national dialogue” on limiting the second amendment rights of United States citizens.

There were many examples to be found on the Sunday morning shows and virtually every other soapbox available in the public square. But when the work week started, I awoke to find a somewhat more disturbing example rolling out on Joe Scarborough’s show. (We can leave aside for the moment the endless discussion here of whether or not you think Morning Joe qualifies as a conservative. We’ve hashed it out before, but I still feel he has been, at heart, a needed conservative voice in a media market which reaches far more of the moderate, frequently undecided vote than the majority of speakers who inhabit more traditional right wing echo chambers.) Over the course of three hours, Joe rolled out a number of high profile guests, including previously solid second amendment supports such as Joe Manchin, who were suddenly “reevaluating” their views on gun control laws. But that was only after Joe himself delivered a lengthy soliloquy in a similar vein.

It’s rather lengthy, but rather than being accused of chopping something completely out of context, you can view the entire video here, or read the entire transcript here. I would like, however, to extract a couple of key portions which identify the three major themes which we will be hearing for weeks and months to come.

Politicians can no longer be allowed to defend the status quo. They must instead be forced to protect our children.

Parents can no longer take “No” for an answer from Washington when the topic turns to protecting children.

The violence we see spreading from shopping malls in Oregon, to movie theaters in Colorado, to college campuses in Virginia, to elementary schools in Connecticut, is being spawned by the toxic brew of a violent pop culture, a growing mental health crisis and the proliferation of combat-styled guns…

It’s not all about guns, or all about violent movies and video games. But we must no longer allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. And we must not excuse total inaction by arguing that no single action can solve the problem and save our children.

This summarizes the three main points, each of which deserves attention. This is a “complex” problem, as the President’s press secretary told us and as you will be repeatedly informed. And it’s not really about gun control, you see. What they’re talking about here are strictly the sinister cases of mass shootings. Heck, they’re not really interested in your guns anyway. They’re working on a bigger picture… a cure for the societal cancer of the 21st century.

But I’m here to assure you that you should have no doubt that each of these three items winds up pointing back to the guns. The reasons we are told that “now is the time” to take up new gun control legislation are because there are three primary factors contributing to these mass shootings:

– The dangers of a violence obsessed, video game-driven society drained of the milk of human kindness
– A mental health care system which is producing far too many unstable individuals with easy access to weapons, and
– The proliferation of “military combat style guns”

Today, let’s take a brief look at the first one.

A Violent Society

The contention here is a familiar one, and not entirely without merit. It is repeatedly noted that we are raising generations of youths who watch violent movies and television shows depicting wanton mayhem and slaughter. They then log on to their computer and engage in a variety of video games where they are encouraged to issue forth and commit every form of murder and violence. And for those who choose to do so – and, we should note, are allowed to do so by their parents – this is certainly true. How could this not contribute to setting off the tripwires of cloistered, disaffected loners who take up arms and act out those fantasies in real life?

And perhaps there is something to that theory… for the dozen or so truly disturbed teens and young adults who wind up in these tragic headlines. Of course, that seems a bit of a harsh judgment upon the tens of millions of similar young people who watch theses shows, play these games, and yet somehow don’t wind up going on a shooting spree. And how, pray tell, were we to know if that same dozen violent maniacs wouldn’t have found another source to feed their dark proclivities? But let’s say for a moment that these movies, TV programs and games were the trigger mechanism.

What precisely is the remedy being proposed? The bottom line would obviously seem to be that we should limit the availability of weapons, thereby preventing them from living out their evil fantasies. And I will agree, for the sake of argument, that the lack of a gun would make their job considerably harder, and perhaps even discourage a few from the attempt. But as with so many other sad cases, the shooter last Friday didn’t even need to purchase a weapon. In fact, by some accounts – still under review since the media rushed to report on this story before they’d even gotten their socks on properly – he tried to buy a weapon, but failed due to the stringent laws already in place in Connecticut. But there were legal weapons aplenty in his own home, and he seized them.

But back to the remedy. Are we seriously suggesting that fixing the societal problems of these troubled teens and young adults would be best handled legislatively by the United States Congress? At what point did we stop asking how much of this social disease was brought on by a breakdown in civil society and the positive influence of a supportive, cohesive family environment? There is a vast and profitable market for movies, shows and games with a violent theme. Why? People are seeking this material out (with 99.999% of them handling it without going on a murder spree) and the market is delivering what sells. If we’re looking for a “cure” for this, begging the federal government to intervene in what constitutes desirable entertainment is a pale, sickly course. The real question should be why the material was desirable in the first place, and how families could be raising children to value other human traits more highly.

None of this sounds like the province of the government at any level, at least to my way of thinking. And using the recent tragedy as an excuse to demand government intervention to fix a broken social structure appears foolhardy in the extreme.

I’ll leave you with the video of the Scarborough editorial. Tomorrow, I’ll be back with part two of this exploration, where we will ask just how the very real tragedy of mental healthcare in this nation gets tied into government intervention and guns.

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