Thoughts on Sandy Hook, or How America's Talking in Circles
Tuesday, December 18, 2012Tweet
The Sandy Hook school shooting hit me really hard, which surprised me a bit. I mean, I'm the person who has never cried over 9/11 for reasons I describe in that post. In this case, I think it was the fact that there were little kids killed that just overwhelmed me.
I used to be one of those people who got upset when, minutes after a tragedy like this, people were calling for more gun control, or less gun control, or better policies around mental health, or whatever they believed to be the root cause of the incident. But now, having had such an emotional reaction, I actually understand these statements a lot better.
I think, for example, of a woman whose child is killed in a car accident because of a drunk driver. When that mother cries and mourns for her child, we* understand. When she issues a statement that too many lives are lost to drunk driving and she's going to do whatever she can to make sure another child isn't lost to a drunk driver, we applaud her. We say things like, "Look at how she's turning this tragic situation into something good" and "It's so great how she doesn't want her grief to consume her; she wants to take action." And when other people join in her cause, we say, "How great that these people weren't even directly affected and yet they've been inspired by this tragic situation to try to make sure it doesn't happen again."
We don't do this when people kill other people with guns.
I completely understand the people who want to mourn those who were killed and then move on with their lives. Not everyone can be an activist for everything. But I also understand the people whose grief includes anger, an anger that something like this could happen and an anger that mass shootings have happened before and our country's response, or lack thereof, has not stopped them from happening again. And I understand when that anger makes them say, "I want to do whatever it takes to make sure this never happens again."
I don't see that as disrespecting those who died. Certainly there are some people who take a tragedy like this and use it to further their own agendas, but I don't think that is the case for most people who are calling for action. And I don't think it's helpful to accuse other people of "politicizing" when they respond to a tragedy by wanting to stop it from happening again. It's only because the potential solutions might be wrapped up in issues that are already political that we consider it "politicizing."
People say, "Yes, but there should be a period of mourning before we start talking about solutions." I understand this instinct because this used to be my belief as well, but I've realized how specific this demand is to a particular type of tragedy. To draw on another example, when a child dies of a terminal illness, do we judge those family members who are so outraged that they immediately start talking about finding a cure? Do we tell them, "You should be mourning for X amount of time before you start talking about medical research"? Do we doubt that they are sad about the child's death simply because their grief has driven them to action?
What I've come to realize is that people kill people every single day across our world. Imagine if there was a mandatory weeklong mourning period anytime someone in the Middle East died from a bomb or a gun or some other violent means, during which no one anywhere was allowed to talk about why this might have happened or how it might be prevented from happening again. How would there ever be any hope of stopping the violence without being able to talk about it?
What I don't think is helpful is people jumping in with simple, ready-made solutions to a horribly complicated situation.
"Well, obviously if the teachers had had guns the shooter would have been stopped much sooner."
"Well, obviously if all assault rifles were banned, the shooter couldn't have killed that many people."
"Well, obviously if the news media would just stop giving so much attention to these kinds of stories there would be fewer copycats."
"Well, obviously if we could just get better funding for mental health support, people like this would get help before they killed other people."
And so on. Any and all of these factors (and more) may have played a role in this and other mass shootings. It doesn't mean we shouldn't talk about them, but I am not a fan of simplistic solutions and thinking that you have the Only Right One Answer That Will Solve Everything. That shuts down conversations just as much as insisting we don't talk about how to prevent this from happening again.
I am tired of the sound bites. I am sick of the mass shootings followed by the predictable statements of "I know exactly why this happened and how to fix it" and "Stop making this about your agenda, just be sad." I am angry at our cultural and governmental inability to have a nuanced conversation about solutions to real problems (violence, poverty, unemployment, abortion) because people have to take "sides" about everything. I am frustrated by all of the people who are killed every single day whom we never hear about because they're not deemed "important" enough to mention, and how no one says we need to stop talking about guns and just be sad every time a kid on the south side of Chicago gets shot.
I want to see more real conversations happening about violence in America. I want something to change, some things to change, to get us on the path toward fewer people being killed or attacked by other people. I want us to stop silencing each other, to stop telling each other how to grieve, to stop policing each other's conversations in a circle of anger that goes nowhere.
I don't know how to get there, but I'm open to suggestions.
*I say "we" throughout this post as a description of what I see most people in America saying and doing following a particular type of situation. I use the word "we" to include myself in that group as well.
Moderation Note: Comments that do not aid in this conversation, and instead fall into the patterns detrimental to progress that I've described here, will be deleted.