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Do we need guns or people controlled?

October 6, 2015

On Friday, the President is reportedly going to meet with the families of the Umpqua Community College shootings.

There is little doubt that he will follow through with his pledge and use that visit to politicize the role of guns in this and other tragedies.

He, and thousands of others are missing the point.

First, the statistics.

According to the FastStats page of the CDC website, there were 11,208 gun-related homicides in 2013. Additionally the report notes that there were 16,121 homicides that year, with 69.5% or 11,208 of those caused by guns (it doesn’t break out all the other weaponry.) That amounts to 3.5 deaths per 100,000 people being gun-related.

Additionally, there were 41,119 suicides, with 21,175 or 51.4% of those being caused by guns, an incident rating of 6.7 per 100,000 people.

By way of contrast, there were 33,804 motor vehicle deaths, or 10.7 per 100,000 people

Other than the obvious result being death, what do  these statistics have in common?


In nearly all of the highly-publicized shooting incidents in this and prior years, the common thread that emerged was the shooter’s profile.

Almost every shooter has been discovered to have been described as  “odd”, “withdrawn”, “angry” or some other symptomatic outward display of being disassociated from reality and without empathy for their victims.

In every case where the authorities have released details, these shooters seemed to have a strong attachment to and interaction with internet sites, particularly social media sites, that fed into their aberrant behavior.

Last night, Anderson Cooper hosted a CNN special (“#Being13: Inside the Secret World of Teens) dealing with the influence and effect of social media on 13-year olds. It highlighted the occurrence of  addictive symptoms of social media dependency.

While the program was specifically themed to provide insight into how parents can recognize and perhaps counteract the more destructive effects of social media on their children, it also provided a telling window into how completely the kids disassociated with reality while bullying each other on social media.

One well-spoken, personable boy was asked if he thought his online presence was any different than his real-world persona. He replied that he thought he was about the same in both worlds.

The show then ran a montage of his social media posts that were one long, vicious, profanity-laced attack on his classmates.

If that kid thinks his online persona is who he is in the real-world, someone had better put him on a watch list right now.

It’s far more likely that in his own mind, he can still separate his social media self from his real-world self. He knows that he would never walk up to a female classmate and say the same things to her face that he said online.

When online, he disassociates from the classmates and doesn’t recognize their feelings as belonging to a real person. In person, the normal social boundaries still provide some check on his behavior.

But what happens when that line blurs or disappears?

At the farthest limits of that scenario, you get 12 and 13-year olds committing crimes like the so-called “Slender Man” stabbing of a classmate to “honor” a fictional online character from earlier this year.

It is tempting to blame the internet, or income inequality or the war on women or ISIS videos or  any number of other outside influences for all of society’s ills, while ignoring the inescapable fact that some, if not most of us, have a dark side that can be either cultivated or controlled.

What we actually see is the gradual breakdown of what we used to call morality and self responsibility being accelerated and refined by these tools and internet-enabled toys we call PDD’s.

Somehow, we as parents and just as members of society as a whole have abdicated our responsibility to place and teach limits on our behavior.

The internet in itself is not evil, and neither is a gun or a knife or a car or black powder or a Smartphone.

It takes a human mind to make them destructive. If we don’t recognize that and deal with it, the only way we will be safe is when we are all chained to a ring on the floor.

It is understandable that people want to ban guns, move to the wilderness or take some other concrete action to curb bad behavior.

It’s tangible, you can actually hold the solution in your hand in the form of a law. That makes us feel like we are in control.

It’s a lot harder to commit a lifetime to teaching our kids that they have limits and boundaries. It’s even harder to look in the mirror and admit that you are the problem.

We used to do that. There used to be clear lines that defined right and wrong. We learned at our mother’s knee that cruelty, avarice, stealing and killing are wrong, and if Mom didn’t get the message across there was always the prospect of a visit to the woodshed to back it up.

People still did bad things, but as a society, we had no problem condemning them and removing them from society.

We don’t do that anymore. It’s just too much trouble. It’s so much easier to make excuses and pass the blame on to someone else than it is to admit that there is a place for punishment and confinement and yes, limits, in the world.

It’s OK to say something when you see (or hear) something, because watching out for each other is what civilized members of society do to stay safe.

So go ahead, Mr. President. Politicize and pontificate and maybe take away ALL the guns. Maybe that will make you feel better. Make this an issue for the 2016 elections.

It won’t solve the real problem. Until we begin to function again as a society and not drones on a keyboard, this is going to keep happening in some form or another.

From → op-ed

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