Smell the Insidious Violence
For too many Americans, compassion for the victims of crime is matched by fascination for those who victimized them. Consider how the trials of O. J. Simpson and Casey Anthony monopolized the news. And then there is the psychological schmoozing over possible "motives" acted upon by insane killers ... as if there could possibly be any rationale to explain their heinous acts.
Many crimes, though certainly not all, involve the use of guns. Gunfire has become so ubiquitous that the odd term "shooter" has now become part of our criminal lexicon. (When Nicole Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman were murdered, nobody referred to the "knifer"!)
And when the horrific shootings took place in Newtown, CT — just as the season of Peace on Earth was about to descend, incredulous Americans felt as though they had endured the proverbial last straw. Our country, with its reputation for tackling and surviving such catastrophic events as the Civil War, the Great Depression, World War II and 9/11, found itself mortified and stymied in the face such mounting and senseless violence.
Is America losing its grip? Despite statistics that indicate a general diminishing of violent crime in America, a frightening rash of mass murders continues to break out across the country, and often in places where one would least expect it. In the wake of each terrifying incident, a sort of predictable ritual has sprung up involving flowers, cards, teddy bears, midnight vigils, prayers, lighted candles, grim funeral processions and grief counselors. Even as we grieve, there is the infernal obsessing about why and how such things can be happening here in our own country.
There are those of us old enough to remember when crime was largely confined to shadowy figures in the underworld. There were no "drive-by" shootings with collateral damage. Children walked to school in the full expectation of getting there and back. No ersatz kids burst into classrooms with guns blazing. Few disgruntled former employees showed up at work, not to punch a time clock, but to punch out their their former colleagues.
This may be a simplistic comparison between what was and what is. Yet we need to ask ourselves what has happened in our lifetimes to create violence where it is least expected? By way of explanation, anguished Americans are now pledging that "enough is enough," as some target in on what they regard as the silver bullet of destruction: Guns! If only these crazies had not been armed, we exclaim, none of this would have happened. Hence a clarion call for more stringent and responsible gun control.
Legislating, after all, is perhaps the easiest method whereby to solve an endemic problem. We've heard the expression "there ought to be a law," and we tend to embrace that approach as a means to an end. Hence, the demand for stricter background checks, the banning of gun sales at shows; and further restricting the kinds of guns and ammunition permitted for sale to the public. In other words, we have begun to view gun ownership, in general, as more of a wrong than a right.
Who can fault frightened people for blaming the metal instead of the mentality? The concept of a ban on a commodity as a way of preventing bad behavior is nothing new. In the 20s, Prohibition was enacted to do just that. A law was passed making the sale and use of liquor illegal. If we didn't have access to booze, the argument went, there wouldn't be so many drunken brawls, accidents, killings. But Prohibition failed. Simply put, when people really want something that is denied them — and often they want it because it is denied them! — they will find other ways to get it, whether it is a habit, like hooch — or a hope, like freedom.
Still, there is surely little harm in banning the use and sale of certain weapons for sale. But if we think that such an action will solve the problem of violence in America, we are dead wrong. As one commentator put it, we will never make headway with crime in America until we get to its grass roots.
Houston Gun show at the George R. Brown Convention Center, 2007. Wikipedia
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