America doesn’t feel so safe anymore.
The school shooting in Chardon, Ohio, has left three teens dead and their families devastated. The alleged killer has forever altered his life and the lives of those whom he killed and injured, and countless others. Sending one’s child to school used to feel like a safe thing to do. Not anymore.
Frank Ochberg, in an article on CNN’s web page entitled Why Does America Lead the World in School Shootings,” concludes that there are a number of factors leading to primarily boys going into schools with guns, including bullying and revenge, mental illness, violent role models, drugs and access to guns. (see http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2012/02/28/why-does-america-lead-the-world-in-school-shootings/?hpt=hp_c1) But Ochberg says that such problems exist in other countries as well. Why is America leading the pack, and why doesn’t it feel safe anymore, not like it used to?
I remember growing up in Detroit, I had no fear. Particularly annoying would be guys talking with their friends in the middle of a side street; one friend would be in his car and the other friend would be hanging onto the open window of the driver’s side. The two would be chatting as if nobody else in the world existed. You could honk your horn and, though the two buddies wouldn’t move immediately, you didn’t have to worry that they would pull out a gun and blow your brains out.
That’s not the case anymore. There seems to be unrestrained, wild anger amongst people, anger which people either cannot or do not want to contain. Rather than deal with their anger, more and more people reach for a gun.
It’s troubling that that seems to be the modus operandi in general, but the fact that kids have so much anger and despair that even they resort to gun violence makes a tenuous situation even more frightening. A child (and yes, a 17-year-old is a child) presumably doesn’t have the control that an adult has, nor does he or she really understand the repercussions of what they are doing. Kids generally have less fear as well, because it seems that it is life that provides us the experiences that makes our fear so solid. Kids have lived fewer years, and so have had fewer opportunities for carmelized fear…but the experiences they have had, it seems, has wrecked them to their very souls.
When I was young, a fist fight was the way to handle conflict. Not anymore. It makes me shudder to think that many people, especially kids and young adults, are carrying concealed weapons, because it’s legal to do so. Cell phones have made it so that we do not have much privacy anymore; the ready and easy access to guns have made it so that we do not have the luxury of feeling as safe as we once did.
Ironically, incidents like the Chardon High School shooting, or the Virginia Tech or Columbine shootings, do not make the outcry for more restrictions on guns in this country louder; no, the defense of the right to bear arms becomes more tenacious, because violence brings with it the fear of more violence. People look on mass shootings as evidence that there needs to be more access to guns, not less.
I refuse to enter into that argument, but what I am concerned with is that we are missing something early on. We are not learning, and therefore are not teaching, effective ways to handle conflict. Nor are we paying attention to a malady which is as prevalent as is heart disease or cancer: mental and emotional illness. In Ochberg’s article, he mentions schizophrenia and depression as being major mental illnesses that we pay way too little attention to, to our own detriment. Nobody wants to admit that they don’t feel so good in their spirits or in their minds, and so they go on being sick, and doing things that only a sick person would do – like shooting someone because he or she offended, betrayed, bullied or ignored you.
My hunch is that T.J.Lane, who will remain in custody pending his trial for a triple murder, has been sick and tormented for a long, long time. My hunch is that he gave signs but that nobody paid attention, or, if they noticed, ignored what they saw. My hunch is also that there are a lot of kids “out there” who are angry, depressed, lost, alienated and scared…and who would, if given the chance, do just what T.J. Lane did, or worse.
I doubt we will ever gain serious ground against those who defend the right to bear arms, but we had really better let go of our inexcusable fear of mental and emotional illness. It is a problem our society cannot afford to ignore – especially since the right to bear arms is a right that some hold more dear, it seems, than the need to take care of our sick. If we don’t open our eyes and our minds, I doubt that America will ever feel safe again.
A candid observation