Thursday, December 20, 2012

It's Not Just the Guns

Every time there is a tragedy, such as the recent shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, I can't help but think back to my childhood school years and compare now to then. For two days I thought a lot about my early years in school trying to make a comparison.

When I was in school I never experienced any frightening moments and I cannot remember ever hearing of any violence involving  schools or students. I can vividly remember when a classmate in the third grade died of leukemia. That was the first time I had to deal with the death of someone my own age. I can remember rarely that a teenager would be injured or killed in a hunting accident, but never anyone I knew. My father and brothers and their friends hunted with shotguns or 22 caliber rifles. I even hunted when I became 16, after having to take a hunter safety course offered by the local sportsman's club. I never viewed having a gun or hunting with a gun to be any big deal. I do not remember ever hearing about someone, young or old, being intentionally shot by a gun. But maybe I was sheltered.

When I was in school and there was a disagreement between or among students, for one reason or the other, they simply had a verbal shouting match. On some occasions the disagreement led to a fist fight, where nothing more serious than a bloody nose was the result. But not now. Today if one teenager merely gives a dirty look to another teenager or accidentally bumps into another, he could be shot and killed. I can remember seeing TV news programs about gangs in NYC or Los Angeles, where "turf wars" were fought with fists, chains and knives, but rarely guns. That scenario was so foreign to me.

When we went to the movies we saw movies like Gorgo, Godzilla and other so called monster movies. Frankenstein and Dracula were popular, as it was fun to be scared out of our wits.We didn't see any really violent movies where there was a great deal of blood and guts and other gore. I remember cowboy movies where the bad guys got shot by the sheriff, but without concentrating on the violence. It was different, however, when the cavalry fought the Indians. For some reason it was acceptable for Native Americans to be slaughtered.  There were numerous war movies around, when I was younger and naturally violence was depicted in the often times historical recounts of battles of World War II. I think we understood this to be history.

When we played war or cowboys and Indians , we shot each other with our cap pistols or pop guns, but we all knew it was just a game and the victim would soon be up and ready to play another game. Speaking of games, when I was young we played Monopoly, Life or Scrabble. Video games came into play in my middle or late teens, with games such as Donkey Kong or Super Mario. In arcade games we shot ducks or airplanes. We didn't shoot people. When I was of college age the Vietnam war was in full swing. We knew this wasn't a game. We knew you could get killed for real and you wouldn't come back to play another game.

Today things are different. Popular high tech video games glorify brutalizing women and indiscriminately killing people and police officers. Teenagers are glued to their game consoles for hours at a time losing contact with the real world. They become the figures in their video games. Today's movies aimed at young people do not require any thought or intelligence to "understand" the plot. There is no plot. The more violent and the more blood and body parts and destructive weapons in the movie, the more popular it is.Years ago movies pitted the good guys against the bad guys. A very simple concept of good and evil. Today the movies portray drug runners, street gangs and fast cars in battles with each other. Often times law enforcement is belittled or portrayed as corrupt or evil and the victims of the bloodshed. If there are plots to these movies they are  very shallow. Their aim is to entertain by the actions of fast cars, extreme weapons and extreme violence.

What really irritated me in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings were the number of Hollywood actors and movie makers who came out against gun violence. What hypocrites! They earn their living making movies glorifying gun violence and murder.

American society and culture has changed since I was in school. Today I read that 47% of Americans have guns. This counts as 1 weapon for every man, woman and child in the country. We have more guns than any other country of the world and these guns are readily available. There have been mass shootings,involving young people in other parts of the world, including Britain and Norway, where guns are not as readily available. Recently in China a man entered a rural school and attacked several children, with a knife. No one was killed, but imagine what would have happened if the crazed man had a gun. In Switzerland, where there is no army, just about every male has a rifle at home. Yet in Switzerland gun violence involving intentional homicide was 0.52 per 100,000 population, while the US had a rate of 3.0 per 100,000. According to the 2012 Global Peace Index the safest country in the world was Iceland. What is interesting about this index is that our neighbor, Canada, was ranked number 4 safest country, while The USA ranks 88.

I agree something has to be done about the violence in this country. I don't advocate taking away guns from responsible citizens who enjoy hunting or target shooting. I do not, however, see the necessity for having military style assault weapons capable of killing as many people as possible. Beside revisiting the regulation of assault weapons something has to be done about the mental health system in this country. I think that in our endeavor to protect the civil rights of the mentally ill, we are neglecting the civil rights of the general population. In each and every one of the recent mass shootings it was later learned that the shooters were mentally unbalanced and either were not receiving treatment, refused treatment or worse yet, completely ignored. They simply became their favorite killer character of their favorite violent movie and took revenge on anonymous people as they have seen their heroes do many times. America may have more guns than any other developed country, but we may also have more mentally ill people than any other country of the world.

It is time that we all do a little soul searching in this country and decide what the real American values are. The founders of this country were talking about muskets and not assault weapons, when they enshrined the right to bear arms in the Constitution. Our children have the right to live without fear of violence and our citizens have the right to access to proper mental health care. We  must all act together in concert to protect the health and safety of us all.

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