In the weeks since the devastating Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings last month, debate over gun rights has taken center stage in American political discourse. It has proven difficult to turn on the news without hearing about Vice President Biden’s commission on guns or seeing a supposedly objective reporter gushing over the newest gun control proposal.
Enter President Obama. Last week, the President signed twenty-three executive actions on gun control, bypassing Congress. Surrounded by elementary school children, Obama seized the political opportunity created by the Sandy Hook massacre to begin instituting more gun control measures.
While signing the executive actions, Obama claimed the measurers were about “keeping our children safe,” as if with the stroke of a pen an event like Sandy Hook could never happen again. Absent was the startling fact that none of the proposals put forward would actually have prevented the shooting from occurring.
And, that is where the conversation needs to be steered. Over the last month, Sandy Hook has been politicized in a way that has obscured the events that led up to that fateful December day. Adam Lanza, the shooter, had mental issues and played violent video games all day long. He was isolated from society to the point that his world was far different from our own. Lanza tried to purchase a gun, but failed the background check. He used his mother’s legally purchased weapons to commit the murder of children, and the principal and teachers that children see as role models.
Connecticut has some of the toughest gun regulations in the nation, and that did not stop Lanza from obtaining the weapons he needed to commit such a treacherous act. His mother kept the weapons for protection, as she lived alone with her son in a comfortable Newtown, Connecticut home. This was not her fault for keeping the weapons. She could never have imagined the horror her son would inflict with them.
Instead of focusing on preventing certain weapons from being purchased and disparaging gun owners, we should talk about the culture of violence in this country. The media has hammered the “gun culture” for the last month, but very little has been mentioned about the violent culture that permeates in Hollywood movies, video games, and on the nightly news. I am not arguing that playing violent video games has a direct connection to an individual committing murder, or anything of that nature. Looking around, it seems that violence is normalized to a greater degree than in the past. More people are exposed to seeing and hearing about violence, making it part of the culture rather than a separate force of evil outside the cultural mainstream.
When individuals like Adam Lanza, who did not have an understanding of normal behavior, are then exposed to this violent culture, they come to see violence as a legitimate means to an end. Unable to understand the wrongness and individual implications of actual violence, this exposure to a violent culture can cause severe problems, as we saw in the devastation Lanza inflicted on Sandy Hook Elementary.
Changing this culture is not easy, and I am certainly not for censorship. Passing new legislation will not change the culture, either. For now, I fear the only thing we can do is pass laws that deal with securing the guns Americans already own to prevent them from getting in the hands of individuals who will use them for the wrong purposes.
In an excellent article for Bloomberg, the National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru discusses the suggested regulations put forward by one Sandy Hook victim’s family. One of the proposals is a “reporting requirement” that would require individuals to report any serious threats by another individual to law enforcement if they believe that person has access to weapons to carry out the threat. Another proposal is to place responsibility on gun owners to keep firearms away from mentally ill individuals who are acting in ways that could cause them to become violent. While these proposals are limited in scope, they are aimed less at passing laws to convict gun owners than helping to “shape a valuable norm,” according to Ponnuru.
Legislation like this could influence a meaningful change without dissing gun owners and trying to take guns away from away from well-meaning individuals looking out for their own safety. The constant diatribe of gun owners by many in the media is not helping, when most of these individuals are law-abiding citizens. Some in the media may want to reduce the number of firearms in America, but they are provoking the opposite goal.
We need to change the conversation away from gun control and focus on practical solutions that can pass Congress to influence gun security. A conversation about America’s culture of violence that is penetrating young minds at this very moment should also be started. Attacking gun owners accomplishes nothing except igniting another cultural war. There may be minimal reasonable restrictions on weapons and high-capacity magazines that could be put in place, but we need to recognize that restricting the purchasing of guns does not solve our culture-of-violence problem. Firearm owners are not the main perpetrators behind this cultural issue.
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