In the wake of the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the nation is desperately searching for answers, solutions and a corrective path forward. While shock and immense sadness immediately set in, so did fierce debate over gun control and whether the U.S. needs more restrictive legislation. Within mere moments, one of the country’s most horrific massacres became political fodder, as intense emotion drove much of the discussion.
Both sides of the debate immediately hunkered down, spouting their traditional talking points and digging their heels in on expected policy stances. But by debating first and foremost about amending firearm laws, these individuals have been touting quick, yet haphazard, “fixes” to a very complex and multi-layered problem. More importantly, those embroiled in this mostly shrewd discussion have been completely overlooking the two larger causal issues at play – our increasingly devolving culture and the way in which society tackles mental illness.
Frankly, it is irresponsible to exclusively blame guns for the immense violence and horror that was observed last Friday and on many occasions preceding the tragic event. While firearms certainly deserve scrutiny and rational consideration, there are far more pertinent issues to contend with – subjects that call upon Americans to give themselves a serious gut check.
If one is truly attempting to understand the macro factors that contribute to horrific acts of violence, he or she must first look at the two key areas I’ve already highlighted: Culture and the way the mentally ill are treated. Then – after exploring these issues – the accessibility of guns is certainly worth speaking about. However, you can’t fix the issues associated with gun violence, at least comprehensively, without addressing the first two elements.
Clearly, the U.S. is facing a cultural crisis. Faith and religion are on the decline (i.e. the rise of the so-called “nones”) and secularism seems to be gaining traction, as morals and ethics are simultaneously disintegrating. Even if one rejects religious adherence and dismisses the existence of a higher power, there are other more universal issues to consider.
There’s no questioning that America has some troubling indicators surrounding morality and personal responsibility worth exploring. From the sexual nature of popular media to the prominence of violence in video games and entertainment, the content that is being force-fed to young people is anything but enriching. Kids and teens are increasingly self-medicating, using and abusing drugs and consuming negative music and entertainment.
Television shows and films trash traditional values, while simultaneously normalizing behaviors that, in the real world, hold very real consequences. Bullying has hit a fever pitch, with children and teens so unable to handle the torment that stories of youths taking their own lives have become commonplace. And these are only some of the issues worth noting.
There’s so much wrong with our culture that it’s practically impossible to summarize in short-form. When young people are exposed to sexualized music, violent video games and programs that irresponsibly show them how not to behave like responsible human beings (i.e. “Jersey Shore”) – and the themes within these forms of entertainment are incessantly reinforced – how can they then be expected to escape unscathed?
It’s easy to look past culture, especially when looking for an easy solution, but, unfortunately, it’s the main ingredient for a vibrant and cohesive society – and ours, in its current state, can only be described as dangerously anemic. Rather than leading exclusively with discussions about gun control, why are we not discussing the lack of compassion and empathy among many young people (and adults, for that matter) -- and the overall desensitization that exists in our society?
After cultural considerations should come a very real conversation about the treatment of the mentally ill. All-too-often there are stigmas associated with mental health issues. Furthermore, families tend to struggle with obtaining diagnoses, affording care and managing the intense chaos that can come from caring for a sick loved one. As a society, America needs to have a more insightful debate about how to help these families, while also confronting the threats that can result in rare instances when individuals like Adam Lanza decide to act out.
Take, for instance, Liza Long, the mother of a mentally ill teenager who wrote a recent viral blog entry about her experience coping with the situation. While many critics felt that Long was exploiting the Sandy Hook shooting for person gain, others admired her courage in coming forward, describing her son’s terrifying and threatening behavior and advocating for a discussion on the matter.
Regardless of one’s views about Long, she has at least one valid point: It is time for the U.S. to brainstorm better ways to care for those facing mental incapacities, while also helping their family members in the process. How can people who are ill be offered the proper care? What does a solid mental health care system look like? These are just a few of the questions we need to be asking ourselves.
If culture and care for the mentally ill were kept in check, there would be limited need to monitor and amend gun policy. While we may never reach a utopia on these issues, there’s plenty that we can – and should -- do to make an effort to improve in these areas and to turn back toward a more sane and just society.
As for guns, both sides would be wise to come together to have a rational discussion about the current regulatory structures and what can be done to continue affording Second Amendment rights, while simultaneously ensuring the safety of the American people in schools, movie theaters and beyond. Common ground is key. But before getting consumed by this issue, let’s take a look at what’s really wrong with our society.
Related content on On Faith:
* Dixon: Idolatry of the gun
* Thistlethwaite:Obama gives voice to the new national determination on gun control
* National Cathedral dean: '... the gun lobby is no match for the cross lobby'
* Graham: Why the shock and awe?
* Pace: Comfort the grieving
* Stanley: In tragedy we grieve; in God, we hope
* Quinn: Where was God?
* Thistlethwaite:God weeps: 27 children, staff killed in Conn. school shooting