Just another day in America with another mass shooting. Innocents gunned down, families grieving, a nation horrified at what we’ve become. Political debates that do nothing. So many tears and endless frustration.
The grim reality has sunk in that we’ve become a country where no one and no place is safe from gun violence. Our schools, our churches, our movie theatres, our workplaces, our concert venues, and our homes.
The mass shootings, like the recent tragedy at a Florida high school, garner the most attention, yet only underscore the daily gun violence perpetrated on our streets and in domestic situations, which lead to most of our gun-related deaths.
As a Mom who watched a fellow mother on TV scream at our President for action this week, I know millions of other parents viscerally feel her anguish, as do I, realizing how easily that could have been us. And far worse, we then realize that when the news dies down, nothing will change. Because Sandy Hook.
Yet we keep asking: Why did no one heed the multiple red flags? How can a 19-year-old, who can’t legally purchase beer, buy any kind of semi-automatic rifle? Why couldn’t the FBI find somebody who publicly posted online, using their real name, that they were likely to shoot up a school?
So much blame to go around while the guns vs. mental health battle surges and ebbs once again.
I’m going to throw out a lot of generalizations now, based on statistics. Yes – there are exceptions and outliers to all generalities, but these are our realities.
-The vast majority of gun owners in America are not violent.
-The vast majority of people with mental health conditions in America are not violent.
-The vast majority of kids who play violent video games in America are not violent.
-The vast majority of all violence in our country, especially gun violence, is perpetrated by males.
Let me clearly state: I am not a man-hating female who believes women are “superior” to men. (I have a husband, son, and quite a few male relatives and friends who will vouch for me.) We are simply different, and both biology and socialization have resulted in this violence gender gap, which is worldwide.
Anyone who has ever spent time around kids recognizes the inherent differences in play styles and activity preferences. More generalizations here, but young boys can, and many will, turn almost anything into a weapon, and most girls just aren’t very interested in them. I never pushed gender-specific anything upon my children, yet I think back to their birthday parties growing up. My son wanted themes like Pirates and Star Wars, complete with plastic swords and light sabers for the guests. My daughter wanted Puppies and Crafts, with stuffed animals and paints.
Add to our biologically driven differences, we as a culture glorify violence and powerful masculinity. We are less apt to see males talking about feelings and emotions in our media, and less apt to encourage and cultivate it in our boys.
We’ve tossed in bullying, and social media, and less outside play time for kids, less talking to our neighbors, less tolerance for our differences, and more political divisiveness. We really shouldn’t be too surprised when we see so many of our kids struggling. The saying “It takes a village to raise a child” is so true, and our collective villages have crumbled. In too many cases, we have failed ourselves, and our kids – particularly our boys.
I believe now is the time to change our focus on how to deal with our gun violence epidemic. Yes, there are absolutely actions we can take legally to try to reduce the frequency of gun violence. Improved background checks, licensing requirements and storage safety, enhanced technology for who can fire a particular weapon, and legal ramifications for adults who allow kids’ access to firearms.
But we need to move way upstream when it comes to causes and prevention. We need societal changes in how we raise our boys, and how we assist them in dealing with setbacks and negative feelings during their early school years. I’m in no way suggesting we try to emasculate our boys or send the message that they all need to “behave like girls.” Our boys, just like our girls, need to learn to embrace their essential selves and figure out how to appropriately deal with all their emotions and biological impulses.
We need further and free education opportunities for parents, at every stage of parenting. We need more male teachers in our K-12 classrooms, and more trained school psychologists, especially male ones, who have a better understanding of how boys think and behave in the world. Better pay for these professions would only attract more talented people.
We need more parents and schools talking about and encouraging empathy, along with closely listening to how kids talk about fellow students who seem angry, lost and marginalized. We need better coordination between local law enforcement and mental health professionals, and we need more mentoring programs for at-risk youth.
We can all agree that gun violence in America is a complex and a multi-faceted issue. There’s a whole lot of work to be done, and societal changes don’t happen overnight.
We are a culture who likes our quick fixes. We want to pass a law or two, ban a certain type of weapon, or give our kids a pill to make it all go away, and that’s not going to happen.
It is our society, our mindsets, our preconceived notions, our media and our parenting styles that all need adjustments.
I think now about a 19-year-old kid sitting in a jail cell on suicide watch. I applaud the family who took him in after his parents passed away and I wish their presence in his life had made a difference in his fateful decisions, but he had a lot of tragedy in his young life to overcome.
I absolutely understand how there are a whole lot of people who wish to see him dead, and sooner rather than later. We have a significant opportunity right now to learn from him and his experiences. With however much time he has left on this earth, I hope we can gain some knowledge and understanding of what led him to his horrific actions, so that we can lessen the chances of another American kid dying from gunfire on the floor of their classroom.
This shooter obviously didn’t feel comfortable talking honestly about what he’d been feeling since his mother died just months ago. Whether he was mentally ill, evil, or simply angry, he was alone in his thoughts and decisions on February 14, 2018. He chose an assault rifle to speak for him, rather than find a trusted friend or adult, to speak with.
As a nation, we are better, and we are smarter than what we’ve become. Let’s get to work.