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Tragedy in Aurora
There are a lot of people who have opinions about the mass shooting in Aurora on Friday. There are a lot of people who want to politicize it, whether to get guns banned in the US or to shield kids from violent movies or what have you. Sure, they all start their opinions with “the focus needs to be on the victims right now,” but with a 24/7 news cycle monster to feed, sympathy only sells for so long. After a day or three, we need answers! We need pundits telling us how this could have happened and who to blame!
Americans, you see, enjoy blaming each other. After a mass shooting, the pro-gun lobby blames the anti-gun lobby for restricting citizens from defending themselves, and the anti-gun lobby blames the pro-gun lobby for allowing a psychopath to purchase guns in the first place, and the phrase “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” gets thrown around so much that you have to wonder why guns were invented in the first place if they didn’t kill people.
Statistics start getting thrown around, too. The US has the most gun deaths of any developed nation. There are more violent crimes in locations with strict gun laws than locations with lax gun laws. States with more guns have more gun deaths (surprise) than states with fewer guns. If you were to listen to the arguments of both sides, you’d quickly realize that banning guns will simultaneously lower and increase the number of deaths in the US each year.
So maybe we’re confusing correlation with causation. Maybe the people who have the urge to go out and kill other people are using guns because they’re convenient (for now), not because having guns in and of themselves are causing people to commit crimes. You can easily argue that anyone who wants to terrorize a population needs only to go to their local hardware store or gas station for the deadly ingredients necessary to cause widespread devastation. Also, there are a large number of stabbing victims each year, but I don’t see anyone going out to ban knives. Baseball bats and tire irons (at least according to the movies) are also highly effective in getting a deadly point across.
Now we come to an interesting idea. Maybe the movies we watch and media we consume are causing people to become more violent. Maybe people are seeing in TV and movies that violence is an easy solution to difficult problems. If that’s the case, banning guns won’t fix the issue any more than banning sugary sodas will stop obesity. People are stubborn and resilient creatures, and if you block one means to an end, they will find different means. The clear solution, of course, is to ban the media that is giving people violent tendencies in the first place.
Again, though, I think we are confusing correlation with causation. American culture is steeped with hypocrisies about the nature of violence, and has been since the dawn of our nation. We fought a war against the British Empire over some taxes, but it took another hundred years to recognize the humanity of slaves. The media has a frenzy over the killing of some people in a theater, yet remains apathetic when our military kills everyone at a wedding across the globe. The death penalty is one of the most controversial subjects you could possibly bring up at the family Christmas party. Clearly, we as a nation need to do a lot of introspection when it comes to violence, and the media we consume is a reflection of that (though I am aware that there is a certain chicken-and-egg element to this.)
Cultural introspection is something that we as a nation rarely like to do. Americans have their eyes set on the far horizon, and looking backward is rare in our ethos. Nevertheless, I think the tragedy in Aurora speaks far less to the superficial issues of gun control and media violence than it does to the violent, lonely culture that has gripped us. I’ve addressed the violence somewhat, but I believe the loneliness is even more important in this case.
James Holmes, according to a New York Times profile piece, was a solitary figure in the months leading up to the shooting. A post-grad dropout apparently without friends in his community. And in fact, the perpetrators of these sorts of heinous acts are generally portrayed (whether accurately or not) as being loners, social outsiders, people who don’t fit in. People without friends.
These aren’t unique cases of social isolation. According to a new study, 25% of American adults feel like they have no one to talk to. Think about that.
They say that after college, the number of new friends you make drops dramatically. We’re a nation of highways, not sidewalks, and I believe we’re paying the price for that in our collective mental health. James Holmes wanted to get caught, there’s no doubt about it. He was standing by his car after the shooting, and the police arrested him without problems. A brilliant person by all accounts — but someone who couldn’t figure out how to get the positive personal attention and human interactions that he so desperately needed, whether he knew it or not.
I’m no psychiatrist or psychologist. I can’t say for sure that this was his motive, but it seems like a compelling one to me. Do I think he should be allowed to avoid retribution for his crimes? No, absolutely not. My point is that we’ve isolated and fenced ourselves into our McMansions to the point where we have no idea when our next-door neighbor is booby-trapping his apartment for the police.
Though you can argue that this tragedy should lead to calls for more psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and what have you, I think it should lead to calls to the people next door, and the people down the street, and the people who you’ve been meaning to call for a while but haven’t, and the people who you might not really want to see but know you should anyway, and the people who are related to you, and the people you’ve had arguments with and aren’t speaking to right now, and so on and so on. Let’s actually care about the people in our lives, and maybe — just maybe — we can all work together to mitigate this American tragedy.