What Can We Do About Newtown?
Commenter PJ, on the Newtown mess, says some things worth considering:
I watched some coverage but had to eventually tune it out and logoff facebook. The rapid reactions from so many people who think they know what happened and how to solve it in the future quite literally repel me as much as the actual event itself. Anti-gun nuts: “Anyone supporting the 2nd amendment are culpable in this! Ban guns now!” Pro-gun nuts: “Don’t you dare restrict any of my rights! A guy in China attacked children with knives! Want to ban them too?!” Then we have the education rants: “Government is supposed to protect the kids! Armed guards in every school!” “Lock up all the mentally disturbed!” “Close the public schools! Everyone should homeschool!”
Like many, my first response was thinking about how those parents must feel today. Another day or two and those kids would have been out on Christmas break. Prayers for the families and everyone involved. Then I gave my kids tight hugs.
But after tucking my kids in bed and wishing them sweet dreams, my mind drifts–what if I’m the parent of the shooter one day? My 8 year old is ADHD/ODD. At 5 he wrote die,die,die on the wall after a stressful day at school. At 6, a kid initiated a confrontation with him in the bathroom and he responded by whipping it out and peeing on him. The school counselor couldn’t stop laughing while on the phone with my wife describing the incident. “At least he listened to us and didn’t hit back. We are making progress!” He’s doing much better now. On medication and seeing counselors. Top of his class in almost everything. Teachers and principal say he’s a great kid. And he is…99% of the time. But every once in a while something flips a switch in him and I have to hold him in a bear hug to keep him from doing damage to his mom, or his sister, or the wall, or the tv.
We don’t have guns. I’ve only touched them once in my life. I’m fine with the 2nd amendment rights, but just have no desire or need to have them myself. My wife is very anti-gun. To excess IMO, e.g. no we don’t need a nerf gun here. But my kid’s a…boy. So what does he do with the spare legos after building a cool skyscraper? Make a gun out of them! Are we wise to have no guns or should we have one so we can be the ones that educate him and be sure that he respects them appropriately? We live in an area where most other people have guns–so do we trust that when he’s 10 or 12 or 16 and at a friend’s house that their parents have appropriate safeguards?
I do not know what the solution is to this. But it is not totally a gun problem. It’s not solely a cultural problem. It’s also not only about a lack of health services problem. My wife is a stay at home mom. We have great insurance that covers every doctor and treatment offered, a stable house, a secure job (as much as possible these days) and extended family and church environment. But I could still see my kid doing something like this one day if he doesn’t grow out of this and it scares me tremendously. If I thought my kid was going to be the one that does something like this, would I try to warn people? Yes, of course. Do I think anyone would do anything effective about it? Not judging from what happened in Virginia or Colorado. So what can we do about it? No one knows who is the one who is going to “snap”. It seems to me the only way to actually “solve” this is to track every single kid from age 5 on up and record everything they do and go through. Is that reasonable? Is it feasible? No and no, of course not. So what is the actual solution? I know it’s not the angry rantings from any of the people on my facebook feed.
An aside to this: As most readers know, I have a son with Asperger’s, so it’s painful to read that Adam Lanza had Asperger’s — painful, not because we think that our son is more capable of this kind of thing than anybody else (and besides, it sounds like his Asperger’s is far less pronounced than Lanza’s), but because we know that we’re probably about to go through a phase in popular culture in which Aspie kids, who have a hard enough row to hoe, are going to be looked at as potential mass murderers. God help the Aspie boys and girls on the playground for the next few weeks.
I have a better idea now what American Muslims must have felt like after 9/11.
UPDATE: The Roman Catholic Archbishop Charles Chaput, now of Philadelphia but then of Denver, wrote this after the Columbine massacre in his backyard. Excerpt:
The students who gathered to pray and comfort each other showed me again the importance of sharing not just our sorrow, but our hope. God created us to witness His love to each other, and we draw our life from the friendship, the mercy and the kindness we offer to others in pain. The young Columbine students I listened to, spoke individually — one by one — of the need to be strong, to keep alive hope in the future, and to turn away from violence. Despite all their confusion and all their hurt, they would not despair. I think I understand why. We’re creatures of life. This is the way God made us: to assert life in the face of death. Even more moving was my time with the families of two students who had been murdered. In the midst of their great suffering — a loss I can’t imagine — the parents radiated a dignity which I will always remember, and a confidence that God would somehow care for them and the children they had lost, no matter how fierce their pain. This is where words break down. This is where you see, up close, that faith — real, living faith — is rooted finally not in how smart, or affluent, or successful, or sensitive persons are, but in how well they love. Scripture says that “love is as strong as death.” I know it is stronger. I saw it. As time passes, we need to make sense of the Columbine killings. The media are already filled with “sound bites” of shock and disbelief; psychologists, sociologists, grief counselors and law enforcement officers — all with their theories and plans. God bless them for it. We certainly need help. Violence is now pervasive in American society — in our homes, our schools, on our streets, in our cars as we drive home from work, in the news media, in the rhythms and lyrics of our music, in our novels, films and video games. It is so prevalent that we have become largely unconscious of it. But, as we discover in places like the hallways of Columbine High, it is bitterly, urgently real. The causes of this violence are many and complicated: racism, fear, selfishness. But in another, deeper sense, the cause is very simple: We’re losing God, and in losing Him, we’re losing ourselves. The complete contempt for human life shown by the young killers at Columbine is not an accident, or an anomaly, or a freak flaw in our social fabric. It’s what we create when we live a contradiction. We can’t systematically kill the unborn, the infirm and the condemned prisoners among us; we can’t glorify brutality in our entertainment; we can’t market avarice and greed . . . and then hope that somehow our children will help build a culture of life. We need to change. But societies only change when families change, and families only change when individuals change. Without a conversion to humility, non-violence and selflessness in our own hearts, all our talk about “ending the violence” may end as pious generalities. It is not enough to speak about reforming our society and community. We need to reform ourselves.