It is hard for a great many people — and understandably so — to avoid thinking of “guns” instantly when we hear of a school shooting or other villainous attack against innocent people. And the chorus ensues: Why only in America?
Yes, if we banned guns, there would be fewer deaths caused by guns.
Indeed, if we banned cars, there would be fewer road fatalities, though horses and mules still would kill. If we banned ice cream, cholesterol levels would be lower. (Burt Baskin died of a heart attack at age 54. Then again, Irv Robbins lived to 90.) If we banned heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer, and all air travel, our air would be cleaner.
Of course evil people, criminals, still would find ways to access forbidden guns, just as other criminals find ways to access forbidden controlled substances, opioids, that law-abiding people do not access. That is what criminals do: they break the law. Thus, Chicago has the nation’s toughest gun laws, but parts of the city are more dangerous than Kabul or Raqaa.
Even if all firearms could be eliminated, we still would have knives. Law-abiding people use knives to cut steak, to push peas towards the fork, to peel oranges. Criminals use them to murder people. We could ban knives, too. But then we still would have all these people running around with hands. Criminals use them to choke and suffocate people.
Regrettably, the “gun part” of the conversation goes nowhere because the two sides do not comprehend each other. If you grew up with guns or later came to appreciate them, you love them. They are fun. For many, hunting is great sport — and it also assists society in controlling animal populations that must be restrained for the benefit of other wildlife, the ecology, and humans. If archery is a fun sport for some, and dart-throwing is fun, and golf’s challenge to hit a ball in a hole is fun, and if basketball’s challenge to launch a ball through a hoop is fun, then it should not be that impossible per se to grasp why it can be fun to go shooting at a range, using different pistols and rifles for target practice.
And guns actually protect lives. Hit a criminal in the head with a golf ball, a basketball? You can stop a crook with a dart, but not for long. Better with a bow and arrow. Even better with a pistol. Even better with a rifle or a shotgun.
This cannot be explained to people who never grew up with guns and who do not live in environments where they encounter crime. An owner of an all-night liquor store or convenience store lives in a world that differs from that of the white-collar suburban who gets his wine at the supermarket and never buys a Slurpee after 6 p.m.
Nor can you explain a sport to someone who does not “get” that sport. Consider: Most of the world goes insane over soccer. Yet I am persuaded that one of the reasons that none of those countries rivals America is that the American mindset, spirit, and soul have figured out that soccer is useless. Several years ago, perhaps in delirium, I convinced my teenage son that today — some Sunday, whenever it was —is the final game of the World Cup. “It happens once every four years or ninety-seven years, or whenever they play the thing, and this one is between the two greatest soccer teams in the whole world. So today we are going to watch the stupid thing, and finally get some sense of why the whole world loves this sport.” So we ordered some pizza, got some soda, and sat for two or three hours, whatever it was, watching the Soccer Game of the Century. I remember two things from that day. First, that the score was 0-0 (no typo: zero-to-zero) after the whole game time expired. And, second, that we both missed the end of the game because we had fallen asleep.
That experience convinced me that it is impossible to explain to someone who does not understand what guns are all about… what guns are all about. For them, guns make no sense. And, to remain safe, those among them who are wealthy enough surround themselves with armed bodyguards.
It is like explaining to people in certain countries why Free Speech is important to protect. They just don’t get it. They see us challenging and contending with each other. George W. Bush foolishly believed that, if we entangle America in the Middle East and engage in regime-change, wait until you see how quickly all those nice people in Iraq and Afghanistan abandon terrorism and embrace the Bill of Rights: Free Speech, Free Press, Freedom of Religion.
And guess what? Remember the “Arab Spring”? Turns out they never were fighting the dictators and cutthroats and barbarians in order to have freedom. Nope. Rather, they were fighting the dictators because — they felt that now it is their turn to be the dictators and cutthroats and barbarians. So instead of the Shah and Savak, there were the Ayatollahs. Instead of Al Qaeda, we got ISIS. Instead of the PLO — now Hamas and Hezbollah.
That is what makes the whole debate over these mass-murders so frustrating. Because, if only — if only! — we could get beyond the superficial gun focus, here are the subjects that we really should be discussing:
If a parent owns firearms, she needs to keep the guns out of the kids’ hands unless properly legal steps are taken that license the kid.
None of us knows what goes on in the next one’s home. We each have our own kids and our own parental responsibilities to society to do the best job we can. If our kids catch cold, we need to get them to a doctor and keep them home from spreading viruses to others. If a child, G-d forbid, has a mental or psychological disorder, it is on the parent to love and support the child by helping obtain professional help. If the child needs to be medicated, we need to assure that the kid is taking the meds. And it is on each of us not to let that kid have uncontrolled, unsupervised access to guns (or darts or bows-and- arrows or knives). And if need be, if we love guns but we are incapable of keeping them out of our troubled kids’ hands, then we have to give up our guns until the kid leaves the nest.
State laws treat the kid who drives his friends to a convenience-store holdup-shooting-murder as a criminal, too. He can be punished with enormous severity as an accessory to those who did the shooting. So should parents be imprisoned for decades if the trial and facts so point.
We used to begin school days with the Pledge of Allegiance. We sang the national anthem. Even if we did not understand the words (one nation under G-d “invisible” with liberty and justice for all / “José, can you see?”), the key words stuck: Liberty and Justice for all. Our flag was still there. The land of the Free and the home of the Brave.
The schools imbued those values. The most liberal Democrats like Adlai Stevenson and John F. Kennedy, even the socialists like Franklin Roosevelt, loved this country. The Martin Luther Kings who fought day and night against cruel injustices perpetrated against them and for which some like him gave their lives to overcome, loved America. They were patriots. None of this Michelle Obama garbage about “I never loved this country until you elected my husband.” Yes, there always were sharp differences, the natural outgrowth of a two-party system going back to the deep animosities that separated Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. But they all loved this country. It was a special thing to be an American.
We let that get lost in too many parts of our land. When you rear kids without love of country, love of flag, love of nation, you sow the seeds that, among the most mentally disturbed of them, contributes to these terrible massacres. In a world where multi-millionaires with no real cause for such success, take a knee to protest the flag that granted them the opportunity, young people lose a social restraint that teaches: “You are part of a society, and this society matters — even if you think it stinks, and even if you are right in some way. But you are part of something, and we all are in this thing together.”
And that ties in with removing G-d from the schools. We need to put prayer back into the public schools and to stop denigrating religion.
My wife, an Orthodox Jew, attended public school and, because she loves to sing, was in choir. Religion was in the schools, and that meant she learned all the Christmas carols. Through the ensuing decades of her professional career, every year at the office Christmas party the Rebbetzin (Rabbi’s wife) would win the contests on who best knows the lyrics to the most obscure carols. Finally, one year they brought in a “ringer” — the conductor of a local church choir. He beat her in the third or fourth play-off round on one word-ending. (And that contest was ten times more exciting than the soccer World Cup.)
When kids grow up with G-d all around them — not only in synagogue, church, mosque, temple, but also in school every single day — and when they begin their every day with a soft prayer, they are reminded but constantly that the world does not revolve around them. There is a Creator or a Divine Intelligence. That realization, that prayer, helps imbue humility. It helps remind young people that, even if the parents do not see, even if the cops do not see, G-d sees. He is watching. And if they hurt innocent people, He will hold them accountable.
No, the role of parents alone is not a factor; Nikolas Cruz was orphaned after being adopted. No, the denigration of flag and country is not a sole factor, nor is the removal of prayer. But these factors begin to aggregate.
We have allowed our culture to recede, becoming coarse and vulgar. Filthy language, once the provenance of closed doors, erupted when a creditor’s dunning letter arrived or when a cabinet shelf holding crystal collapsed. No one cursed in public. Hypocritical? Sometimes hypocrisy is the preferred alternative to public vulgarity. We do not defecate in public. Hypocritical?
Our movies and, worse, our television invade our homes with the worst filth. We never would invite that into our front doors, but we welcome it into the family room. Perhaps it was the inevitable outgrowth of cable television expanding to so many channels. Each station competes for viewers and advertising dollars. In the pursuit of gleaning a few bucks from any small niche of our 300 million American consumers, “entertainment” thus expands to niches of the most coarse language and themes that celebrate — for laughs — the breakdown of authority in the family and society. The parents are dopes. The grandparents are ready for recycling. And the 19-year-olds like that dirtbag in Florida are the beknighted when in fact they comprise the benighted.
Long before we would have stopped watching Saturday Night Live because of its echo-chambered politics, we stopped watching because it could not go eight, nine minutes without being obscene. The raciest thing on television once was Johnny Carson, and if the raciest on Carson was the night when Ed Ames, while demonstrating how to throw a tomahawk, oh-so-accidentally circumcised a cardboard prop, that scene today would not even register for an era demanding intensified crudeness and vulgarity.
The #MeToo activists wonder why certain outlier men among the powerful act criminally on the despicably evil ideas they portray as entertainment. And the response? Vagina hats.
For the last seven decades or more, we have experienced Hollywood’s increasingly intense portrayals of violence and murder. It is easy to grasp the business equation. Would you pay $10 or $20 to sit for two or three hours, watching people eating soup, excusing themselves respectively behind a closed door to use a lavatory serially, then emerging to read a newspaper or book, or to pay bills? Neither would anyone else. By contrast, blood and murder sell.
Nevertheless there was a time when Hollywood did not show all the blood, all the guts, all the gore. Watch an old James Cagney or Edward G. Robinson film. Did we not know what was happening? Of course we did. Even the very most over-the-top, most shocking violent bloody scenes from Hitchcock, like the horrible shower scene in Psycho or seeing a victim as the police discover her in Frenzy, were profoundly disturbing, yet were depicted differently from the way they are today. To create the shock, they relied more on intense background music and shadowy images. But today it all spills out.
For most people — well exceeding 99 percent of us — that does not prompt us to murder. All it takes is a few sickos. And now we also have video games.
The challenge with video games is that only a finite number of approaches exist to making a game enchanting so that it will sell magnificently, will be played repeatedly, and will spread. There are video games based on sports, some based on televised game shows, on card games, classic board games, all sorts. But the crucial component of that industry are the games that reward shooting and killing enemies. The games increasingly succeed in depicting the most life-like images, feeling like killing real humans, even down to the blood, the guts, the gore, the moans, the screams.
Again, any scholarly study of these games will demonstrate that almost everyone who plays them goes on to live a normal productive life and understands that (G-d forgive us) it “is only a game.”
But our problem is the psychos, the mental cases who cannot consistently distinguish video fantasy from reality. And for such people, reared in a society that is bereft of patriotism and flag, bereft of G-d, where coarseness, filth, and vulgarity permeate every corner of the culture, even as the 19-year-old is the Lord and Master in a world where the parents are boobs to mock on social media or are utterly AWOL, those video games play their part, however minor or otherwise, in numbing the crazies to blood, to pain, to gore, to human suffering. And they wonder how it would be if they try it in the next dimension.
We all know the good that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and all the social media and internet offer. And we know the bad.
Social media and other internet sites now facilitate eyewitness viewing of the most horrible deeds in three-dimensional motion. People can find the most evil ISIS actions if they look long and hard enough. They can find the most vicious and evil depictions. For those types, who in previous eras at least would be deterred a bit by having to find such things in a book — which demands going to a bookstore or library, and then actually reading — they now instantly can view depictions of things unspeakable.
Moreover, they incite each other instantly. How else to explain the “Tide Pod challenge”? More than half a century ago, morons swallowed goldfish as a gag. The gag spread, until enough gagged. But did a national gag ever entail swallowing poison that surely could kill or at least eviscerate one’s vital organs? Yet now a generation of idiots has been inspired or incited on YouTube and other social media to swallow poison laundry detergent. In the eager hope that they will prompt thousands of mouse-clicks and “Likes,” and go viral — those imbeciles do it. Tide has had to put warnings on their laundry detergent. Presumably the only warning that would impact these cretins would be, y’know: “WARNING: So, uh, POISON can reduce your SEX drive.”
Normal people with guns do not shoot up schools or discos.
In almost every such incident, there are certain demographic consistencies. Although profiling would not catch every person in advance, a more reasonable social acceptance of profiling in certain situations could enhance law enforcement’s ability to restrain certain dangerous crazies proactively.
Instead, because of the all-encompassing social terror of Political Correctness, good and decent people — people utterly bereft of prejudice, people who respect people of different ethnicities, cultures, religions, colors, and sexual preferences — are terrified to apprise law enforcement or their employers or school administrators when they perceive that someone in their midst lurks as a profound prospective danger to life and limb of everyone in the milieu. Every time one of these horrors happens, media find any number of neighbors, acquaintances, classmates, and former friends who report: “We all knew there was something about that guy that was scary. He always used to [fill in the craziness]. He even posted [fill in].”
“And did you report him?” “No.”
“And why not?” “Because I did not want anyone to think I don’t respect diversity.”
This one seems toughest of all to implement.
The media need to stop calling these people “killers.” First of all, they are not “killers”; they are “murderers.” And, second, because they are deranged beyond psychotic, they are not necessarily insulted when called “killers.” Therefore, they should be called something that even a deranged, mentally psychotic, murderer would not want to be called. Not “terrorist.” Not “murderer.”
I have some thoughts. Perhaps the media should adopt a code that uniformly calls them “Urine” or at least “Garbage”:
“Today in Florida, people gathered to remember Nikolas Cruz, the Piece of Garbage, who…” And that becomes the term. The Piece of Garbage. Something like that.
So it is not just about guns. And maybe it is not at all about guns. But when do we get to talk about all these other things?