There are no words to describe the maelstrom of feelings— especially guilt— that has gripped our nation since the news of the horrific carnage at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
The weeklong introspection spurred by the inexplicable child murders carried out by a severely disturbed young man has rightly focused on the proliferation of guns, access to those weapons by young males (especially the mentally ill), our mental health treatment system, violent FPS video games, the complicity of corporate America (media/entertainment/arms industries) and pop culture.
Like everyone, I’ve talked to family and friends about what to do. My friend, Tony stressed the need to change a culture that glorifies violence; from eleven years of war (in Iraq and Afghanistan) to violent FPS video games to our entertainment— such as mixed martial arts and pro football.
“Look at the terminology we use to describe play – “throw the bomb,” “the shotgun formation” and “ringing a player’s bell,” he said. “We have to change our culture.”
But sadly, we’ve been down this road before.
In the eighties, parents and pols won warning labels after calling attention to the violent, misogynistic rap lyrics that passed for music entertainment.
In the nineties, another group of parents and pols convinced gaming companies to implement a ratings system (with warning labels) for violent video games.
Pols and pundits have proposed laws banning certain types of weapons, barring firearms ownership for people with mental problems, closing the gun show loophole, regulating access to violent FPS video games, etc. These responses only address the potential for criminal misuse of firearms, not the mindset that permits such violence.
President Obama has charged his blue ribbon commission headed by Vice President Biden coming up with a panoply of solutions addressing next steps in reducing gun violence and carnage such as we witnessed in Newtown. Undoubtedly, the commission will recommend numerous laws, regulations and guidelines but nothing that addresses the reality of guns in America.
Regulations and ratings systems alone, however, do not change popular culture.
I believe that we cannot change the culture without implementing an education program focused on separating the reality and consequences of gun violence from the fantasy played out on movie and hi-def video screens.
There are an estimated 100 million guns in circulation. Weapons and guns used for hunting, sports match competition, law enforcement and self-defense are here to stay (notwithstanding a national buyback program or God-forbid, a confiscation plan).
We should teach mandatory gun safety in our public schools as we do sexuality education, AIDS/HIV, and drivers ed? How do you oppose teaching risk avoidance behaviors, teaching social responsibility and respect for others, and building character?
Liberals react to youth gun education in the way fundamentalist Christians react to sexuality education in our schools. In either case, I recommend abstinence until adulthood.
In 1999, Governor George Pataki vetoed the “Firearms Accident Prevention Program,” a law intended to prevent firearms accidents involving children.
The law, modeled on the NRA‘s Eddie Eagle gun safety program for kids, was vilified by downstate Democratic legislators as promoting gun use by children.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The so-called Eddie Eagle bill was an honest effort promoting safe gun handling, a healthy respect for guns, responsibility, and safety beginning with children as young as 5.
Since 2007, Assemblyman Brian Kavanaugh has sponsored the “gun free kids law” which calls for a weapon safety program designed to teach children how to prevent gun-related injuries. That bill has languished in the Codes committee.
As a nation, however, we have an obligation to young people and future generations of Americans to reduce the risk of gun violence,
Children and impressionable adolescents must learn that firearms are not toys and should not be touched, at any time, without adult supervision.They should be taught awareness of and a healthy respect for firearms and the damage they can inflict when misused.
Such a comprehensive national gun education program must emphasize public health concerns, safety, weapons handling, and responsible ownership. We can reduce gun violence by changing popular perceptions and popular culture by accurately conveying information a tool that when misused or placed in the wrong hands can result in life-altering incidents.
Education and early intervention saves lives. Before children and teenagers grow into adults they must learn that only they can prevent gun violence.
Too many well-intentioned regulations and bans can have unintended effects. I don’t know of any negative unintended consequences of an education program.
No one should oppose a commonsense gun safety education program.
- We Need Better Gun Safety Laws for Washington State (timothyburgess.typepad.com)
- America’s Culture of Violence (newyorker.com)