On Shootings

On Friday while I was working from home, the whole of the Newtown ordeal went down. It was hard not to be glued to the TV and getting the up to the minute (and frequently inaccurate) reports. It was also hard not to suddenly fear for my own 5 year old, in spite of her being roughly 800 miles from that particular danger. 

When she got home from school there were more hugs than usual. Shortly afterwards they started releasing the body count and age numbers, and I immediately decided the family needed to go do something. We saw a movie, the Hobbit. Zoe sat in my lap for most of it and at the end, when Thorin hugs Bilbo, Zoe turned around and hugged me, too. The tears were flowing. 

And in the aftermath of the mess there’s been loud voices from many directions about what should be done. Gun control was the first thing on the table. The shooter had stolen from his mother legally-owned and legally-acquired firearms that were used in the shooting (apparently legal weapons are involved in 80% of school shootings to date). Mental health care was next: the guns only enable the crazy to go down the most violent route. Which is true enough. Mike Huckabee said that this all happened because we’ve removed prayer from schools, which caused a huge backlash on the right wing, and led me to wonder that if that was the real reason, why are there so many church shootings too? 

And then solutions got bandied about. Assault weapons bans, which look to be in the works. Suggestions for more health care funding, which I approve of regardless. A common theme coming up from the right wing is that all teachers should be armed. In fact, there was a petition to this effect on the White House site. I’ll let this tweet sum up my response to that: 

It’s been suggested that this incident will be America’s Dunblane, which refers to a school shooting in Scotland of 16 5-year-olds in 1996. The event was effectively the final nail in the coffin of handgun ownership in the UK. I’m somewhat skeptical that it will get that far. The NRA, often misconstrued as a rights organization and functioning instead as a lobby for the firearms industry, is far to powerful to let anything like that occur. I’m sure any “ban” on any sort of weapon will essentially be toothless, in particular because it won’t be able to retroactively remove any of the estimated 300 million firearms that are out there anyway. 

But all of that aside, one of the most interesting articles I read about the whole ordeal is about how fake we all are about it, how so many people seem to be on the lookout for some tragedy about which we can be incredibly mopey (in as visible a manner as possible) in spite of having no realistic connection to it at all. The Economist states

…the outpouring of sentiment over the shootings Friday in Newtown, Connecticut is probably best viewed as a ritualistic exercise in mass histrionics. Not for the friends and family of those killed, obviously; for them the killings are a real and horrific tragedy. Those of us who view the events remotely, however, unless we start to evince a newfound appetite for gun-control measures to prevent future mass slayings, are doing little more than displaying and enjoying our own exalted strickenness. This is an activity at which we, as a culture, excel. Americans’ postmodern eagerness for self-aggrandising displays of grief over events that did not actually happen to us was captured over two decades ago in the still-remarkable “Heathers”; as that movie understood, mass slayings at schools provide the perfect backdrop of “senseless” tragedy against which the public can profile its own angst and bogus sorrow.

In spite of the fears for my own child and as incredibly cynical as it seems, I have a hard time not agreeing with this. Devastating as the event is for the community that just suffered this horror, the rest of the world is effectively just a load of spectators enabled by 24 hours news networks. We are sad for that community, and we wish them the best, and we offer what support we can. But in a few months when the charitable contributions stop flowing and the legislation sparked by it inevitably fails to do any good, it will be dropped from the public consciousness. Our brief moment of shared panic and overacted grief will evaporate while the Newtown community struggles to rebuild what semblance of a family life it can. 

At any rate, what’s done is done. We wish it could have been prevented, and hope future ones can be prevented. But they won’t be, not completely, even given a best possible outcome from the legislative and political wrangling that’s about to go down. So whatever happens, happens.