Thinking Out Loud

May 9, 2019

The Contagion of Mass Violence

Despite what these nuns may think, the gun issue in the United States is no laughing matter.

School shootings have now been with us for a generation; two decades. Or so some news media would have us think, preferring to use the Columbine (Littleton) event as a game changer. In fact, a look at the School Shootings List on Wikipedia shows that incidents so classified go back to the 1800s.

A close look at the list shows that Columbine had been preceded by just eleven months by an event in Springfield, Oregon where four people were killed but 25 were injured.

There are also two other significant outliers: In August, 1966, 18 people were killed at the University of Texas (Austin) tower shooting; and in May, 1986 there was an event in Cokeville, Wyoming involving a bomb which injured 79, though only one death, other than the perpetrators’, involved gunfire.

When you scroll through the whole list however, events since the year 2000 take up far more than half the page, so the Columbine thesis has some validity.

I’ve written about this subject before and it has often brought accusations that I, writing outside the United States, should not be meddling in the gun control issue, since that is a political issue that Americans need to work out on their own. So I won’t state the obvious here and suggest that maybe, just maybe, civilian access to the AR-15 is a bad idea.

But when I’ve written before, I’ve talked about the idea that the killer(s) had no regard for human life.

While I believe that there is a contagion of gun violence — not dissimilar to other things which have swept through U.S. culture, such as the contagion of divorce — I think we need to dig a little deeper and try to figure what has fostered the disregard for human life.

Hang on, this is going to sound very 1950-ish or 60-ish.

I believe American television has played a role. A big role.

Last week I was watching a situation comedy on a U.S. network. Lighthearted fare. Watched by families and children.

During the second commercial break, which included promotions for upcoming shows, I watched three people get killed.

I found it interesting that here was broadcast content advertising programs which probably aren’t allowed to be shown before 9:00 PM, and yet at 8:17 they can air scenes depicting the very violence which causes those programs to be designated for later viewing.

How many shootings have American kids watched on television compared to their UK counterparts?

I think the answer would be significant because UK adventures/suspense/mystery programs wouldn’t broadcast people pulling out guns and committing murder if in fact the weapons are not in the average citizen’s possession in real life.

Up to this very day, it is widely agreed that the focus of censorship in the U.S. has always been on sexual content not violent content, whereas in parts of Europe violence is censored and the treatment of sexual scenes is more liberal. Do American television networks have complicity in the gun violence we’ve been seeing since 1991? Or the actors themselves? When I wrote about this on Twitter, I received this comment “The irony is Hollywood actors who speak out about gun violence but make millions of dollars wielding and shooting guns in their movies.”

Do British children have a higher regard for human life?

I don’t think that television is the only factor at work; furthermore if there is a contagion of violence, those germs are capable of crossing the ocean through social media and the export of U.S. film industry products around the world.

Children are imitative. If that’s what we show them, that’s what they grow up thinking is normal behavior. We’re telling them that life is cheap.

So to my American friends, yes by all means look at gun control and even the Second Amendment itself.

But also look at media control, broadcast control, film industry control.

 

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February 19, 2018

When the Cries Bring About Change

Heather Booth is a professional book editor. On the weekend, she tweeted out a rather remarkable story and I quickly sent the link to several people I know who are connected to major media because I wanted to help “get this story out there.” Then, on Sunday morning it occurred to me that Thinking Out Loud is also media, maybe not major media, but instead of asking others to share this story, I could be part of making it happen.

I have a thing to say about growing up after tragedy. When I was a senior in high school, seven of my classmates were killed and 24 injured. It was an awful day full of fear, confusion, and pain. Press swarmed. News helicopters hovered overhead all day filming footage of the carnage.

Nothing made sense. Over the days and weeks that followed, we went to vigils, wakes, and funerals. We openly wept in the hallways. People who had never spoken before embraced, clinging to each other. We felt broken.

People said the things that are being said now. “I put him on the bus and sent him to school. He was supposed to be safe.” Classrooms were rearranged so the empty desks weren’t a constant reminder.

Time passed. We started living with loss, but we still startled at the noises that reminded us of that day. We were now people that THIS had happened to.

More time passed. I did the memorial layout in the yearbook. By then, our shock and raw pain had changed to anger and questioning. Why did this happen? What went wrong? Whose fault is it? Investigations, we learned, were ongoing.

A federal official said, “The thing that upsets me most–we teach our kids to learn the importance of accountability. In this, there was a failure of accountability by a number of organizations.”

And then, things changed.

29 recommendations were made by the NTSB and implemented from the local to federal level. Because this wasn’t a shooting. It was a train hitting a school bus. One train. One bus. Seven deaths. 24 injured. One year. 29 changes for 16 organizations.

And as kids, here’s what this meant: we saw something awful happen, then we saw adults support us, then we saw them make change happen to keep that awful thing from ever happening again. Now, I’m an adult who grew up having seen adults fix things.

Think about the worldview we create for youth when their awful experiences result in nothing but hand wringing and despair. Thoughts and prayers. When a tragedy hits that’s far more deadly and far less accidental than what Cary-Grove High School experienced in 1995 and nothing changes?

What kind of lifelong scars do we inflict on youth when the adults who are there to protect them don’t force change in the wake of preventable tragedy? What kind of foundation do we lay when their world breaks and no one fixes it?

I don’t care which avenue you pursue to change the scourge of gun violence against youth. There are plenty. Pick one. Do something. Call your reps. Donate. March. Volunteer. Vote. Force the issue. Empower teens. Don’t let them down. Make change happen.


Story reference:

Chicago Tribune: October 30, 1996.

To repeat, “One year. 29 changes for 16 organizations.” Changes were made to ensure that this type of thing would never happen again. Adults responded to protect children. Need we say more?

I am not aware if Heather has a particular faith-connection or if she does not. I felt this was worth sharing today irrespective of our usual considerations.

February 15, 2018

To Our American Friends, Again

You can’t fix this.

I’m sorry, but the intricacies of your political system have painted you into a corner and now you are trapped and can’t get out.

You will never fix this.

I don’t mean to be pessimistic, but try to imagine a scenario or series of scenarios that would result in enacting, for example, a repeal of the 2nd Amendment. It’s just not possible.

You, as a nation, don’t have the political will to fix this.

The system is broken and all your politicians know this. It’s a given that is whispered in hushed corridors of power, while the external message is, “Thoughts and prayers.”

…Just over five years ago, in December of 2012, I wrote the first “To Our American Friends” article. At that time I earnestly believed with all my heart that the U.S. had had a wake-up call and would start the conversation that would result in social and constitutional change. I wrote:

…Please accept our heartfelt sympathies.

Even though we’re close neighbors, we don’t fully understand the U.S. gun culture that is part of the DNA of those with whom we share this continent. And before we start to sound judgmental, we don’t always get it right up here, either; neither have we been immune to gun violence.

But we don’t think the framers of the U.S. constitution had yesterday in mind when they drafted the 2nd Amendment. Rather, I think they would be appalled, provided they were not completely bewildered trying to process where things presently stand.

This is only going to get worse. And worse and worse…

In June of 2015, I quoted President Obama:

“But let’s be clear: At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it.” – President Obama

Does he really believe “it’s in our power to do something?” By October of the same year, the President’s tone had changed. It was more a lament. I wrote at the time,

President Obama went on television for the 16th time in his presidency and said, “Somehow, this is becoming routine.”

Gun advocates say that people need to have guns to defend themselves, but where are the headlines where a mass shooting was aborted because some civilian took out the shooter?

Again, it’s not my place to comment on the laws of another country. But know this: To those of us outside what Pope Francis reminded Americans is called “The land of the free,” we don’t believe the authors of the U.S. Constitution had days like these in view. Not for a moment.

It certainly is “The home of the brave.” You’d have to be brave, to leave your house in the morning not knowing if you’ll be having supper with your family at night.

Today, I have a different message.

You need to get out.

You need to get out before you’re next.

If traveling through Europe last summer taught us anything, it taught us that geography or place of birth need no longer limit the trajectory of a person’s life. Especially our last two days, as we got to know Prague in the Czech Republic, we remarked a few times, “We could live here.” We could easily envision ourselves uprooting from friends and family and starting an entirely new life in an entirely new place.

And so could you.

English is widely spoken. You’d want to learn the local language, but you would be amazed at how much you can get by in the world with English.

The places are sophisticated. Many have innovations in education, medical services and consumer technology that have not yet become commonplace in the United States.

Your skills as a teacher, mechanic, IT worker, nurse, editor, contractor, dietician, etc. are transferable.

Think about it.

Book a trip. Book it now, before summer while the rates are lower.

If you have a passport in a country that is part of the British Commonwealth, consider England, Australia, or New Zealand. Otherwise, start subscribing to website bulletins posting jobs in Europe. If you speak a foreign language, all the better. You won’t be 100% safe; some of these countries have issues with terrorism, but you will be safer. So will your kids.

You need to get out.

There’s no other solution.

I’m sorry.

 

 

October 3, 2017

Now: Las Vegas; Tomorrow: Anytown

Exactly two years ago we said to ourselves, ‘Surely this will be the last mass shooting.’

I had a couple of different directions I was heading for today’s blog post, but I feel as if not devoting some space here to the events of the last 48 hours in Las Vegas is somehow dismissive or insensitive.

I’m not sure that every person with a WordPress, Twitter or Facebook account weighing in on this is any way helpful, but I find this morning I cannot do otherwise.

I’ve already voiced my opinions here and here about the perplexing situation of viewing America’s “right to bear arms” from a distance; from one country removed. And I’ve tried to choose some of the better comments of the last 24 hours to post on my Twitter account. (Sign up not needed to view.)

I think back to the photograph above, and how we all thought, surely this will bring about change. The optimist in me still wants to believe this, but the forces for gun rights (groups like the NRA and others) are the U.S. is simply too powerful and too influential for change to happen. So the pessimist in me becomes the dominant voice: ‘They can’t change. They won’t change.’

Honestly, from a distance I think we who live elsewhere simply sit back and wait for the United States to implode. This can’t go on. It can’t continue.

To victims and families: I share your ache this day. I am so sorry for both losses and life-altering injuries. So sorry for all who witnessed this firsthand and will live with the PTSD of that forever.

To the rest of my American readers I can only say, Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy upon us.


“They will beat their swords into plowshares…”

October 2, 2015

God Bless Help America

Umpqua Community College Shooting

I had originally mentally sketched out another article here in the wake of the Kelly Gissendaner story. As someone writing from another country, it’s not my place to comment on the U.S. justice system except for those times I can bring the perspective of how I feel the story plays out in other countries. I’m not sure that Americans really have a clue how their nation in perceived outside its borders — something about not seeing the forest for the trees comes to mind — unless they (a) have traveled widely overseas or (b) have made a concerted effort to follow U.S. stories in foreign media.

I guess the thing that confounded those of us looking through the window from the outside was the reporting that this woman had not actually carried out the murder that brought about her sentence, nor was she even present, but the life of the man who did the actual killing would be spared the death penalty because he struck a plea bargain deal with the judiciary.

The problem was that I turned to Twitter the next day only to learn that another state had another execution scheduled, and a third state had something scheduled later in the week. I thought about the statistics that the world’s largest prison population is in the United States which also has the highest incarceration rate per 100K population; and then thought about the U.S. gun laws that seem so bizarre to people from other countries. Apparently, at both ends of the spectrum, life is cheap.

But alas, I need to stop here. This is not the time, because once again there has been another school shooting, this time south of Portland, Oregon. President Obama went on television for the 16th time in his presidency and said, “Somehow, this is becoming routine.”

In other words, ‘This is becoming normal.’ The new normal. Obama then again called for changes to gun laws. “This is a political choice that we make to allow this happen every few months in America… We collectively have to answer to those families.”

Mass shooting #294. In only 274 days. More than one per day. (Defined as incidents where four or more people are killed by gunfire.) As I write this on Thursday night, 10 people are dead and 20 injured. Lives cut short. Families shattered.

Gun advocates say that people need to have guns to defend themselves, but where are the headlines where a mass shooting was aborted because some civilian took out the shooter?

Again, it’s not my place to comment on the laws of another country. But know this: To those of us outside what Pope Francis reminded Americans is called “The land of the free,” we don’t believe the authors of the U.S. Constitution had days like these in view. Not for a moment.

It certainly is “The home of the brave.” You’d have to be brave, to leave your house in the morning not knowing if you’ll be having supper with your family at night.

June 21, 2015

The Price to Pay for “The Right to Bear Arms”

Filed under: current events — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:18 am

“But let’s be clear: At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it.” – President Obama

In light of events this week in Charleston, I am repeating two columns this weekend that were posted in the wake of similar events. The second one below appeared in December, 2012, after Newtown. Also, before you get angry with me, if you’re reading this from the U.S.,  take some time to see how these stories play out in foreign media; look at how the rest of the world views the U.S.


handguns

To Our American Friends: It’s Time to Have the Conversation

To our friends in the U.S. in light of events yesterday;

Please accept our heartfelt sympathies.

Even though we’re close neighbors, we don’t fully understand the U.S. gun culture that is part of the DNA of those with whom we share this continent. And before we start to sound judgmental, we don’t always get it right up here, either; neither have we been immune to gun violence.

But we don’t think the framers of the U.S. constitution had yesterday in mind when they drafted the 2nd Amendment. Rather, I think they would be appalled, provided they were not completely bewildered trying to process where things presently stand.

This is only going to get worse. And worse and worse.

It’s time to drop everything else you’re doing and have the conversation necessary to save America.

It’s time to repeal the 2nd Amendment.

I know this subject rips at the emotions of people within the U.S.; and I’m not trying to open existing wounds. I am simply stating an opinion commonly held by people outside the U.S., an, “It’s broken; you need to fix that thing;” opinion which I know does not play well with some Americans. The push-back in the comments section was fully anticipated. I’m just saying that this is how it looks to outsiders. We grieve with you, and know the pain you are experiencing as a nation because this thing hits close to home for us as well. But it represents a set of circumstances that are unique to the U.S. that I truly wish were different; that Americans would begin now to beat their swords into plowshares.

June 20, 2015

The Sun Sets on Another Week of Mass Killing in the U.S.

Filed under: Christianity, current events — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:13 am

“But let’s be clear: At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it.” – President Obama

In light of events this week in Charleston, I am repeating two columns this weekend that were posted in the wake of similar events. The first appeared in July, 2012, a few days after Colorado.


Another Day of Random Violence

Like so many in North America, I turned on the television this morning only to find there has been a mass shooting in Colorado.

Mass shooting in Colorado. I’m having a deja vu. Haven’t we been down this road before?

It would be very easy for me as a Canadian to get all self-righteous about how this is a consequence of the American constitution’s “right to bear arms;” were it not for a similar shooting that took place in Toronto just a week ago. But oh, how I wish the framers of that constitution had been a little more particular in their wording on this item. (And what they meant by separation of church and state.)

The alleged perpetrator has been arrested. You have to say alleged. Or suspect. Due process of law is guaranteed for all. But the facts on this one are fairly established. There is no way he knew the people he killed. Whatever his motive, there was no individual reason why those people died.

He simply had no regard for human life.

Whatever he learned in school about science, math, spelling, history, geography, music, art, literature; he did not learn the basics of moral law or moral ethics.

He had no regard for human life.

Families are now dealing shock, and loss, and planning funerals; and only beginning to contemplate life without their loved ones; while meanwhile others hold vigil outside hospital rooms hoping for a favorable outcome.

It’s almost 12:00 noon, and I still haven’t posted this. I turn on the television again, and Drew Carey is explaining the rules of a game to a contestant on The Price is Right. The major networks have returned to regular programming; so I title this, Another Day of Random Violence. Just a typical morning in the USA. Does anyone really care today if Drew’s contestant wins the prize package?

No regard for human life.

No regard.

At all.

None.

God, when will it end?


For some reason this morning I can’t get this song off my mind. There Will Never Be Any Peace (Until God is Seated at the Conference Table) is actually a song about war, but the chorus hook keeps replaying in my head in light of today’s events. There won’t be any peace, until the Prince of Peace returns.

July 20, 2012

Another Day of Random Violence

Filed under: current events — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 11:57 am

Like so many in North America, I turned on the television this morning only to find there has been a mass shooting in Colorado.

Mass shooting in Colorado. I’m having a deja vu. Haven’t we been down this road before?

It would be very easy for me as a Canadian to get all self-righteous about how this is a consequence of the American constitution’s “right to bear arms;” were it not for a similar shooting that took place in Toronto just a week ago. But oh, how I wish the framers of that constitution had been a little more particular in their wording on this item. (And what they meant by separation of church and state.)

The alleged perpetrator has been arrested. You have to say alleged. Or suspect. Due process of law is guaranteed for all. But the facts on this one are fairly established. There is no way he knew the people he killed. Whatever his motive, there was no individual reason why those people died.

He simply had no regard for human life.

Whatever he learned in school about science, math, spelling, history, geography, music, art, literature; he did not learn the basics of moral law or moral ethics.

He had no regard for human life.

Families are now dealing shock, and loss, and planning funerals; and only beginning to contemplate life without their loved ones; while meanwhile others hold vigil outside hospital rooms hoping for a favorable outcome.

It’s almost 12:00 noon, and I still haven’t posted this. I turn on the television again, and Drew Carey is explaining the rules of a game to a contestant on The Price is Right. The major networks have returned to regular programming; so I title this, Another Day of Random Violence. Just a typical morning in the USA. Does anyone really care today if Drew’s contestant wins the prize package?

No regard for human life.

No regard.

At all.

None.

God, when will it end?


For some reason this morning I can’t get this song off my mind. There Will Never Be Any Peace (Until God is Seated at the Conference Table) is actually a song about war, but the chorus hook keeps replaying in my head in light of today’s events. There won’t be any peace, until the Prince of Peace returns.

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