Monday, December 17, 2012

Newtown, Connecticut - The latest outbreak of an American Epidemic

Time has passed since the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Two funerals are happening today and more will be done. I’ve shed my tears and gone through my wave of grief as I’m sure most of you have. Now I’m realizing that I’m going back to this other feeling. Numbness.

I’m numb to this because it’s no longer a shock. Since I was 13, I’ve seen kids and adults senselessly murdered for multiple reasons. And the numbers that have died has grown.

1997-98 school year – 6 shootings around the country when I was in 8th grade.
Columbine – My freshman year
Santee High School in San Diego – 2001, right before I was heading to a leadership conference.
Virginia Tech – 2007. 32 dead, 17 wounded.
Arizona last year. 6 murdered, 13 wounded, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Jamiel Shaw (2008) and Daniel Farber (2009) are just two athletes’ funerals and memorials I’ve attended as a reporter. Here’s a partial list of what we’ve seen in 2012 alone.

Chardon, Ohio
Aurora, Colorado
Happy Valley, Oregon
Newtown, Connecticut
Jovan Belcher and his girlfriend
Trayvon Martin/Jordan Davis

*A common thread is that except for the man who killed Jordan Davis, the shooters this year were 25 and under. Jared Loughner, the gunman from Arizona, is also a 20-something.*

Last but not least, Chicago. 435 homicides in 2011 and 488 by one count so far in 2012.  More bodies than days, to quote an infamous saying I heard about Philadelphia last decade. And this doesn’t even account for the many drone killings sanctioned by the U.S. around the world that have killed innocents.

Innocence lost? Maybe for the children. But as adults, maybe we need to stop only being shocked and in our grief, start looking for solutions. It’s an epidemic and Friday was the latest outbreak. How many times can we be shocked? Be shocked at the level of depravity yes. But be shocked these shootings keep happening? 

It reminds me of what Gil Scott Heron said on We Beg Your Pardon. America leads the world in shocks. Unfortunately, America does not lead the world in deciphering the cause of shock.”

We’ve had the same conversations in this country for 15 years. After the 1998 shootings and after Columbine, we talked gun control and other things. After Virginia Tech, we had the same conversation. And then nothing. Maybe a few policies passed but not enough to prevent more crazy.

We can keep dismissing these shooters as troubled. They are mad yes. But when we see patterns keep repeating, it’s time to wake up, use better words and explore tangible solutions.

I wrote this in February after the Chardon tragedy and re-reading I noticed similar emotions shared over the weekend. At this point, I’m fed up. Each situation requires unique solutions and none of what I’m going to say will probably help the killing fields in Chicago. That requires a full conversation that will require us putting pressure on the state of Illinois and leaders to intervene and find ways to build up those communities.

Some ideas that I have…

1. Consider what Bob Costas said here just a week ago. It's scarily prophetic. I don't think removing all guns from the equation is the solution. Yet in talking about gun control and America's gun culture, we need to talk about removing assault weapons from stores. This is non-negotiable. I don’t care how scared you are, you don’t need artillery heavier than the police.

The logic that says guns don’t kill people, people kill people, is stupid, Simple-Simon logic. Guns make it way too easy to kill people and they give people power. Do we need to evaluate gun owners closely? Absolutely.  But can we regulate the type of guns regular citizens have access to?

It needs to be a conversation had with gun owners and non-gun owners. But there needs to be a compromise.  Those who think we are reacting to one incident must understand the pattern of behavior we’ve seen since 1998 and rising since 2007. High powered guns, like the ones used in the Sandy Hook tragedy, can be purchased legally. 


My best friend owns a few guns. My father was an Army veteran who owned several guns for protection as a business owner in the hood.  I’ve spoken to several folks who are against this for legit reasons. Yes the problem is the gun owner and I propose doing frequent background checks post ownership as well as coming up with more ways to track the gun than just the serial number. But consider, the horrible scene in China where 22 kids were knifed and survived.

Laws won’t stop illegal activity. Guess what, they never have. Maybe we should stop passing laws against wearing seat belts, using your phone while driving, and other things. College campuses pretty much accept that underage drinking is part of the culture despite it being illegal. And anybody who’s attended a concert knows how easy it is to smuggle weed in. Does that many we shouldn’t have passed those laws?

This must be a compromise both sides explore. What works, what doesn’t work? But all options are on the table. I don't propose eliminating guns, I propose limiting what's available.

2. In talking with several of my friends who are experienced in psychology, we need to do more to remove the stigma around mental illness. Not everyone with mental illness is prone to violence but because we should care about improving their condition for their wellbeing, not just ours, we need to make access a lot easier.

These two links show where the U.S. can improve on areas on mental health. The 2 things that stand out in that last link is the rise in prescription drugs over the last two decades and how access to mental health care is difficult. Drugs are an easy solution but too often it feels like not enough.

We need to start teaching children to express their feelings and how to deal with conflicts and stress. We need to teach nonviolent conflict resolution and talking out your problems. If something hurts, don’t hold it in. Heck, we need to remind ourselves as adults it’s okay to do this. 

3. Hold our elected leaders responsible. If members of Congress can hold Attorney General Eric Holder on guard for the Fast and Furious scandal, we can tell our officials to reconsider certain gun laws to allow heavy weapons in the hands of regular citizens.

Despite the NRA trying to weaken it, Congress passed effective gun control legislation after James Brady was paralyzed during the Ronald Reagan assassination attempt. It’s time to ask them what’s more important – protecting our citizenry by allowing them to arm themselves or by limiting their access to heavy guns.

Many of the pro-gun Senators avoided to talk show circuit Sunday. It’s time to speak up. How can they help be part of the solution instead of avoiding or dismissing the issue. 

4. The media reflect our times as much as they shape them. They can influence them but they also reflect it. We blamed everything after Columbine and yet movies/video games and the like have only gotten more violent. 

America is a violent nation. We were birthed in violence. We celebrate wars as the most interesting part of history courses. We declare war on things to solve them, to borrow from George Carlin. By nature, humans also must learn to love because our basic instinct is selfishness and acting out against anyone who stands in the way.

Perhaps we need to look at what whets our appetite for violence and how it’s bigger than media. Why are we such a violent nation? Why are we so stressed out? Why have debates gotten more heated and people reached for loaded words? And better yet, how do we let out that aggression in healthy ways?

(Better question. Why have White males felt the need to blow off steam shooting up folks? Look at the data of mass killings and the majority of them are done by White males – again, not counting Chicago or the Virginia Tech shooter.

It scares me as I’m sure seeing inner city violence scares all of us from Black and Brown males. When do we start wondering what’s causing their anger? We’ve been quick to label Black violent crimes as reflective of their communities – why not say White males are a reflection of this country?)

The point I’m making? I’m no longer shocked when another one of these shootings happens. I’m saddened at who gets affected and I want to start find ways to make sure nobody else feels that pain. I’m outraged because many of the things that are being said now have been said in the aftermath of similar instances. 

Maybe my solutions are too grand and not specific but instead of talking in general terms, I’m at least willing to engage folks with some ideas. As jaded as I am, perhaps it will take these 26 lost souls added on the bodies of far too many to spark folks to make something happen beyond talk.

But I’m also willing to admit that there are no easy solutions to prevent this. No matter what happens, tragedies will happen in spite of good intentions. But if good intentions can limit them in number and scope then we’ve succeeded.

My youth group will be sending a card to the school and the families. Perhaps if I can keep doing good work with those kids and help them with conflict resolution, and discussing issues, that’s doing even more work than writing this blog.


  1. A lot of good points... did you see USD's alum email today? One of the Oregon mall victims was a Torero.

    I read an article today that said "mass" (I think they mean multiple-victim) shootings occur in the US every 5.9 days. AWFUL.

  2. Thank you Bree. I just read it after work so I was heartbroken, just too much happening. Even on a small scale, it's a problem that just calls you to ask for change. I'm sure those mass shootings might be as few as 2 but any loss of life is tragic nonetheless.