Generally I don’t like to comment on current affairs, but I can’t seem to escape seeing posts related to the recent tragedy in Connecticut. Most of what I’ve been hearing and coming across has been driving me a little crazy. From a link to an article titled “James Dobson blames gays, abortion for shootings” to the poster below that’s circulating on facebook to the well-meant but ridiculous comments a little old lady said to me on the subject at work Sunday (which I neither invited nor commented on). These pseudo-rational attempts to make sense of these shootings all strike me as deeply inappropriate and ignorant.
All of these mass shootings are always lumped together as if there is a singular cause that we can point to. As if all of these shooters were the same men, in the same state of mind, with the same motives. As if all of these different instances, the recent shooting at the elementary school in Connecticut, the shooting in a mall in Oregon and so on, are all the same. They are not. They are all singular instances. Like any murder. All of these killers, like all other killers, were uniquely motivated. Different environmental, emotional and personal factors influenced them. There may be some crossovers and similarities but they are not the same.
What’s on everyone’s mind, or at least all over the media, is the question: How do we stop this? But the truth is that there can’t possibly be a simple, universal answer to this question because there is no simple, universal cause. The only appropriate question is how do you stop a particular person from committing a singular tragic act. For each person, for each circumstance, the only adequate answer will be different and there are people for whom nothing might stop them. A frightening reality, that most of us like to blatantly ignore whenever we talk about people who commit acts of violence, is that many murderers are sociopaths. Their sense of moral responsibility and ethics is broken. We don’t ever want to deal with the fact that some people delight in acts of violence.
Most of what I’m hearing, seeing and coming across is at its core selfishly motivated. The reason, it seems to me, that people want there to be a societal cause, an addressable source to blame for these tragedies, is because they are afraid it will happen to them. They want to believe this is a problem that can simply be fixed, through stricter laws, through improved societal morals, etc, so that they can evade their fear it might happen to them.
We see these mass shootings as an epidemic because the loss of multiple lives simultaneously is more shocking and more terrifying than the loss of a singular life. We are filled with more fear because they happen in public places instead of private homes, back alleys or woodlands. But our feeling that this is a pattern that is increasing is an illusion. Or so say both criminologists Grant Duwe, with the Minnesota Department of Corrections, and James Allen Fox, at Boston’s Northeastern University, who have been studying mass killings (Yahoo News). You’re more likely to be murdered on your own, by an assailant you recognize, than in a mass shooting spree. Comforting thought, right? Not really but I think this is needed to help us gain a healthier perspective.
Death, whether from violence, disease or natural causes, is a reality of human existence. A sad reality. Christians would call it a fallen reality. But it still is what it is. We, Americans in particular, like to believe that science or reason or compassion can save us. While on one hand this optimism is beautiful, on the other hand it’s naïve, selfish and evasive. Sad as it is, we always live with the risk of tragedy and death. We move on, we continue to live despite the risk because that is what it means to live in this world.
While there may be societal factors that are influencing those people who commit acts of violence (along with personal and environmental factors), we should be cautious in our evaluations. Moments like this are not the time to determine these factors because all of these talking heads around us aren’t thinking reasonably, they’re reacting emotionally.
These fearful conversations and articles are profoundly disrespectful to those families and friends who are grieving personal losses and to those suffering from the trauma of living through these experiences. I can’t help but cringe with how we’ve co-opted their grief, and misappropriated their tragedy. I refuse to browse the different albums online of victims and their families. These photos are, to me, a gross invasion of their grief. It is an extremely intimate thing to see someone’s sadness. Most of us, do not have a right to claim that intimacy. While we can send our thoughts and prayers towards them. While we can deeply empathize. We shouldn’t insult them by feigning that we share in their personal loss.
The most appropriate post that I’ve seen about the tragedy in Connecticut is Richard Beck’s that he published the day of.
I am mindful today that this is a part of the Advent story:
“When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”