Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Violence In America Is Shocking But Not Surprising
It’s impossible to find words that adequately describe something as evil and dispiriting as the recent Virginia Tech massacre. Virginia Tech President Charles Steger was one of many who acknowledged this inadequacy when he stated, “I am really at a loss to explain or understand the carnage that has visited our campus.”
As inadequate as they are, many words have been appropriately used to describe such public massacres—words like unthinkable, tragic, horrific, evil and shocking. But one word that should not be used to describe these tragedies is the word “surprising.” If anyone is surprised, they haven’t been paying attention to the forces of violence, alienation and selfishness that have become all too common in this generation of American culture.
One thing that is surprising about this most recent spate of public violence is how quickly public outrage has dissipated. It’s partly because public shootings are sadly no longer a novelty, but also because our representatives in Washington almost universally decided to stick their heads in the sand, refusing to engage in a discussion of the broader issues exposed by the massacre. It’s true that mass murders of this type are easy to dismiss as the random, unavoidable acts of sick and evil individuals. But those who have been elected to lead should recognize that mass murders represent just the visible tip of a very deep iceberg of violence. Every year, around 25,000 Americans die at the point of a gun. By way of comparison, it’s disheartening to all of us—and outrageous to many—that more than 3,300 American lives have been lost in the Iraq War in the last four years. But where’s the outrage that more than 100,000 Americans have been shot dead right here in America in the same time period?
Perhaps politicians on both the left and right are more willing to express outrage at American lives lost in distant lands than lives lost at home because both political parties have contributed to the development of this culture of violence. It’s hard to imagine a more combustible culture than one in which the ACLU, Hollywood and the liberal-left insist that grotesque expressions of violence in movies, TV shows, music and video games are manifestations of free speech that cannot be restricted, while on the other hand, the National Rifle Association and the doctrinaire-right insist that frighteningly powerful automatic weapons should be available to every member of American society.
It’s true that violent people will emerge from any culture. But why in the world would we provide those with a predisposition to violence with fuel to stoke their evil intentions and powerful firearms to carry them out?
Of course many of our political leaders have a ready answer to that question. They claim it’s the price of freedom. I disagree. I think it’s the price we pay for electing politicians who are overly concerned with ideology. Ideologues in both parties seem to be more interested in promoting their black and white political ideologies than in dealing with the world of gray we actually live in.
I’m not naïve enough to think there are any easy solutions to this problem. But just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Would concessions from the left to reasonably restrict the availability of violence in media and concessions from the right to reasonably restrict the availability of absurdly powerful firearms make a difference? I don’t know. But I do know that if our leaders stick their heads in the sand and ignore the root causes of violence in America nothing will change—25,000 Americans will die from gunfire in the next year and it won’t be long before we are mourning the victims of another massacre. And until our leaders in Washington decide that violence on that scale is embarrassing and unacceptable, you should be prepared to be shocked—but not surprised.