Saturday, January 12, 2013

Bullying, Guns, and Mass Shootings

In today’s Associated Press article about the shooting at Taft Union High School in California, it suggests the shooter had come for revenge against those who had bullied him. Bullying is something that has gone on for centuries. I was bullied in grammar school, and ignored in the early years of high school. I too, came back for revenge. I went to the grammar school where some of my tormentors still attended. I went to each and every high school that housed others. I walked their neighborhoods and waited outside their homes. I caught them one by one and dished out brutal and vicious street justice - with only my hands.  

I can’t say that my teen years, the 60s and early 70s, were without gun violence. JFK was shot in 1963, RFK and King five years later. Black Panthers carried rifles and semi-automatics in full view. Yet, when altercations occurred between average people, it usually resulted in fist fights. When street gangs met, they came with fists, chains, pipes, or knives. Any of these weapons could be, and often were fatal, however nothing that resembles the carnage of today.

I, like many, wonder what the difference is in the minds of kids and young adults today. We grew up with violence in movies - John Wayne, Clint Eastwood. We grew up with gangsters being glorified on the screen. I absolutely loved James Cagney.  Six-shooters, 45s, and machine guns. Even our cartoons were violent – Wile E. Coyote, Tom and Jerry. Rebel Without a Cause, Blackboard Jungle, West Side Story, all movies about teen angst and violence. Yet, walking away from those movies left us with sadness over the violence rather than a sense of triumph.

We were certainly as much a world at war then as we are now. The United States has been at war with someone since it came into existence. Our self-serving nationalism has always been in the forefront. We’ve always been a “bring it on” and gung-ho society. The suck-it-up and keep going mentality has been around a long time, probably more so then than now.

So, what is the difference today? I’ve learned over my 56 years that there is never a simple black and white answer to complex issues. There are layers, and interlocking, overlapping causes, actions and reactions. However, the one main difference that glares at me is the loss of human interaction due to electronics. People sit behind computer screens and call themselves communicating with the world. Televisions the size of theater screens project back hours upon hours of blood and guts video games. Our kids know how to manage any situation virtually, but when it comes to reality, many are awkward and self-conscious.

Add to the mix that we’ve systematically removed any and all life-training in losing. Organized sports at the K-8 age teach that everyone is a winner. We’ve eliminated such games as dodge-ball because kids had to 1) suffer being not picked, and 2) if not athletic, often got hit in the face. Life is tough and unfair, and everyone is not a winner, yet we are sending out children into this reality completely unprepared. Once they reach high school, where popularity, winning, and cruel, clicky groups have always been, and continue to be, prevalent, they have no idea how to act or react.

Guns are at the top of the discussion. Were there fewer guns in circulation when I was growing up? Or were the gun laws stricter? I really don’t know. What I can say is that I am a gun owner and a hunter. I’m also a slight conspiracy theorist in that I am leery of the way our government is headed, and I’d like to be armed when the shit hits the fan. America is the only country that has not experienced a people’s revolution and I’m afraid we are due. That said, I’m on the fence about assault weapons. More particularly, I’m concerned about the lack of gun safety training as a whole. I remember when marksmanship classes were accredited courses in high school. This is an important component to accompany the killing video games. Not only is gun safety learned but a true respect for the machine. When you shoot, you feel the real power, and you see the total destruction of the target. None of which is experienced sitting on a sofa pushing buttons that shoot military style weapons, and where targets, virtual people, get right back up after their blood is splattered on the screen.

As I said, I don’t think there is any straight-forward answer. I think that we need to take a hard look at our culture, not the one of violence because that has always been there, rather the culture of isolation. 

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