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Another Take on Newtown

I actually found this piece before the one that I posted portions of in my last post, but now that I’ve read Mark Ames’ essay and re-read this one, I see that this one is tightly related to Ames’ piece.  How are they related?  Here, read this excerpt:

“This points us to a set of deeper and far more disturbing issues, ones that will circle us back to the ‘bad guy’ vs. ‘good guy’ mentality and the problems it creates. It’s not just access to our mental health care that’s at issue, but what we think of as mentally healthy to begin with. We believe that it’s mentally healthy to be paranoid enough to want to tote a gun everywhere. We believe that it’s mentally healthy to want to solve all of our problems with violence. We believe that it is mentally healthy to place people in the ‘good guy’ or the ‘bad guy’ category when not much thinking at all reveals to us that we’re all in both those categories at some time, sometimes in both at once, and that there’s a huge variety of moral categories on every axis in between, too numerous to mention or even to name.”

I italicized those two sentences because they point to the central point of Ames’ essay – the cult of individualism in this country and the problems that it creates.  Individualism is healthy, to a point, but when it is carried to extremes, as it is amongst those who subscribe to Ayn Rand and right-wing libertarian thought, tragedies like what occurred in Newtown are the result.  I exchanged thoughts with a friend about the Ames piece and she wasn’t interested in discussing it – she was more interested in focusing on hierarchy.  I haven’t responded, but what is hierarchy except individualism carried to an extreme?  Hierarchical systems are diametrically opposed to community-oriented systems, are they not?  And can’t we expect to find gun crazies amongst extremely hierarchical systems as exist in this country?  I maintain that there is a direct connection between hierarchy and gun violence, a point of view that is entirely unwelcome amongst many on the Left, no doubt.  Sigh …

Anyway, here is the entire piece.  It was posted on the PostModern Village blog and it was written by EW Wilder.

“When Wayne LaPierre, head of the National Rifle Association, said recently that ‘the only solution to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,’ he uttered not only a patent absurdity; he also revealed the incredible lack of mental health that is a major stumbling block America faces when dealing with its systemic political and cultural problems.

“First, to LaPierre’s statement. It was said as a ‘response’ on the part of the nation’s largest and most powerful pro-gun lobbying group (and one of the most powerful lobbying groups, ever) to the massacre of 26 people, many of them school children, at a school in Newtown, Connecticut. The shooter, Adam Lanza, 20 years old and heavily armed, also killed his mother and himself, bringing the total death toll to 28. His motives were not clear, but the NRA’s proposal, to place armed ‘volunteers’ in schools to guard against this sort of thing happening in the future was ostensibly backed up (deductively?) by the statement above.

“The idea that the ‘only’ solution to the problem of people shooting up schools is other people shooting back is simply false on the face of it. Everything from saferooms to stun grenades are potential ‘solutions,’ and that’s before we even get into addressing the problem long before anyone decides that shooting at kids would be a good idea. I’ll get to the efficacy of some of those preventive measures in a bit, but LaPierre’s contention that the only solution is another gun is just as silly as someone saying that the only solution to reaching ten is by adding two fives.

“More disturbing, though, is the idea implicit in the statement: that the world can be cleanly divided into two entirely separate realms of the ‘good’ and the ‘bad,’ with the ‘good’ living peaceable, well-ordered, prosperous, law-abiding lives while the ‘bad’ live violent, chaotic, unlawful lives of privation and punishment. I suppose it’s nice, quaint, even, that some people can believe in a world of such moral clarity. But for grown-ups who have actually had to make real decisions in the real world, we know that just about all important decisions (and many that seem trivial) have some level of moral ambiguity about them, and many present us with real ethical dilemmas. Do we stay near family who may need our help and lose a career opportunity or pursue the opportunity and hope that it makes us more able support our family financially in the long run? Do we allow a minor infraction of company policy to slide if it gives someone who is struggling enough wiggle room to maintain her employment and keep her family solvent? Do we choose to continue to eat beef even if we know its environmental impact? These decisions we face all the time; the potential impact of our decisions may not be ‘good,’ but we don’t think of ourselves as ‘bad’ people for deciding in a way that has a negative outcome.

“And some of our decisions have much more direct impact. These decisions might place us squarely in the ‘bad’ category from the perspective of those they hurt. For instance, an insurance adjuster who denies a claim or denies a person coverage may be more or less directly responsible for someone’s death. Does that make him a murderer? Does one’s decision to drive above the speed limit make her a criminal? In the eyes of the law, of course, it does, but since we all do it, we don’t think it makes her a ‘bad’ person. Does deciding not to give to a food pantry make you complicit in someone starving to death? How far does one’s moral culpability go?

“So, the simple designation of ‘good guy’ and ‘bad guy’ simply doesn’t work in real life. Furthermore, in the case of Adam Lanza, there was no indication that he was “bad” prior to his rampage. He may have been troubled or even disturbed, but so are millions of other people. Does that make them ‘bad’ too? Is he any worse than the the troubled person whose drinking leads him to drive drunk and kill a busload of schoolchildren on the highway? Is the ‘solution’ to the drunk driver a guard car to ram him when he gets too close to the bus?

“Many have proposed, and the president has intimated, that a ban on the sales of certain types of firearms, especially those with large-capacity magazines and high rates of fire, might make this sort of thing less likely. Certainly, Second Amendment arguments against these proposals are semantically flawed. The idea that even well-trained and licensed gun owners constitute a ‘well-regulated militia’ is a bit of a stretch. And anyway, we already have one of those; it’s called the National Guard. If you want to play with cool guns (and even much more powerful weaponry), join up.

“But with 300 million guns around—almost one for every man, woman, and child in the US, there’s little practical good banning the sale of one type or another. In America, if you want a gun, it’s easy enough to get one.

“Others have suggested that we deny the mentally ill the right to buy a gun. Again, that would not have prevented the Newtown shooting, as Lanza got his guns at home, from his mother’s collection. And his mother’s death bears out another sad statistic: you’re far more likely to die from your own gun—either wielded by yourself or a loved one—than you are to use your gun for self-protection.

“Among the nonviolent solutions to violent sprees such as the one in Newtown is better access to mental health care. And I do applaud that idea. Discussions along these lines tend to hinge on better funding for the public mental health system, which I wholeheartedly support. But many of the people who have gone on shooting sprees are not enrolled in the public mental health system at all; as we can assume was true of Adam Lanza given his family’s relative wealth, they’re solidly middle-class recipients of private insurance. They have not just access to mental health care, but ostensibly to the best mental health care an American can get.

“This points us to a set of deeper and far more disturbing issues, ones that will circle us back to the ‘bad guy’ vs. ‘good guy’ mentality and the problems it creates. It’s not just access to our mental health care that’s at issue, but what we think of as mentally healthy to begin with. We believe that it’s mentally healthy to be paranoid enough to want to tote a gun everywhere. We believe that it’s mentally healthy to want to solve all of our problems with violence. We believe that it is mentally healthy to place people in the ‘good guy’ or the ‘bad guy’ category when not much thinking at all reveals to us that we’re all in both those categories at some time, sometimes in both at once, and that there’s a huge variety of moral categories on every axis in between, too numerous to mention or even to name.

“Unless and until we see that we each are potentially the ‘bad guy’ to somebody, and unless and until we see in those who are troubled or disturbed our very fragile selves, we will never have a system mentally healthy enough to prevent the kinds of things we have seen in Newtown.”

1 Comment on “Another Take on Newtown”

  1. #1 Debi
    on Jan 22nd, 2013 at 12:40 am

    Good point! It’s not mentally healthy to think it’s good to tote a gun around all the time! THAT is crazy in itself!

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