October 19, 2019

Stop! Don’t Shoot!

Another day, another senseless shooting.

We bring you this summer's blockbuster season of random shootings in our nation's movie theaters! See guns discharged by madmen in quiet suburbs of Tennessee and Louisiana! (The message may be a rerun, but it's no less frightening.) Beware, innocent Americans: Nowhere is safe. Not theaters! Not schools! Even Church no longer guarantees sanctuary!

We may still be reeling from 2012's The Dark Knight movie massacre in Aurora, Colorado, which killed 12 and injured 70. But that doesn't mean live murder in movie theaters has run its course. We can add to our latest gun-toting atrocities, last year's case of “texting” revenge, where a retired Florida police captain fatally shot a fellow moviegoer for not turning off his cell phone.

It doesn't take much — or apparently anything — to set off a man packing heat. Or, for that matter, a child in possession of a gun.

Exhibit A. Wikipedia's chronological “List of School Shootings in the United States” is so loaded with underage perpetrators and victims, it's enough to turn the most hardened cynic's stomach in disgust.

My husband says when they start shooting up shopping malls — that's when people will finally take notice and demand more gun control.

I look at him strangely. Since when has he become the optimist in the family? Sorry, I say. I don't think so. If a single young shooter killing 20 innocent kids and six staff at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut a few years ago — marking the deadliest mass shooting at the grade- or high school-level in our nation's history (at 32 dead, the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre still holds that gruesome record) — wasn't enough to impose stricter gun laws (or ban these deadly weapons altogether) … maybe nothing will.

I've come to the sad conclusion that no amount of gun violence of any sort will ever make our gun-totting lobby change its tune. Because the gun-lover's reflexive response to any and every act of violence is to meet it with more, not less fire power.

This may sound crazy to you and me, but state lawmakers across the country have already introduced bills seeking to arm teachers and school employees with guns in order to “protect” against a random mad shooter. Texas permits teachers to carry concealed weapons in class; Florida, whose “Stand Your Ground” mishaps have made the state a national laughing stock, nonetheless recently passed a guns-on-campus bill. Similar legislation is under consideration in some 20 states, including Georgia, Colorado, and Nevada. If the NRA has its way, all school teachers, staff and custodians will soon be packing guns.

Why not just give everyone a gun? As if … none of these gun-carriers will ever have issues of self-control … as if there never existed a crazed adult in the vicinity of kids.

And if it's not the adult, what happens when a hepped-up, hormone-charged (or drugged) youngster gets his or her hands on one of these ever-ready deadly weapons? As they surely will. Any locker can be broken into, keys misplaced, a latched box or desk left open by mistake. And how many times have we heard accounts of guns being grabbed surreptitiously from the hip holster of an unsuspecting adult?

Mistakes will surely to happen. And with all that firepower around, it's way too easy to predict a plague of senseless deaths and maimings due to unfriendly (and friendly) fire.

Why would any sane person consider, even for a minute, turning our schools into war zones?

Look at the record of professional law enforcement. Trained to protect and defend the public, their first call of duty is to consider bystander casualties before discharging their weapons, especially in a crowd. Nevertheless, innocent passersby, people in the wrong place at the wrong time, have been hurt or even killed during police shootouts — despite all practical precautions.

And you want to arm every Tom, Dick and Harry? We require both written and operational tests, along with lengthy practice time, before a person can get a license to drive a car. Which makes sense, as a car is, after all, a powerful, potentially lethal machine, requiring both vehicular mastery and comprehensive understanding of the rules of the road that must by adhered to for everyone's safety and peace of mind.

But anyone can buy a gun, almost immediately — and at a gun show, at once. Craigslist and the mail order market make it all too easy to avoid background checks. Despite a few laws on the books, in reality, there's no need to prove mental or operational competence before assuming ownership of one … or any number of lethal firearms.

There's also no pussyfooting around what guns do. Other than when used for display by collectors and in target practice (where guns can easily be rented), the only reason for owning a gun is to hurt and/or kill. Hunting and “self-defense” doesn't change that reality. In effect (despite some “protection” laws on the books), anyone can own a gun, no questions asked, and no advance training required.

Give a wife beater or jealous husband a gun, and all you do is make it easy for an a**hole to turn into a killer. Why not arm every road-rage prone driver (ah yes, there have been shootings by such crazies in the past), every frustrated employee (um, remember where the phrase “going postal” came from)? Why don't we all just return to the trigger-happy days of the Wild West and live out our days like cast members on a Buffalo Bill reality show?

The times we live in are already teeming with more violent military operations and fear-inducing daily stressors than any surviving '60s peacenik could ever have imagined. New and improved trigger-happy video games continue to condition our youth to shoot blissfully at every moving target. Perfect aim for destruction equals winning. Repeat violence is reinforced and rewarded biologically by endorphins released into the young brain's pleasure centers, inducing addictive highs.

TV shows and movies, promoted as “darker” and more “action packed” from year to year, showcase graphic violence and gore as never before. Even music lyrics rap about revenge, beatings, mass suicide and death. Killing with a spray of bullets has become all too commonplace (and so seemingly more acceptable to society at large).

Meanwhile, neuroscience continues to prove, scientifically, just how dangerous all this “pretend” violence actually is. The violence you see may be all-pretend, but that doesn't stop it from physically altering your brain.

A 2013 Indiana University School of Medicine study found alterations in MRI brain scans in young men after just one week of playing violent video games. More recent studies have revealed that watching violent movies and TV shows have a similar effect — increasing both immediate, and more long term, aggressive behavior in people of all ages.

Rather than help grow a mature citizenship by reinforcing the brain's prefrontal cortex — home to self-control and sympathetic adult forms of decision making — we are creating new grooves and reward systems within the amygdala, our most primitive brain region, where the basest animalistic emotions rule. And we appear to be targeting the most vulnerable and susceptible members of society — the growing brains of our nation's youth.

At a stage when teens are beset by hormonal surges and social insecurities, violent media can be seen as an escape from frightening new realities. But it is a false savior. In the end, viewing and participating in violent media only serves to grow and strengthen triggers for anger, aggression and impulsive behavior. Out in the real world, it makes it harder for a young person to get along with others, and more likely to become clinically depressed.

So parents, please don't assume you're keeping your child safe from outside danger by having him stay at home watching TV … and playing video games. You are, in effect, rewiring his brain to enjoy and look forward to the rewards of violence. Through watching or role-playing violent acts, children learn that the world is a scary, unsafe place. Daily, they are becoming desensitized to violence in general, and prone to react with aggression as their first instinct. Your child, sitting at home and plugged into the controls of his videogame monitor, already suffers from a form of Stockholm syndrome.

The studies are out there for all to see. But as was the case with cigarettes or any drug that's unhealthy for your body yet offers deep, feel-good rewards, there are major corporations invested in keeping, and increasing, the status quo. The violent entertainment industry is obviously committed to keeping you addicted in order to earn ever-greater profits at the commonweal's expense. And they are doing an excellent job of it. Eighty-five percent of videogames contain violent content, and video games, in general, are played in 67% of American households. Not surprisingly, profits from the sale of these games have been increasing exponentially for years, culminating in over $100 billion in annual global revenue.

Can anything be done to stop this insane progression toward greater violence — both internally and externally? Yes, actually. As parents, we can reassert our position as responsible adults and severely limit the violence we let our kids experience. It doesn't matter if they complain and say we aren't letting them “enjoy” their time off. Would we let them enjoy alcohol or drugs … just because they want to or it's what their friends are doing? I don't think so. Keep in mind that the healthier-brained child you are raising today will increase both his/her own chances for success and help create a better world for their contemporaries to live in tomorrow. 

We can also get rid of all those weapons! U.S. citizens now own more firearms per capita than any country in the world — the latest 2013 estimate being 270 million. (Though with many states counting gun registration at under four percent, that number is likely far higher.) We also hold the dubious distinction of having the highest gun homicide rate in the world. It's obvious if we eliminate a gun's fatal fire power, we can radically diminish the fatality count. Would it really be so bad to go back to the days of barroom brawls and fisticuff fights at school … where the worst that normally happened was a black eye or bloody nose? External bruises can heal a lot better than a bullet wound to the chest.

It worked in another vast, democratic and independent-minded country. One founded (like ours) as a British colony, but which ironically first served as a dumping ground for unwanted criminals. I'm speaking of Australia, a country whose origins, one might argue, would have graced it with a more violent gene pool and lawless, Wild West-style tradition than our own.

And this English-speaking country did, in fact, suffer from plentiful random acts of gun violence in the past — including a decade in which 100 innocent people were killed. But then in 1996, Australia experienced a “tipping point” moment. It was when a lone gunman packing a semi-automatic rifle killed 35 and seriously wound 18 victims, within a matter of minutes, at a popular tourist destination. 

So to all those who still claim that people — not guns — shoot people (and hence guns are not to blame), I have only this to say: We have uncontested proof that getting rid of guns works.

Following this atrocity, Australian politicians (along with the majority of the public) decided they'd had enough. In the end, some politicians even sacrificed their careers and reelection by supporting swift anti-gun legislation. (They say they would gladly do so again, so their children and grandchildren can live in a safer world).

Here's how it went down. Only twelve days after the massacre, newly elected Prime Minister John Howard's first major act in office was to announce nationwide gun-law reform. Despite serious grumblings by his own conservative party, particularly in the hinterlands, he seized the moment while the wounds were still fresh and a shocked public demanded action. And action was taken. In two federally funded buyback schemes and a slew of voluntary surrenders and amnesty programs, over a million firearms were collected and destroyed — about a third of the nation's arms stock. New importations of automatic and semi-automatic weapons were also banned.

Did it work? Yes and YES! Immediately after, and for what's now almost two decades since, the risk of getting shot by a gun in Australia has fallen by over 50%. A recent Australian university study also found a drop in suicide rates of over 80% in the decade following the ban. So to all those who still insist that guns don't kill people, people kill people, open both your eyes and consider these stats.

Then there are all the statistics from other first-world nations where the average person does not own guns, and lives in far less danger of being shot. In the U.K. (where even cops tend to only carry billy clubs) and other European countries, guns are more strictly regulated, and gun violence rare. Both Japan and Canada have miniscule statistics of gun violence compared to our own borders, where a 2007 survey found 88.8 guns per 100 people in the U.S. That's really scary, considering I don't personally know many gun owners. Who are these people with all those guns?

On June 19, after a mass shooting at a famous Charleston black church, our president responded, and went on to tweet some seriously mind-blowing stats. “Per population, we kill each other with guns at a rate 297x more than Japan, 49x more than France, 33x more than Israel.”

In presenting the president's latest comments, cnn.com listed over a dozen personal statements made in response to senseless shootings in our country in the six years since he took office. But did President Obama, at any time, go on to rally Congress for a major change in American gun laws ala Australia’s John Howard?

He may have a reputation as the “most anti-gun president in America's history,” but he's mostly words and no action. In his first term, all he did was encourage authorities to enforce laws already on the books. We can all see how well that worked out. The two major gun laws he signed actually expand the rights of gun owners — allowing for checked guns in Amtrak baggage and permitting guns into national parks.

As for action during his second term, in response to the horror of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, he did sign executive orders calling for mandatory background checks on gun buyers (a law that has proven to have no teeth) and other measures, including an outright ban on assault weapons. But this proved unpopular with Congress. And that was that.

So once again, after a shooting tragedy, we are supposed to be soothed by typical televised remarks of outrage and condolences, and now this statistics-laden OPUS tweet. And then it's all over and forgotten. While we worry and argue about how to contain nuclear threats from abroad, shootings at home by crazies with guns continues … more business as usual. Yet we have at our fingertips a simple, rational way to be rid of our own weapons of mass destruction (and that's what a gun is, in the hand of every trigger-happy individual) today.

All we need are leaders as determined and unselfish as they were, once upon a time, in Australia. Perhaps even a president and party that are willing to forgo rich NRA contributions and stand up for what is right. The mission: True freedom from fear of gun violence for all Americans, everywhere in our country, once and for all.

And to those who still think arming more people with guns is the answer — How many armed bystanders can you name who actually prevented, or even stopped, a crazed killer from proceeding with his shooting spree? I didn't think so. The second amendment right to bear arms was enacted to enable a citizens' militia to fight an outside threat of tyranny. Nowadays, we have our Congress, our Supreme Court, our Constitution, our armed forces and police to protect us from both internal threats and invasions from abroad. We don't all need to pack guns.

The only real danger innocent Americans face each day, indiscriminately, is from a shooter who may be angry or mental-ill or simply evil. We need to get him help. Or lock him away where he won't hurt himself and others.

But first, we need to get his gun.

© 2015 Mindy Leaf

Follow Mindy's essays of biting social commentary at: “>https://askmamaglass.wordpress.com