Thursday, January 17, 2013

Part four on gun violence: The community's response

In the first three parts of this four part blog about gun violence in America, the current situation in America has been examined; the rights of gun owners discussed and the legal responses that should be taken were outlined.  Now, to use perhaps an ironic phrase, there must be a cultural call to arms about gun violence in our communities.

This portion of the series has been changing from the time I started writing it.    
The CEO of a Tactical Response in Tennessee, a company that trains people in weapon and tactical skills, recently created a video that said he would start “killing people” if they tried to take away his guns.  His response to increased gun control is not a measured and reasoned retort, but a threat to violence.  He will find followers that support his point of view.  A gang of bullies will have found a voice that will influence directly or indirectly individuals that are searching for outlets to express their own angst with life and the society around them.  Instead of a positive lesson on solving problems, they will feel empowered to commit violence.

There is no law that can changes this.  The legislative action that is called for in the previous posts is for structural support of the community and the culture.  The community can’t outlaw speech based on its content.  But, the culture can respond in a positive way to this vitriolic approach and balance the message.  If the response from the culture is strong enough, it will minimize the voices.
The first thing we need is a respect for others in our communities, no matter how different they may be from our own point of view.  Some of the violence is happening all across America not based on any real threat against any individual, but on perverse beliefs about the threats to our own personal way of life.  As individuals we must make our voices about tolerance heard.

The violence on television, in movies, in video games and other media must be turned off.  If we don’t consume the violence in media, it will not be created.  Even if it doesn’t directly affect an individual’s behavior (I do believe it does though in varying degrees) the culture can send a strong signal about the violent behavior played out in the media.  If this rejection is wide spread enough, it will minimize the effect it has on the players to a minimum. 
Communities must ensure that every child receives a strong education.  With an education, individuals feel empowered and have the resources available needed to solve problems. 

Stronger lessons on working through problems without violence in schools should also be taught.  Not just a structured lesson about non-violence, but also from the parents of the students and other community members.  They must stand up in their own community about the issue, rejecting violence in every form with positive examples of working through issues.
Communities should establish formal and informal boards that would advise gun licensing agency about people in the community that apply.  Who knows people more that family, friends and neighbors?  How many times have media reported that someone was in an unstable situation in their life after they have killed someone with a gun?  If anyone had asked the persons family, friends or neighbors, perhaps the purchase of a gun could have been stalled for a few weeks. (1)

Of all the cultural changes that could be made, we must also take a page from the Communitarian Philosophy.  We must come together to fight violence of any kind in our communities.  Of course, communities need to do this in response to the Sandy Hook’s of the world, but also the common criminal walking the streets of every neighborhood.  We all must learn to speak up when we witness violent behavior by the media, individuals and families.  Social pressure is one of the strongest means we have as communities to create and maintain a safe and free environment. 
We have an outstanding example of this in MADD.  What seems like many years ago now, it was once funny to see someone drunk.  Media depicted the drunk as a fun person to be with and talk to.  But, the human cost of the behavior was the deaths of millions of people by drunk drivers over the years.  Until, of course, a group of mothers who had children killed by drunk drivers began to turn things around.  While their progress was slow at first, politicians eventually took note.  State by state, year by year, more restrictive impaired driving laws were created and enforcement instituted.  Now, not only is it unacceptable to drive while impaired, the social pressure has reached down to each family and individual.  We are all watching out for each other with the legislative support of our communities.

We can turn this around, in just a few years, with the collective action by the federal and state governments, our local communities and every individual.  The price we have paid in the violent episodes over the last couple years that received nation media attention is just a drop in the bucket.  As stated above, the total count of people killed in the widely reported case over the last couple of years is less than the death toll killed in America every week.
We have a choice.  Make these changes and others that will be discussed as we hold the this national debate on gun violence or keeping reading about the death of more children until we become numb to it all. 

(1) This idea came from a friend and advisor, John Perry.  Thank you, John, for your support and wisdom through the years.
Authors note:  As with many political events, the landscape on gun violence is changing almost minute by minute.  Since the beginning of this series to the posting of the last chapter, the community discussion on the issue has advanced dramatically.  With as much volatility as this issue has, much of what is in this series would have been expanded, re-examined and perhaps even changed if written again.  But, the basic concept would remain the same.  That concept is this:  Communities must balance the responsibility of helping individuals with their personal safety and maintaining as much of the individual’s rights as possible.

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