By Marguerite Jill Dye
“Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over,” British journalist Dan Hodges tweeted when the gun debate ended after the Sandy Hook massacre where 20 elementary school children were gunned down.
We have had 239 school mass shootings since Sandy Hook, and I ask our so- called leaders: “What have you done about it?” Absolutely nothing. Have you no shame? The blood of these children is on your hands. Through your inaction, you have lost your authority and right to lead. You do not uphold the Constitution, and you’ve violated our human rights.
When a nation perpetuates a culture of violence, it’s time to take a critical look. What are the root causes of violence? Why is it out of control? What elements undermine a civil society? Is our society really so civil?
When races, religions, and whole groups of people are attacked through words that humiliate and demean, when humans are insulted, bullied, and threatened by comments and actions that create fear in them, they may timidly retreat in depression and shame, ostracized and afraid to be seen. Or they may wish to lash out against their oppressor and the society that belittles them. When people are put down, they often put others down, and when one group is pitted against the other, people are taught to hate one another. This happens for generations in families with abuse, in societies suffering from discrimination in its many forms, against women (#metoo), races, religions, and nationalities. Throughout history, in its extreme, such hatred (and greed) has led to genocide, slavery, exploitation, and war. We can certainly see how grave its effect can be on just one very vulnerable young man.
In the recent school mass shooting in Florida, unfortunately the worst played out. But what do we expect of an orphan (twice), belittled and bullied in school for being small? His diagnosis was autism and he had more than his fair share of difficulties in life. An orphan as a young child, his adopted mother struggled to care for him after her husband died. Multiple calls to the police were for outbursts of anger and frustration. What do we expect when a suffering, grief-stricken, troubled, and disabled 19-year-old is left to cope and fend for himself once his adopted mother died, as well? He was kindly taken in by a friend’s family, but was expelled from high school when teachers feared he’d carry a gun in his backpack. One teacher said school budgets have been cut so drastically there’s no money to provide students with the help they need or to better secure our schools. So much for cutbacks … and tax breaks!
Did not his behavior raise red flags?
What do we expect, while our president spews hatred and abuse, has called all Muslims terrorists, Mexicans rapists, extolled the virtue of his damned wall, and threatened Dreamers with deportation? The boy proudly wore his Trump “Make America Great Again” hat, which legitimized his wrath as he flirted with white nationalists on their Florida social media site, posting photos of guns and his plan to become a school mass shooter!
Five months ago, the FBI was warned twice of the boy’s intention, and again in January by his friend. But what do we expect when our FBI has been undermined by our government’s chaos, firings, cutbacks, and illegal meddling?
Just what do we expect when politicians have sold their souls to big business and lobbies? They save the interests of the NRA, but don’t save the lives of our children. Unfortunately, the innocent victims, America’s sacrificial lambs, are too often our children.
According to David Leonhardt in The New York Times, we live in “the most dangerous of wealthy nations for a child to be born into” due to our higher infant mortality rate while other nations have lowered theirs. Other factors are our high teenage death rate in automobile accidents and our shooting death epidemic that is 49 times greater than in other wealthy nations. Mass shootings in America, whether in elementary schools, high schools, colleges, airports, churches, synagogues, community centers, night clubs, or malls, reflect a host of our society’s woes, but the biggest one regards the availability of guns — and not just guns, but high capacity assault rifles.
“The only variable that can explain the high rate of mass shootings in America is its astronomical number of guns,” according to Fisher and Keller in The New York Times. America ranks first with its ration of guns to people. What country came in second? Yemen, a failing state in civil war with 58.4 guns per 100 people to America’s 88.8 per 100. Between 1966 and 2012, the U.S. experienced 90 mass shootings, representing 31 percent of mass shootings in the world. Now we are 4.4 percent of the world’s population and own 42 percent of the world’s guns. In 2014, we suffered more than 11 times the rate of mass shootings and are now 25 times more likely to be murdered by a gun than in any other developed country in the world, according to The Guardian.
“Guns cause violence, and mass shootings are only common in America” was the crystal clear conclusion by Zimring and Hawkins in a University of California Berkeley study. They also calculated only 4 percent of our mass shootings are attributable to mental health, and that video games, our violent society, and racial divisions do not have an impact. They reported that the U.S. does not have a greater likelihood of crime than other developed nations do: “a New Yorker is just as likely to be robbed as a Londoner . . . but 54 times more likely to be killed in the process.” At least 130 studies in 10 nations have determined, without a doubt, that legislation for gun control is effective in reducing gun murders.
Australia’s prime minister declared: “I would dread the thought that this country would go down the American path so far as the possession of firearms.”
It didn’t. According to USA Today, Australia experienced 13 mass shootings in the 18 years before 35 victims were killed and others injured by a semi-automatic weapon in 1996. They changed their laws to ban rapid fire guns, then offered to buy them back from their owners. Australia has not had a fatal mass shooting since. Britain’s 1987 mass shooting also brought about stricter gun control.
Guns are not alone in contributing to violence. Alcohol, drugs, extreme inequality, poverty, and urbanization are factors, as well. But the massive number of accessible guns in America along with lackadaisical laws makes it the foremost threat to our safety through mass shootings and other homicides, suicides, domestic violence, and violence against police.
I have a novel idea. Along with the crucial first step of implementing sensible gun laws, let’s try addressing educational and psychological needs of children before they grow into adults. Let’s provide the proper support to students with disabilities. Let’s acknowledge and counsel children dealing with grief, exclusion, rejection, a lack of self-esteem and self-confidence. Let’s intervene in cases of bullying, harassment, and abuse instead of waiting until a crime is committed. If children are given opportunities, lifted out of poverty, treated with kindness and respect, and counseled when needed, and if their families are provided with the support that they may need to raise a healthy family (i.e. affordable health care, child care, early childhood education, parental leave, proper nutrition, decent, affordable housing, and a living wage), then perhaps we can avoid many of the problems that we end up addressing later in life that would lead someone to want to obtain a gun and carry out a mass shooting.
We need a strategy, America, that helps to meet the needs of our people instead of making corrections after the damage has been done. We need leaders with heart and compassion who will roll up their sleeves and work long hours (like most Americans do) to do what needs to be done. We can no longer be led by “leaders” with no moral compass who lack the ethics on which America was built. The antidote to hatred is “loving kindness,” the Dalai Lama said. We need leaders with loving kindness in their hearts who will correct the problems and lead us forward to a brighter and safer day.
Marguerite Jill Dye is an artist and writer who divides her time between the Green Mountains of Vermont and Florida’s Gulf Coast.