A complex problem, a multi-faceted solution

I’ve read the NRA press conference transcript, nearly 2500 words of what Wayne LaPierre, NRA’s Executive Vice President, deems a call for “decisive action” toward securing our schools.

The NRA’s plan of action – to be pursued immediately in order to be in place in January when our kids return from their holiday vacation – is called the National Model School Shield Program.  At the heart of the plan is for an armed police officer to be situated in every school in America.  LaPierre’s plan is to ensure that a “good guy with a gun” is a short minute away from any intrusion from a “bad guy with a gun.”  He argues that despite the strained resources on police departments nationwide – and, I would add, school budgets – Congress should appropriate resources now to ensure that this School Shield Program is in place.  He argues that despite these limited resources, trained and courageous police officers and retired police officers (along with a long list of others) are willing to be “deployed” right now.  In essence, he is calling for an armed peace-keeping force in our nation’s schools.

The NRA’s proposal attacks “the media” as immoral and refusing to look closely at its own contributions to the current social crisis.  The media, he argues, refuse to look at its violent movies, offensive music, blood-spattering video games as causes to our mass murders in public schools.   He argues that “[r]ather than face their own moral failings, the media demonize gun owners.”

He situates the NRA position to be one of taking the moral higher ground – with the cause being to protect our children.  But not once in the nearly 2500 words of his argument does he make one concession that perhaps we should revisit and seriously look at current gun control legislation, or the availability of assault rifles (in fact, he criticizes “the media” for not even getting the terminology correct — but what does it matter what the correct name of the weapon is?), or the availability of ammunition of the weapons. In short, he blasts “the media” for its continued glorification and glamorization of killing through video, song, and games.

No doubt, any single-sighted approach to solving the current social situation is going to be insufficient.  A complex problem requires a multi-faceted solution.  No single condition is sufficient to produce the crisis; no single-pronged solution is going to solve this epidemic of mass killings.

No single party is going to concede or compromise its position if it appears that no other party is willing to compromise its position.  We have created a culture right now of “either/or” rather than “both/and” for working toward any meaningful compromise.  We see the dichotomy as we approach the fiscal cliff; we see it in our rhetoric about gay marriage, religious and spiritual beliefs, gender equity.

So, what might it look like to truly engage in meaningful dialogue in a society which values individual freedoms?  What might it look like to pursue a solution to a complex social crisis – mass murders — in which there are several contributing factors none sufficient in itself to produce a culture in which young males can strafe movie theatres, malls, college campuses and first-grade classrooms?

Our national dialogue must:

  • Revisit gun ownership laws Yes, let’s protect the Second Amendment.  And let’s not generalize and stereotype all gun-owners of being capable of mass murder.  However, let’s make meaningful laws about ownership and production of assault rifles, automatic and semi-automatic weapons, that are available.  Let’s even look at the term “sport shooting” which seems to be part of the rationale for the availability of these weapons.  The NRA, in its assault on “the media,” should take a reflective look at its own moral and ethical landscape.  Does “sport shooting” with assault rifles do anything but glamorize the ownership of these weapons?
  • Renew the conversation about mental health policy and care in our nation:  This conversation should also include education policy and practices in our schools.  The recent mass murder shooters have been described as intelligent, brilliant even, and with mental health issues.  And, again, let’s not generalize these individuals’ behaviors to the whole population of others with mental health issues.  I do think that as we discuss mental health care in the United States, we also need to revisit the legislation for providing education to students with special needs.  Do our public school environments, facilities, and resources effectively meet the needs of our students?  I am sure that my education colleagues who closely serve our special needs population may take issue with this concern.  However, if we are going to have a serious dialogue about a multi-faceted, complex issue, then we need to consider all sides of the issue.  If we are going to look closely at mental health policy in the United States, then we need to consider those policies within our educational system, as well.
  • Revitalize our dialogue about being male in our society:  One look at the profile of the mass murderers reveals a police line-up, if you will, of white males in their late teens or early twenties.  As we look at other statistics concerning gender, we see that enrollment of males in our colleges and universities is on the decline.  We see that males are medicated more for such conditions as ADHD and ADD.  This, alone, is a complex issue within a complex issue.  As a society, we have done much in the past 40 years to redefine responsibilities, ambitions, and opportunities for girls, young women, and women in our society.  Have we done enough to support boys, young men, and men in that transformation.  Regardless of how slow this progress may seem for women’s rights and progress, the transformation of our cultural expectations on young men may be revealing itself in unhealthy mental and physical health of our males.  Again, we may be in a position of “either/or” rather than “both/and” thinking for our young males – and females, as a matter of fact – as we look to broaden the ambitions and opportunities for them.  That is, just as young women entering the professional world battle between “either” being a professional woman “or” a mother, we need to become a culture where we can be “both” a professional woman “and” a mother.  Have we effectively addressed a similar dichotomy in the world of masculinity?  We may have made strides for males that it is rewarding to be a “stay at home dad” or for a father to be much more involved in his child’s life than in a generation ago.  But do we do enough to help adolescent males negotiate that emotional and psychological terrain as they are growing into young men?  Do we help them address the competing demands on their lives – as we watch them dropout of high school, fail to attend college, or not enlarge and enrich their late-adolescent lives?
  • Address meaningful reform movement in public education:  Has a focus on standardized assessment and achievement in our public schools diminished the most meaningful role that our schools may play in a child’s life?  Have we become a test-prep nation rather a life-prep educational system?  In our efforts to become competitive in the global economy, have we diminished our capacity to be compassionate, empathetic, collaborative in our human economy?
  • Rejuvenate our voices toward spiritual health:  We saw a glimmer of what the conversation could be like during the Sunday night, December 16, vigil following the Newtown massacre.  Regardless of the path toward spiritual health – Christian, Muslim, secular humanism, Jewish, New Age – we need to foster the health of our soul regardless of individual belief.  We need a collective consciousness toward a spiritual health in our nation.  Regardless of whether we are a “melting pot” or a “salad bowl,” we need as much attention to our First Amendment rights as we do to our Second Amendment.  What we need are voices in our country to continue to foster a larger Self, a wholeness to our individual lives and our collective lives.  I was moved not only by the spiritual and religious voices at that Sunday night vigil but also by the juxtaposition of the religious and the political.  The religious voices preceded the political voice of President Obama.  What if that were always the case?  How can we meaningfully change the context in which our conversations take place?  How do we change the language to inclusivity, to multiple avenues for a solution, to the handshake of “both/and” rather than the finger-pointing of “either/or” and dichotomous polarization?
  • Heal.  Something is wounded in our nation.  Rather than merely call for policy change and a single-sighted solution for complex problems, mournful cries to “fix something” – we need to heal.  But to heal, we need to acknowledge the wound.

At the heart of the issue is not the gun policy, nor the mental health issue, nor the gender issue; those are contributing causes.  Those are factors but they are not, in themselves alone, sufficient causes for the epidemic of mass murders we suffer today. We voice our sorrow but do not change our collective behavior.  Rather than purposeful actions toward deep-rooted, meaningful change, our response is a short-lived emotional sorrow.

Each of us cannot do everything.  But we all can do something.  Let the change begin with me.

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