Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Outrage Over Gun Violence – Asking the Wrong Questions, Reacting to the Wrong Issues

In the very short time since the mass shooting at The Pulse in Orlando, Florida, there has been renewed outrage and heated debate about gun violence, much of it vicious and based on assumptions and clues that have yet to be properly sifted and sorted. The investigation is likely to be ongoing for some time.

And yet, there are people out there who have all the answers. “Terror!” “Hate!” “Let’s Wall Ourselves Off!” “Let’s Lock Them All Up!” “Bomb Them!”  “Round them Up!” There is a flowing river of fear, hatred, and nastiness that is infecting the entire nation. Our political leaders do nothing to ease the situation, because the common denominator is a sacred cow: “MY GUNS! MY RIGHT!”

While some say “Muslims! Militant Muslims!” Others bend over backwards with “Christians! Militant Christians!” These latter cries attempt to make the point that while in this particular instance, the alleged perpetrator was a seemingly devout Muslim, there have been many more cases in which the perpetrator was a declared Christian, perhaps in a fundamentalist sect.

These two discussion trends (“MY GUNS! MY RIGHT!” and “Religious Affiliation/Militant Radicalized Extremist posing Imminent Danger”) serve only as tools to divide people, not as tools toward societal healing and reconciliation, or safety.

You can’t tell me these discussions are not intended to be ugly. There are too many people invested in the chaos the ugly discussions fuel. Money and political power are at stake. Those who have will win, at all costs. The small amount of democracy our republic yet retains hangs in the balance.

However, programmed chaos is not what I intend to discuss here; such discussion is too deep to dive into for the purposes of this essay. What I want to suggest, in these few lines, is that we need to reframe the entire discussion. We are not digging toward the heart of the issue, but talking around it, by scapegoating specific groups of people.

Fundamentally, we are afraid of what we will have to face, if indeed we really want to find solutions.

“How many gun deaths were done by __(fill in the blank)__?!”
“How many gun deaths were done by people associated with __(fill in the blank)__?!”

I believe these are the wrong questions to be asking, if indeed we want to find solutions. If they are not the wrong questions, they certainly should not be the only questions we ask. The knee-jerk reaction is always skewed toward a particular brand of religion or race, but I'm afraid the truth goes much, much deeper than this.

Here are some other questions that need to be part of this discussion:

How many gun deaths were committed by men (against women and/or children or other men)?
How many were committed by disturbed/afflicted/medicated individuals undergoing treatment?
How many were committed by militant/radicalized individuals?
How many gun deaths ended a domestic dispute?

Gun violence is very closely related to domestic and/or workplace violence – raising the issue of anger management, respect for women and children, authority figures, power struggles. Here is one statistic:

Nationwide in 2013, out of the 1,615 female homicide victims, 1,086 were white, 453 were black, 36 were Asian or Pacific Islander, 21 were American Indian or Alaskan Native, and in 19 cases the race of the victim was not identified.

And here is another:

Considering mass shooting alone ([by legal definition, at least] four people shot dead in a public place), nearly all were male in 2015. About 67% are white, 16% black, and 9% Asian.

Even just these two sets of statistics could be indicative of a trend. These statistics show, far and away, that most murders are committed by white men. While these facts do not provide complete context, the implications should give everyone pause.

More to the point, these bits of information prove we must dig deeper for answers.

I may be out of line, but here’s the thing: Guns are primarily a white male symbol of privilege and control. The point has been made over and over again, for years, even as far back as the signing of the Declaration. When the local NRA folk came through my local 4th of July parade, riding horses and shooting blanks from their weapons (causing babies and dogs to howl all along the parade route), there were a couple of women (white), but was there a black person among them, or any ethnicity other than white? Have you ever seen a black person at an NRA rally, openly carrying? You know the answer to these rhetorical questions; I don’t have to spell it out.

This latest, most horrifying incident was committed by an AMERICAN. Period. His ethnic and religious heritage may be among the factors, but this person was born on our shores. He was likely profoundly disturbed and conflicted (Could it be over sexual identity? Could it be over religious doctrine? Could he have been radicalized? We don’t yet know – we may never really know), but the story is being spun into an international terrorist action, mostly in order to promote inflammatory, racist and politically manipulative rhetoric that obscures one of the biggest problems we face in modern society, and more so here than most anywhere else on the planet. The discussion needs to be reframed around issues even more basic than race and religion: Control issues (along with anger/aggression), often tied to mental illness combined with ready access to high-powered assault rifles and other types of guns.

In most cases, armed robbery aside, the issue is one of control – who has “control”, by what means “control” is exerted, and against whom, particularly when the "control" is directly related to possession of a deadly weapon (gun or other).

Reframed, here is a different description of what happened in Orlando: An angry and desperate American man killed and injured a lot of other American people (of various ethnic, gender and sexual identities, yes, but foremost, they were people, with families and friends and jobs and lives of worth in their community) because he didn’t know how to break through his mental anguish/anger, because he couldn’t connect with people in a meaningful/fulfilling way. Time may tell the tale, but it won’t bring back those American lives that were cut short.

How do we go about insuring such things don’t happen again? We certainly can’t do anything from the knee-jerk discussion angle. So, perhaps more pertinent questions to ask and discuss might include these:

How do we become more accepting of people, who, what and where they are?
How do we support, uplift and include people in all walks of life and work?
How does our society train/enable psyches to be angry, violent or murderous? How can we mitigate underlying causes?
How can we better identify, diagnose and treat people struggling with mental illness?
How can we come to terms with an archaic constitutional right with regard to weapons possession and legislate toward a safe society.
What all must we do to stem the tide of violence and anger, in ways that promote peace, health and justice in our communities?
How can we remove prejudice, judgment, labels and stigma from the picture, and just be people, living cooperatively in community?
Are there economic mitigations that could be brought into the picture?
How do we teach people to be good to one another?
How do we dispel ignorance?

Age old questions, these are. But we need to keep asking them, and commit to finding and working toward real solutions, all the while holding our elected officials accountable to We The People for codifying and instituting solutions that benefit the public good, not bowing to well heeled lobbyists and their masters.

We can take the moment of silence,
kneeling in sorrow or in prayer,
but then all bodies, all voices must rise up,
uniting for the sake of humanity, for sanity,
blending and weaving, moving and smoothing
our differences into loves and strengths,
our weaknesses into meaningful work,
uniting toward the only real song there is:
People, all people, together, one people.

© 2016 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen