By: James Gottry
Friday’s shooting at Northern Arizona University, my alma mater, is the 2nd school shooting this month, the 46th this year, and the 143rd since 2013 according to Newsweek. Every instance is devastating to the families personally affected, and its reverberations sweep across the country. However, and to no one's great surprise, these tragedies quickly transition from shared grief to partisan bickering, as we return to our battle lines in the war over gun control and gun rights.
By writing this, I do not intend to take a position on gun control legislation or the boundaries (if any) of the Second Amendment. My hope is to draw out a principle on which we can all agree, a starting point from which we can all take action against the senseless violence permeating our culture. We can disagree about guns, but let's agree on one thing: the problem begins with what's in the heart, not what's in the hands.
Why? Perhaps because a deeper examination would force us to confront the culture of death and violence we have embraced as a society.
As a society, we have commodified violence, turning it into a product of recreation and entertainment.
According to Common Sense Media, 90% of movies, 68% of video games, and 60% of television shows contain depictions of violence. The debate centers around whether this violence is "damaging" to kids; in other words, will it cause violent behavior. This debate reaches a fever pitch when it lands on the subject of video games, not surprising considering global gaming revenues are fast approaching $100 billion dollars annually. In August of this year, the American Psychological Association admitted that playing violent video games can increase aggression and may even cause neurological changes. Other commentators have adamantly maintained the effect is negligible, at most. The debate is not new, and it is certain to continue.
But whether there is a causal link is not what truly matters most. What matters--or should matter--is the disturbing reality that we create, purchase, play, and defend video games that allow or feature, among other things, animal cruelty, racism, drunk driving, drug use, torture, rape, murder, mass killing, and even necrophilia. What matters is that we produce and consume movies and television that glorify violence and glorify death. Even if I could spend hours every day playing violent video games and watching snuff films with no increase in my propensity to violence, does that mean I should? Children and adolescents are exposed--often in graphic detail--to acts that would sicken us in "real life." But because our consumption of--and participation in--such acts is virtual, we call it recreation. This is an appalling indictment on our society as it relates to our view of life and its sacredness.
We have demonstrated, by our words, actions, and laws, that not all human life matters.
In regards to abortion, we've embraced the lie that children in the womb may be "terminated" if their intact emergence would be socially, physically, emotionally, or financially inconvenient to their parents. We've castigated any limitations or restrictions on abortion providers--even restrictions related to general medical safety--as "anti-choice extremism.” In the ultimate display of depravity, we've defended the sale of baby organs, as long as there is no "financial profit," removing human hearts, lungs, livers, and brains from tiny bodies, and then discarding the rest with all the care reserved for a shipping envelope.
When our grandparents, parents, siblings or spouses become too old, too confused, too diseased, or too burdensome, we remove their food and water or if necessary, assist in their suicide, calling it “death with dignity.” But what will happen when the elderly or disabled refuse to willingly surrender their life, when their friends and family, or their insurance provider, or the state, no longer want to care for them? Will "death with dignity" transition to "death of necessity" when we make the decision for them?
The recent tragedies and the political aftermath remind us we as a society find it far easier to focus on the instrument of death, rather than its impetus. If we really want to make a difference, we can start in our own homes, by refusing to allow violence and murder in our living rooms, and by setting aside our smart phones and sitting beside our kids, taking an active interest in the lives of our kids. Moms and dads matter...so act like it. We can disagree about what our gun laws should be, but if we start with our kids’ hearts, what's in their hands won't matter quite as much.