Thursday, December 20, 2012

Death's Door, devil's gate...

And, here we are again.  In the wake of America's latest (and sadly, probably not last) senseless mass shooting.

The pattern is familiar:  The prime-time close-ups of trembling, teary-eyed faces, hugs, candles, ribbons, photos and road-side monuments and shrines.  The parade of mourning relatives, the brief national unification in grief, anger and dismay.

And then, of course, the politics.  Throughout the preceding tragedies, the NRA has held firmly to its position on gun access:  "From our cold, dead hands."  And, apparently, over the cold, dead bodies of a growing roster of innocent victims.  Same old argument:  Guns don't kill, people kill.  (Primarily, people with guns, but somehow they always seem to miss the connection.)

Some say it's different this time, that the American people have finally had enough of this madness and are finally ready to follow the example of other countries (Scotland, New Zealand, etc.) who, in the wake of their similar tragedies have imposed stricter gun laws which have significantly reduced violence.  Some say the tide is finally turning towards sanity, and that it is no longer political suicide to stand up for gun control.  Amen.

But, even before the bodies were cold, we were already hearing the familiar voices of the gun crowd through their mock tears.  If the teachers had been armed, they argue, they could have killed the gunman before he killed any children.  I remember when I went to Kindergarten and grade school, they wouldn't even let us play guns in class.  Now, we're supposed to have teachers with holsters on their belts and ammo belts draped across their chests as they write on the blackboard.  Brilliant.  Arm everybody.  Ah, for the days of the old west.  The pearl-handled six-guns glinting in the sun as two men face each other on a dusty street.  Nowadays, substitute Uzi's, assault rifles or laser-scope slide-action automatics for Colt 45's, but same idea.  Every second bar-room scuffle and lunch room argument over sexual territory ending in gunfire.  We're not really that far gone, are we?  Let's hope this tragedy is as much as it takes to bring us out of the Clint Eastwood fantasy world we've been living in and get our leaders to institute effective and lasting gun control.

But, it could just as easily go the other way.  With all the talk this latest tragedy has generated about mental health, we may end up keeping the guns, but instituting Orwellian methods of social mind control.  With our kids already medicated half out of their minds, what's next?  Mandatory mind-altering medication, intensive isolation or shock treatments for every kid who even looks too sad or too quiet for comfort?  (Sound far-fetched?  They used to do that with kids suspected of being homosexual, you know.)

When death comes in a form as horrific as this, it can shake a people off their present course.  Which path they take from there depends on many factors, none simple.  We puzzle and agonize about what kind of dark journey leads a lonely, angry young man to mass destruction.  We should take note of our own dark journey as a society along the way.  How we love our guns.  How we lick our lips and salivate when going to war in some land across the sea most of our kids can't find on a map.  When mass slaughter hits us close to home, whether from foreign would-be martyrs in the sky or suicidal loner nihilists entering class rooms or work places with legally obtained firearms, we are stunned.  We're not used to being hit at home.  Lifetimes separated Pearl harbor and 9/11.  We've grown safe and spoiled with an ocean between us and the old world.  Mass destruction is something we inflict on others; not the reverse.  So many flowers and candles and photos.  But, not one for the thousands of innocents killed by our predator drones.  So many lonely ones among us waiting to channel demons we usually export.

In death's wake, we pause to stop and reflect.  We've been isolated too long as a people, perhaps.  Maybe if we stopped romanticizing violence as a simple way to solve every problem, we wouldn't be tasting explosions of violence among ourselves, erupting like cancerous boils, inflicting harm no external enemy could.

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