Now is the time for a national dialogue on mass murder

I am tired of writing about tragedies.  Another morning in America, after a day of violence that has shattered our holiday season.  We, the people, are going through every conceivable emotion from despair to rage, trying to come to grips with tragedy.  Again.

I, like many other second amendment advocates, wrote on social media yesterday that “now is not the time for politics.”  Almost immediately, one of my liberal friends demanded, “If not now, when?”

He has a point.  It’s easy to deflect these questions by saying it’s “too soon.”  But at some point, that answer just doesn’t cut it anymore.  That some men in America make the decision to kill in large numbers, often ending their own lives as well, is a problem that has been festering for too long.  It is a problem hanging over the heads of every American – our street corners, movie theaters, shopping malls, schools, churches, even our homes have all been struck by these killers.  We can’t ignore the issue anymore or write it off as just another one of those senseless things in life you can’t understand or prevent.

It is already becoming a cliché that we need a national dialogue about what happened in Connecticut.  And I agree with that – who doesn’t?  It’s a fundamental part of being human to try to come to grips with the unimaginable.  We do need to talk about what happened, why it happened, how and what we can do about it.  We need to talk about how we handle such events in the mass and social media.  And we must figure out how to prevent them.   The discussion needs to happen, and it needs to happen now.

But it can’t just be a random discussion.  It needs to be concrete and rational, and based in fact – not just plain old facts, but facts that are truly germane to the discussion.  The goal of the conversation can’t be to just “raise awareness” or “move the debate.”  It needs to be a conversation that leads to developing solutions – not just platitudes and absurd solutions, but the real kind of solutions that actually address the causes of these crimes and ways to prevent them.  And, most importantly, we need to focus the conversation on solutions that can be implemented, and when implemented have a good chance of success.

There are a few things we can throw out from this conversation immediately:  first, we can’t, shouldn’t and won’t ban guns.  Not only does that ignore the real problem, it is an emotionally driven overreaction to what happened.  It has absolutely zero chance of being implemented and in the places where outright bans have been tried they’ve all failed.  And from a practical perspective, it’s just not possible: there are over a hundred million gun owners and close to half a billion guns in America – the vast majority of which will never be used in a crime and will never be fired in an act of violence.  The solution to this problem does not involve a gun ban.

It’s also pointless to talk about things like concealed carry, x-number-of-gun-a-month laws, the gun show loophole and all of the other gun related controversies that don’t seem to apply here.   I’ve seen folks on Twitter asking why people don’t have to take a class to buy a gun – as if that would have changed anything.  These issues are for another day – they may make a difference in some kinds of crime, but not in the mass murders we’ve seen over and over lately.  These aren’t the problems we need to be discussing now, so they need to be left out of the debate.  All they do is make a difficult discussion that much harder.

On the other end of the scale, we can’t demand everyone own or carry a gun, either.  Let’s face it, there are a lot of people who are scared of guns, who don’t understand them, don’t care to learn, and react to them they way I react to bedbugs.  Flooding our schools with guns isn’t a viable solution, and there’s no point in even going there.  The people who demand bans and dislike guns aren’t bad people, either.  I think they’re misguided and typically ignorant of guns, but they don’t deserve to be ridiculed for thinking differently.  Many are just exasperated by a problem they think has a simple solution – the solution’s simple because it won’t affect them.  At some point, they need to be educated.  Ramping up the rhetoric and paranoia does not help.  These people aren’t the problem, but they have to be part of the solution.

That being said, I do not believe – not for one moment – that the solution to preventing mass murder has to or should involve law-abiding citizens giving up their freedoms and liberties.  That has rarely, if ever, solved anything.  It simply creates new problems and it damages the fabric of the country.  It creates tension, distrust and cynicism and – most important – it’s just plain wrong.

The problem of individual men making the conscious decision to kill many people at once is not new. We’ve been dealing with this in the United States for over half a century.  We’ve taken rational steps to ensure that criminals and the mentally ill cannot buy guns legally with common sense solutions like background checks.  Those steps need to be reviewed to make sure we’re not missing anything.  We also need to have a frank discussion about mental illness, its treatment, how it’s perceived in society and how it’s dealt with.  Because of the stigma of mental illness, too many people who desperately need treatment don’t get it.  Too often there were warning signs that were missed, not taken seriously enough, or these men fell through the cracks.  That can’t happen.

We also need to talk about the media.  Some of the reporting of the tragedy yesterday was tragic itself.  While it can be frustrating to have a cop repeatedly say they can’t answer something, we now know why – not everything is as it seems at first glance.  The press spent almost half the day mistaking the shooter for his brother.  They may have been given the information by a law enforcement official, but they shouldn’t have run it until the ID was confirmed.  But the race to be first outweighed the race to be right.  That lapse in journalistic ethics has harmed the reputation of a 24 year old man who did nothing wrong.  Other reporters were shoving cameras in the faces of 3rd graders and asking them how they feel and the inevitable proselytizing by news anchors on the cable news nets was nauseating.  The way the media turns these events into a feeding frenzy raises serious questions in my mind about copy cats, and how anyone who wants to go out in a blaze of glory knows exactly what to do to get the media to pay attention.  We have got to come up with a better way of reporting this kind of news.

It’s obvious there are a lot of questions to ask, a lot of answers to digest.  But I am confident that working together, we can solve this problem.  This dialogue can be constructive if we just focus and don’t let the desire to score a few cheap points overwhelm the need for a real, workable solution.  We must find a way to prevent these crimes and we must do it without trampling on our civil liberties.

One of my favorite political quotes just happens to come from a Democrat, Bill Clinton.  He remarked that “[t]here is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.”  I have always believed that.  There are solutions to these problems – no problem is unsolvable.  We simply need to commit to finding the right solutions, doing so in a united way, and being persistent and dedicated to seeing the job through.

We can and we will stop this violence.  And we can, and we must, find solutions that work and don’t require sacrificing our liberty and our principles to do so.   This is an American problem that demands a uniquely American solution.  I am confident we can do it.

We just need to make up our minds that now is the time.

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