What happened in Newtown is horrific and overwhelmingly sad. I’m assuming that if you heard about it, read about it, were close or distant from it that your life was altered or affected in some way, even if that way was only to feel sorrow for a few moments. Immediately following the shooting twitter, facebook and news sources started in with the opinions on what was the cause and what is and is not ok to talk about and when. You know. The usual tangling up the discourse and telling people how they are allowed to feel or not feel or how they are allowed or not allowed to react to horrific things in their world. We do not have to buy into this. It is possible and perfectly fine for anybody and everybody to try and figure out the cause of horrible things when they occur. It is also ok to feel whatever you are feeling and want to talk about it. I saw a lot of silencing, like in this image
This was the first post about it in my Facebook newsfeed. I disagree with it.
where people would declare that now was not the time to talk about mental illness, gun control, racism, or whatever other thing makes them uncomfortable. Now is the time. It is always the time. How many mass shootings have we had this year? Are we not averaging out a new one every couple of months? When would be a better time to talk about it? A week before the next one, a week after? Let’s not put this off any longer.
Now is the right time. It’s always the right time. We cannot hope to decrease the amount of violence in our culture without engaging in an open, honest, and ongoing discourse that allows us to wade through this and find answers. It needs to be ongoing. It must be ongoing. We also do not need to assume that there is one root cause behind mass shootings. It is possible and likely that there are multiple conditions that lead to these horrors and that we will not find one lone, isolated and magical cause. It’s a cultural illness, a thing that once was an aberration but that is now becoming a norm. So we should talk about it now and often and we should separate out the issues so that we can look at how they intersect and what can be done and what we personally can change to make a small difference that could eventually be a big difference.
Here is a compilation of some tweets that discuss various topics considered to be the cause or partial cause of this phenomenon of violence.
gun control, mental illness, god, masculinity…nobody is wrong except for the god people.
The tangled conversational tropes has some pointing to a lack of gun control as the cause, while others are pointing toward an absence or rejection of god, untreated and unfettered mental illness, or an american concept of masculinity that is rigid, limiting and harmful.
The only one I consider to be ‘wrong’ is the god one. I don’t think it warrants any discussion here and I will discuss why in a separate post. So moving on to actual points of discussion that make sense:
Mental Illness: Mental illness was brought up immediately. People generally seemed to be more comfortable and willing to talk about and point a finger toward mental illness than to tdiscuss gun control. I found this odd primarily because it was not known for certain whether or not Adam Lanza had a mental illness, but it was known with absolute certainty that he had a gun. The thing is, and I think this gets widely overlooked, people can go into a classroom full of children, murder them all, and not be mentally ill. So before we attribute crimes to any mental illness we should first know whether or not the perpetrator of a crime has one. In our culture, mental illnesses are widely stigmatized and resources for help are scarce and sometimes unattainable. So here’s how we can break this down:
1 Mental Illness is widely stigmatized in American culture.
2. Access to care and resources for the mentally ill and caretakers of the mentally ill are not always available and, when they are, are not always affordable.
3. People can commit violent and horrific acts without being mentally ill.
Gun Control: People started talking about gun control right off the bat and an attempt to silence those voices was made by many. Why people seemed to be so much more comfortable pointing a finger at mental illness than to widespread availability and ownership of guns is beyond me. Nobody knew if Adam Lanza had a mental illness. We all knew he had a gun. We should talk about it. Here are some ways we can break this down:
1. Gun control does not mean gun elimination
2. We can have a fact-based conversation about guns per capita and rates of gun violence because these statistics exist. Speculation doesn’t even really need to be made about numbers. We can look and see.
3. The 2nd amendment gets brought up a lot. It’s time for us to look at it in historical context, evaluate whether or not it is still applicable and go from there. And really, a bunch of citizens with guns is not a well-armed militia. Further, Jefferson saying that citizens should be able to protect themselves with weaponry against their military is neat and all, but please tell me how your semi-automatic and automatic weapons will stand up to larger, military grade weapons and troops? They won’t. Let’s let that ideology go. I would throw that in with the god aspect because it is so irrelevant and makes no sense, but people are really hanging onto that idea, so it forces itself into the conversation.
Masculinity- A lot of good points have been raised around this topic, and I think they are worth noting. This is a discussion we must have. Our ideas of gender roles and masculinity are enforced by a patriarchy that most of us uphold in some way. Feminism is the belief that no matter where you fall on the gender spectrum, you should be treated equally, right? Right. And feminists have been saying for ages that the patriarchy hurts men, too. And it does. By assuming and enforcing the idea that men must act a certain way, we limit the average of their ability to exhibit an emotional range and to process anger, fear, or intimidation. Here’s some ways we can break this down:
1. Male privilege. These shootings are being acted out by men and not women. Why?
2. What does it mean to be masculine in our culture?
3. What can we do differently?
And race. It’s mostly white dudes doing this. Let’s not pretend it isn’t. You can name 1 or 2 POC who have pulled a mass shooting, but come on. When you heard that this had happened, did you think or assume it was anybody other than a white man? I didn’t. When we talk about this, white privilege and male privilege both need to be discussed.
The thing is, it is ok to have all of these conversations and to discuss all of these topics. I think that intersectionality matters and that all of these things tie in together and that none of these (except the god idea) are entirely wrong. They might not all apply in this specific situation, but they all deserve discussion, introspection, and action. I still don’t know if Adam Lanza had a mental illness, which is why I am not saying they all definitely apply here. Do any of you know?
Small ways we can make change in the world around us is in the way we use language when interacting with others. Our language usage can increase or decrease the stigma around mental illness. Our language usage and how we interact with others linguistically can change perceptions of masculinity and femininity one small utterance at a time. And the language of the constitution made sense in a different era, but may need to be revisited now, and that’s ok. It is completely ok for us to look at this one issue with all these ongoing conversations where everybody is trying to pinpoint one specific cause and to say ‘No. There is more than one facet to this. There is more than one contributing factor, so let’s talk about it’.
What do you think? What’s missing? What do you want to say about any of these topics?