The Sandy Hook massacre has brought back a lot of attention to some divisive and complex national pressure points: Gun control, mental health, media violence, some sort of moral or religious decay — all have been targeted as direct and logical causes of an illogical, aberrant act.
The debates that are raging aren’t bad ones to have. It’s true the United States is unique in the world in gun ownership and gun violence. It’s true that the mental health safety net that was supposed to magically appear after deinstitutionalization never did.
It’s true that movies and video games are becoming increasingly bloody and realistic, and that we don’t really know how or if that changes users’ attitudes about or propensity to violence. It’s true that fewer people participate in religious organizations today than they have in the past.
But we don’t know how any of that — individually or together — might have contributed to Adam Lanza’s shooting rampage. And it’s dangerous to pretend otherwise. To argue that changing any of those trajectories — if we even could — would solve the problem when we don’t even fully understand what the problem is.
I don’t doubt for a minute the sincerity or passion of the folks who say that Sandy Hook could have been prevented if we had more guns or fewer. Or if we had more mental health resources, better screenings, or any of the other ideas being proposed. But it’s telling that these so-called solutions seem mostly to be expressions of long-held positions. Calls for action from groups and individuals who have advocated for these specific types of changes all along.
If there was some clear and easy way to prevent mass shootings like last week’s, we already would have done it. We’d have done it after Columbine or after Virginia Tech.
The fact that we haven’t isn’t because we didn’t take those incidents seriously, or didn’t have the political will. The grim but honest truth is we will never be able to promise ourselves that Sandy Hook was the last grisly incident of its kind.
Still, we want to do something. Of course we do. But to figure out what, exactly, we must resist the temptation to hold up last week’s tragedy as new evidence to support old arguments.
We must come out from behind our ideological bunkers.
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