Token Dissonance

Black & gay, young & conservative. A Southern gentleman writes about life and politics after Yale

Violence and Its Discontents


Update: This post was adapted by The Huffington Post. You can find that article here.

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” –Philippians 4:8

“Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord.” –Psalm 130:1

In light of the recent tragedy in Connecticut, emotions are running high on all sorts of fronts. Families are grieving lost loved ones, parents are terrified for the safety and wellbeing of their children, gun control activists are agitating for more gun control, and many others are wondering about the state of mental health and public safety in this country. Above and beyond all this, many Americans are wondering how on Earth a bunch of elementary school kids—who didn’t even yet exist on 9/11—can be murdered in cold blood by a bafflingly determined madman.

What is wrong with the world?

Allow me to being with a public service announcement: contrary to popular belief, I do not have the answers to all problems. (Take a moment to recover from the shock; I’ll be here.) I do have observations based on experience, research, and input from others. I was raised to understand that people kill people, not guns. Most of my friends from Virginia, the military, and various suburbs and towns across America seem to agree. To this sentiment, many Ivy League, Blue-State, and liberal friends prefer Eddie Izzard’s wry retort: “the gun helps.” Valid points abound.

So yes, I already read the “Twelve Facts” of Ezra Klein. They’re rather interesting and informative. I also read Jeffrey Goldberg’s far more thoughtful and balanced feature in The Atlantic; I highly recommend it to the more open-minded among you. (I assume if you’re still reading anything I write, you are exceedingly open-minded, thoughtfully conservative, liberally masochistic, or else collecting more evidence that gay, black conservatives are ruining America.)

Some levity aside, this is my attempt at a serious discussion, not a sermon. So let’s talk.

America is a very violent country. We are by no means the most dangerous, but we shan’t be winning any public safety awards from Western Europe or Japan. We also have a lot of guns, which correlates with more gun homicide within the U.S. (see: the South vs. the Northeast) and across the world (see: the U.S. vs. anywhere). Nevertheless, Vermont exists, gun-related violent crimes fell sharply as sales rose meteorically in my adoptive Virginia, and overall homicide rates have risen with gun bans but fallen with right-to-carry policy in various jurisdictions. There is also the intriguing debate over the inverse correlation between concealed carry and crime.

As Klein and others have pointed out, the percentage of households with guns had been declining in the last several years. However, gun ownership has lately risen to the highest levels since 1993, thanks mostly to women, Democrats, and people outside the South (and possibly the recession). Guns are used (not necessarily fired) in self-defense at least 108,000 to 498,000 times per year. For women, in particular, handguns have proven vital in protecting their homes, thwarting rape, repelling violent assault, protecting their babies, and defending their children from hostile men. As of last year, nearly half of all American households have some sort of firearm.

While gun presence generally correlates well with gun violence, neither is a reliable indicator of overall violence. Britain, for example, is more violent (though not more murderous) than most of Europe and the U.S., notwithstanding her disarmed citizenry. Relatively gun-loving Switzerland, Norway, and Sweden have lower homicide rates than more restrictive France, Australia, the Netherlands, and, of course, the U.K. In the U.S., 20% of violent crimes had something to do with weapons, of which only one-third (7% overall) were firearms. Put another way, more than 90% of reported violence in America has nothing to do with guns.

Which brings us to mass murders.

These macabre eruptions of evil are more like terrorist attacks than “ordinary” violence. For one, they are aggressively premeditated around the law, with contingency plans. (The Columbine shooters brought bombs; the Aurora shooter booby-trapped his apartment.) Secondly, these tragedies, while increasing, are more societally disruptive than reflective of overall crime trends. Violent crime is at extraordinarily low levels, and more Americans die from lightning than mass shootings. Given that many of these massacres, from Columbine to Sandy Hook, were ultimately murder-suicides, it might be time to talk about mental health policy among our cultural issues. An assault weapon ban won’t stop tragedy. Preventing 1% of suicides would save more lives than were lost to mass-murdering lunatics in this entire deadly year.

Suicides, the majority of gun deaths, increased even as rates of gun homicide declined in the last decade. Waiting periods for gun purchases might prevent some deaths without denying the right to responsible gun-ownership. But such restrictions are, at best, only a marginal solution to a broader problem. Nearly half of suicides—which outnumber all homicides—are committed without guns. (Of the greater casualties from “unintentional injury”, fewer than 1% involve firearms.) It might be worth discerning why, for example, suicides appear concentrated in the West, Florida, Upper South (especially Appalachia), and parts of the Midwest but least prevalent in the Deep South (particularly, the Black Belt), Mid-Atlantic, southern New England, parts of California, South Texas, and other parts of the Midwest. Such an approach could be informative, politically viable, and effective. To be honest, I just don’t know.

The dark and maddening truth of the matter is that there are no simple resolutions to evil. Ignoring the politics, gun control is not a panacea and does not come without cost. More to the point, if long-time trends have been instructive in understanding the evolution of marriage (interracial and gay) and abortion law in America, they are also useful in understanding gun laws. In all likelihood, we’re not getting many more of them, sensible or otherwise, regardless of who is in office.

If I have touched a nerve, feel free to insult me, curse the Red States, and vomit bile on “American barbarism” while clinging to infographics of European statistics like postcards from the island of misfit policies that are not to be. But at the end of the day, the Second Amendment will outlive every futile paean for gun control. I want young, promising people to stop dying for no reason, and I don’t see how that cause will be won in the lost battles of yesteryear. Perhaps we can start by ending the insidious practice of immortalizing monsters.

Now is the time to find lasting solutions to underlying problems in our national culture of violence that go far beyond guns. I don’t know what such solutions will look like, but I hope we’re all open to thoughtful suggestions and humble reflection.

Author: Rek

A gay Southern conservative with a fondness for God, guns, and gridiron. I'm a veritable pocket full of sunshine.

7 thoughts on “Violence and Its Discontents

  1. Thank you for your comments. Several bloggers are encouraging others to send cards and letters to the school. Here is the address:

    The school’s address is:
    Sandy Hook Elementary School
    12 Dickenson Drive
    Newtown, CT 06482

    God Bless.

  2. Instant public outcry to such horendous tragedies seem to be out of grief, fear and a sense of helplessness. It is not about guns but more accurately mental health issues in almost every case. This will always be with us. Sadly we can’t seem to identify the culprit and treat it

    It might be instructive to note the the single event in US history that claimed more victims by a deranged individual was accomplished by a bomb. It’s also noteworthy that the “dark knight” mass killer has knowledge of bomb making. I have to wonder if he had no access to guns would he have made and planted a bomb in the theatre that could have caused many more deaths? It’s perplexing with no easy answers. But the instant solution is to call for the New World Order to remove weapons from US households.

    As a grandmother living alone I want to keep my S&W .38.

  3. For one thing, I think people just keep focusing on how bad the world is. The world has had crime and violence since the beginning of time, and from what I have read from history, it was more barbaric than this in days of yore.

    Secondly, I would just like to state the fact that many people are taking anti-psychotic drugs prescribed from their doctors. Anti-depressands and anti-psychotics cause a lot of nutters to loose their mind and get out of control.

    Thirdly, all of these people were loners. They stayed by themselves because they were criticized and judged. The people in their lives told them what they were doing wrong on a regular basis. I know plenty of Christians who give selective praise, but the minute they encounter someone who makes them mad, or does something against the bible they get mad and condemn them all with harsh words and criticisms. This judgemental attitude is keeping loads of people away from church. You think I’m kidding, but I’m not.

    Remember why Jesus came in the first place? The Jews were condemning and judging people who didn’t do exactly what the Torah did? Jesus came to save sinners. So there you are. So the next time you hear someone talking about something that makes you mad, the next time some kid breaks your window or curses or takes the lord’s name in vain or wears dirty blue jeans to church service, Judge him not by who he is, but rather who he could be if you only gave him the chance. There are loads of people who go through their lives with nobody in their lives to say nice things and boost them up with praise.

    Oh, and while I’m on the subject, leave the gay people alone, they aren’t getting abortions or killing anyone. In fact, they adopt unwanted kids who grow up and aren’t mass murderers and criminals. The worst thing that a gay couple could possibly do is raise a kid who rebels against them and becomes a straight baptist preacher.

  4. Thank you for your sensible perspective on this very troubling trend we seem to be developing, somewhere underneath it is a loss of hope. For those who decide to kill themselves and it’s not too far of a jump to kill others or see that perhaps others play a part in your misery and why not get some revenge out of as well and kill those who seem to have a good life, only a person who sees the world as bleak and hopeless could do that. Your post was well thought out and well written as usual. I agree with you completely.

    I find it absurd it is to speak of gun control in a country that insists now that we are pluralistic and that God can’t be mentioned (in writing) or in speech anywhere in a public space, we demand our individualism, abscess about consumerism; at all costs, we think people should be able to buy whatever their hearts desire no matter how grotesque it may be, we want to pursue all the other “isms” we love violence and competition (UFC,MMA,Football, sports in general) and worst of all continue to reserve the right to have a Hollywood that is free to put out whatever filth it wants with over and over again ad infinitum ─ films of revenge, sex, violence, justice.

    When do WE take responsibility for ourselves and what goes on in our hearts and minds? How we shape our families, what we say to our kids and in front of them, what we do when someone cuts us off on the highway? There is more than enough hate in our hearts to go around. It’s time to BE different in the way we live and consume ─ stop pointing fingers at the millions who love and respect guns for whatever reason─ collecting, target practice, the serious need for self -defense, and hunting. It’s absolutely ludicrous for the hypocrites who hate guns to blame gun rights and insist on reducing such a complex problem to a right/left issue (although it’s tempting) to resort to such simplistic reductionism.

    If we are truly honest with ourselves we would admit that WE are the problem and that the need for spiritual guidance, churches, houses of faith and religion are needed. There are a number of religions that embrace the value of human life and some endorse the practices of caring for the poor and less fortunate as a necessary part of their worship and recognize the weak and wounded as a part of their body of people. The Hebrew notion of tikkun olam (to mend the world), others are enlightened enough to know that we must strive for peace and freedom. It’s ironic that the people who fought so hard to make this country free from religion are the same people who want less guns, and freedom to determine the value of life- when it suits them, they have created the environment we live in. The universities are controlled by the left, they continue to censor speech that offers an opposing opinion(what they had in the 60’s) now, these same people are the ones in charge and are growing increasingly totalitarian by the day and have no intention to stop. They are now experiencing the world they wanted yet continue to refuse to take ownership of their culpability. It’s up to even handed, well-reasoned folk like yourself to continue to hold the mirror up and provide resistance and illumination.

    Grace & Peace

  5. I love your well-thought out statements as well as those of your readers. I’d like to add a few thoughts.

    Over the past few decades, we have become a society that wants to pretend that everyone is the same and we are all awesome winners. We reward everyone for minimal effort when growing up, but this makes it extremely difficult to deal with real life and consequences as an adult. We aren’t teaching our kids resilience, picking ourselves up and dealing with disappointment. This is a contributor to the bigger problem of increased suicide rates and the smaller problem of unemployment among younger people.

    We are overly medicated as a country. Take a look at how many students in an average public school are on some type of drugs. It has become easier for parents to medicate their children (mostly boys) than to work with them to learn acceptable behavior. These medications are preventing children from growing up and understanding the consequences of their behavior. A prescription drug should be a last choice for a child due to their growing bodies and undeveloped nervous systems but too often it is the first choice and we have been seeing the long-term negative effects for a while.

    Finally, how many innocent adults and children are killed by drunk drivers every year? This is a national tragedy, but we would never consider taking away the right to drive from all drivers due to the negligence of a few. As a proportion, we have a lot more drunk drivers compared to all drivers than crazed gun owners compared to all gun owners. These horrific events are a symptom of something much worse that is happening in our society.

    I pray that parents will start letting their children understand the consequences of failure and teach them the important lessons that will allow these children to build a strong foundation on which to have a successful life. I hope that we start to focus on the true meaning of right and wrong and respect for each other’s individuality. And let us focus on the positive impact that all of these victims had in their short lives on this Earth rather than the evil that was brought by one individual.

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