Several days ago a senseless tragedy occurred in a Broward County, FL high school. A senseless act that citizens are now rushing to try and make sense of. But at the simple root of that word – senseless – is the very definition that has many beating themselves and more to the point each other, like moths at a porch light on a summer evening. It was a tragedy completely lacking sense.
We are a society craving solutions, explanations, and reasons for everything that happens to and around us. We want things tied in a neat little bow in the time frame of a twenty minute sitcom or a forty-five minute drama. Present us with a problem and then wrap it up and we’ll move on in our lives. To a large extent, complexity is not in our wheelhouse. We don’t wish to be visited time and again with the thoughts of seventeen innocent people that left their homes that morning with no idea they would never return. We don’t wish to imagine ourselves in the nightmare the families of the dead have found themselves in. Let’s blame guns, or the President, or the FBI, or the killer’s parents, or bullying, or some fundamental ideology. Let’s point those fingers and move on.
Social media took up the cry shortly after the most recent incident. It was the “ban assault rifles” crowd vs. the 2nd Amendment group. Self-proclaimed friends called each other names, insulted each other’s intelligence, and posted endless memes to prove the righteousness of their position. I had to step away, so to speak. I find that in my advancing age, the world is infuriatingly not black or white and I struggle with those that insist it is. As I read and tried to wrap my mind around things, I came across the words of social scientist Brene Brown, from her 2017 work “Braving the Wilderness” and she says it so much better than I ever could.
“The ability to think past either/or situations is the foundation of critical thinking, but still, it requires courage. Getting curious and asking questions happens outside our ideological bunkers. It feels easier and safer to pick a side. The argument is set up in a way that there’s only one real option. If we stay quiet we’re automatically demonized as “the other”. “
I do not believe that an average citizen should have access to or any reason to own an automatic rifle. A simple statement but there is too much complexity for that to be the end of it.
California has the most stringent gun laws in the nation. But in the minds of those that wish to do harm to others a law means nothing. These mass killings are not spontaneous crimes of passion. Every action is plotted for maximum result. These people have nothing but time and they use it while we are not yet watching. The largest school massacre in the United States happened in a community of just over 300 in rural Michigan in May of 1927. It was carried out by Andrew Kehoe, a local farmer with gasoline, a rifle, and explosives purchased to remove tree stumps from his land.
Clearly, where there’s a will… This is not to say a ban on assault rifles is not a good step, but it is only a step and in and of itself will stop nothing. We have to exercise the critical thinking Ms. Brown refers to and examine our mental health policies, our security in public venues, the role of other countries and black market arms deals, the function of social media, and most importantly to my mind, our attitudes and responses to one another. In a time where we must become creative in our thinking and exercise vigilance in our lives the “if you’re not with me, you’re against me” mantra is one of the most certain ways to halt discussion, problem solving, and isolate ourselves from each other.