It is now a week since the brutal and senseless shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School devastated the community of Newtown, Conn., and though more facts have come to light about the incident, they raise far more questions than anyone can answer. Almost as soon as it was reported, arguments erupted over issues such as gun rights, mental illness and America’s “culture of violence.” Unfortunately, but somewhat inevitably, the finger-pointing started, and a conversation that began as Americans mourning in the wake of a tragedy quickly became a polarized argument. Regardless of what our political leaders do, it’s important that the American people have a rational, deliberate conversation about what happened, what it says about our country and how we can improve things in our own communities — because this can happen anywhere.
Sadly, Americans have grown desensitized to media reports of violence. The Columbine tragedy was more than 13 years ago, and there have been many more shootings since then. In just the past several years, we’ve witnessed some of the worst: Virginia Tech; Fort Hood, Texas; Tucson, Ariz.; and Aurora, Colo. Not only are they frequent in number, but the severity seems to have increased as well. And now, with the murder of elementary school children, the scenario is untenable. There’s no way we can allow for this to continue as the status quo.
The problem of mass shootings is an extremely complex issue that too many people are trying to simplify, looking for the easiest scapegoat to blame as an excuse for further inaction. Because the shooter, Adam Lanza, was reported to have suffered from a personality disorder, many have simply blamed the incident on “mental illness.” Exactly what should be done about it is another matter. How do we know when someone is not mentally fit to own a gun? How do we prevent them from obtaining guns? According to reports, the guns Lanza used belonged to his mother.
The gun control debate is just as complicated. How do we account for the guns and ammunition people already have? Any new gun-control laws won’t have an effect on this, nor will it matter for those circulating in the black market. Does that really mean new laws won’t have an impact? Why should assault rifles be legal? Are they really what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they drafted the Second Amendment? Do we really think the Second Amendment is in danger, or is that just a scare tactic to avoid dealing with the issue?
The problem with most arguments is that they demand an immediate, single solution, when in reality there are only steps we can take to work toward a common goal. And that’s why it’s so important for this to be a conversation that includes everyone. This is a conversation that has been delayed for a long time, and now that it has started again, we need to make sure we get off on the right foot. If we enter the discussion thinking we know all the answers, we’ll never get anywhere. It needs to be approached with an open mind and desire to move forward with new information — because there is a lot for everyone to learn.