Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Speaking of Norms: America and the "Gun Culture"

The headlines are hardly noteworthy anymore: "...shooting-leaves-1-student-dead-and-4-wounded." Why? Because in America, it happens all the time. School shootings have become a norm.

This time, however, I took note because the tragedy occurred in an Ohio high school. It was easy for me to imagine the cafeteria at 7am just before the shooting took place: kids coming in with thick winter coats and scarves on, having just arrived from homes nearby. Others sitting and talking with their friends, their coats hung on their chairs, hats and gloves piled in front of them, right beside the plates of scrambled eggs and glasses of orange juice. And still other kids dragging themselves up to the cafeteria line, waiting for some grub.

The place would have been lively, maybe with a song from Lady Gaga's latest album playing from one girl's laptop, noise from another being passed ear to ear as a group of boys checked out a new screamo number from a buddy's mp3 player. 

Then suddenly one lad, a boy that many people knew as a quiet guy who attended a different local school but who would occasionally stop in Chardon High to visit a friend, stands up, jostles with his coat and takes a pistol from his pocket. He brandishes the weapon for just a second, then takes aim at a group of dudes sitting at the next table over.

Before anyone can process what is happening, BAM! he shoots. BAM BAM!!! he shoots again. A couple boys slump immediately in their seats, slide to the floor. Simultaneously,  a heavy rain of screams and cries pours out from all directions. Hell is unleashed.

The scene might seem like that of a Hollywood flick, but it is all too real, all too common: Thanks to a combination of interpersonal issues (bullying and teenage angst) and America's "gun culture,"  a young problem child turns to violence to express himself. Others end up dead before their time.

For several days, maybe even a week, the media will focus on the school, the victims, the culprit, and the affected families and friends. There will be images of hospitals and funerals and the childhood home of all those involved. For another fortnight, there will be talk throughout Ohio about the shooting up in Chardon. For a year, maybe two, maybe three (until the kids who witnessed this incident have all graduated), there will be a ripple effect throughout scores, maybe hundreds of parent-teacher meetings, counseling sessions, and focused community discussions on the cause of violence in schools and the part that guns play in the equation.

And then, slowly but surely, the focus will turn away, turn to other events, turn to violence with other faces, in other places, while back in Chardon, like in Columbine (Colorado), like in Baton Rouge (Louisiana), like in Blacksburg (Virginia), things will have long returned to "normal."

But what is the norm? 

That a shooting can happen anytime, anywhere, and anyone can be a victim. Just wait and see.

For more information, check out this link.


Ramanan said...

Hi Brad,

It has been some time since I have made a comment, so here goes.

What do you think is the reason for such a "normal" state to exist in the first place ? Is it because American students are exposed to increased levels of stress in their lives (when compared to students from other countries)? A possible argument, but not too convincing.

In my opinion, it is reasonable to point a finger at the constitution itself. The second amendment right to bear arms, despite its archaic roots, seems to have very powerful (rich) allies in Washington. You might say that it is a valued part of American culture and history, but so was the idea of the rich paying higher taxes (hard to find where those taxes are now).

You could also say guns don't kill, people do. This is valid, but what if people were denied easy access to the means ? Increased gun control measures (causing reduced availability of guns) could not possibly cause an higher occurrence of shootings - so why not adopt atleast a few ?

Brad Blackstone said...

It's sad that since I wrote this post, there have been several highly visible gun crimes in the US, including the theater massacre in Colorado and the Sikh temple slaying in Wisconsin.

There's no end to America's obsession with guns in sight.