It has been the dreaded headline of late mass shootings carried out by lone gunmen possessing either mental instability, ties to hate groups or motivated by perceived injustice. And while shootings of this kind inevitably always spark a conversation on guns in this country, from who has a right to own them to where, how and to whom guns are sold, to missteps in stopping these tragedies before they start, there is another key factor in the escalation of such acts; our social and political conversations along with media emphasis on some issues seems to only inflame instances of violence. Many organizations, persons driven by religious fervor need to revise how the present their views; many conservative politicians trying to do good need to rethink the legislation they author, the tone they use in saying certain things, the ideas they present in hoping to solve some of the largest conundrums of our time. From copycats inspired by the mayhem to those spurred into action, compelled to do something by the bad things they see on the news, read about, see their friends, family experience, to those who feel they can only get people to listen if they hold a gun in their hand, our handling of social problems, political problems and the language, metaphor and, in many cases hyperbole, we use can be just as much to blame for what is happening as lax gun laws, poor threat prevention plans, whether on college campuses or throughout our nation at large, independent of people simply not paying attention, not knowing the signs of trouble to look for.
Prime example, the shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin; while everyone is busy being appalled the man responsible was on an FBI watch list for 10 years because of ties to white supremacy groups and they weren’t able to stop this, or are outraged his minor skirmishes with the law did not prevent him from buying a gun let alone more than one, perhaps we should look more to the political conversations had in even just the last 4 years. You can’t turn on the news without hearing about illegal immigration, Latinos taking American jobs, receiving welfare, illegal alien criminals committing unspeakable acts; Arizona governor Jan Brewer ignited a firestorm when she spoke of beheadings on U.S. soil caused by Mexican drug cartels, then sparked an entirely different headline grabber when she could not name one singular incident later chalking it up to brain freeze. Illegal immigration was such a hot topic during the primary season a candidate had to remind audiences he was for legal immigration. Currently Asian immigration is garnering attention due to the numbers of people from that region who wish to come here, attend school, get jobs, open businesses; the fact that they are better educated and tend to have larger incomes only adds to the problem. And what is that problem, a society slowly making the traditional white American feel like an endangered species as we make room for others. Hardly mentioned amongst the endless ills illegal immigrants supposedly visit upon us is the fact they pick the vegetables on our tables in part because few if any Americans are capable or willing to do so, the jobs that they are taking are lowly ones as house cleaners and the like, things almost no American wants to do, young illegals go to school here, work here wanting to open businesses, community centers, create jobs, young people who had no say in their parents bringing them here unlawfully. And by the way; there were zero beheadings on US soil for any reason, never mind drug cartels Mexican or otherwise. But this is not the face put on it and the negativity of get the illegal people out so prosperity can return, so that you can have a job, so crime can go down is the message getting through.
Further in our world today the war on terror is simply an unfortunate reality often with innocent victims; Sikhs are often mistaken for Muslims, or our perceptions of what we think they look like, wearing similar attire including head scarves, turbans and appear to be from identical parts of the world giving off the perception everyone from that region is Muslim. The Wisconsin shooter was former military; although released in 1998 it is reasonable to assume he may have had friends, fellow soldiers who went on to Iraq, Afghanistan after 9-11, kept tabs on what our military was sent to do. Bringing these two factors together in relation to what happened, is it any wonder white America feels threatened, though it has no reason to as it is still arguably the most privileged ethnicity, media coverage and sociopolitical conversations give them more and more reason to be. At the same time those same forces perpetuate continued cultural ignorance; nearly every news report giving the progress in Iraq Afghanistan from adjacent areas within that part of the world nearly always feature persons wearing turbans, head scarves or other traditional wears on their head, adding to the fear of you just don’t know who could be a hidden terrorist. Should it have happened no, are their better things to do to prevent it besides complain about gun laws, yes?
Dealing with another hot button social issue, the support of the owner of chick Fil-A and the shooting at the Family Research Council touch off another heated debate in this country pitting religious values and tolerance against each other. It all began when the president of Chick Fil-A adamantly spoke out against gay marriage, while his Christian values are well known, he never has his restaurants open on Sunday and the day of support drew out conservatives across the country, he had never before been so vocal. Shortly after that a man walked into the Family Research Council offices with a gun and tried to get past a security guard apparently ranting phrases along the lines of I don’t like your policies; when last the news reported, police wondered if said shooting was connected to Chick Fil-A’s bold announcement due to the sheer number of both flyers and sandwiches found in his vehicle. Also reported said shooters volunteer work with a gay rights group and his apparent anger regarding the treatment of homosexuals. Of course freedom of speech belongs to everyone and we should not be censured except in situations of safety; however, what remains unclear is why the president of this popular fast food chain chose to speak out when he did. Usually those so strongly opposing same sex marriage are prominent religious leaders, conservative politicians running for reelection, conservative advocacy groups, a novice Good Samaritan, layman preacher sort telling what they believe is the truth of the gospel. Public comment is often in reaction to statements made by the aforementioned people. True there is nothing wrong per se with what he did but his actions cast suspicions on the motivation behind them, leading to questions like what did a gay couple come in with their adopted child and order a family meal off the menu, did he see a gay couple holding hands, kissing, being affectionate? Is that why he chose to speak up garnering national attention, because there was no mention of legislation in the city or state being voted on surrounding gay rights, it was before Paul Ryan was announced as the other half of the republican presidential bid, so it wasn’t a show of support for the conservative candidates. And if these common, benign occurrences set off such a vivid reaction don’t you think business is the wrong place for you?
Why, because as a business owner, manager, president you have to work alongside a variety of people some of whom will no doubt be gay, in your professional capacity running a business, you still have to hire people independent of their sexual orientation, because anti-discrimination laws were created for good reason and, unlike institutions such as the Boy Scouts, an employee’s being gay has no impact on their ability to make sandwiches, do the companies bookkeeping or devise a marketing campaign vs. imparting so called immorality to youth and culture. People have every right to follow whatever religion they choose, every right to close their establishment on Sunday, every right to cast their vote and voice their views, the how laid out here is the problem, returning us to the shooting at the Family Research Council. Looking at it from his perception, the perception of the shooter, here he is volunteering with an advocacy group for gay people, possibly gay himself, little doubt hearing stories of discrimination, persecution and who knows what else, potentially hearing of some planned rally, legislation or other action meant to negatively impact the gay community through his volunteer work, knowing full well the agenda of conservative value groups like this one; then he goes home quite reasonably flips on the news and there is the president of a fast food chain loudly declaring his displeasure with gay people being allowed to marry like everyone else. And we wonder why people snap; once more someone is forced to see one more place that doesn’t accept who he is, who his friends are, who his lovers might be, now has to come to terms with the idea a fast food restaurant isn’t safe for him to go without receiving dirty looks, having to defend his lifestyle. Additionally since we don’t know why Chick Fil-A’s president made his position so clear when he did, we are left to conclude it at least could be for the petty reasons listed above, the inability to stand seeing gay couples accompanied with children, being affectionate or silently telling onlookers yes they love the person next to them by their body language. Going back to the Family Research Council, they too often project the same small minded homophobia and bigotry; playing devil’s advocate for a moment, let’s say they are right, morally correct, the way to stop homosexual behavior is not to enact laws making it harder for them to live in society, not to push for legislation upon legislation effectively making homosexuals second class citizens, neither is it to brow beat them with the king James bible and standing in the middle of a fast food place and declaring the evils of homosexuality, supporting people who do, is only likely to make you look like a religious fanatic to be avoided. The way to stop homosexuality is to present people with what you believe are the facts and let them make their own decision; to do anything else leads to exactly what happened, what we say, maybe next time a loss of life.
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Movie theater massacre it was called as a 20 something young man later seen with flame orange hair flung tear gas into the premiere of a popular action film then said I am the joker then began opening fire; when the confusion waned days later and details about this seeming madman started to emerge so did the finger pointing from the college he attended having an alert on him from their threat assessment team, to the notebook he sent to his campus psychiatrist detailing plans for the shooting, to the guns, thousands of rounds of ammunition, amateur SWAT gear and explosive materials he bought on the internet, to the president of the United States remarking that surely we can agree, understand AK 47’s belong in the hands of soldiers not civilians, to the 3 mental health professionals the young PHD student saw before the shooting. Completely ignored and thus yet to be discovered is why he appears to have flitted between mental health professionals, was it because of insurance issues, diagnosis or a refusal to accept the latter; perhaps an even greater question, how far gone was he when he sought help, how deeply in the throes of what is likely schizophrenia was he when he saw his first counselor, psychologist? In that same vein, is it our culture that contributes to it not only shunning the mentally ill, painting needing help as a character flaw, a sign of weakness, but shown in our pharmaceutical pursuits. Pharmaceutical companies only want to make cutting edge drugs forecasted to generate huge profits and while they churn out endless versions of the little blue pill to give guys way past their prime a happy night, come up with yet another acid blocker for people who want to eat all the fatty, greasy, spicy food in excess and not deal with the pain, consequences or have and underlying condition doctors don’t take the time to find, create one more psychotropic drug for squirming kids tied to a desk all day, needing the basics of guidance not chemicals altering brain function, we don’t have new antibiotics to combat super bugs. We have 50 different pills for “depression” in a society that thinks a positive attitude is a prerequisite for breathing and people should be able to escape the rainy day blues; what we don’t have is new, better, drugs, ways of treating severe psychiatric illnesses. Sadly the drugs we do have lead to a host of side effects causing anyone not to want to take them; people who do have the shakes from long term use, go from vibrant active individuals to sitting in a chair drooling to avoid becoming a threat to self or others. Yet all anyone can talk about is regulating gun sales, what the school should have done, what the shrinks should have done, not eliminating the need for threat assessment teams, trying to eliminate the need for the next to impossible internet regulation of any product or substance.
If we want to end the violence we have to change the conversation, of course an FBI behaviorist should have been called in and able to detect a change in the Sikh temple shooter, of course AK 47’s assault rifles belong in the hands of soldiers not anarchists bent on destruction, certainly internet gun sales should be better monitored, but if we don’t look at what provokes such people, it will never stop. If we don’t stop purposely using words meant to shock, anger when discussing topics that require a more humane touch, it will never stop. Religion is not an excuse to hate, to peach hate, is not a license to treat homosexuals as a disease, to call them a sin instead of a person and the way to stop homosexuality is to lovingly try to convert them, ultimately making it their choice then leaving what they do in their bedroom between them, the other person and God. After so many of these kinds of incidents of course the school should have done more to stop the student before he went on his rampage, of course the community should have been alerted, depending on what the mental health professionals saw, he should have been committed even medicated long before we had reason to know his name. But that’s not the biggest problem we face; the biggest problem is in stigmatizing mental illness, not making drug and other treatment research a priority, befuddled mental health professionals who repeatedly claim can’t create a profile distinguishing between people who only rant and people who take deadly action regardless of if the signs are all too clear after the fact. Our biggest problem is not realizing there are consequences for how we say what we say.