Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Don’t let moral panic control the gun debate

More shooting. More mayhem. More calls for gun control. More calls for more guns to control guns. More, more, more…
               Panic is in the air; moral panic. According to experts, moral panic is a collective human condition that involves an extreme social situation in which agreement on action is difficult because the core issue of the matter is taboo. In this case, the taboo is gun control – brought about by various interpretations of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
               A growing fear is sweeping the nation that has the potential to spiral us toward remedies that may not be appropriate or adequate response to the issues of extreme violence we’re facing. Make no mistake, America is experiencing a significant cultural dilemma that continues to threaten our way of being. Yet, according to an old adage, fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.
               When fear envelopes decision making, it can foment excessive and even irrational action. We begin to imagine we can control all situations with force when it may not be possible. In most cases, control is an illusion. Just ask any battlefield officer when the shooting starts. And with respect to responses of violence in civilian society, courses of action are typically disproportionate to the actual threat posed.
               America seems to be experiencing a collective anxiety attack as a result of the recent shooting tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary. Our worse fear happened: murderous havoc was perpetrated on our culture’s most innocent of innocents -six and seven-year-olds. The response has been predictable: fear and anger. The burning question in many people’s minds is what immediate action do we take, right now, to protect ourselves and loved ones? It’s a reasonable query for the short term. Yet, might an equally prudent question be, what’s at the core of gun violence and how do we address it?
               There are two distinct camps of thought: gun control and gun proliferation, and it’s all or nothing because America’s blood is up. Been that way for a while. Folks have stakes in the ground based on their own personal experience and understanding of violence – what causes it and what stops it. Right now, it’s ‘either or’ among people. Might there be middle ground? Is there room for compromise? At this point, there seems not to be.
               Fear can be a powerful and controlling factor in a person’s thinking. Right now, most are letting fear drive decisions. Thinking processes are short-circuited. And although the threat of violence is not imminent, we are taking action based on perceived, not actual threats. We’re not thinking, we’re doing. It’s the American way.
               Then again, my kids weren’t one of the 20 who were shot three times with an assault-grade military weapon at close range. Had that been the case, I’m not so sure I’d be waving a flag that says, ‘Let cooler heads prevail.’ By the luck of the draw (because these shootings seem random, geographically), that places me in a position where empathy and reasoning is easier to grasp.
               A final comment about moral panic: although it’s highly volatile, it tends to disappear as quickly as it appears because of the tendency for the public to lose interest or move on to the next big news event. Let’s not allow that to happen. It’s time for America to face its issues around guns. Until we focus on the ‘why’ questions (i.e., why are these shooting rampages happening?), we’re all destined to remain in this lottery of extreme violence where, like it or not, everyone has a ticket. Let the correct debate begin.

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