We are all familiar with the events that elevated the small, middle-class community of Newtown, Connecticut from virtual obscurity into homes not only across the United States -- into homes around the world. The massacre was/is shocking; the magnitude of the carnage and the ages of most of the victims took our breathe away; tears flowed from those most on high to very small children.
Out of this great tragedy, a tragedy not unique in the history of the United States, is opportunity. Opportunity to intervene in ways that will reduce such carnage for future generations. While much of the focus is on gun regulation, as it should be, this need not be, nor should it be, the sole focus.
Yes, there can be no justification for the sale of militarized weaponry such as semi-automatic pistols and assault rifles and the accompanying rounds numbered in the hundreds and thousands. Such destructive weapons do not belong in the possession of civilians; they do not have a self-defense or hunting justification. Given the events in Virginia Tech, Columbine,Tucson, Aurora and Newtown it seems clear that had semi-automatic weapons not been available, the massive number of dead and wounded would have been significantly diminished -- if these events would have had taken place at all.
Prohibiting the sale of semi-automatic weapons for civilian consumption is an obvious place to start regulating and hopefully the Congress will finally recognize that their oath of office speaks to maintaining the security of the citizens and not the preservation of the NRA or the profits of the gun manufacturers.
There are additional areas of regulation that also seem obvious, such as mandatory background checks at gun shows, removing legislation that allows concealed weapons in schools, churches, entertainment venues and in at least one case -- so far -- a state legislature.
These "fixes" will make a difference, but they do not address the underlying causes. It seems that identifying, discussing and acting on underlying causes is almost an anathema in the United States. Though this country has been at war for over 11 years in the Middle East, there has not been a congressional discussion, let alone a national discussion, on the underlying causes for our military presence.
The United States presents itself as a paragon of virtue, possessing the highest levels of morality and knowing what is best for others. This self view is a way of obscuring this nation's true history which is at the root of today's gun violence. This country was founded on aggression, the conquest and subjugation of the Native population, and that set the course from the outset. There has developed a strong propensity to address and solve differences, not through diplomacy and compromise, but rather through aggression and force. This has become our national model and we saw it manifested in Newtown. In the words of David Gregory, host of Meet the Press, this is a "culture in which violence is routine and is considered routine."
The best selling video games are the most violent ones. Spectators go to hockey games in the anticipation that they will see fights and brawls. Even in the violent sport of professional football, there was an escalation when one team paid a bounty for injuring an opposing player. And let us not forget that the War and Aggression [Defense] budget is sacrosanct. These are not singular, unrelated events -- they are an imbedded part of our culture.
It is past time for us, the citizens, to address the cultural underlying causes for the mayhem that marks our society like no other industrialized country. In 2001 Representative Dennis Kucinich of Ohio introduced a bill, H. R. 808, that would establish a Department of Peace and Nonviolence at the Cabinet level. This bill has been introduced year after year and if implemented would address the issues discussed above. Below is a key paragraph from H.R. 808:
"The mission of the Department shall: hold peace as an organizing principle; endeavor to promote justice and democratic principles to expand human rights; strengthen nonmilitary means of peacemaking; promote the development of human potential; work to create peace, prevent violence, divert from armed conflict and develop new structures in nonviolent dispute resolution; and take a proactive, strategic approach in the development of policies that promote national and international conflict prevention, nonviolent intervention, mediation, peaceful resolution of conflict and structured mediation of conflict."
It is this quality of leadership that is necessary if we are ever going to be a Nation that truly values peace and the lives of others. The regulation of firearms is an essential first step in protecting our citizens, young and old, and we cannot afford to stop there if there is any chance of changing our culture from one which values violence, aggression and power to one which values diplomacy, discussion and compromise as the means to resolve differences.
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