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December 17, 2012 / mommy brain

Writing with a heavy heart

My heart goes out to all the families affected by the shooting at the elementary school in CT. I hugged my little guy tighter all weekend and couldn’t help but think of those grieving mothers and fathers unable to do so after Friday morning. I sincerely hope that they can all find peace, but I have no idea how that is possible after what’s happened.

I grew up with parents who owned guns, and I have never felt strongly about increasing gun control, always believing it was up to the parents, the adults who obtained the guns legally, to keep weapons of any kind away from children. This tragedy is making me rethink my stance on gun control. I do not think anyone needs access to assault weapons. I don’t know how the laws should be written or if that will prevent events like this from happening, but I do think a change is necessary.

I am also learning that mental health care access is inadequate in our country. I am sure many of you have seen this article, but I’ll share it here in case you haven’t seen it.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/16/i-am-adam-lanzas-mother-mental-illness-conversation_n_2311009.html

I found it eye-opening and disturbing to read that a mother’s only option for her clearly mentally disturbed and potentially violent son to receive full time care is, according to this blog post published by Huffington Post, to have him arrested and placed in a jail that provides full time care for mental illness.

While I am not well enough informed about mental illness care access in the US, and I am rethinking how I feel about increasing gun control, I do have a strong opinion about a part of American culture that I believe contributes to horrific events like the shooting in CT.

Why do these unthinkable and horrific events occur more often in the US than anywhere else in the world? I  believe that American kids are exposed to way too much violence on television and in video games. I think that, as a culture, we are too obsessed with gun fights, chase scenes and violent fight scenes that make up a big percentage of the screen time of the most popular television shows, movies and video games that Americans watch and play.

I am no exception. My favorite TV show is Breaking Bad, and I’ve probably seen the Bourne movies, which feature much bloodshed throughout each film, at least three or four times. And Kill Bill, a particularly violent movie, is one of my favorites. We recently saw the movie Safehouse starring Denzel Washington on OnDemand, and the movie woke up T in his room down the hall at one point. I felt so bad because I realized that my 18 month old woke up to gunshots from a movie.

Video games based on the premise of killing the bad guys or your opponents are the worst in my humble opinion. I think that is the most awful way a child or teenager can spend their time, basically pretending to kill as a game. It’s one thing to play with toy swords in the backyard; I believe that playing a video game that features gruesome deaths on the HD screen while the player’s point count goes up is a horrible thing to allow a child to do, essentially rewarding them for pretending to kill. I believe this is a contributing factor to the rise in horrific crimes like the CT shooting. These events are more prevalent now than they were in generations past, and it is my belief that the rising exposure to violence and the imitation of it through extremely popular and addictive games, something that kids did not have access to before the 1990s, has played a role.

I am not sure what we as a society or the government can do to reverse this trend. There is huge demand for video games and movies of this nature, and those who produce them will continue to do so as long as consumers demand them.

I do think that parents should work to limit their kids’ exposure to violence. I know it will become more difficult as my son gets older, but I hope I can keep him away from violent video games. I certainly will not allow them in my house. I will also do my best to keep him from watching violent scenes on TV. This is very simple to do when he’s still young, and hopefully I can keep him busy enough with other things as he gets older so that watching violent shows and movies will not be something he spends a lot of time doing as a teenager.

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3 Comments

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  1. Scott / Dec 17 2012 10:23 PM

    Hey Katie,

    Scott here. I’ve been really silent on this issue because I am in “the business” and have been particularly nailed by the details in this case. I know what went through that principal’s mind because I’ve been there.

    A few years ago we had a bomb threat emailed to another student who was disturbed by it enough to show it to his father who contacted us at the school. We read the forwarded email and took it seriously — we contacted the police and they advised us to evacuate the school immediately. We knew who had sent the email based on the info of the student who reported it. While coordinating with the police, a staff member came into the office and yelled “(The Threat) is walking across the soccer field now in a long black trench coat”. I didn’t think. I dropped the phone and ran.

    We had about 100 students gathered at the back doors waiting for the school dance. I needed to get to the “bomber” before he got to them. When I got outside I saw him walking towards the crowd with a trench coat bulging with wires looping from the pockets.

    I charged him and grabbed him by the throat, hauling him into a concrete alcove that shielded the students from any prospective blast. In my mind I was only thinking about protecting the students and making sure that only he and I were turned into “pink mist”. I bashed him against the wall as I ripped the wires out of his pockets. I was going to MAKE him blow himself up if he had something. I forgot about my family for those few seconds and my knees trembled about the prospects of “what could have been” for days afterwards.

    Obviously, he did not have a bomb since I’m still here but I have pushed the scenario over in my head for all those years. I know that the principal in this case had exactly the same thoughts I did — except her experience was real not a hoax.

    This is a long segue into the other part of your blog. In those years, I have become convinced that the answer to these incidents is too complex for “knee jerk” solutions. Video games are not the problem, nor are guns (full auto machine guns were legal in Canada until the 1970’s and no-one ever committed a massacre with them — until 20 years AFTER they were banned). Guns make killing easier but killers will always find a way. The deadliest school killing in America happened in the 1920’s with a bomb that killed 38 elementary students (they can take your gun, can they take the knowledge you gained from your Chem degree?).

    My firm belief is that kids today are completely sheltered from the reality of what death is. It does not compute with them. It is hidden, shrink wrapped, and sanitized.

    Even in my father’s time, if a family member died, YOU took care of it. You washed the body and prepared it for burial. Even in his time, the majority of people killed their own livestock for dinner or were less than a generation removed from a family that did. Death was final. Death was real. It was not a burst of pixels on your screen. When you see the light leave an animal’s or a person’s eyes there is no doubt that dying is a final transformation from “consciousness” into an inanimate thing. There is no reset button. Part of the reason I think that so many of these shooters kill themselves while still having a ton of ammo on them is not because the police get there but because they actually realize what they have done after the adrenaline rush has left.

    So I think you are partially right. Violence in the media contributes but the endless media flogging and it’s “ranking” of atrocities inspires others to “try harder”. They glorify the shooters while mouthing words of disgust — yet by the end they have published the color of the shooters last bowel movement. The absence of a mental health strategy is huge (medication over residential therapy). Combine these with an access to guns and you have a cocktail for disaster. Yet we need to remember that the chances of this happening at any given school are about 0.0009 % in any given year.

    My kids have seen violent television and games and they live in a house that is full of guns of all types. I have taught teens for over 20 years and have had thousands pass through my care. The kids that are exposed to both the realities of death and the seriousness of firearms are the least likely to “snap” in my experience. I don’t suspend “farm kids” for violence with any regularity — the vast majority of my violent offenders are town kids. When I talk to them, they are usually confused as to why pushing a kid off the top of the bleachers might have dire consequences. Admittedly this is a infinitesimal minority of the town kids but a large enough sample to be apparent. The disconnect between violence and death is apparent in their reactions.

    Two things that my kids share with most farming kids is that they have never been sheltered from death. The chicken we ate on Sunday, they helped butcher on Friday. They understand what death is and that it is not pretty or glamorous — yet it is necessary for the continuation of other life.

    They have also NEVER had a toy gun. Guns in our house are potentially dangerous tools that we need (like chainsaws). The only time they ever pull the trigger on anything is on a piece of paper for practice or on an animal that we will eat or that is a potential predator of livestock or produce. Having hunted with me, they know what a gun can do and they respect that like the laws of gravity.

    I don’t know if my comments add anything to the debate. A certain part of me thinks that every child should be toured through a slaughterhouse at age 10 and shown the death of an animal — to be made witness life turning into product. Those that are horrified, curious or even fascinated should be classified as “normal”. Those that take apparent pleasure, show no emotion or get aroused need to be “targeted” for further intervention. We’d have a ton more vegetarians, I’m sure. We’d have fewer “shooters” too I’m betting.

    Give Tommy a hug for us (and Gord a kick in the arse — just for dirt),

    Scott

    • mommy brain / Dec 19 2012 2:55 PM

      Hi Scott! Thanks for your reply! I am not at all surprised that you were the one to tackle the would-be bomber. Those kids are all very lucky to have you. Also, it’s a testament to the kids in your school that the student let a parent know about the email. I read an article written by a psychologist who has studied mass shootings, and apparently in almost all cases, the person did not actually “snap;” they took a long time to plan, and they almost always told someone about it in some way. The problem is that the person or people they told either didn’t think it was serious or were afraid to tattle-tale.

      I think that you and I mostly agree. While I am no longer sure what the right level of gun control should be, I agree with you that guns are not the root of the problem. I do think that kids are in a way desensitized to violence given its prevalence on tv, video games, media, including news coverage, etc., but your point about kids not understanding the reality of death is a good one. Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a feasible way to change this for most kids today.

      Thanks also for making the point about toy guys. While I am sure T will once he’s old enough learn how to properly use a gun from either G or from my dad, I’ll make sure to avoid toy guns and make it clear to him that guns are not in any way shape or form to be considered toys.

      Hope you guys are having a wonderful holiday season! Hopefully we see you some time soon; we need to plan a trip 🙂

  2. Dmang02 / Dec 22 2012 2:12 PM

    We were out of the country when this happened, we turned on the TV in our hotel room and my eyes just filled with tears. This was an unimaginable tragedy, I just couldn’t believe it was reality. My heart sank as I thought of these poor innocent children and their families and friends whose lives will never be the same. As you did with T, I looked over at my little guy and hugged him tighter. And every chance I get I hug him close, these guys are the most precious thing we have. My heart goes out to these families, I still cannot believe that this actually happened and each time I think of it I continue to fill up with tears.

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