I’m compelled to share this piece in an attempt to ease my own pain, and to offer something—anything—to help us all respond to the epidemic of violence in all its forms.
The recent assaults on our sensibilities, and the attacks that proliferate beyond anything a civilized society should accept, cannot become commonplace. Egregious violence against women, men, and children at concerts, in movie theaters, churches, and, most recently, another school, boggle the imagination and damage our hearts.
Questioning whether or not I have anything new or different to add to the conversation too often blocks me from expressing my thoughts. To heck with that—we all need to be engaged in this discussion. We are under assault from more than just AR-15s.
This is my proposition: our fascination with guns and violence obscures our ability to see through the veil of a civilization out of balance.
It’s time to investigate the radical systemic causes of inhumanity, hatred, and alienation. At what is rotting away the core of our culture. What are the root causes of our predicament with gun violence? Do we have the courage to look at those? These include the constantly reinforced belief system that holds that guns are cool, make you powerful, and are necessary for your personal safety in a dangerous world. Your freedom is at stake! This is the core message the NRA proclaims to their single-issue voters, and the one echoed by the politicians who do the group’s bidding in the policy arena.
Tragedy after tragedy has a tendency to numb our senses. As we become desensitized, the average person simply gives up. Even caring, thinking, and compassionate people shrink from taking bold action as the news cycle offers up another bright and shiny object every day. The culture war raises its ugly head, and the money machine dominates the agenda.
We are told by the congressional corporate apologists, “This is not the time,” “We mustn’t politicize this,” or worse, “We’ll look into it, once we have all the facts.” What a crock of double-speak; these puppets of the NRA are the ones who have politicized the issue since well before the Columbine school shooting of 1999 by refusing to seriously address the issue of gun violence and instead padding their re-election coffers with millions from the gun lobby.
While money plays a major role, the issues go deeper. As the media sensationalizes our fascination with the perpetrators, gun control proponents dance around the margins by advocating for baby steps related to each tragic event. Gun show loopholes, bump stock bans, background checks, and other measures fail to address the cultural beliefs that fuel Second Amendment rights advocates’ beliefs.
Isn’t it time to create a new culture of kindness, caring and compassion—one that has an extraordinary awareness of all the systemic sources of violence? A culture that re-defines what personal freedom and safety is all about?
Looking for a shooter’s “motive,” or looking for someone or something to blame (especially the NRA) is a fool’s errand that only leads to avoiding deeper, systemic issues that remain taboo in our culture.
Once the motive is identified, we file it away, all neat and tidy—and that’s that. The horrific, aberrant incident is conveniently characterized, categorized, and defined as “pure evil”—no further inquiry required. Innocent victims have died and their families are changed forever, all while NRA executives sit smugly satisfied that their precious Second Amendment is safe from scrutiny. 
I often dream we can achieve a just and equitable country where “we the people” overwhelm the few; a society where those with power, privilege, and political influence, perpetuating their extreme ideological agenda that is powered by fear and money, will be held accountable.
This isn’t about blame; it’s about responsibility.
Can you imagine if Wayne Lapierre, CEO of the NRA, were charged as an accomplice to multiple murders for his rage-filled speeches and pathological need to block all reasonable gun control policies? Let’s go further: can you imagine NRA members, gun manufacturers, and gun purveyors, along with their lobbyists, all standing trial as co-conspirators? If we were to transcend our practice of punishment for the guilty, what would a restorative justice sentence look like?
The next question is how do we personally respond to this senseless behavior—what can we do? Now we have the “Never Again” initiative that was launched by some courageous students. Can you see yourself taking action to join this emerging movement?
Beyond trying to uncover motives, or chalking these terrible events up to the “lone wolf” syndrome or the “crazy evildoer,” I suggest searching for the root causes of what we consider abhorrent behavior. Doing this may ultimately lead us to a more sophisticated understanding of the violence that begins in the mind, well before it shows up in behavior.
From there, we may discover and find solutions. Did you know that gun advocates and their puppet politicians have blocked the use of federal funds to even study gun violence, let alone any form of commonsense management of this public health epidemic?
In case the reader needs a little statistical grounding, consider these facts:
Since June of 2016, there have been 555 mass shootings in the United States (the FBI defines a “mass shooting” as four or more people hit at once). The total number of individual fatalities from these “mass shootings” was 689, with 2,684 wounded, while the number of deaths attributed to guns from suicides, domestic violence, accidents, and crimes was 38,658 in 2016. (However, data points can unfortunately be a major distraction, so we should be careful not to waste too much time arguing about the numbers.)
Shortly after the Las Vegas concert massacre, I stumbled across an article by Jed Diamond in Men Alive, which encouraged me to engage in a deeper inquiry into this subject. I’ve been revising and updating my thoughts for this article ever since. His piece suggests we address the issue right then and there, rather than weeks and months from that terrible tragedy, if at all.
Those who control legislation continually avoid taking any action. They pray for the victims and honor the dead—but do nothing. These are teachable and actionable moments to address the root causes and come up with solutions! The raw emotions, frustrations, and disbelief at the ugliness create an atmosphere ripe with opportunity to finally have the courage to take meaningful action.
I believe that self-inquiry (personally and societally) is absolutely essential in any effort to understand the larger context within which all of our behavior is contained.
Children are killing children—what is beneath these behaviors? Could it be a sick society with distorted values? Does it all come down to one gigantic moral dilemma?
Are the damaged and wounded individual perpetrators, unable to tame the demons and wars raging within their psyche, simply acting out the wars raging within all of us?
Could it be they see through the hypocrisy of a government that sanctions murder under the false pretense of “national security,” and a society that spends millions on movies filled with graphic violence cloaked as entertainment? Is road rage our only answer to impatience?
Even greed and selfishness are qualities too often celebrated as we strive for immediate materialistic gratification. Could these “evil” ones among us be so alienated and wounded that they have no internal resources available to ask for help? Do their communities lack the resources and commitment to care for the alienated in their midst? Could a gun represent the answer to their need for personal power, agency, and control?
When love and happiness is really all we humans really want, what has gone wrong?
Evidence suggests the majority of people in the U.S. continue to avoid contemplative introspection.
(For an in-depth view of current research, see: “Assessing the State of Contemplative Practices In the U.S.“) Looking in the mirror remains challenging for most Americans. It’s far easier to “know it all”: secure in our beliefs, protected by our judgments, and comfortable with our justifications and rationalizations for “the way the world is.” It is important to keep in mind that petitionary prayer (i.e. asking God for “deliverance from evil”) tends to support pre-existing ideological, religious, and psychological beliefs, whereas contemplative practices emphasize direct experience while cultivating receptivity and openness.
As I watch my thoughts and marvel at current events, it amazes me how the culture wars banter back and forth with their neat and tidy ideologies, often supported by political and religious soundbytes. Opinions are plentiful, spoon-fed to us every day by all forms of media, from every imaginable vantage point. This keeps us stuck in our dualistic framework of “us vs. them.”
In the aforementioned Men Alive article, Mr. Diamond points out the obvious: perpetrators of these horrific acts are always men. In addition to the question of gender, the age-old question of “nature vs. nurture” arises. If there is a consistent thread in these mass shooting events, it is that the perpetrators were all alienated and isolated from so-called “normal” human relationships.
Noting this, have we adequately looked at the impact of technology and “virtual reality” on our psyche? Isn’t it time to investigate the core values of our culture, and reconsider what our society “respects” and “honors?” Would you agree that, at present, it’s power and money? Think about how guns represent power, and how shooting them taps into something primordial, deeply embedded within us. Add to this, the overwhelming amount of violence in all forms of “popular” media (de-sensitizing our collective acceptance of blood, guts, and gore), not to mention the “Be All You Can Be” TV ads recruiting citizens to join the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines. What for, you ask? Oh, of course, to be a “real” man and learn how to kill people as a teenager. All of this propaganda is nicely packaged in patriotic duty, national security, and American hegemony—willing to “kick-butt” wherever and whenever we damn well please, in the name of Making America Great Again.
What if we believe that we live in a caring, kind, and compassionate world—dare I say, an abundant, loving universe? This may be true, but we also live in a violent nation that has gained its dominant position (politically and economically) more often than not through the use of force and war. While my interpretation may strike the reader as oversimplified, even naïve, I stand firmly by my assessment: the acceptance of violence as a “fact of life” goes mostly unchallenged.
People don’t often analyze the insidious nature of the military-industrial complex and how it has expanded to include banking, insurance, and pharmaceutical corporate apologists. How many times, in how many ways, do our private and public “leaders” remind us that we live in a “dangerous” world, thereby justifying predatory behavior, manifest destiny, and cavalier nation-building, along with the right to carry weapons, in order to shape the world in our own image? Now we have a congress advocating “concealed weapons” laws for the entire country and a president who wants teachers to have a little raise so they can afford to buy a gun for their classrooms.
So, what might be the antidote to abhorrent behavior?
How can we address so many dysfunctional systemic challenges that plague our species? In my view, it boils down to changing our perception of separation and the arrogant attitude that we are superior to everything non-human. Can we drop the belief that we are the dominant species on this planet? An egocentric belief in our superiority leads to a false interpretation of the “survival of the fittest.” This culturally convenient view breeds competition rather than cooperation. Let’s ask ourselves how we arrived at the notion that everything is here for our taking.
What happened to reverence for life? Would you, as a concerned reader, agree that modern humans have drifted far away from the healing power of nature? E.O. Wilson at Harvard and Stephen Kellert at Yale nailed it pretty well more than 30 years ago in their research on biophilia: the basic biological need for humans to have a direct connection and affiliation with the natural, living world ). In the human attempt to be comfortable and in control of our artificial built environment, we have forgotten that we are land-based mammals (Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon at that), dependent upon clean air, clean water, and nutrient-rich soil providing us with abundant healthy food that supports, nourishes, and balances our biochemistry.
When is the last time any of us genuinely thanked all the sacred elements of the earth that keep us alive? How do we give back our love and gratitude? We are all suffering from Nature Deficit Disorder, and we know it, deep down in our bones. As a result, we have lost respect and reverence for life; we have lost the ability to experience empathy and compassion, as we too often drift into aberrant behavior.
As our Nobel Laureate so aptly put it: “The answers, my friend, are blowin’ in the wind”—so, I for one, will be listening as attentively as I can to the breeze at dawn to imagine and live into the emerging future with courage and curiosity.
 The Second Amendment was passed in Congress in 1789 and ratified in 1791. At that time, a highly trained militia man could load and fire his musket three times in one minute.
Author: Bud Wilson
Image: YouTube still (Bernie Boston)
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman