Will Whatley: What’s to blame for gun violence?

Will Whatley: What’s to blame for gun violence?

By WILL WHATLEY, Alabama Daily News

I saw Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” this past weekend and really enjoyed it. For a Tarantino film about the Manson murders, it was surprisingly low on violent content. I honestly walked away more worried about all the characters smoking cigarettes than I did about the level of violence. (Full disclosure: as the dad to eight month old twins, I pay a lot more attention to these things now.) Something one of the film’s characters said stuck with me. Hopefully this doesn’t count as a spoiler,  but the character essentially said that, because of Hollywood entertainment, they’d been raised in an atmosphere of violence and therefore they should reflect that in their actions.

In the aftermath of the two domestic terrorism episodes in El Paso and Dayton, as well as the shootout with police in Philadelphia, I wondered if this statement had any merit to it. Are people today more likely to commit such heinous acts of violence because we’ve been exposed to it in our media? 

That’s at least one of the three boogiemen pundits like to point to in the aftermath of mass shootings, right? It’s the violent video games and movies, some say. Others say an inadequate mental health care system in this country is to blame. No, others will argue, it’s definitely the guns and lack of stricter gun controls that cause these shootings. 

Depending on your perspective, one could form a perfectly rational explanation for each of these individually. But I’d argue that’s much too simplistic of an answer considering how complex humanity can be.

First, with video games and movies. Let’s just pretend for a moment that history hasn’t been filled with violent characters since the beginning of time. Even the Old Testament is loaded with violence: The Flood, Passover, the Jewish people waging war against the many tribes inhabiting Israel, David and Goliath, and so on. And let’s not forget other historical events like the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition and Salem Witch Trials. And of course we can’t forget such wars as the Battle of Thermopylae, the Battle of Tours, the War of the Roses or the American Revolution (thank you Google and the University of Alabama History Department.)

If we’re being honest, some level of violence is ingrained into our very fibers of humanity and civilizations. Many of these instances have even been celebrated and glorified for centuries. And no matter the era, stories of such events have always been circulating in however stories are told, from old men sharing stories around ancient fires to IMAX movies and video games. And sadly, violent events have become part of the human experience and have been carried out using whatever methods were available at the time. From rocks to spears, swords to shotguns, people will use any means to inflict the maximum level of damage they desire. 

Are modern first-person shooter games a step above what society has dealt with all this time? Absolutely. But, it’s not the only technology that has evolved. 

Next, take the mental health question. Throughout time, certain people have been predisposed to committing violence. I’m personally hesitant to blame the mentally ill. After all, millions of people today who suffer from mental health issues have no problem going through life without wanting to harm anyone at all. Still, it would be irresponsible to dismiss the issue entirely. People wanting to harm and kill others for any reason are obviously mentally ill. We simply must have a system that is able to identify these specific individuals and do our best to keep them from obtaining instruments of chaos. That especially means improving our mental health care system and access to it. But, again, that alone would not be an answer to curbing gun violence. 

Finally, take gun control. We have to acknowledge that some things simply don’t have a place in the lives of civilians these days. While I’m guilty of romanticizing the American Revolution myself, parts of the Second Amendment have mostly been rendered useless for decades now and to believe that a “well regulated militia” can go up against the various levels of both U.S. law enforcement AND armed forces is something I’d have to see to believe. We’ve long sacrificed that personal level of freedom for differing levels of security, from punishing local vandals to invading hostile countries. So, in the collective interest of public security, we should probably revisit the whole idea of what sort of firearms citizens can arm themselves with. But even the strictest of gun controls wouldn’t stop these mass murders all by itself. 

Look, I’m not crazy about the government – it’s big and there’s a LOT of people involved – but I still participate in the democratic process, which means I’m involved in how our country is governed. We ALL have a voice in the process, so you can either try and change the system electorally or you can take up arms and revolt. Or you can move to another country. “America: Love It Or Leave It” amirite?

Look, you have every right to believe what you want, but there’s no absolute truth here. If blaming video games makes you feel better, then fine. Maybe exposure to violence can turn normal people into killers, but, if playing video games alone makes you who you are, then I’d be a Heisman Trophy winner. You can blame our inadequate mental health system, and you’d be partly right, but fixing it isn’t a silver bullet and we’ll never patch every hole in the safety net. You can blame weapons because they are in fact made to kill things, but they lack such things as fingers and independent thought. And for each person using a weapon maliciously, there are countless others who do so safely and responsibly. 

There’s no telling what leads people to such violence but we can no longer do nothing. And a real, meaningful solution will probably involve some give and take, including on some policies we don’t all agree on. 

Whether we like it or not, we are at the dawn of a new age of acceptable social norms and behaviors. From “Black Lives Matter” to #MeToo, there is serious change afoot as to how we interact with and treat our fellow humans. We can either work towards an equitable solution to a very serious public problem or dig our heels in the sand and resist until we’re eventually tuned out and turned into a footnote of history. 

But whatever your angle, it’s time to do something. We’ve kicked this can way too far down the road.

 

Will Whatley is a contributing writer for Alabama Daily News. He can be reached at will@aldailynews.com.