As so many others have already expressed, there are no words that can properly convey the overwhelming sense of sadness we all feel as we find out more information about the tragedy that took place in Newton, CT.
As we took the weekend to mourn those that have passed, we remind ourselves that this tragedy must be viewed as a cry for help from a sick society. If we are able to allow this incident to catalyze us to look deeply at the soul of our society and commit to healing from the pain that causes mass shooting after mass shooting, then we can ensure that the 20 children and 7 adults who died did not die in vain.
This tragedy wasn’t just about Adam Lanza, the 20-year old gunman who was once himself a 5-year old child. This tragedy is about the society that raised Adam, the same one that raised Jacob Roberts, Andrew Engeldinger, James Eagan Holmes, Wade Michael Page and any other number of men who have recently gone on shooting sprees.
In the fall of 1963, Dr. King addressed a crowd at the funeral of three of the four young girls who were killed in a church bombing in Birmingham, AL. He reminded us that, “we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderes.”
So how do we begin to look beyond the “lone shooter,” and address the root causes of violence?
Who is the “victim?”
Before we begin to point fingers and assign blame, we must realize that all of us as a society are impacted by these types of tragedies. What impacts one directly affects all of us indirectly.
And yet, our hearts go out particularly to those who were directly impacted: the children, their parents, and the community around Sandy Brook Elementary School. The first thing many of us did when we heard about the tragedy was to think of the children in our own lives, and there is little we can say that will bring comfort to those who lost loved ones.
But there is perhaps another victim that we need to consider, and that is Adam Lanza himself. In a phone call with Dr. Bernard LaFayette Jr. this morning, he said that “the last person [Adam] killed was himself, but the first person to die was himself.”
He asked us to think about the pain that he must have gone through to get him to a point where he had such disregard for life that he would take the lives of multiple children, his own mother, and ultimately himself. Internally, emotionally and spiritually, Adam had already given up. He was, in so may ways, already dead.
As the old saying goes, “hurt people hurt people.” People who have been harmed, people who are walking around with unresolved conflicts in their lives are much more likely to harm others. That is the internal violence, the emotional harm that so many of us walk around with and that society refuses to acknowledge.
We like to think that violence occurs only when someone pulls a trigger. If that’s all violence is, it’s easy to remove ourselves and our families from it, knowing that most of us are not about to fire a bullet at anybody. And yet the emotional trauma that so many of us walk around with often times hurts way more than any physical injury we sustain, and those deep emotional scars is what drives people to commit these heinous acts.
We think that only poor urban communities struggle with violence. But as we’ve seen time and time again, many middle class suburban communities struggle everyday with the internal violence of the spirit. The internal pain that lies just beneath the surface, the pain that comes from broken homes, from bullying and a sense of isolation can lead to high rates of suicide, drug and alcohol abuse and mass shootings – things we continue to see in neighborhoods we like to think of as “safe from violence.”
And as many have pointed out already, urban communities witness violence on a daily level. And while it is maddening that we don’t recognize the daily violence in these communities as tragedies on a national level, we mustn’t let that bitterness feel like the incident in Connecticut is any less of a tragedy because of it.
Who’s the “enemy?”
So if this story is about more than Adam Lanza, who is it about?
The question isn’t about how the shooter got into the school. The question is what drove this young man to a point where he had completely lost touch with his own humanity and wanted to inflict such harm on little children.
The crime scene isn’t just on the school campus. The crime scene is in every interaction Adam Lanza had leading up to that incident, and those individual’s abilities to deal with each conflict in a healthy way.
The real enemy is the reality that we have too many scarred souls walking around our communities with no place to go for help. The real enemy is the fact that we are not capable of handling our conflicts in a healthy way. The real enemy is the fact that there are not enough people with the skills and the compassion to reach out to someone who is in pain – whether that pain is physical or emotional.
All of that is exasperated by the easy access to guns and the glorification of violence we feed to our children.
How do we move forward?
It seems that the argument for how we move forward is being framed around one of two issues: gun control or mental health.
There are those that argue that the more guns a community has, the more homicides there are. And there are others who argue that guns don’t kill people, people kill people.
This is not a mutually exclusive argument, and we will ultimately fail if we see it as one. We must be Hegelian and see the truth in both sides, and address the issue from every possible angle.
From our standpoint, there is no doubt that gun control has to be a part of the solution. And as we discuss what can be a controversial topic, let’s clarify one thing first: almost all logical people in our society favor some level of gun control. Few people would argue the logic behind restrictions against individuals owning anti-aircraft rifles or bazookas. And those policies are about gun control. So we all – liberal and conservative – favor gun control, the question is about the extent.
During his September visit to the Bay Area, Dr. LaFayette called on people to organize to get guns off the streets. This is because he understood that the more guns there are, the more homicides we see. Conflict is unavoidable, but the presence of a gun only elevates the potential for a deadly outcome.
Dr. Arthur Kellermann of Emory University recently conducted a study of homicides involving gun-owning homes. He found that keeping a gun at home makes murder 2.7 times more likely. People are 21 times more likely to be killed by someone they know. Most of those are crimes of passion, and by removing the gun out of that equation, you immediately lower the possible “worst case scenario.”
Dr. Kellermann also found that 96.4% of killings in gun-owning homes were murders, and only 3.6% were ruled as acts of self-defense. So in pure numbers, the argument that owning a gun makes the household safer simply doesn’t add up.
The US has the world’s highest gun ownership rate. And there are approximately 9,300 gun related homicides per year, which accounts for about 60% of all homicides. There are close to double that in gun related suicides. To put those numbers into context, according to these numbers, the United Kingdom witnessed 14 gun related homicides, Japan 47, Australia 59, Spain 97, Canada 144 and Germany 260.
And in the case of mass shootings, the vast majority of guns used in those incidents were purchased legally. A few less guns in the streets wouldn’t hurt.
But getting rid of even all of the guns wouldn’t stop murder, and it probably won’t even stop these types of mass killings. Dr. LaFayette told us of an incident in China where a man stabbed 29 children.
“Guns become a way to fulfill the way people are thinking,” Dr. LaFayette told us. “We can’t just remove guns, we have to remove that information [from people’s minds] or that accepted norm.”
So we also have to create a society where those with mental illnesses and their family members can identify the early signs of trouble and go get the resources they need without worry of being stigmatized or of high hospital bills. A mother named Liza Long articulated her situation involving her son beautifully in a letter entitled “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother.”
The number of mass killings that are not politically motivated has been increasing, as has the number of teen suicides. These all speak to the impact of internal violence, and we need to tackle this form of violence just as rigorously as we take on acts of physical violence.
King’s Final Marching Orders
As we continue to figure out how we move forward from this tragedy, we are also reminded of Dr. King’s final marching orders, to “institutionalize and internationalize nonviolence,” and we are more committed than ever to fulfilling that dream.
Nonviolence is not only about “not being violent.” It is not about waiting until violence happens and figuring out how to respond. It is about learning to respond to the conflicts in our every day lives and in society in ways that don’t lead to violence, and about identifying the early warning signs of violence so we can stop it before it matures.
We must all learn to handle our conflicts in healthier ways. We are left to wonder if there may have been anything more Adam’s mother could have done, or the teachers that were involved in some altercation with Adam days before the incident, or any other person who may have been in contact with him in those last days.
What if Adam himself was given creative avenues to release his anger? What if someone had truly reached out to him and was able to connect with him? Would that have made a difference in how Adam chose to his anger?
Violence is not coincidental. It is promoted by a culture and a society. And a nonviolent society will not happen by accident either. We need a coordinated nonviolent response to combat the promotion of violence through our culture and our media.
The deaths of these children must not be in vain, and it must impact the future of our children’s children. Now is the time for us to take action and begin to implement everything we have learned. And in particular to those who have gone through a Kingian Nonviolence training – now has to be our time. There are tens of thousands of us in the United States alone, and our children are waiting for us.
When children are killing children, that is not the fault of any child. That is the fault of society for failing that child. We as a society must commit ourselves to doing whatever we can to ensure that this does not happen again. We must begin to address violence at the root, we must organize, we must pressure, we must channel all of our anger at the “philosophy that produces the murderes” while finding some way to hold compassion not only for the dead children but for Adam Lanza as well.
We must boycott violence, and invest in peace. We must choose a powerful and assertive love over the forces of fear, hate and vengeance.
May we all live in peace.
Positive Peace Warrior Network