McClellan: In wake of Newtown massacre, courage needed for meaningful change - East Valley Tribune: Columnists

McClellan: In wake of Newtown massacre, courage needed for meaningful change

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Mike McClellan is a Gilbert resident and former English teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa.

Posted: Thursday, December 27, 2012 3:54 pm | Updated: 5:27 pm, Tue Jun 18, 2013.

So we’re two weeks out from the latest gun massacre, and we’ve heard a lot about how to quell the next one.

“Improve the mental health system.” No one would argue that.

“Add more security to schools.” Depending on how that’s defined, there’s popular support for it.

“Look at our toxic pop culture and its effects on some.” We need to do something there. Well, some defenders of violent video games and movies use the same defense that some anti-gun regulation folks use: Why should all of us be punished for the actions of a few?

“Tighten some gun regulations.” The third rail.

Let’s take each suggestion separately.

Yes, our mental health system needs to be better in identifying and helping those who need that help.

In Arizona, however, over the last few years we’ve cut the mental health care budget, leaving thousands without the critical care they need. And the result? Schizophrenics go about their business with no support or in some cases even medication. And our hospitals have become the intake for those in critical need.

Not exactly encouraging.

Worse, all too often, the shooters are identified as mentally disturbed only after their horrific crimes. As many have pointed out, how do we peer into the minds of madmen who hide that madness? Families of the disturbed are often unwilling or unable or don’t know how to help their sons or spouses, leaving those disturbed to fend for themselves, their families living in fear or ignorance.

Wayne LaPierre of the NRA believes we should have armed security in every school, with the NRA even finding and training volunteers. Others have called for every school to have an armed police officer stationed there.

Many would agree with the latter idea, that a uniformed officer trained in dealing with madmen intent on indiscriminate killing might deter that or at least diminish the carnage.

But staffing our schools comes with a cost. And guess what? So far, few of our state legislators seem enthusiastic about finding the money to put officers in schools.

Two legislative leaders, House Speaker Andy Tobin and House Appropriations Chair John Kavanagh argue that the state doesn’t have the money to do the job. And the state cut existing funding for school resource officers in half over the last two years.

As to the toxic culture we live in, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the late senator and writer, once penned an essay entitled “Defining Deviancy Down.” In it, he argues that our culture relies on shock, that shock sells but has a short shelf life, that we become numb to the shock, so to sell the pop culture, often its creators will continue to “define deviancy down,” resulting in a spiral of ever cruder culture, all designed to shock us and sell product.

And so video games, for example, now feature single-shooter games where the graphics are realistic and the games even bloodier and deadlier.

Does that mean we create a culture of mass murderers? Of course not. But could the constant immersion in those games leave the mentally unhinged eager to act the shooting out in real life? Possibly.

But defenders of that defining deviancy down fall back on the First Amendment right of free speech, regardless of how irresponsible that speech might be. And so we’re left with Moynihan’s essay’s essential truth, that our culture continues its chase of the crass.

And, last, the idea of doing something about gun regulations. Some like LaPierre have noted that the last time an attempt to regulate semi-automatic weapons, the bans were ineffective because of all the loopholes. Which is true. But those loopholes were thanks to LaPierre himself, who lobbied heavily for those loopholes when the legislation was being considered in the early 1990s. The ban didn’t work because LaPierre and Co. made sure it wouldn’t work.

But can’t we all agree that gun dealers at gun shows, even the private ones, must perform background checks on buyers? Can’t we all agree that large clips or magazines should be eliminated? The shooter in the Aurora movie theater had a 100-round barrel magazine on his semiautomatic rifle. The only reason there weren’t even more deaths there came only because that magazine jammed.

Some argue that making the clips smaller only means that the shooter has to change out the clips or magazines more often. But wasn’t that the moment that the Tucson murderer was taken down by civilians, the time when he was trying to change out his gun clip?

But LaPierre and others seemingly won’t even entertain the most modest of reforms, claiming that this is part of the “they want to take our guns from us” movement. This is laughable. If anything, we’ve become even more lenient in our gun laws. One only has to look at Arizona for evidence of that. But even the Bane of Guns, President Obama, has done nothing to restrain guns. In fact, the only legislation he’s signed into law has been to widen gun use, to allow guns in national parks and on the Amtrak system. Ironically, Obama has expanded the rights of gun owners.

Nevertheless, the paranoid among us, urged on by some right wing commentators and the scare tactics of the NRA, are adamant in their fear of Obama. And so are equally adamant in fighting any — any -— new gun regulation. These folks believe that any new regulation is just the first step on a slippery slope of gun confiscation. And LaPierre has been successful in fueling that fear. And gun dealers have profited from that fear.

So here we are, two weeks out from the deaths of 27 innocent people and we wonder if anything will happen. Oh, sure, commissions will be commissioned, reports will be reported, serious discussions will be discussed. But it will take the persistent effort of courageous politicians and others to actually achieve something meaningful before those little kids’ murders fade from our memory and we return to “normal.”

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