This morning’s news of another school shooting in Ohio is tragic. There’s simply no other way to describe it. When we send our children to school every weekday morning, we fully expect them to be safe and return home at the end of the school day (whether or not they’re educated is a different column for a different day). Today, one Ohio family won’t have the luxury of the latter and every single Chardon family will now question the former. As of this writing, one student is dead and four others are injured. According to MSNBC, the suspect is a fellow student and is in custody.
When these things happen, I try to take a deep breath, say a prayer for those affected, and think about what would make someone shoot and kill a fellow human being. Politicians would be wise to do the same but instead we’ll most likely see the now-mundane reactions from both sides of the political aisle. Democrats will by and large decry the tragedy and then scream loudly for more “gun control.” Republicans will express sympathy, affirm their unshakeable faith in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and then pray like hell the story will go away. Both sides are missing the point.
Just after the tragic shooting of former-Rep. Gabby Giffords and 18 others in Arizona in early 2011, I discussed this issue on MSNBC’s The Dylan Ratigan Show. If you watch the clip, you’ll get the gist. If not (and you should, not because I’m in the clip but because it’s a great debate amongst my colleagues Dylan, Karen Finney, and Susan Del Percio), here are my points:
- While guns are easy to scapegoat, they’re just a weapon. Timothy McVeigh didn’t use a gun on that terrible day in Oklahoma City, OK; he used a homemade bomb. The 9/11 hijackers didn’t use guns but instead used planes filled w/ innocent people and jet fuel to kill others. Adolph Hitler didn’t use guns to kill most of the six million Jews during World War II. He gassed most of his victims. And finally, those men who killed Matthew Shepard used their bare hands.
- Just because you fire a gun at someone doesn’t make you “crazy” or mentally ill. Sure there are plenty of examples of men and women with mental illnesses who’ve exacted violence on others. And we already have laws on the books that prohibit the mentally ill from owning guns (albeit loopholes abound). I, for one, though don’t buy the line that all criminal murder defendants are “nuts” and not guilty by reason of insanity.
- The common thread running through all of these examples of murder is learned HATE. When you kill six million people of the same religion, you hate them. When nearly 3,500 black men and women in the United States were lynched, Southern white law enforcement officials claimed the prevention of rape and murder. Sorry but the sad reality is they were lynched with ropes by white men because they were black.
RESPECT THE WEAPON
My father slept with a loaded revolver underneath his pillow every night. I knew it was there and not one single time did I ever get anywhere near it. We had a gun case down at our Pee Dee River house filled with shotguns and rifles and the only time I ever went near it was to pull one out to go hunting. From an early age, I was taught guns were used for to defend yourself, your family, your property, and to hunt for food. This isn’t just a “southern thing” as one friend pointed out. Good, law-abiding people all across this great country from the Northeast, to the Great Lakes region, and yes even Californians own guns. When you’re taught to respect the weapon and use it for the above purposes, I don’t have problems with gun ownership. It’s when there’s a lack of respect for others that I draw the line.
RESPECT YOUR FELLOW MAN
Man has employed the use of firearms since the 12th Century for purposes beyond hunting and defense such as war. And while war is an entirely different matter, how we treat each other during peacetime is where the rubber hits the road. Prejudice against others is nothing new in this small world of ours. I’m of the opinion we all have varying degrees of prejudice in us. It’s when you’re taught to hate someone because of their skin color, their gender, their religion, or their sexual orientation that you’re running slap up against Judeo-Christian beliefs. As I have said on tv several times, I was taught blacks were an inferior race to my own race. I was taught that to be gay was against the “will of God.” I’ll never forget the time I was in the car with my Daddy, listening as he screamed and hollered about how terrible Jews were.
I am without a doubt “Southern” in so many ways, my accent being the least of them. But as I struggled with my own sexuality as a kid, as a teenager, and then as a young adult, I had to admit to myself eventually that I was either going to recognize the worth of my fellow man or I was going to stay in the closet and let my own self-loathing express itself on others simply because they looked different than I looked. This awakening, per se, this realization of how to respect my fellow man was perhaps the most emancipating thing I’ve ever experienced. Let me be clear: I’m judgmental. Ask anyone who knows me well: I let my opinions be known far and wide. And yet, despite my ability to judge others so easily, it takes a hell of a lot for me to disrespect someone and by God, I can’t think of a single person on this planet who I truly hate. Perhaps I just didn’t drink enough of the Kool Aid.
When parents teach their children to hate someone either deliberately or in passing, they’re passing down a set of values. When I’d hear my Daddy use the “N” word, I of course thought it was fine for me to say exactly the same thing. And I admit using that horrible word freely as a teenager and young adult. When our politicians espouse their religious and so-called moral beliefs on the campaign trail to deny equal rights to others, they’re passing down a set of values to their constituents. When our religious leaders stand by silently as their parishioners’ civil rights are trampled upon, they’re complicit in their silence.
Perhaps I’m simply naive to dream of a world where we can mostly get along. Perhaps I’m just too near-sighted to think that despite my Daddy’s bigotry towards pretty much anyone who wasn’t lily-white, that he wasn’t a terrible or immoral man. He was taught his bigotry pure and simple.
I caught a rash of hell from my friends on the professional Left for “going soft on guns” after the Giffords’ shooting. From my friends on the Right, utter silence. Perhaps some of my Republican buds think if you don’t talk about the issue, it will go away. I’d rather talk about it, hence this column. Having a dialogue or discourse on how we treat each other is a good thing. While a national dialogue on hate is too late for the Ohio family who will bury their child in the coming days, it’s not too late for any other parent who sends his or her child to school every single day. Blaming the gun or choosing to sit silently doesn’t solve the problem. The child who died this morning deserves better and frankly so does the kid who murdered one of his own classmates.
On the surface, it looks as if we as a society have failed both children. That’s something we don’t have to keep doing. Hate is something we definitely don’t have to keep doing.