The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

December 17, 2012

Tackle cultural roots of gun culture

Daily Item

---- — The weapon used by a 20-year-old man to murder 20 children and six adults in a Connecticut grade school could be obtained as easily as visiting a local discount store.

The tragedy prompted an immediate call for the nation to revisit gun control legislation. Others suggested that an answer might actually be less gun control, arming more of our friends and neighbors to defend the community against killers when they strike.

Also, an increasing number of people are beginning to question the role of violence in the culture that is amplified by media. It is a sobering question. It deserves consideration.

Political leaders can immediately address how to make weapons of mass murder less accessible, through requirements for registration, background checks or mandatory training.

Discovering why young men who feel alienated from society feel compelled to wantonly kill innocent people is a puzzle for our media-infused culture.

Ratings systems for movies treat "intense and persistent" violence comparably to sexual themes or obscene language. The rating system for video games will assign a "mature" rating to games with "intense violence, blood and gore." Those described as "mature" are defined as ages 17 and older.

Official ratings organizations make no effort to inform the public about how many bodies are dispatched in movies or video games or are alluded to in lyrics to hard driving rap rhythms.

The line between culture and effect is, at best, indistinct. We know much of our entertainment revolves around themes of crime, violence, revenge and the destruction of life.

The political debate about access to weapons addresses the means and escalating scale of violence. For motive, we must look elsewhere. We must look within.

We must plunge deeper into the collective psyche of culture, identify emotional triggers and address them.

We can do this. We have sought and achieved cultural reform in the past -- targeting cigarette smoking, drunken driving and, to some degree, domestic abuse.

Ironically, what media has created, media can re-form, as in reshape and restructure.

As President Barack Obama said Sunday night, we must change. We must do it for our children. The good news is that we can. We have done it before.

The elements of crime are motive, means and opportunity. A free society will always include opportunity for destructive behavior -- and the collective will to govern the means and reform the motive.