I’m home now from a babysitting stint with my grandkids, who live in a sleepy mountain town out West. I’ve written about this before, touching on the remote, bucolic life they live. A cliché of small-town America, quaint and quiet, their town seems idyllic. Down-home values, child-centered families and a passion for the outdoors define their life in the high Sierra.
I’m home now, but a disturbing incident traveled with me, and I’m inviting a discussion with readers here on Long Island.
On June 7 my 12-year-old grandson was preparing to attend his end-of-year “social” at the local middle school. “Preparing” is an understatement, of course. He was obsessing about the event, tossing his closet for the right jeans, talking about what snacks they were serving, frantically exchanging texts with other kids. My husband and I were pretty much bystanders to the plans under way.
Then (since I was the primary contact while my daughter was away) I got an email from the middle school principal saying that a rumor was going around social media about a threat of violence at the social. Mind you, these are 12-year-olds. She said she notified the local police. The dance was still a “go.” Two hours later, the principal emailed again and canceled the event “out of an abundance of caution.”
I thought what thousands of others have thought during actual shootings and stabbings: There is no safe place in America.
A few days later, the principal followed up, saying that the threat was never actually pinned down, that mostly it seemed to be a rumor that flew around the community via social media. Apparently all of us are vulnerable to unsubstantiated rumors from unknown sources that have the power to alter our lives.
My grandson and his friends were jacked on the excitement of it all, but what did they learn? How does this change how they see their community and their world? Young people have the right to expect a school social to be no-brainer fun. They have the right to feel safe. But there’s no path back to that kinder, gentler time.
I don’t want to write about an endemic problem like cultural violence without suggesting specific remedies, but violence is threaded through our lives. From cowboys to gangsters to school shooters, violent people, mostly men, have written our history in blood. There is no clear path to taming this piece of our national identity.
What we can do is raise children who are aware of the accelerating violence, who are savvy and self-protective and resourceful. We have to teach peaceful conflict resolution by example when our kids are young. The unenviable job of parents is to monitor their children’s exposure to violent games, movies and videos. Relentlessly.
And parents must monitor the rumor mill that churns through communities via texts and other postings.
It isn’t possible to fix blame for the culture of violence that possesses America. Certainly the wide reach of the NRA and its political clout contribute to the problem. The availability of violent media disturbs the peace. Factors, specific and generic, many beyond our control, glorify violence. Just last week, according to www.gunviolencearchive.org, eight people were killed by guns in the United States, and 12 were wounded. In 2017, some 40,000 Americans died by gun violence, many of them suicides.
Guns in America are as ubiquitous as flags, and often associated with similar ideals — freedom, pride and independence. We have a right to bear arms. It says so in the Second Amendment. But the law does not sanction the proliferation of assault weapons used in so many homegrown attacks. In our lives today, we cannot go to a movie or a stadium, or apparently to a school dance, without considering the possibility of being carried out dead.
The availability of guns is only part of the problem. When little kids watch TV shows that feature people shooting other people, bodies blowing up, crowds getting mowed down by gunfire or graphic scenes of torture and mayhem, they become desensitized to violence.
We own the guns in this country; we have to own the problem. More people are shot to death every year in America than in Australia, Canada, England, France, Italy, Japan, New Zealand and a dozen other countries combined. Canadians own guns, but they shoot one another with them far less often than we do. We started as gun-blazing pioneers. That seems quaint now compared with crazed killers who carry out mass shootings in our neighborhoods.
Copyright 2019 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.