Sunday, August 5, 2012

Do We Need a Department of Homeland Safety and Sanity?

He looked for a crop of justice,
     and saw them murdering each other.
He looked for a harvest of righteousness,
     and heard only the moans of victims.

Isaiah 5:7 (the Message)

Can you imagine the nation’s outrage if the crescendo of killings that have occurred in places like Columbine High, Virginia Tech, Phoenix, Arizona, and Aurora, Colorado--and as of today, Oak Creek Wisconsin--had been carried out by known members of terrorist organizations?

When it came to fighting terrorism after 9/11, Americans didn’t just throw up their hands in helplessness, but immediately went about creating a new agency, the Department of Homeland Security, and empowered it to do whatever necessary to prevent future disasters of that kind. Many now believe that department has gone too far in creating restrictions and regulations limiting our freedoms and our rights to privacy, but most still support the nation’s response.

So why not more aggressive action to prevent Colorado style killings?

I hear many pundits, politicians and even preachers simply express feelings of helplessness over this kind of carnage. Seeing it largely as the work of psychotic loners, they conclude that no amount of additional screening for gun or ammunition purchases--and no stricter laws limiting the kinds of weapons or the size of ammunition clips available--could help prevent these tragedies. It’s a moral and a mental health problem, they say, and the common wisdom is that neither morality nor sanity can be legislated.

While there is some truth to that notion, laws are not only intended to prevent harm but to make a statement about a society’s values. I can’t believe that supporting unlimited access to combat weapons (designed only to kill as efficiently as possible) is consistent with placing a high value on human life. And even if some semi-automatic assault weapons were approved for hunting, do they need to be equipped with a hundred rounds of ammunition?

I doubt that the framers of the Constitution had such means of massive destruction in mind when they wrote the Second Amendment. I believe they would share our outrage over the fact that we are 11 times more likely to be killed by a gun here in the US than in Japan, and 6 times more likely than in Germany, resulting in a total of over 12,000 such deaths here each year. And they would not attribute that to our being more violent or more deranged than citizens of other nations.

Maybe we need a “Department of Homeland Safety and Sanity” that would be charged with addressing the above issues, along with finding better ways of detecting (and treating) psycho-terrorists before they engage in their senseless slaughter. This agency might also want to look at the issue of excessively graphic violence in media entertainment, such as in the movie "The Dark Knight Rises" being shown on the night of the Aurora horror.

Adam Gopnik recently wrote in The New Yorker, “The killings will go on; the cell phones in the pockets of dead children will continue to ring; and now parents can be a little frightened every time their kids go to a midnight screening of a movie designed to show them what stylized fun violence can be.”

Gopnik isn’t advocating outright censorship, but is appealing for a major shift in our attitudes toward this kind of entertainment, and believes the cost of movie violence has simply become too high.

He writes, “The problem... when we talk about these things is that we want causality. And culture doesn’t give us causality. But there’s connectivity without causality. ... The connectivity of a culture is a deep thing.”

He notes how the horrors of 9/11 are “eerily similar to the destruction in big-budget disaster movies,” and asks, “Is it incumbent on us always to pretend that we just love watching scenes of massacre and mass destruction? ...It’s only when [disaster] actually happens that you realize what its actual content is... that kind schizophrenic divorce between the actual content and the imagined content of our lives becomes uglier and uglier as I get older.”

I couldn’t agree more.

We have made a covenant with death,
And with Sheol we have an agreement;
When the overwhelming scourge passes through
it will not come to us;
For we have made lies our refuge,
And in falsehood we have taken shelter.

Isaiah 28:15

For some related thoughts you may want to check out my 7/21/12 and 1/16/11 posts.
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