IN the World

This post is an extension of remarks I offered in a recent sacrament meeting.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not have paid clergy or preachers.  Rather, each week different members of the ward (congregation) are asked to speak on a specific subject.  I was recently given this opportunity with the prompt “How can we be in the world but not of the world?”

I feel that we frequently focus on the end of that phrase- not OF the world.  Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, succinctly and eloquently taught us how to do this:

“We will have to stay calm under peer pressure, not be impressed by popular trends or false prophets, disregard the ridicule of the ungodly, resist the temptations of the evil one, and overcome our own laziness.”

This is so important especially in our day where so many lines are being blurred and crossed, however, I think we sometimes pay too little attention to the beginning of that phrase where we are asked to be IN the world.

While this exact admonition is not found word for word in the scriptures, the idea is certainly there and similar commands are made both anciently and in modern times.

In Matthew 5 we read:
14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.

15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.

16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Additionally, Elder Quentin L. Cook said:

“We cannot avoid the world. A cloistered existence is not the answer. In a positive sense, our contribution to the world is part of our challenge and is essential if we are to develop our talents.”

We are not to be cloistered, or under a bushel.  We need to be on a candlestick and contributing.

Why is that important?

President Russell M. Nelson taught:

“True disciples of Jesus Christ are willing to stand out, speak up, and be different from the people of the world.”

I don’t know about you, but I would like to be counted as a true disciple.

President Spencer W. Kimball offered these thoughts:

“Much of the major growth that is coming to the Church in the last days will come because many of the good women of the world will be drawn to the Church in large numbers. This will happen to the degree that the women of the Church reflect righteousness and articulateness in their lives and to the degree that the women of the Church are seen as distinct and different—in happy ways—from the women of the world.”

While that was specifically directed towards the women of the church, it does not take the men off the hook.  Missionary work is driven forward as we are different, and articulate.  As we stand out and speak up, and as we are a light.

How then can we appropriately be IN the world to be this light?

We can:

Be Involved

Be Inclusive

Be Informed

Be Inspirational

 

Where do we do these things?  Sister Neill F. Marriott taught that we carry a circle of influence with us wherever we go.  I want to discuss 3 circles in which we can carry a significant influence.

 

First in our communities.

Do you know your neighbors?  Are you involved in their lives to any degree?  Do you include them in yours?  My uncle once said that the garage door opener was a destructive force in neighborhoods.  And it’s kinda true, we never have to talk to our neighbors because we don’t have to spend time in our front yards unlocking our doors and it feels awkward to just ring our neighbors’ doorbells for no reason.  Which is why I love Halloween…I get to ring my neighbor’s doorbell, they give my kid candy, and then we chat for a second.

Other Holidays are a great opportunity to connect- I used to make plans to carol to our neighbors at Christmas, but to the dismay of my high school dreams of eternal duets, my husband doesn’t like singing in public, my kids don’t sing on command, and it’s a little less cute for me to sit there and solo on the porch.  Also, we always get overbooked and sick right around Christmas.  So the last 2 years I scrapped the Christmas caroling idea and now we take treats to our neighbors for Valentine’s day.  They love it.  We have an older, wheelchair bound gentleman down the street and he loves our visit.  This last year we met a new neighbor on Valentine’s day, she was actually crying when she opened the door because she was going to have to put down her dog the next day.  I followed up with flowers a few days later to make sure she was doing ok, but I would have had no idea what was going on if I hadn’t taken her a Valentine treat.  Find a reason to knock on your neighbors’ doors periodically, and spend some time outside- in your yard or out for a walk so you have opportunities to meet and talk to your neighbors.

Additionally, the Church Handbook of Instruction states:

Members are also urged to be actively engaged in worthy causes to improve their communities and make them wholesome places in which to live and rear families.

This will depend greatly on your season of life and time availability, but find ways to serve whether on a regular and scheduled basis, or simply donating goods.  There are many opportunities to serve refugees in our community depending on your time and resource availability you could set up an apartment for an incoming family, make and drop off a meal for their first night in the country, stock them up with groceries- you can even do a clicklist and someone else can pick it up if you have the money but not the time, or you can simply donate goods as you declutter your home.  You may be involved on the PTA, or HOA.  Join a club or sports team.  I’m part of a community choir, I’m the only active member of the church in the group- which is completely opposite of any other choir I’ve ever been a part of, but I’ve had many opportunities to answer questions, and share experiences with other members of the choir.

Get in the world by being involved and inclusive in your community.  Avoid being of the world by being offish.

 

The next sphere I want to talk about bridges both locally and nationally.  And since we’re already discussing one taboo topic- religion- let’s just go ahead and discuss politics while we’re at it.

Again from the handbook:

“As citizens, Church members are encouraged to participate in political and governmental affairs, including involvement in the political party of their choice.

Members are encouraged to register to vote, to study issues and candidates carefully, and to vote for individuals whom they believe will act with integrity and sound judgment. Latter-day Saints have a special obligation to seek out, vote for, and uphold leaders who are honest, good, and wise.”

In the last Presidential election, which as you might remember was a little heated to say the least, and an incredibly close call in the end, 45% of adults in the US did not vote.  Please don’t be part of that 45%!  We just had an election about 2 weeks ago…did you vote?  We have another one coming up in about 2 months, will you vote in that one?  And more importantly, will you be an informed voter?

Getting informed is time consuming and can be frustrating as it can be difficult to find unbiased information but it’s SO important.  Take a look a multiple sources, including looking into the other side of the argument.  It may or may not change your opinion, but it will certainly help you make a more informed decision.  It will also help you engage in more civil and constructive discussions on the topic.

We also need to decide what principles will guide our decisions and stick to them.  May I suggest that one of these guiding principles would be to follow the prophet, even, and especially when he may say something that goes against our typical political line of thinking.

Earlier this year I posted something from President Nelson that went against the grain of a certain line of political thought.  The topic and political side are unimportant, but I want to share an exchange that occurred with another member of the church that I knew from my mission.

She responded:
“I’m alarmed that the prophet would make such a [leftist or rightist] and non-sensical comment.”  She went on about her thoughts on the topic then concluded with: “Why do people… now apparently including our prophet!, think that laws impact people’s choices at all??? Utterly ridiculous”

I was a bit shocked that a fellow active member of the church would speak out so derisively of our prophet.  Even to go so far as to call him ridiculous.  But, while this example was extreme, I had noticed multiple examples of a similar attitude when the church made an official statement that went against someone’s political leanings.

I responded to her with these thoughts:

“I don’t think of this as a [leftist or rightist] view. I think that the Prophet is the center, and sometimes the right aligns to center, and sometimes the left aligns to center.

I think the most important thing is to look introspectively and make sure that we are aligning our political views, the policies we support, and our general behavior with God and His teachings rather than trying to make Him and His teachings fit into our political views.”

With the recent statement on the Medical Marijuana bill in Utah, a friend and fellow blogger published an amazing article on this exact same subject of following the prophet.  I highly recommend reading the post, but here is a quote I stole from it by Elder Neal A Maxwell from 1978:

“Discipleship includes good citizenship; and in this connection, if you are careful students of the statements of the modern prophets, you will have noticed that with rare exceptions—especially when the First Presidency has spoken out—the concerns expressed have been over moral issues, not issues between political parties. … But make no mistake about it, brothers and sisters; in the months and years ahead, events will require of each member that he or she decide whether or not he or she will follow the First Presidency. Members will find it more difficult to halt longer between two opinions (see 1 Kings 18:21).

President Marion G. Romney said, many years ago, that he had “never hesitated to follow the counsel of the Authorities of the Church even though it crossed my social, professional, or political life” (CR, April 1941, p. 123). This is a hard doctrine, but it is a particularly vital doctrine in a society which is becoming more wicked. In short, brothers and sisters, not being ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ includes not being ashamed of the prophets of Jesus Christ.”

Please be IN the world by being involved and informed politically but avoid becoming OF the world by putting party above Prophets.

 

The last sphere of influence I will discuss today is our potential global influence via the world wide web.

Social media is a two edged sword, on the one hand it can turn into a major time suck which can take us away from real relationships and higher priorities as well as turning into a war of words and tumult of opinions.  On the other hand, it offers a convenient way to keep in contact with friends, family, and associates and gives us the opportunity to share goodness on a large scale.

 

Elder David A. Bednar, in his address that began the #sharegoodness campaign, taught the importance of our online presence:

“The Lord is hastening His work, and it is no coincidence that these powerful communication innovations and inventions are occurring in the dispensation of the fulness of times. Social media channels are global tools that can personally and positively impact large numbers of individuals and families. And I believe the time has come for us as disciples of Christ to use these inspired tools appropriately and more effectively to testify of God the Eternal Father, His plan of happiness for His children, and His Son, Jesus Christ, as the Savior of the world; to proclaim the reality of the Restoration of the gospel in the latter days; and to accomplish the Lord’s work.”

Sharing goodness isn’t just about always sharing church related material.  I feel it’s more about HOW we share than specifically WHAT we share, and should certainly extend to how we share our opinions on secular matters such as politics, current events, and really any issues that are argued on the internet.

He offered these guidelines to help us as we post on social media:

Be Authentic and Consistent and Seek to Edify and Uplift

“Our messages should be truthful, honest, and accurate.  We should not exaggerate, embellish, or pretend to be someone or something we are not.”

Last year I posted an “end of year review” detailing some of the fun things we had done throughout the year.  We had gone on several trips, etc.  After I posted it, I just didn’t feel well, authentic.  The post made it seem like 2017 was this beautiful fairy tale year.  When in fact, 2017 was a really hard year.  I was struggling with post partum depression, we had 3 ER visits, found mold- hence the ER visits, and my car basically exploded.  Yes, it had a lot of fun moments as well, but I realized in only sharing the fun, I failed to share the goodness.  I failed to share how we had learned and grown and the miracles we had seen despite the challenges.  So I wrote a blog post end of year review to be more authentic and accurate.

From Elder Bednar:

“Our content should be trustworthy and constructive. And anonymity on the Internet is not a license to be inauthentic.”

“We and our messages should seek to edify and uplift rather than to argue, debate, condemn, or belittle.”

Before you post something, make sure it comes from a trustworthy place.  Unfortunately, many entities put together posts and click bait articles that are not entirely true (or just outright lies) and specifically intended to stir contention.  Before you share stop and check that it is true, and then think about how it is worded, will it be informative and potentially inspirational, or will it primarily come off as judgmental and offensive?  A good guide can be to ask yourself if you would say it or share it if the person you disagree with was standing right next to you.  Name calling or insinuating that the other side is stupid is by no means constructive, it merely tears down and creates a bigger divide.  It is possible to disagree without being disagreeable.

Consider the example I gave earlier of my friends’ response to what I posted from Pres. Nelson.  She used words like non-sensical and ridiculous to describe our prophet, even if it wasn’t the prophet, but someone else I held in high respect it would still be rude.  She also insinuated my stupidity which immediately put me on the defensive.  Perhaps a better way to have worded her post could have been:

While I respect our prophet and your opinion on this issue, I am confused by this statement.  The church often emphasizes the need for personal responsibility, and I’m concerned that more laws would not change behavior.

That would have gotten her same point across without being offensive.  You can and should boldly share your opinions, but you ought to do it pleasantly. Because…

“Authenticity is strengthened through consistency. The gospel messages you share will be accepted more readily if your Christlike example is evident in the ongoing pattern of your posts.”

If your other posts and comments do not follow His example and demonstrate His love, then people will not be keen to listen when you share a message that is specifically gospel related.

Elder Bednar went on to say:

“Brothers and sisters, share the gospel with genuine love and concern for others. Be courageous and bold but not overbearing in sustaining and defending our beliefs, and avoid contention. As disciples our purpose should be to use social media channels as a means of projecting the light and truth of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ into a world that increasingly is dark and confused.”

Let’s be in the world wide web by being inspirational but not of the world by being offensive.

In closing I want you to consider the many temples we have in the world.  While we have temples in many areas that are primarily known for their high Latter-day Saint populations, we also have temples in places like New York City and Las Vegas which are certainly more well known for their worldliness.  Temples are here IN the world, but are certainly not of it.

Sis. Marriott shared this insight:

“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” We too as [children] of God have been placed all around the world, like temples, and we each have our own unique look and outward design, like temples. We also have a spiritual light within us, like temples.

We have our own roles on the earth.  Each is influential. Each role will have moral power as we reflect gospel truths and temple covenants in our lives.”

I invite you to consider how you can individually be more IN the world by being involved, inclusive, informed, and inspirational then having the integrity to not become OF the world.

Gun Violence: A Multi-Faceted/ Bipartisan Approach

I’m not sure why this particular school shooting has lead me to deeper contemplation than others, maybe it’s that a piece of my heart stayed in Florida after serving an LDS mission there, maybe it’s that I have a 3rd degree connection to the shooting (the daughter of a friend of a friend was shot and miraculously survived), maybe it’s that my own son is getting closer and closer to school age, maybe it’s that now I blog and I felt the need to share my voice.  It’s probably a combination of all of the above.

I didn’t want to just post reactively, because that just tends to get people more entrenched in their own way of thinking so I set out and did a decent amount of research.  Now by no means am I touting myself as an expert in this.  I did not research EVERY major shooting in recent years.  I do not know or understand all gun laws.  I have a very basic knowledge about guns in general.  But, I do know more about all of these things now than I did a few weeks ago.

My biggest suggestion to everyone is to go into this with an open mind and do some unbiased research of your own.  My research challenged a lot of ideas I had, it strengthened some of my opinions, and ultimately left me with a lot more questions.  That’s probably the definition of good research.

I hope people from all sides will read this, consider the ideas, do some more research, and ultimately work towards solutions rather than the stalemate we have put ourselves into.

Why are we so outraged by mass shootings?

When a mass shooting occurs it suddenly becomes a news and social media sensation.  It’s as if the instant it occurs it becomes a trending story, memes about gun control/ gun rights are immediately shared, online arguments ensue, someone asks if we can all just get along, and probably someone shares some statistic about why there are bigger issues we should be outraged by.

So, here’s some statistics we should keep in mind.  Mass shootings account for only about 1% of gun related deaths, and yet they get the bulk of the media coverage.  In 2013 gun deaths accounted for 1.3% of all deaths in the United States.  So mass shootings account for about 1% of 1% of deaths annually in the United States.  Also, more than half of those gun related deaths were suicide rather than homicide.

According to the CDC’s stats from 2015, of the 2,712,630 deaths that year in the United States, 23% were caused by heart disease.  That’s almost a quarter of deaths each year.  But I rarely see an outrage over this.  Next is cancer at 22%.  Now I do feel like there is a general fear of cancer among Americans.  In case you didn’t already add those two numbers together, cancer and heart disease make up for 45% or almost half of the deaths in America each year.  Put down the cheeseburger and the unorganic food and back up slowly.

There’s a pretty significant drop off percentage wise down to 3rd place at 6% which goes to chronic lower respiratory disease, which is typically caused by smoking or even second hand smoke.  Cigarettes should have us in the corner peeing our pants.

4th place goes to accidents (predominately car accidents) at 5%.  Driving is something most Americans do EVERY DAY.  Typically without a second thought to the fact that it is the 4th most dangerous thing you can do.  I don’t have the specific stats on how many of those were caused by drunk driver’s or other accidents involving alcohol, but they are included in this stat.  But more than cars and alcohol, Americans report themselves as being afraid of snakes, sharks… and shootings.

For the record, homicide does not make the top 10 list, but suicide does, in 10th place following strokes, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, influenza/pneumonia, and kidney disease.

Ok, so maybe this isn’t a fair way to look at our outrage meter because those stats do take in all age groups, so a lot of those people were really old so maybe it was their time and as I pointed out in my post about the death of my grandmother, those deaths aren’t necessarily an outrage.

So let’s break those stats down a little more.

Among white males suicide jumps up to 8th place or 2.6%, homicide is still not on the top 10.  Among black males homicide is the 5th leading cause of death at almost 5%, which was only 50 fewer individuals than the number killed by strokes, and about 2,700 less than were killed in car accidents (6.5%).  Suicide did not make the top 10 list for black males.  Among Latino males, suicide and homicide both make the top 10 list at 2.6% and 2.4% respectively.

Neither suicide nor homicide made the top 10 lists for any of the groups of women.

So statistically speaking, women have little reason to be afraid.  White men don’t need to be afraid of other people, only of taking their own life.  Hispanic males should be a bit more scared.  And black males ought to fear homicide at the same levels I suggested we all be afraid of driving.

Again, these stats are including all ages, and still for almost all of these group, heart disease was the number one killer, if not heart disease then cancer.  So what if we look at age groups, where people are significantly less likely to die in general.  What if we just look at untimely deaths.

For all groups ages 1-44 accidents are the leading cause of death.  About 30% of deaths for each group, except for the 15-24 year olds which jumps up to 41%.  Among 5-14 year old suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death with 7% of deaths, homicide ranks 5th with 5%.  Among 15-24 year olds (our high school and college age group) suicide ranks 2nd with 18% of deaths, homicide is a close 3rd with 15%.  Among 25-44 year old suicide and homicide drop down to 4th and 5th place with 11% committing suicide and 6% by homicide.

Now of course not all homicides or suicides are committed using a gun, but guns did account for 67% of homicides and over 50% of suicides.  According to the Academic Journal of Epidemiology, of those who have attempted, 90% who use a gun are successful.  More attempt using other means such as cutting or drug overdose, but only 3% of those cases are successful. And among attempted homicides, according to data from the Western Surgical Association, gun shot wounds (at least to the heart) have an 84% chance of death whereas stabbing victims have a 30% chance of death.

So what we can deduce is that, while other means are of course used, guns are the most lethal.  This also applicable when comparing statistics with other countries.  According to the American Journal of Medicine, the US has a homicide rate 7 times higher than the average for other populous developed countries with a gun related death rate 25 times higher.  Which means that other countries must have a higher percentage of deaths by other means.  It’s not that other countries don’t have issues with violence, they just have less issues with gun violence which results in fewer deaths in general because they are more likely to survive the violence if it was not committed using a gun.  I did not find a statistic for overall violent attempts between countries, which I think would be an important statistic to find and consider in the debate for solutions.

Now to get this back into perspective, I gave the stats for how many deaths are accounted for by homicide and suicide, but that still doesn’t tell you how likely people are to die by these means without knowing the deaths out of total population.  Here’s where some math gets a little tricky because the census stats I found did not break down into the same age groups as the cause of death stats and the census stats are from a few years earlier than the cause of death stats.  These specific stats are another thing I think need to be looked at in greater detail and accuracy, but for the sake of perspective, here’s what I could piece together.  As of 2010 there were 166,786,747 individuals aged 5-44 years old.  The chance of dying of any cause in this age range sits at about 1%.  In 2016, 20,189 people in this age range committed suicide or .01% of the population.  Homicides accounted for 12,789 deaths in this age range, or .007% of the population.

If we look at just the high school and college range, those most likely to commit suicide or fall victim to a school shooting, the stats remain at .01% for suicide, but comes up to .01% for homicide.  Remember the stat from earlier that mass shootings only account for 1% of these gun related deaths.

I give these stats not to suggest that this is not a problem, or that we ought not to be outraged but to put in perspective that the chances of being killed are very small.

So then why are we SO outraged by mass shootings when they are statistically a small problem in general, and still considerably smaller than other problems related to gun violence.

I’m about to make some uncomfortable assertions, so hang on.  I’m not saying that this is how EVERYONE feels, or by any means that they are morally correct reasons, and by and large these come from my own observations not from any sort of research.

The Media

An NRA spokeswoman said, “Cable news loves school shootings.”  Think about it, when a disaster of this nature occurs, it plays continuously and everyone tunes in (at least everyone with cable).  Every day shootings, well, they happen every day so they don’t spike ratings so they don’t often report them.  But with a mass shooting their ratings spike, and the more they spike, the more they cover it.  The more they cover it, the more outraged we get.  We begin to fight on social media about it.  We can’t seem to let it go.  And, while I’m not into conspiracy theories, here’s one that’s fairly verifiable.  Russian Twitter accounts posted loaded and inflaming comments both for and against gun control immediately after the shooting.  So when you hop on and immediately social media is full of arguing and memes claiming that the other side is irrational and how dare they say that.  They DIDN’T SAY IT!  A Russian account said it to try and divide us, and we fell for it.

Privilege, Choice, and Prevention

There are some indicators that put people at higher risk of falling victim to gun violence.  These include having a prior criminal record or living in a poor urban.  Let’s combine those indicators with the other statistics and look at my risk factors which are probably similar to most of my readers.  I was born white and female, since that gives me an advantage when it comes to gun violence, that would be considered privilege in this situation.  Coming from a middle class background is also a privilege.  The financial and educational choices that my husband I have made in conjunction with this privilege have allowed us to purchase a home in a reasonably middle class neighborhood.  Not having a criminal record is based on the choices that we have made not to commit crimes, but there is certainly an amount of privilege based on our upbringing to have helped with those choices.  Considering all of these factors, my family is avoiding and preventing almost all of the risk of being shot.

So when I hear about someone being shot in a gang fight, or even if they were shot as an innocent bystander but in a neighborhood very different than mine I don’t really relate to it.  That doesn’t mean I’m not upset by it, or that by any means I think it is ok.  But I move on with my day rather quickly because I’m so removed that I can’t really put myself in their shoes.

But with mass shootings, particularly school shootings, I CAN relate.  I’ve been a student, I’m a parent soon to send kids to school.  And there is nothing about my privilege or my choices that can prevent being a victim of a mass shooting.  They don’t care about race, neighborhood, or background.  I can’t even say don’t be a bully because they don’t just target the bullies.  They shoot at EVERYONE.  And in a place where we ought to feel safe.  And while the statistic is still so low, how can know which school (or concert or club) will be next.  It’s scary because what if it had been my school growing up, what if it had been my college classes, and most frightening of all, what if it is the school where my children go.

That is what causes the outrage.

What do we do about it?

Here’s where we all start fighting and we get really ugly.  I’ve seen people from both sides say that they would be willing to have a rational conversation if only the other side would be willing.  For one, that’s immature, be the example and the bigger person.  For two, most people are willing to have a rational conversation, remember how the most offensive comments that appeared to be entirely irrational came from Russian accounts.  They are trying to divide us, because when we are divided we are weak and nothing can be fixed.  Only when we take a deep breath, calm down, and have honest and rational conversations on this, and any topic for that matter, will we be able to get anywhere.

So let’s start by stopping.  Stop posting things that put the “other side” on the defensive.  Stop assuming other people’s intentions or intellectual ability.  Stop jumping to conclusions that suggestions are impossible.

There will be some very difficult questions that will come up.  Rather than shutting down because of a difficult question, let’s be willing to find answers and solutions.

Here are some of my suggestions, and they are by no means perfect, I recognize that a lot of questions would need to be answered and determined, but I think they could at least help the situation.

Reform Gun Laws

I am by no means in favor of getting rid of the second amendment, or collecting everybody’s guns.  And while there are people that do hold this view, they are few and far between.  According to a poll done in 2004, 31% of Democrats own a gun.  So my Republican friends who like to share things about Democrats wanting to take away their guns, please stop, because it’s not true.

Let’s take a look at that second amendment, shall we:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

The opportunity to hunt is not specifically protected, nor is the opportunity for self protection, although we should not take that to mean that they are not allowable.  The opportunity to be a part of a WELL REGULATED militia is what is specifically protected.  The intent is that if there is a credible threat to the security and freedom of the State that it will be able to militartize it’s people in a well regulated fashion.

While I’m not suggesting that we adopt the same rigorous requirements for gun ownership that the military does for it’s recruits, if a group of people is going to defend my state I would prefer they were of sound mind and without criminal history as part of being a well regulated militia lest they turn on the State or it’s people.

Currently there are some regulations about minimum ages to purchase and those that have been convicted of violent crimes or institutionalized for mental health concerns.  Here’s a few items I feel could be reformed while maintaining the balance of being well regulated and the rights of the people.

Raising the age limit

I am in favor of raising the minimum age for the purchase of all firearms to 21.  We have agreed to 21 as the legal age to purchase alcohol due to the risks involved, it makes sense to me then to raise that limit on weapons as well.  Would this completely solve the problem, no definitely not.  A lot of the shooters I researched were over 21.  But, while our laws about alcohol have not prevented all underage drinking, or all drunk driving accidents, our laws are not complicit with giving alcohol to people who are too young to make such serious decisions.  Likewise raising the age for purchase of weapons gives the message that this is a serious decision in which we are entrusting “the people.”

Restricting access to those with mental illness, violent tendencies, or criminal behavior

In every case that I researched, all of the shooters had known mental health concerns.  At what point should a mental illness preclude a person from owning a gun?  This is one of those really difficult questions that needs to be addressed.  It’s going to be difficult to research and determine, but that doesn’t mean it should be abandoned.  A quick search for statistics on anxiety and depression gave numbers all over the place from 18% of adults experiencing anxiety and depression, but 13% being treated, up to another group reporting that 40% of adults have anxiety or depression.  Whatever the number is, there are a lot of people who experience at least mild anxiety and depression symptoms, do we ban all of them from owning a weapon.  Probably not.  But I do feel that it needs to be expanded to more than just those who are institutionalized.  And maybe not forever, it could be a temporary suspension, say 5 years, and then with doctor’s approval could be reinstated.

As for violent tendencies and criminal behavior, Nikolas Cruz had a history of killing animals, this is known to be a gateway to worse violence later in life.  Additionally, according to information retrieved via the Freedom of Information Act, the local Sheriff’s department had received at least 39 calls in regard to Cruz over the last decade.  Certainly that should have been enough to have him on the “no go” list for buying guns.  Maybe some of his infractions would have gotten him in the NICS database if they had been reported correctly.  I know warnings are given and sometimes officers don’t want to jump to giving someone a criminal record in hopes of rehabilitating them, but if that was the case, they did not do him or anyone else any favors.  So this might be more procedural reform than legal reform, but this type of behavior needs to be taken seriously, reported correctly, and should prevent the purchase of a gun.  Maybe a juvenile record shouldn’t prevent someone from ever owning in the future, but there could be a time frame with no other incidents before the right is restored.

I also suggest that school personnel (including Universities) ought to be able to report mental health and violent behavior concerns directly to the NICS database.  Similar to being mandated reporters for Child Protective Services.  The school knew that he had attempted suicide, and he had been expelled for fighting.  In my mind these are 2 definite reasons to restrict someone from buying a gun.  Similarly, in the incident at Virginia Tech, the University counseling department was aware of concerns that ought to have been reported.

But what if someone reports falsified information?  This type of thing happens with CPS reports, there is precedence for consequences to those who falsify reports maliciously.  Also there could be the opportunity for appeal, and as I’ve mentioned in many cases the restriction might be limited rather than permanent as long as there are no further concerns in a given time period.

But they’ll just get their weapons somewhere else.  Maybe.  But the fact of the matter is that, with the exception of Columbine and Sandy Hook, the rest of the shooters I researched obtained their guns legally.  The Columbine shooters obtained their guns through an illegal private purchase, which brings up another legal issue to be considered.   In the case of Adam Lanza (Sandy Hook), his mother obtained the guns legally and then left them lying around her house, so while he didn’t technically obtain them legally, he had very easy access.  I used to use this argument, that they would just buy them somewhere else, but now that I realize that in most cases they obtain them legally I feel differently.  While that is still a concern, and changes to these laws are by no means a full solution, I am disturbed that our laws have been complicit in these individuals obtaining guns.  While they may just go to the black market, at least we will know that we did not facilitate their actions.

Consider that if someone really wanted to rob your house they could find a way to do it, despite locks, alarms, etc.  There’s a whole genre of films dedicated to people finding ways to break through top security.  So while someone could just break a window and rob me blind, I still lock my front door, because I am not going to make it easy for them.

Schools

I think there needs to be more done logistically to protect schools.  Yes it will be expensive- but I’m sure at least some parents would be more than happy to donate money to help defray those costs, as opposed to buying wrapping paper or candy bars to help with I don’t even know what those fundraisers were used for.

What that is going to look like for each district and each school is a little too individualized to address, maybe it’s metal detectors, maybe it’s limiting access except through the office, maybe it’s more resource officers, maybe it’s a combination.

But Sandy Hook did lock doors and limit access and Adam Lanza just shot through the glass.  Yes, that’s something to take into account, and again why it will need to be determined on the local level of what will be practical.  This also is not a full solution, none of these suggestions are, but hopefully in combination, through a multi-faceted approach, we can prevent more incidents or at least slow down a shooter.

How about arming teachers.  This is one that I go back and forth on.  As a former teacher, I did not sign on for being willing to die defending my school.  I have the utmost respect for the teachers who have put themselves between a gunman and their students, but is it fair to ask me to choose between protecting my students and going home to my own children.  I know police officers do that every day, but they are trained and they knew the risks when they picked the job.

On the flip side, I was a classroom teacher when the shooting at Sandy Hook occurred.  When I learned of the event, then went back to my classroom and looked at my entire wall of windows, the thought occurred to me that if someone chose to come to our school with a gun, I would be entirely powerless to do anything.  If I took my students with severe disabilities into my office and locked the door, there was still a window that could be shot out and then we would be huddled all together with nowhere to go.  We could try to run, but how would I get 11 students who were at this school due to severe behavioral concerns to suddenly decide to just follow my directions and run with my staff and I.  I realized that most likely we would all be dead before the police had an opportunity to arrive.  In that moment I felt a desire to be able to defend myself, or at least have someone present who could do SOMETHING to defend us.  We did not have a resource officer- but a lot of good that did at Stoneman Douglas.

I don’t know if arming teachers is the right choice, but if we are going to consider that avenue it needs to be voluntary but well regulated, and maybe it shouldn’t be guns, maybe tasers lest we turn innocent students into accidental victims.

Overall schools need more resources to stop letting students fall through the cracks.  We need more school counselors and psychologists to do handle mental health and behavioral concerns so teachers can focus on their job- teaching.  If a teacher notices an issue they should have proper reporting channels, but the actual reporting and follow up on the issue should go through counseling or social work departments.  While these positions exist, they are overworked and underpaid just like everyone else in the education field which does not give them a lot of opportunity to follow up on concerns.

But all of those suggestions are really expensive!  Yep.  So we’re going to have to sacrifice the money somewhere else in the budget and/or tax something- maybe guns.  This is going to require a significant amount of bipartisan cooperation and compromise, but that’s something that needs to happen not just about this issue but everything, especially education budgeting.  So instead of quibbling about it being hard, let’s sit down and figure it out.

Home and Community

This is where I think the biggest changes need to occur.  And this is not something that can be legislated.  Seeing how I just spent time discussing legislative and logistical suggestions, obviously I am in support of those, but they are band aids, and while band aids have an important role in the healing and protecting process, they do not get at the root cause of the issue, they will just hopefully do some prevention and protection once someone has hit the point of wanting to take lives.  Ultimately this needs to come down to taking a deep and honest looks inside ourselves, our homes, and our society to determine what is causing people to become shooters.

Gun ownership by household has actually been on the decline in recent years.  According to the General Social Survey in 1970s roughly half of households in America owned a gun, in 2015 it had fallen to 32%.  Individual gun ownership went from 31% in 1985 to 22% in 2014.  While there are other surveys that show some different numbers, none of them have shown an increase in household or individual gun ownership.  While the overall number of guns owned has increased, this would suggest that those who do own, own multiple, but the numbers of those who choose to own is dropping.

According to private research done by scholars from Harvard and North Eastern University from 1982 to 2011 mass public shootings happened at a rate of once every 200 days.  From 2011 to present, that rate has dropped to once every 64 days.  The rate has more than tripled.

If mass public shootings are increasing, but overall ownership is decreasing, gun ownership is not the root cause of this issue.

So what has changed that might be causing more and more people to become so violent?

Just in my lifetime (I was born in the late 80s for reference), I have seen some major changes in our society and overall culture.  I might throw in a “back in my day” so be warned.

Life plugged in

Video games have existed fairly mainstream for most of my life but they were pretty new so today’s 30 year olds were the first group to really be raised on video games.  We started out with really crummy graphics and games like Mario where we jumped on creatures’ heads to destroy them.  There were probably games with blood and guns, but they would have looked really cheesy.  You also couldn’t play ALL day because your system would certainly overheat, so we still spent a decent amount of time playing outside as siblings and with neighbors.  It didn’t take too long to get better and better graphics and more and more games with guns and blood, and less overheating allowing for longer and longer playing sessions.  I remember when my older brother was in Jr. High my mom started to be concerned about which video games to let him play because some of them apparently started to have sexually explicit material.

About this same time, the internet went and got itself invented and mainstreamed.  This opened up a whole new world for gaming.  Graphics were still not amazing, especially if you ever wanted it to load, but now you could play with friends without leaving your house or having them over.  This also opened up a lot of doors for the pornography industry.  Porn at your fingertips without the awkwardness of going to the store to buy it, you just had to be patient enough to let it load.

Somewhere along the line the internet got faster, the graphics got better, and more and more of our daily tasks moved online.  We can work over the internet, we can shop, we can keep up with our friends, and all this without ever having to leave home.

Then we took it a step further and put all of that on our phones as well, which don’t even remotely resemble what a phone looked like back in my day.  Now I can be constantly entertained, shop, access whatever content I feel like accessing, and tell myself that I am socializing from my couch, room, or toilet and unless someone specifically comes and looks over my shoulder, they will have no idea what I’m doing, and I can do it for hours on end.

There are so many amazing things that have come from access to technology, but it can also become a terrible trap.  Marriages and lives have been destroyed over excessive gaming and pornography.  Concerns are being raised over a correlation between high rates of social media use and depression.  Other researchers find a correlation between violent video games and emotional desensitization.  In general we are becoming less connected to each other because we are so consumed by technology.

My concern is that with how virtual our society has become, we are losing touch with the value of human life.  In a virtual world we can manipulate things and people with the click of a button, if we mess up, it can be fixed.  If we die we can just wait a minute and come back to try it again.

But it isn’t life, or death, or people, or even things.  They’re just images and code.  I fear that with so little being done in reality we are losing touch with it.  When you look at it that way, it’s not JUST the extremely violent or sexually explicit content, it’s when anything virtual begins to consume our life and take up more of our time, energy, and priorities than reality.

Most of the shooters I researched did engage in excessive gaming, and most spouted racist and misogynistic rhetoric.  It makes sense to me that if, in conjunction with mental illness, you repeatedly engage in extreme violence virtually you could begin to picture yourself completing the act in reality.  It makes sense to me that if you are always the hero in the game, that you could be the hero in your own mind no matter the situation.  It makes sense that if repeatedly with the click of a button you can make women give you sexual gratification, that you would have little or no respect for women in reality and feel that women owe you.  It makes sense to me, that if most of your interactions are with images with no real value, that you might forget the value of human life.  It makes sense to me that if you can just restart the game after you die and all of the other characters also come back, that you might begin to lost touch with the finality of death.

I realize what I just said was very controversial and a lot of people will disagree strongly.  A lot of people play violent video games and do not turn into murderers.  A lot of people view pornography and do not become rapists or embrace misogynistic values.

But consider this.  While video games may not be causing violent tendencies, they certainly are not teaching our children how to value life, how to interact respectfully with others, or how to love, they are at best neutral.  Pornography is certainly not teaching our children about consent, it’s not teaching them that sexual intimacy is about love, respect, and admiration.  While some may claim it is harmless, it certainly is not teaching them how to show respect to women.  You can argue whether or not social media is what it causing depression and higher suicide rates, or if children with depression are just more likely to use social media, but excessive social media use certainly isn’t helping them.

Parents- we need to PARENT.  I’m not suggesting that we raise our kids under a rock and never let them online.  What I’m suggesting is that we need to be more present and more involved.  We should set boundaries on screen time and the type of media we allow them to access with a family media plan.  We should be monitoring what our children are accessing so we can help them process what they are seeing, and guide them if/when they access material that they shouldn’t be accessing.  We should do activities with them.  We need to teach them both by word and example how to value life, how to love, and how to show respect.  This can be done through regular family nights in which you discuss an applicable topic and then just spend time together doing fun activities to build a bond.  We need to turn off the TV, set down our phones, and interact.  If we don’t take that active role, other influences will fill it that may not be teaching them the things we want them to learn and emulate.

We need to be willing to get them help when we notice a problem beyond our capabilities to handle.  Having a child with depression doesn’t mean you did something wrong, or that they are weak.  But if we as parents are too weak to be willing to get them help, then we will have done something wrong by them, and potentially by other people.

I was shocked when reading about the shooters at Columbine to find out that they were building bombs, buying and practicing shooting guns, and their parents were completely unaware.  Maybe this is naive of me because I have not raised teenagers, and as far as teenagers go I was a pretty innocent kid.  But, I doubt they were having family dinner together.  I doubt their parents were checking in on their internet use.  That’s not called snooping, it’s called parenting and should be part of a media plan.  I doubt their dads were taking them fishing so they could have a chance to bond and talk about life.  It’s never too late to start, but it’s definitely easier if you start earlier, and will help fewer kids fall through the cracks of parental negligence.

Multi-faceted

None of my suggestions are a full solution in and of themselves.  We can’t regulate how parents are raising their kids, and in the unfortunate case of Jacob Cruz, he had lost his parents.

Stricter gun laws may prevent or slow down some would be shooters, but if determined enough, they will find a way to gain access to a gun.

Making schools more difficult to target is expensive, controversial, not very practical in the University setting, and does not address other .

But, if we combine the power of these multi-faceted approaches, hopefully we can make a difference and save lives.

 

Suggestions and Concerns

I am very open to other suggestions or your concerns about my suggestions, I just ask that before you respond you take a deep breath and think instead of just react.  Please respond civilly.  Here’s some ways to do that, “I respect your thoughts about_____, my concern is that______”  “While I understand where you are coming from, have you considered that_______.”  “What are your thoughts on _______.”  “I disagree and fear that ________ could lead to _________.”