Once again, students and teachers are dead after a shooting in an American school. Once again, the outrage machine has kicked into high gear.
It’s the outrage of those who desperately seek solutions to these massacres clashing with the outrage of those who will not accept any response that infringes in any way on gun rights.
But this isn’t an editorial about gun rights, at least not entirely. It’s about how sick and poisoned American political discourse has become, and the bitter fights that erupt in the wake of each new mass shooting are just one symptom.
It’s about the cancer of uninformed, self-righteous opinion that manifests itself every day on social media and in the comment sections of news websites.
It’s about people who are not merely convinced that they are right, but that anyone who disagrees with them is not only wrong but a traitor to (insert nation/religion/class/ethnic group/favorite football team here).
It’s about the disappearance of the American moderate: the person who listens to learn and not just to respond and prove a point, the person brave enough to admit when he or she has made a mistake and the other person is correct.
It’s about our collective loss of empathy and simple decency. It’s about civil discourse morphing into a new kind of civil war.
Gun-rights advocates are right about an important point: Firearms have been a staple in many American homes since colonial times, and our Founding Fathers wrote the right to bear arms into the Constitution at a time when guns fulfilled a need to ensure self-reliance and self-defense.
Guns aren’t new, their defenders correctly argue, but the number and lethality of school shootings is. So something else must have changed, they say.
Put aside for the moment that the rapid-fire killing power of most modern weapons dwarfs anything the Founders could have imagined. Something indeed seems to be prompting teens and young adults to execute students and teachers in cold blood. Guns are merely a means to an end — but an efficient and readily available means, to be sure. And it has been happening with growing frequency since the 1999 Columbine massacre.
We as a nation need desperately to have that discussion: What changed, and what can we do about it?
Could it have something to do with some the same factors that seem to be driving record numbers of Americans to get high and die on opioid drugs? Widespread financial insecurity and the disappearance of entire classes of jobs have brought despair and crime to many corners of our land, Luzerne County included. Could the desire to kill spring from the same tainted well?
At the same time, is it possible that divisive strains in public discourse, coupled with the ability to spread negative messages faster than ever before on the Internet, aren’t helping form well-adjusted citizens?
We now live in a country where the slaying of children and teachers in a Texas school prompts newspaper readers in Northeastern Pennsylvania to post comments such as this:
“There are greater evils out there. Lack of any discipline and the breakdown of the family are responsible for this, along with the media glorifying it. Yet liberal pukes like you support the moral breakdown of America using the word ‘choice.’” (onesowise, May 18)
We need to have a cogent conversation about the social dynamics that are tearing American society apart. Name-calling rants like that one are not it.