32 dead, 17 hospitalized with gunshot wounds in Blacksburg, VA. All the facts aren’t in yet, but it looks as if it may have all started with relationships gone sour. An enraged student at VA Tech murders two students in a dorm, then goes on a rampage until he runs out of steam or fury or ammo and kills himself.
My thirty-one year old daughter lives in Virginia. Erin is employed by the school district, a color guard instructor for a high school band. She’s called home a dozen times since the tragedy at VA Tech, weeping over the senselessness of it, concerned for the safety of students and teachers everywhere, incensed that a deeply troubled college student could get his hands on guns–one of them a semi-automatic 9mm Glock.
She has two little girls, one in school already, the other entering kindergarten in the fall. She is afraid for them. “What’s happening to us, Mama?” Erin sobs. “This is not the way things were when I was in school–kids didn’t kill kids! Now it’s everywhere–Paducah, Columbine, here–”
How do you answer a question like that? What do you say to a young woman who was raised in a gun-free home, to one whose mother wouldn’t allow a water pistol in the house unless it looked like something other than a handgun?
What I had to say to her was of little comfort.
It’s about hate, I told her. It’s about rage and intolerance and the glorification of indecent behavior through indecent language. American anger has been elevated to an art form. It’s all around us, all the time. Gratuitously violent movies, TV and video games that desensitize our children to viciousness and blood-letting. We see it, hear it on television and radio talk shows–and some of it maquerades as news. As commentary.
Don Imus calling a respected black female journalist a “cleaning lady,” the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy headed hos.” Rush Limbaugh smearing “Feminazis,” Mexicans, Asians, ridiculing Michael J. Fox’s physical deficits, calling Barack Obama a “Halfrican American.” Ann Coulter calling John Edwards a “faggot,” Arabs “ragheads” and all liberals traitors to their country. Bill O’Reilly calling Mexicans “wetbacks.” Michael Savage screaming “Go get AIDS and die!” to a gay caller on his radio program. Senator Hillary Clinton called names like “slut” or “bitch” or “whore”–none of which has a thing to do with her voting record or policy matters. Professed religious leaders Robertson and Falwell saying we should assassinate Hugo Chavez for making speeches critical of the U.S., saying Ariel Sharon’s massive stroke was God’s revenge because Sharon proposed sharing Israeli land with Palestinians for peace in the Middle East, saying 9/11 could be blamed on “feminists, homosexuals and abortionists.” A president whose “born again” philosophy includes murderous military pre-emptive strikes against a sovereign nation based on false premises, demonizing entire countries, and refusing to speak to our “enemies” because they are “evil.” Presidential hopeful John McCain trivializing the concept of war, making it “cute”–singing “Bomb, bomb, bomb–bomb, bomb Iran!” to the tune of “Barbara Ann” in a public speech.
Even perky, All-American Katie Couric, after using plagiarized material as her “own” experience on CBS News, sinks to doing a segment perpetuating the myth that Barack Obama attended a suspect militant Islamic school as a boy–well after CNN, AP and ABC News investigated and debunked the story.
There’s a culture of violent sexism/racism in some of the music/music videos our kids are buying.
And all of this is aired. All of it broadcast to millions of Americans. Many of them kids. Some of them troubled kids.
Hear enough of it and it becomes normal. It’s okay. It’s cool. It’s God’s will. It corrupts our culture, gives us permission to wallow in our every hateful thought, feeds every sick, vile impulse we have. It gives us leave to act out our basest aggressions. Guns are glorified. They have the power to “protect” us. To solve our problems. They’re too easy to get, too easily concealed. They’re everywhere.
It’s a lethal combination, rage and guns. And as long as we see something sacred in our inviolable, constitutional right to spew violent racist, sexist, intolerant rhetoric and “bear arms,” I have no answer for my daughter or my grandchildren. Except to say that something’s got to change. And soon.