Hysteria surrounding violence is misdirected, ineffective

By Hannah Sparks

Flickr/edenpictures

Being a pretty reserved and rational person, I have always found that knee-jerk reactions and hysteria are among the worst ways to deal with any problem. While it’s important to trust your gut in certain situations, oftentimes the panicky resolutions of a frightened or angry hive-mind can range from simply incorrect to unethical to dangerous. About a month ago, I wrote about the motivations behind mass violence. Now I want to explore the reasoning behind how the rest of us attempt to deal with that violence.

As people try to move on following events like the Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., shootings, they feel confused. They want to know why someone would indiscriminately kill crowds of people or why someone would want to hurt children.

They look for conclusions, but being frightened, heartbroken and outraged, they don’t always come to the correct ones.

Recently, Jonah Stone, a 5-year-old boy from Hopkinton, was given a half-day in-school suspension for bringing a small toy gun to school. Believing that the school’s administration overreacted, the boy’s mother successfully appealed the suspension, which was a victory for common sense.

Children have always played games like “Cops and Robbers” or “Cowboys and Indians,” which are, at their core, “violent.” Fistfights break out on the playground, sometimes sending kids home with bloody noses and black eyes.

These acts seem to be a pretty natural way for children to express aggression. However, nowadays this kind of roughhousing, rather than being seen as an inevitable part of the socialization process, has been pathologized, marked as deviant and highly concerning.

“Zero tolerance” policies, adopted in light of school violence, paint in broad strokes, punishing young students for harmless actions, like making finger-pistol gestures while playing or packing a butter knife with their lunch.

Children, of course, should not be encouraged to engage in aggressive behavior, but society should not overreact to the behavior either, unless there is cause for legitimate concern.

A 5-year-old simply does not understand violence in the same way his parents and teachers do, because young children are often sheltered and remain largely ignorant of violent atrocities.

Jonah Stone had to ask his mother what had “happened in Connecticut” after the principal brought up the Newtown shooting during a meeting with the boy, his mother and a police officer. The boy’s mother had kept the information from him not only because she did not want to scare him, but also because he may have been too young to have understood.

Regardless of the current hypersensitive climate surrounding weapons, the boy probably should not have brought the toy gun into school.

However, to give a 5-year-old child a suspension, marring his school record forever because of a truly innocent mistake is ineffective and counterproductive to solving the issues that actually matter.

Who should we be more afraid of, the 5-year-old boy with a toy gun, or the violent individual who has access to real weapons and both the capacity and twisted motivation to use them? While it’s unclear exactly how to prevent acts of mass violence, the answer to this question is clear.

Sometimes we arrive at incorrect conclusions, but other times, we come to no conclusion at all.

Congress, for instance. As children in schools across America are being disciplined for reasons beyond their scope of knowledge, our oh-so venerable elected officials are mired in indecision regarding new gun control legislation that may actually fix the problems helicopter parents and teachers are attempting to fix in their own misguided ways.

The main body of the legislation, which will soon come to a vote in the Senate, is the expansion of background checks on those purchasing guns, an uncontroversial concept that 73 percent of Americans favor, according to a recent Huffington Post/YouGov poll.

This should be a non-issue, but somehow, due to the sway of powerful pro-gun lobbies like the National Rifle Association (NRA) and paranoid arguments regarding the violation of outdated Constitutional liberties, Congress has managed to turn it into a circus.

The fact that Congress is ineffective is hardly news. However, the timidity surrounding even the most uncontroversial, commonsense proposed changes to gun control legislation, when juxtaposed against the misplaced hyper-vigilance exemplified in that 5-year-old boy’s story, shows ambiguity and hypocrisy in the national gun control discussion.

The harmless play of children is minutely scrutinized, while many of the gun laws currently on the books treat deadly weapons with blasé nonchalance.

The solution to gun violence can’t be found in the principal’s office. Nor is it right to give up and adopt the anarchic belief that since violence is an inevitable facet of human nature, all attempts to curb it are futile, and we should stop trying altogether.

The answer also is not to fight fire with fire, as groups like the NRA advised, asking that every person arm themselves to the teeth, should they ever encounter an AK-47-wielding murderer or some similarly horrific situation.

The cynicism inherent to these views is depressing, and the resilient human race can certainly do better than that. All it takes is a little rationality.

Hannah Sparks is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]