Up in Arms, Again

UpInArmsOnce again, senseless violence has the survivors scrambling to make sense of the unfathomable.

I get a lot of my news from Facebook. Or from Bob who often sees it first on Facebook. Last night, as I headed upstairs to start working on dinner, Bob told me about the latest American horror in which a 20-year-old took two automatic weapons and opened fire on five to ten-year-old children at the local elementary school.

Before walking down the street for bananas and eggs this morning, I saw that the latest school shooting has many of my Facebook friends up in arms. How sad that ‘school shooting’ is a commonly used phrase, like ‘going postal’.

My friends are devastated, some struggle to imagine this happening in their town while others push for gun control dialog. Iris, who lives in our neighborhood back in the States, posted the stirring lyrics to a song written in response to the Columbine school shooting in 1999. It begins like this:

To the Teeth

the sun is settin on the century
and we are armed to the teeth
we are all working together now
to make our lives mercifully brief
schoolkids keep trying to teach us
what guns are all about
confuse liberty with weaponry
and watch your kids act it out
every year now like Christmas
some boy gets the milk-fed sub-urban blues
reaches for the available arsenal
and saunters off to make the news

Here’s a clip of Ani DiFranco performing her song in France.

Even the writers at The Onion, seemed on edge. Rather than poke fun, they chose to parody the helpless rage felt by many.

“Americans reported feelings of overwhelming disgust with whatever abhorrent bastard did this and with the world at large for ever allowing it to happen, as well as with politicians, with the NRA, and above all with their own pathetic goddamn selves, sitting in front of a fucking computer instead of doing fucking anything to help anyone—Christ, as if that were even fucking possible, as if anyone could change what happened, as if the same fucking bullshit isn’t going to keep happening again and again and fucking again before people finally decide it’s time to change the way we live, so what’s the point?”

Yep, that pretty much sums up my take on it. While I like to think Americans can own guns and not use them on their neighbors, evidence points elsewhere. I’d like to believe that guns don’t kill people, people do. But as Eddie Izzard, my favorite Comedian points out “I think the gun helps.”

For example, the day before the Sandy Hook attacks, a mentally deranged man went berserk outside a school in Beijing and injured 22 children and one 85-year-old woman with a knife. No one died.

My brother Michael recently shared an article about the Swiss and their guns on (you guessed it) Facebook. I looked it up on Snopes just to make sure and here’s what I found: “Switzerland has one of the highest gun ownership rates in the world, with 45.7 guns per 100 residents (ranking below only the United States, Serbia, and Yemen)” Hmmm. And yet they only have 6.4 firearm deaths per 100,000 per year compared with 10.27 in the U.S.

Some are saying the teachers should have guns. Perhaps. If so, we have not evolved much since colonial days except now it is ourselves, not the British we fear.

But New York Times Op-Ed columist, Gail Collins begs to differ. In Looking for America, she writes:

This is all about guns — access to guns and the ever-increasing firepower of guns. Over the past few years we’ve seen one shooting after another in which the killer was wielding weapons holding 30, 50, 100 bullets. I’m tired of hearing fellow citizens argue that you need that kind of firepower because it’s a pain to reload when you’re shooting clay pigeons. Or that the founding fathers specifically wanted to make sure Americans retained their right to carry rifles capable of mowing down dozens of people in a couple of minutes.

In the Associated Press story, I found this: “The 20-year-old may have suffered from a personality disorder, law enforcement officials said.” Indeed. This latest show of suburban rage points to a culture of individualism, isolation and violence. I’d go so far as to say that America has a national personality disorder.

A portrait of affluent isolation - Adam and Nancy Lanza's suburban neighborhood.
A portrait of affluent isolation – Adam and Nancy Lanza’s suburban neighborhood.

It’s a cultural thing. The country was founded by pioneers who eagerly left behind the small towns and cities. Rugged individualists. Today’s Americans come from stock who preferred the perils of westward expansion to staying put and working as a community.

Our American dream of Manifest Destiny and rugged individualism is crumbling into a nightmare. I’m channeling James Howard Kunstler here. We were blessed with enough natural resources to build superhighways and keep the electricity on 24 hours a day. The result is a nation on the go. The lights are on but no one’s home.

So we find ourselves isolated from community and insulated from human interaction by our cars or climate controlled homes in a nation of unhappy wage slaves with poor people skills.

While both parents are off at work, media is raising the children. Families rarely dine together. In neighborhoods bereft of adults, it isn’t considered safe for children to play outside with their friends. And the media is rife with one-upmanship and violence. It’s survival of the fittest, or at least the well-armed.

The new “no child left behind” should be “no child left behind closed doors with their arsenal of electronics.” Americans in general are too locked into shimmering screens that reflect their own isolation, playing games which encourage virtual violence.

What needs to happen is a total shift of American culture. We need more cooperation and community involvement. Time spent outside with others. Meds, metal detectors and improved gun laws won’t do it.

Pondering all of this, I took my shopping bag and walked the half mile to the fruit market. On the way back, I stopped for eggs at Mary’s a few doors down on our lane. Mary is a wise Ghanaian woman who speaks impeccable English. I told her about the shooting and we tried to imagine it happening in one of our neighborhood schools.

“Ghanaians are peaceful people” Mary affirmed. Wanting to prolong our conversation, I said: “And yet, I read in the news a while back where a young (Ghanaian) boy shot his sister in the head and killed her while playing with a visiting relative’s gun.” “Yes,” she shook her head sadly, “We are learning from you.”

By Camille Armantrout

Camille lives with her soul mate Bob in the back woods of central North Carolina where she hikes, gardens, cooks, and writes.