The United States has a chronic problem of looking for quick fixes to solve problems. These fixes never look to actually address the root of the problem. Rather, they are meant to treat symptoms of the root cause.According to Edwin Friedman’s book, A Failure of Nerve, there are three attributes of an imaginatively gridlocked system*:
When a horrific tragedy involving weapons and the mentally ill occurs, people are understandably shocked and look for immediate action. Ironically, this very reactivity and call for quick fixes keeps us in the same place. It keeps us gridlocked.
After the unimaginable shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, the media’s attention focused on gun control – as it does any time domestic terrorism occurs. An assumption was made that perhaps if there were tighter regulations on gun control, then perhaps killing sprees like this could have been avoided. Proponents of gun rights and the NRA quickly (and seemingly pre-emptively) went on a defensive campaign to suggest the opposite: we should loosen gun control and let teachers carry weapons in schools.
We are in an endless cycle of arguing about gun control. Look back up at our three characteristics of a gridlocked society and see how they parallel with this cycle. We keep trying harder to change gun control laws (in either direction), which hasn’t solved anything. We never ask new questions – we merely try different things to answer our existing ones. Lastly, we always seem to engage into either/or thinking – we either completely restrict weapon possession or we completely don’t.
Focusing on gun control is a side show and we are not asking the right questions when tragedies like this happen. I am not going to address my own views about gun control here. Frankly, they do not matter in this case. Talking about gun control focuses on the symptom, not the cause. Reactionary America asks for quick fixes to keep our children safe. As a parent, I can understand that. However, while arming teachers or adding security might keep our kids safer in schools, it doesn’t address the problem of these attacks happening in the first place.
Let’s look at the possible outcomes of loosening gun control. We can put armed guards or arm teachers in our schools. Children can still be attacked practically anywhere else, so the environment of the attack merely changes. We can’t put armed guards everywhere, right? On top of that, we now possibly have mentally ill teachers with weapons with even closer access to our kids.
And how about tightening gun control? Measures to psychologically screen people might deny them of owning guns legally, but this does not stop them from getting guns elsewhere. This is exactly what happened at Sandy Hook and Columbine. Even if we look at the unrealistic situation where all guns are banned for civilians, this would just change the choice of weapon. Attackers could still easily sneak in home-made explosives.
It’s no wonder why we keep having the same arguments repeatedly – gun control is simply not the issue. Whether you are for or against gun control, perhaps it’s time to start asking some new questions. Perhaps we should begin asking about how we deal with the mentally ill in this country and how difficult and expensive it is to get treated. Perhaps we should begin asking about how and why the media makes idols of murderers and footnotes of victims. Perhaps we should begin asking about how violence is glorified in our culture but intimacy is mocked.
As a society and as a system, we must change our way of thinking and relating to each other so that we may free ourselves of our roadblocks of imagination.
* Friedman, Edwin H. (2007-02-01). A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (Kindle Locations 692-694). SEABURY BOOKS. Kindle Edition.