Monday, June 23, 2014

Finally to the Root!

In the past few weeks I have been doing a series on Mass Shootings. Sadly in that same time there have been at least four more incidents across the U.S., the most recent hitting very close to home here in the Portland area. This just proves how pertinent of an issue it really is. I have written about the three most common issues discussed after each shooting; Gun Control, Mental Health, and Media Violence. Although I do believe all of these are in some way relevant I feel that they are barely scratching the issue of the real problem.

So what is the real problem? What is the root?

I believe it is the breakdown of the American family.

In Genesis 2 the Bible records the creation of man and woman and in verse 23-24 the following is recorded:

The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
    and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
    for she was taken out of man.”
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Biblically this was established before there was government, before there were laws, before there was church or any form of religion. A man should leave his parents and become "one flesh" with his wife. The family is the very root of all forms of society and when that root breaks down there will be repercussions through all areas of society. I wrote about this and the ways the enemy is attacking our families here

There are many ways that our families are breaking down but I will touch on two that I feel are very important in our society.

Single Parent Families
To be clear from the start, I am not blaming the single parents here. I admire the job that single parents do and am amazed at how well many of them are able to balance work, family, and everything else. However, no matter how good they are, they can not make up for having two interested participating parents in the home. God created the family to have father and mother and together they are the perfect combination. When one is absent, whether physically, emotionally, or mentally, the plan is disrupted. There are many reasons for single parent families including; divorce, death, births outside of wedlock, etc. Some are unavoidable and there are some marriages that probably are better off to be broken when it comes to abuse and constant infidelity, but according to Ground Spark the number of single mothers increased from three million to 10 million between 1970 and 2000. That's an increase of more than 7 million children who do not have a father figure in their home. 

So what is the solution? Long term I believe we need to return to a greater respect of the sanctity of the bonds of marriage. Short term I think we need the good fathers that are there to start reaching out the those children who don't have fathers active in their lives. I didn't grow up with a father who was active in my life but I can name several of my friends fathers, as well as my uncle who lived close, as people who represented what a father should be. I feel that we need to do the same for the kids and teenagers around us.

Parents Not Taking Responsibility
Some parents are there but are not taking responsibility for raising their children. When their children are young they put them in front of a tv or a video game to keep them quiet. Then they give them to a babysitter while they are working. then when they get older they expect the teachers at school to raise their children. Their way of taking responsibility is to ban whatever they think is inappropriate from their house leaving their children free to find out about those things elsewhere. They never sit down and have a serious conversation with their children. They never help their children work through the issues that they face in the world.

I talk about this problem in my post about Media Violence and in my post about a recent controversial book. I believe that parents need to take responsibility for raising their own children and step up and have the tough conversations with them. Teach them how to make their own choices, teach them about safety and to respect human life. Inspire them towards visions and goals that improve the world and teach them to be selfless rather than selfish.

As mentioned above there are many other issues that I feel are contributing to the break down of our families but if we can address these two then that would be a huge step towards dealing with the root of the problem.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Media Violence = Real Violence?

In the midst of the debates about gun control and the mental health diagnoses there is also constant talk about the effects of violence in the media. When I was younger I used to roll my eyes at these discussions. I have always been a fan of a good action movie and I liked to play fighting games like street fighter and mortal kombat. I would make the claim that the violence didn't have an effect on me so it can't be to blame for these other people committing such senseless acts. However, even though I still don't think it is the root of the problem, I am beginning to think it is a more valid discussion.

When we constantly see death I do think there is a natural desensitization to it. I believe this is especially true the younger it starts. As a fully developed adult we can recognize a story, a movie, a game. We can fully differentiate between these things and the real world, but children aren't always able to do this on their own. I believe our kids are getting exposed to more and more violence at much younger ages and without strong parental influence, I do believe that it will desensitize them. Partner this desensitization with a significant mental illness and things can happen. Two of the most recent shooters had a fascination with the Joker from Batman. 

Again, I do not think that this is the root of the problem, but I do think it is worth looking at. When I was a kid I remember having to ask my aunt for the 'gun' in order to play duck hunter on the Nintendo. She had made it inaccessible to make sure we didn't play with it and act like we were shooting each other. When my cousin and I played chess together we weren't allowed to 'kill' each other's pieces, we 'captured' them. At the same time I did watch violent movies when she wasn't around, and I played violent video games, and I even used sticks as guns and swords when playing with my cousin, but these extremes put on by my aunt helped me as a child to think about the severity of violence. 

Ultimately, violence sells. Because of that we aren't going to be able to stop media violence unless it stops selling but I am not sure that we need to. I do think that we need to be aware of our children and what they are taking in. We should help our children process the violence that they see and help them recognize the difference between a game or a movie and real life. I believe there is a deeper root as to why violence is so attractive and why it effects our young people so much, but I do think it has an effect.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Mental Health: Is That Deep Enough?

After determining that gun control, while it may succeed in saving some lives when done properly, is only a superficial solution, it is only natural to move on to the next topic so often discussed after mass shootings, mental health. This is a topic that I have some firsthand experience in having worked in the Mental Health field for the last four years. I can tell you firsthand that mental illness is a very real problem, often ignored by society, and as a Christian and minister, I can tell you that it is not just a cover up for demonic possession. Mental Illness is a real disease and needs to be treated like any other disease and also like any other disease, the individual should not be defined by their diagnosis. Our treatment methods are not where they need to be but they are miles ahead of where we were even 20 years ago. With this in mind, let's explore how mental illness relates to the mass shootings.

Each Shooter Seems to Have a Diagnosis:

One thing that has stood out to me in these stories is that in each story they mention some sort of mental illness in relation to the shooter. Some of them seem to have had the diagnosis for years but it was never treated. This brings us to the question of why was it ignored and how did they get the gun when they were diagnosed with a mental illness. But to me the bigger question seems to be with the other shooters. There are some shooters where they had no diagnosis their entire life and then after committing this act all of sudden people are diagnosing them with various mental illnesses. So was society completing missing that these people were mentally ill or is society fishing for an explanation to a senseless act and using mental illness to do so? Either way are we helping by bringing this diagnosis into the story?

The Stigma Against Mental Illness Increases: 

There is a truth in the thought that if we bring a problem to light we can better address it and find a solution. This is probably what people are thinking when they focus on the mental state of each of these shooters, however I feel there is something else happening. The majority of society probably has not met anyone with a mental health diagnosis. They may have known someone with depression but probably not anything beyond that. That means when we run stories about shooters who are diagnosed with Schizophrenia, Bipolar, Schizoaffective, or even severe, chronic depression most people have no other frames of reference for these diagnoses. I personally have the benefit of knowing several people who have been diagnosed with these various illnesses and are very functional. They are people who care about others and are looking to simply increase their independence and capabilities. Some are working or going to school right along with the rest of us and very few of them pose any risk to society. However, most people do not have this privilege. For many people when they hear that someone has schizophrenia they immediately think of the mass shooters. This then makes it harder for anyone with such a diagnosis to integrate in the community because the community is scared of them. They then feel isolated and alone making it more likely for them to lash out... and yet the majority still don't.

Is Mental Illness Really the Problem?

This has to be the question that we ultimately come to: Is Mental Illness really the problem? I do believe that society as a whole would improve if we were better able to reach out to those with mental illness, however I still think there are deeper issues here when it comes to the mass shootings. I believe that when we put it all on mental illness it further increases the stigma of society on mental illness while missing out on the true problems in our society.  

Friday, June 6, 2014

Gun Control: A Superficial Solution

Ban all guns, ban all assault weapons, increase gun control! These are the kinds of things we here after each mass shooting. There is constant debate about why guns are so easy to access and how much gun control we need to have. Before I continue let me make some things clear, I am not a gun rights activist and I am not a gun control activist. I do not own any guns but I know several people who do. The only reason I am approaching this subject is because of how it effects the discussion regarding mass shootings. For my introduction post go here. In order to explore this issue in regards to the mass shootings there are a couple central questions.

Question #1: Would banning guns even help?

This should be the first question when we approach any potential solution to a problem. Will it even solve the problem? In this case you have to consider the various statistics that gun lobbyists throw out there. For example here is an article stating that FBI statistics show more fatalities from hammers and clubs than from rifles. Even in the most recent event the killings started with a knife before he went to the gun. Another recent story going around involves two twelve year old girls that stabbed their friend 19 times in the woods.

So what do these statistics tell us? In my mind they tell us that we have a much deeper problem than the access of guns. However this does not show us definitively that there would not be any benefit from increased control on guns. There is a truth in the cliche statement "guns don't kill people, people kill people" however there is also unarguable truth in the fact that guns make it significantly easier to kill people and allow people to be able to kill more people. With that being said would getting rid of guns in the world save some innocent lives? Probably. If the shooters in each of these incidents had only knives instead of guns chances are there would have been less victims before they were stopped.

This leads us to our second question.

Question #2: Are we capable of banning all guns?

One thing that constantly seems to be coming up with these shooters is that they were often already diagnosed with a mental illness. My understanding is that it is already illegal to own a gun when you are diagnosed with a mental illness which means that many of these shooters were already banned from owning guns, and yet they got a gun. This shows an inability by our government to enforce the regulations already in place and makes me wonder how they could enforce stricter regulations. If the government establishes stricter regulations and is not able to enforce them, this means that less honest people would own guns because they would obey the regulations in place, however the inability to enforce would cause just as many criminals to own guns. Following the trail of common sense leads to a society in which criminals have guns and the honest citizen does not.

However my understanding is that there are societies who have successfully adopted and enforced stricter gun control. Australia is apparently a great example. So let's assume we can successfully reproduce what Australia did here in the United States. Would it be better? Would we be safer? According to the article I linked to, the rates of death by a gun decreased 50%. That sounds good right?

Question #3: Are there any risks to increased gun control?

Gun activists are constantly quoting the second amendment but I think most people have forgotten why that was there. It was to ensure our citizen's ability to fight a corrupt government.  If all guns were controlled and regulated by our government and our government were to become corrupt we would have no way of fighting against them. The reason we were able to win our independence from England was because at the time pretty much every citizen owned a gun. Father's taught their sons how to use guns so even the young boys had the ability to defend themselves from approaching troops. Our founding fathers recognized this right and felt it important enough to put into our constitution in case the government ever became corrupt. Hitler and Stalin are famous for banning all guns. That was one of their first acts to be sure that the citizens of their respective countries couldn't revolt.


So would increased gun control save some lives? Possibly, however it is hard to say that the potential benefits outweigh the potential risks. As horrible as these mass shootings are the possibility of a Stalin or a Hitler coming to power would be a much greater problem. To me that is a great risk for a superficial solution. Banning the guns will not take care of the root of the problem. As I mentioned in my first post, guns were available before these shootings started taking place. So it seems to me that it would be much more beneficial to look at the root of the problem and to find a deeper solution.