Saturday, December 15, 2012

Tragedy in Newtown

Much has been said and written about the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. Much more is yet to be written and said before we collectively put this horror behind us. Since the Columbine murders, there has been some 43 similar incidents, though a better word than "incident", which sounds almost clinical can surely be found. Only a few weeks ago, on December 14, we had another individual walk through a parking lot at the Clackamas Town Center in Portland Oregon, crowded with holiday shoppers, wearing cameo, body armor, a hockey mask, and armed with pistols, and a rifle (the type really does matter) essentially unnoticed. Somehow he walks the length of a crowded store and into the food court before he unleashes his deadly holiday greeting. Did no one stop to notice this guy? Did anyone think, "gee, that looks out of character"? Did no one think to act? Before that, we had some guy, armed to the teeth, simply walk into a movie multiplex in Aurora, Colorado and open fire in July. We had the shooting at the Sikh Temple, in Oak Creek, Wisconsin in August. There was the mass shooting at the Cafe Racer in Seattle, Washington in May. All this year alone. Today, December 15, some guy walked into a hospital in Birmingham Alabama and kills three before the police finally kill him.

Countless similar scenarios have previously played out; all with the same bloody result and the same befuddled question, "how could this have happened"? People talk about "being prepared" and how could this couldn't happen in their "quiet communities". I'm sorry to break this to you, but there is no "being prepared" or "quite communities". You can never be fully prepared for insanity when it strikes. Just ask the Israelis. There are no more "quite communities". Look at Southeast Europe, Africa, Southeast Asia, and damn near any place in the Middle East. Sure, you can add cameras, extra lighting, traffic barriers, and all the mall cops you want. But you can't stop a determined individual intent on causing mayhem. Ask the Secret Service. They have state of art protection; outstanding men and women who are well trained; and a nearly unlimited budget. But the big "secret" they do their best in keep is that they cannot stop someone willing to die from delivering their deadly message. Agencies like the Secret Service and FBI can only hope that their presence somehow discourages the less determined or, if they're lucky, stop the tragedy before it occurs through surveillance, intelligence gathering, and luck. If this is the reality at the national and international level, what hope is there for under budgeted police departments and rent-a-cop security guards working for minimum wage to supplementing their retirement income?

You're going to hear from individuals calling to "outlaw" guns of a particular type or caliber. Only then will you and I be safe they'll claim. Really? Are the bad guys and lunatics going to hand in their guns or will we be merely newly fleeced lambs be readied for the slaughter? I can understand the need to restrict or ban certain types of ammo like incendiary or armor piercing. Not really much call for that since I've not heard of deers or elk wearing body armor or bears with fire retardant fur. And what's with the body armor anyway? Are ducks now flying in Stuka formations and diving bombing unsuspecting hunters? Are there 50 cals now mounted on the backs of moose with squirrels acting as the triggermen? Certainly common sense needs to come into play here. I'm sure our Founding Father's would have long before drawn the line at owning grenade launchers and bazookas. The intent in the 2nd Amendment was to provide a means for the people to protect themselves from a corrupt government (actually, they should have given more thought to limiting the power of taxation).

The simple fact here is that removing guns would have not changed anything. Someone like this would have found a way. In Israel, which knows more about terrorism than I pray we will ever need to know, allows teachers and other trained individuals to be armed. They have people on beaches, public areas, and other areas who are armed. It may not stop a tragedy from occurring, but it certainly deters all but the most determined, and it goes a long way to limiting its consequences. Perhaps there may have been more lives saved in Newtown. And like it or not, we are now "Israel" ever since 9/11 and the cowardly attacks by Muslim terrorists. We must accept the fact that America isn't "Mayberry" anymore. Wally and "the Beaver" have long moved away. This is a much more violent and unpredictable world.

What can we do? Actually, a lot. First, we don't all need to run out and buy guns and/or get carry and conceal permits. If you're going to, think about it long and hard first. Intellectually and emotionally understand why you're doing it. Think it out to its logical conclusion. Secondly, consider possibly some form of martial training. Not the fluffy formal kind, but street practical self protection. This can be simple training tips provided by your local police department (including uses of mace or tasers) to all out Krav Maga, Keysi, Aikido, Jujitsu, or simple boxing. But the most important thing to do is simply be aware of your surroundings. Know where the exits are, be it a store, flea market or restaurant.

When you're walking down the street, notice who is standing where. Be aware of who is behind you. Pay attention to who's around you and what they're doing. Get your nose out of that game or text message! React and alert others! Not only do we need to watch our surroundings, we need to watch out for each other. It's better to call security or the police and it be a false alarm than ignore it and get carried out in a body bag. Teach your children what to do in an emergency. Rehearse it until it becomes second nature. Take the usual precautions when it comes to lighting, locked doors, etc.

As a society, we need to reexamine how we treat mental illness. We need to take another look at the violence our children have become desensitized to through their video games. We need to look at the graphic nature of some of our movie and ask ourselves how much of that it really necessary. We need to have a public discussion about how we deal with violent criminals and how we mix non-violent offenders and violent offenders in the same prison population. Should more emphasis be placed in rehabilitation for non-violent offenders? Should swifter conclusions be brought to bear for those on death row with less concern about how they "feel" about their pending deaths?

The Founding Father's certainly supported a death penalty, and used it. Their understanding of "cruel and unusual" meant torture. Should we eliminate air conditioning, state of the art gyms, cable, video games, and health care from prison? Should inmates be required to grow their own food or do free public work? Should their families be required to help with their upkeep like in other countries? How should we deal with sex offenders? Should certain minor crimes be dropped off the books like prostitution, marijuana, or gambling? What about overcrowding? What about the gangs running the prisons? And, who pays for all this?

Don't let any of this craziness make you become paranoid. The purpose of terrorism, be it the lone shooter who thinks he's the "Joker" or religious extremist kook, the goal is to make you afraid enough to change your behavior. It's a form of control. Don't let them control you. Finally, remember to let your friends and loved one know how much you care. Don't wait for that, "if only" moment.

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