Whether we care to admit it or not, some of the worst acts of wanton violence to occur on American soil have been perpetrated by Americans against their fellow Americans.
The terrible shooting in Tucson, Arizona, that claimed the lives of six people and wounded fourteen others, is yet another ominous example of how complacent we have become as a society with tolerating and accepting violence as a way of life.
We need only look at recent history for some vivid reminders. One of the most memorable occurred in 1994 with the Waco tragedy where more than 80 men, women, and children lost there lives in a flurry of bullets and a blaze of flames. Both sides, the FBI and the religious sect of the Branch Davidians, fervently believed that they each were exercising their rights as outlined in our Constitution.
Was that incident a defining moment in contemporary American history? We seem to have had a litany of violent events that have called into question whether more and more Americans are resorting to violence to express or solve their grievances, bypassing or blaming the rules of due process that our form of government affords.
Two years following the Waco tragedy, we had the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma. More than 160 unsuspecting men, women, and children lost their lives because some crazed former U.S. marine thought it fitting justice to take an arbitrary number of innocent lives as retaliation for those lost at Waco. In some warped and sick notion, Timothy McVeigh and his cohorts thought they were upholding some revolutionary American principle in the American way.
A year later, two teenage boys, feeling alienated, disenfranchised, unaccepted in a well-to-do suburban community in Colorado, plotted to kill all of their schoolmates and teachers. They succeeded in taking 13 lives before taking their own.
These extraordinary acts were like bugle calls and blaring sirens, they made us pause, and take notice, at least perhaps for a spell. But what about the litany of other warning signs: The other school shootings that occurred in Pearl, Mississippi, Paducah, Kentucky, Jonesboro, Arkansas — all before those in Columbine, Colorado. Fortunately, many similar plots such as those in Chimacum, Washington and West Palm Beach, Florida were discovered in time to prevent another senseless loss of life.
As we reflect on these catastrophic events, could it possibly be a turning point for us to seriously do something about the consequences our tolerance and glorification of violence has wrought?
Violence, and our penchant for it, is all around us. We seem to glorify violence from the acts of war, real and deified in film, to professional and recreational sports in real games and video games.
Has this appetite and indulgence of violence gone too far? Are the effects slowly coming home to roost in ways that we did not imagine?
There has been a continuous unfolding of violence in the years since Waco, Oklahoma City, Columbine — occurring in disparate places with no respect of age, race, or ethnic origin. At the dawn of the new century, the nation was stunned by a six-year old first grader taking a gun to school and killing another because of a spat that occurred on the playground the day before.
The century was barely four months old when we learned that three first grade girls, in a small town in Indiana, were suspended from their school because their teacher discovered their plot to kill a fellow classmate. Method undecided, but the choice of weapon had been narrowed down to a knife or gun. A crude map had been drawn of the site where the killing was to take place. We are talking about first grade girls.
However, if that were not enough, the next day, two seventh grade girls in Florida, 12 and 13 years old, were charged with plotting to bludgeon and slash the throats of three of their rivals. Authorities found the stash of batteries, knives, and razors that the girls had planned to use.
There have been shootings or attempted shootings in schools — from grade schools to colleges throughout the past decade and they continue at the dawn of this one.
Oh how we forget. Unfortunately, the shooting and journey of recovery for Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, along with other innocent bystanders, has us concerned. But, for how long?
What will it take for us to heed the signs? To seriously address those sociological issues that have made children and young adults alike comfortable in choosing to commit violent acts as casually as they would chose to participate in a sport.
We can play the blame game. We can blame the divisive and incendiary rhetoric exchanged among our political leaders. We can blame it on the gory violence brought into the family room by network and cable TV. We can blame the toy and game industry. We can blame irresponsible and absent parents. We can blame violent and crime infested neighborhoods and home environments. We can blame it on pandering politicians who lack the backbone to develop and pass effective legislation as well as enforce the laws already on the books to address illegal access to guns, screenings for mental stability, etc.
However, blame is not the issue.
We have yet to learn the complete motivation of Jared Loughner’s shooting rampage in Tucson. But we know that warped views about government and mental health issues are in the mix.
How much more will it take for us to do something about it? Something meaningful, something real, something that will stem the tide of violence that is in danger of redefining America.