Column: Our new American pastime — what are we doing and why?

Posted 5/31/22

I started to write about the great celebrations in the month of June. There’s Father’s Day (which can sometimes be complicated, of course) but also fun. There are all kinds of graduations and …

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Column: Our new American pastime — what are we doing and why?

Posted

I started to write about the great celebrations in the month of June. There’s Father’s Day (which can sometimes be complicated, of course) but also fun. There are all kinds of graduations and early summer trips in the sun. There are Pride events for our LGBTQ+ friends to be able to freely, authentically be themselves in public. And then, there’s Juneteenth, the commemoration of the final emancipation of African Americans from slavery in the United States. Now a federal holiday, Juneteenth came about when the holdout state of Texas was forced to free all people from slavery, and thus, the formerly enslaved took to celebrating in the streets.

Unfortunately, as I write this on May 24, there’s no rejoicing on any street in Texas where 19 children and two teachers were killed in a shooting at their elementary school. And this happened while in Buffalo, New York, there are continuing funerals for the 10 people killed in the racially-motivated shooting at a grocery there last week. So, I just can’t write about celebrations right now.

Those of us who remember hearing the sirens blow down Bowles Avenue during the Columbine shooting and our kids in lockdown, injured, or killed know this scene all too well. Others tragically remember Arapahoe or STEM high schools or the Aurora movie theatre shootings. Even those who weren’t here then know the mass shooting scene too well. It turns out that we Americans have a rising pastime of shooting people and sending tweets of thoughts and prayers.

So, what are we doing? Federally, obviously, not enough. In Colorado, we’ve accomplished some legislative tools over the last decade to move the needle; but also not enough. But gun violence is not just about access to firearms, and even if it were, we’ll never be able to have a gun-free society in this country.

Perhaps we need to ask who’s doing the shooting and why? Some claim that it’s about mental illness but the statistics show that’s not so clear cut. However, two other predictors are very often present — suicidality and childhood trauma. It turns out the data show that many of the mass shooters of this growing phenomenon have had severe childhood trauma and most are experiencing suicidal thoughts just before or during the shooting due to recent crises in their lives. So, is anyone looking for or supporting them through these crises?

Although not true of the Uvalde shooting, the highest demographic of these mass shooters are young, mostly white, men. Many of them have been radicalized online that has created a contagion of anxiety and anger of copycat scenarios. As we saw in Buffalo, it was the fear of “being replaced,” or actually, losing his societal stature as a white man. Who or what is shaping this increasingly dangerous mindset?

So, the question now appears for all of us: what are we doing now that we know who’s doing the shooting and why? How are we breeding young men who want to kill people? We can’t legislate our way out of this one. It’s going to take more than a few public servants to vote on the right legislation. But it will take more than thoughts and prayers. It’s not only lawmakers, law enforcement, or metal detectors that are the solution. The bigger need is further upstream than legislation.

It’s incumbent on all of us in our village to raise our children with human connection, loving support, and coping mechanisms to survive these trying times we’re living in now. We all need to be asking ourselves what we individually and collectively are doing to contribute to the escalating problem of young men wanting to kill themselves or others. And why are we OK with accepting just pacifying tweets? What are we doing to prevent, not just address, violence in our homes and community? Can we replace this American pastime already? I’m praying … and acting.

Former Colorado state senator Linda Newell is a writer, instructor, facilitator and conflict and DEI coach. Senlindanewell@gmail.com, www.lindanewell.org, www.senlindanewell.com, @sennewell on Twitter, Senator Linda Newell on Facebook.

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