The first reaction I had to hearing about the shooting in Aurora late last week was anger – this until recently was my neighborhood, my office was situated only a short mile from the movie theater where the massecre took place. My anger is now accompanied by sadness and reflection.
As a child my mother disallowed us to play with toy guns. Even water guns were prohibited in our home. This was not because my mother was a pacifist – she most certainly is not. In fact politically she is somewhat Conservative. However, she felt that a gun’s entire purpose is to kill and that was not something she wanted her kids to see as a toy.
I admit that my mother’s approach is somewhat extreme and my wife and I allow our kids to play with water guns. But that violence is never a solution to solve my personal problems has been deeply ingrained. My own kids know that I never tolerate violence or physical fighting as a solution to their sibling squabbles. My attitude is that the child who raises his hand first is always in the wrong.
We do our best to ensure that our children (the oldest is nearly 11 years old) do not watch violent movies and we also sensor any violent language within our home. Unfortunately our society does not see things as we do. Young children are exposed to guns and violence from a very young age – it is everywhere, in video games, movies, on TV, in the schoolyard and often within the home, if not in reality it is there in the language that is used. This new Batman movie for example is rated PG-13 and young children are watching it despite its violent content.
Mental illness cannot be predicted and is also very difficult to treat – especially if the individual refuses treatment. It has been reported that the shooter in the Aurora Movie Theater massacre had become mentally unstable over the months leading up to this tragedy. This is not the first time this type of senseless killing has happened here in the United States. Indeed youth violence is on the rise in Israel as well. If violence were not so prevalent a feature in our cultural sub-context – movies, TV etc. – would the mentally unstable still revert to extreme violence as a way to release their mental anguish and instability?
As a society we must ask ourselves whether we really want to feed our children and ourselves such a steady diet of violence? This question has nothing to do with gun rights. A person who is bent of carryout a killing spree will find away to do so no matter what the law says.
Thus, in my view, our culture is somewhat responsible for the tragedy that took place last week – movie producers as well as video game companies need to be more responsible. No doubt, however, this tragedy must be a wake up call to parents and educators as well – but especially parents. Are we, as parents, aware of what are kids are watching and playing and are we giving our children healthy messages about how to deal with conflict and stress? We must remember that our behavior and the way we bring-up our kids could literally mean life and death for them and others some time down the road.