Jay Evensen: Newtown, Aurora and other mass murders defy quick solutions

Published: Thursday, Jan. 10 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

In the wake of recent tragedies, battle lines are becoming clear. The president is talking tough, threatening executive action if Congress does nothing, and gun shows last weekend reported record attendance.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

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As an old saying goes, anyone who knows all the answers likely has misunderstood the question.

Or, as Richard Nixon famously said, "Solutions are not the answer."

And yet, when it comes to mass murdering maniacs, we are ever searching for the quick fix.

I haven't been to Spring City, but I'm guessing not too many folks there are fans of Obamacare and its mandate to buy health insurance. And yet from news reports it seems a lot of people there would be fine with a government mandate to buy a firearm, even if they're not insured against shooting themselves in the foot.

The City Council settled instead on a resolution encouraging gun ownership and training. Think of it as the "mutually assured destruction" theory of arms control on a local level, similar to how the United States and the Soviet Union kept World War III from happening supposedly because each side had a nuclear arsenal.

Nutty? Sure, but not much more so than what is found on the other side of the spectrum, where stricter gun control is the default solution to mass murder. That cause is generally pressed without a rational peek at the history of such measures and their lack of effectiveness.

In the wake of recent tragedies, battle lines are becoming clear. The president is talking tough, threatening executive action if Congress does nothing, and gun shows last weekend reported record attendance.

People are taking sides; talking-points are replacing rational thought and debate.

And amid it all last week, a judge in Colorado presided over a preliminary hearing for James E. Holmes, accused of shooting people in a movie theater in the city of Aurora.

Among other things, prosecutors presented evidence that Holmes paused for self-portraits in the hours before his rampage. In one, he wore black contact lenses to give his eyes a sinister, lifeless look.

Perhaps it would be significant here to point out that the murder rate nationally has declined for years and now is at levels not seen since the early '60s.

That, of course, is no comfort to the families of victims in a movie theater, nor to the parents of precious children gunned down in their first grade class.

And so we contemplate the man with the black contact lenses; we study the anti-social young man who spent hours in his room playing video games before changing Newtown, Conn., forever; we ponder the immigrant from Bosnia who attacked Trolley Square, the high school students who attacked Columbine High School and the dozens of others who have sent crippling bullets through the air without a trace of empathy.

How do we stop just those people? What kind of law can protect us from them?

Were they mentally ill? Perhaps, but some scholarly studies show mental illness is rarely a factor in homicide, and that substance abuse may be a bigger danger.

Do violence in movies and video games fuel such acts? Absolutely; no one should ignore the connection some of the killers themselves make with films and video games, and many producers seem to have an unhealthy obsession with gore.

But does this help? Do we regulate films? If gun control were the fix, Norway wouldn't have experienced Anders Breivik's murderous rampage. Sure, no one wants troubled minds to have easy access to high-powered weapons. But how do we stop it?

People tend to think their generation invented the problems it confronts. We forget about Anthony Churilla, who went to a convent in Highland Mills, N.Y. in November of 1932 and began shooting up from the basement at nuns walking the floor above. We don't bother to research the sniper who terrorized Philadelphia in 1950, shooting people at random over a six-week period.

There is little comfort in remembering such things — only perspective. As we all try to snatch solutions from the wind and make them stick, it is important to know that we are dealing with something that has vexed and plagued people for generations.

If we allow these killers to divide us along mindless ideological lines, we will have misunderstood the question, and our solutions will not be answers.

Jay Evensen is associate editor of the Deseret News editorial page. Email him at even@desnews.com. For more content, visit his website, www.jayevensen.com.

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