The mass murder of 20 children and six adults Friday in Newtown, Conn., has provoked yet another round of recrimination, finger pointing and breast-beating. Was the shooter mentally deranged? If there was more gun control, would this have happened? Did violent video games play any role? What we fervently want as we continue to reel from a story whose misery seems to know no bounds is to find a clear cause - a reason why this happened - so that we can fix it.
We hope to see something in all the stories, analyses, commentaries, Facebook postings and Twitter speculation that gives us the reason behind what happened and thus a guarantee that if we understand and act on it then no 6 year old or her parent need to worry ever again what might happen at their school. We hope that no college, hospital or mall will ever again have a reason to practice drills for “shooters” and no play or movie-goer grow anxious over who has snuck into the theater with evil intent.
But, there is no simple answer. We have ourselves to blame for where we find ourselves in terms of mass shootings. Our culture is too far down the road of tolerating and even extolling violence. We do so in our popular entertainment, we permit the mass marketing of violence to young kids, and we thrill to it in too many of our sports. A lot of people make a lot of money selling violence. I doubt that will change.
Nor will the easy availability of guns. We have been well aware of the cost of easily obtained high-powered guns for a long time. Even if we move toward tighter gun control laws and seek to reduce access to automatic weapons and ammo, which I favor, we have so many guns in circulation that these efforts are too little, too late. Will deaths fall if killers are not armed as if for combat with automatic weapons and full body armor? Yes. But, will ready access to automated weapons, guns and this kind of equipment disappear any time soon in America? I am afraid not.
Arthur L. Caplan, Ph.D., is the Drs. William F and Virginia Connolly Mitty Professor and head of the Division of Bioethics at New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City.
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