It happened again.
One of America’s high schools morphed into a killing field for a few eternal minutes on Valentine’s Day. Then, the predictable instant blaming and shaming began just as quickly. It was the FBI’s fault for not following a lead. It was the Republicans’ fault for failing to pass gun control. It’s Trump’s fault because he hasn’t done enough. It’s the liberals’ fault for eliminating God from schools and dads from homes. It’s evil. It’s a lack of public health funding. It’s the culture of death perpetuated by Hollywood. It’s school bullying. It’s the media’s fault for sensationalizing these shootings. It is the pharmaceutical companies’ fault for producing psychoactive drugs that can yield unpredictable behavior. And on and on and on.
There is no shortage of alleged villains in a massacre’s aftermath. Everyone seems to know just exactly why these things keep happening; they’ll tell you with a declarative air of finality and post a meme to Facebook proving it. The culprit is always simple, and it’s always conveniently a nice fit with our own biases.
Killing is generally horrible. But some forms of killing we can process logically. A drug deal gone bad. A jealous ex that just can’t take it anymore. Hatred against a rival gang. While few of us ever experience the intensity of rage that drives this brand of killing, we can relate to some degree with the emotions and why, at their extremes, people lose control.
But mass killing of innocent young people is an entirely different monster. I genuinely don’t know what is driving these young men to this dark place. I’m not convinced we have been courageous enough to stare this monster squarely in its face. What we might see may be so alarming that the solutions are too politically detestable, too much a disruption to our worldview.
What if we actually find that the collective effects of an increased culture of gun violence and death, the denigration of the traditional nuclear family, the dehumanizing rhetoric against our political opponents, the erosion of spiritual faith in a higher power, and the trivialization of life through abortion and euthanasia — combined with widespread gun availability — has created a perfect storm of rage inside marginalized individuals? What then? What if the cause of this intolerable trend contains elements that are rejected by nearly every political and ideological faction?
We are all more than willing to treat symptoms of whatever societal sickness we’re experiencing, but are we courageous enough to drive deep into the root of the problem and cast it out?
As I write this, news is breaking that law enforcement had been called to killer Nicolas Cruz’ home 39 times in seven years, and that the FBI had been warned last month by someone close to Cruz that he was planning a school shooting, but the agency did not act. This, of course, is heartbreaking and infuriating. It sounds like we could have and should have stopped this attack. But even if we had stopped this one attack, isn’t the problem still simmering beneath, ready to boil over in some other school in America?
Whatever societal variables have changed over the past twenty years that make killing innocent children, en masse, a viable behavioral option — will take courage from both sides to correct. I’m not seeing a lot of courage, however. Instead I see political opportunism and a continuation of rhetorical hostility that is both a distraction and a symptom of a society that seems at times too ill to heal itself.
Associated Press award-winning columnist Neal Larson of Idaho Falls writes at www.neallarson.com. He is also the author of “Living in Spin.” He is a conservative talk show host on KID Newsradio 106.3 and 92.1, and also at www.kidnewsradio.com. “The Neal Larson Show” can be heard weekday mornings from 8:00 to 10:00. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.