As the students from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. return to school after the horrific tragedy last month, a few images remain ingrained in my mind.
I remember the pain and sadness of parents', loved ones' and friends’ faces; the outpouring of love and support from people all across America and from the students themselves who have displayed remarkable courage; and the strength that we should all envy, to name a few.
The image I can’t shake is National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre’s press conference that took place almost a week following the incident in Newtown.
LaPierre seems to feel that video games, music, movies and television shows are the reasons we’ve seen an uptick in the incidents of mass shootings in recent years. LaPierre said the following: "In a race to the bottom, many conglomerates compete with one another to shock, violate, and offend every standard of civilized society, by bringing an even more toxic mix of reckless behavior and criminal cruelty right into our homes."
LaPierre also raised the idea of having armed guards in every school and arming teachers, but he said nothing about the role that guns have played in our society.
I realize that LaPierre’s comments have been discussed and analyzed by columnists and pundits for the last few weeks, but I have long believed entertainment is not to blame for gun violence or criminal behavior.
I took some time to rethink, in light of recent events, whether the movies and television shows we watch, the music that we listen to or the video games we play have somehow either desensitized us to violence, caused us to be more violent or make someone commit a violent act.
My answer is still no.
While I feel the entertainment industry has some influence and could exercise a bit of self-control and responsibility, the truth is that gun violence predates many of the genres that LaPierre mentioned in his press conference.
Ask most people who grew up in inner cities and hoods and barrios across America and they will tell you that the easy availability of illegal guns, the incidents of robberies, drive-by shootings that kill many innocent men, women and children, assaults and murder were around long before Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty entered the scene.
Assault-type weapons and certain explosives were commonplace as well. Yet we never discuss why and how those guns got there in the first place. More importantly, we never discuss how to get illegal guns off the streets and out of the hands of bad guys. Gun buy-back programs are not enough. We need to do more.
I’m all for legal gun ownership. I don’t believe in preventing people from owning guns to hunt or for protection. Banning guns in general will not solve the problem.
But there needs to be real discussions with real solutions concerning what types of guns should be made available to the public. The discussion must not be full of political theatre, rhetoric, empty words and slogans. Owning a gun is a huge responsibility, and we should treat it that way.
I also believe in personal responsibility. Unfortunately, when it was needed from Wayne LaPierre and the NRA, we didn’t get it. Instead, all we heard was finger-pointing and blaming the entertainment industry, while ignoring the nation’s gun problem.
What a wasted opportunity.