Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.
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For 20 years, I investigated dozens of murders and hundreds of other violent crimes in Washington, D.C. My work provided a front-row seat to the worst man can visit on his fellow man during a period of routine bloodshed that branded Washington as the murder capital of the United States. Sadly, while violent crime in the U.S. is at a 40-year low, there still are more than 14,500 murders every year across the country.
America, especially in many of our urban neighborhoods, is a violent nation with murder ingrained in its culture. As if the real carnage documented on the nightly news isn’t enough, we steep ourselves in violent movies, TV shows and video games as a means of “entertainment.”
Inexplicably, in suburban and rural communities where the mayhem of urban street gangs is absent, too many of our young consume music and videos overflowing with profanity, violence and the sexual degradation of women. Kids, with no meaningful understanding of urban street life, adopt the clothing, language and mannerisms of inner-city thugs. Tragically, even conscientious parents who stop their children from partaking in or imitating the violence that is prevalent in our culture find it nearly impossible to shield their kids from an entertainment industry that thrives on violent imagery and virtual murder.
Arguably, Americans have become impervious to the violence that exists, to one degree or another, in every corner of America. Even an endless string of mass murders hasn’t caused us to look within the soul of America in any meaningful way. Instead, these slaughters become names we can recite like the alphabet: Clackamas, Aurora, Tucson, Fort Hood, Virginia Tech, Lancaster and Columbine — just to name a few.
And that brings us to the mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Will the eradication of 26 innocent lives — 20 of them 6- and 7-year-old first-graders — finally shock us into action? Will the interment of 20 child-sized caskets move us beyond the partisan arguments of the left and right that seemingly crowd out serious examination of causation in a wide-range of scenarios that end violently? Will we look deeper into the American psyche in search of factors that may lead one human to kill another?
Perhaps we will. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s move to expedite access to mental health records by officials performing gun buyer background checks in response to deficiencies found in the wake of the Aurora Theater mass murder could reduce, but certainly not eliminate, access to guns by those deemed a danger because of mental illness.
More importantly, Hickenlooper has signaled a desire to examine cultural influences that may play a role in American violence. That is a discussion worth having. After all, while we never will eradicate mass killings or other incomprehensible acts of violence, we should not allow that reality to prevent us from gaining a better understanding of the role our violent culture plays in influencing criminal behavior in America.
To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.