On Monday evening this week, I was searching, much to my editor’s dismay, for a story on which to comment. When I was about to resign myself to contributing yet another analysis of the political ramifications of the recent government shutdown, I saw three stories that I could not ignore.
The first piece detailed a school shooting. In Sparks, Nev., a 12-year-old boy brought a semi-automatic handgun to his school. He shot two children and a mathematics teacher before taking his own life. The two children are now in stable condition, but the teacher, Marine and National Guard veteran Michael Landsberry, died. Some witnesses assert that Landsberry died while attempting to protect his students. He had just celebrated his wedding anniversary and is survived by two children and his wife, Sharon.
The second piece described a shooting at a housing complex for senior citizens in Detroit. Allegedly, 65-year-old Mike Reda used an assault rifle to shoot two women after an argument with his girlfriend. The first victim, in her 50s, was shot while sitting on a park bench near the complex and later died at a local hospital. Reda then returned to the complex and shot another woman, in her 60s, who died at the scene.
In the third article, Rene Balbuena was shot and killed in front of his son while responding to a Craigslist advertisement. Balbuena and his son knocked on a door in South Los Angeles in an attempt to purchase a cell phone, but left when they were told to leave. Minutes later, Balbuena and his son were sitting in a parked car when two people opened fire at their vehicle.
Are the violent acts described in these stories evidence of a modern “culture of violence” or do they represent a societal constant that only seems to be more prevalent due to increased access to media? Why did these acts happen? I confess that I am forced to give the answer that opinion writers dread: I don’t know. I do know that I will not be able to forget the human beings described in these stories quickly, but I am unsatisfied with merely remembering their names and a brief snippet of their lives.
How can we respond to these tragedies? We can advocate for improved treatment of mental illnesses, promote. We can begin by examining whether the way we live our lives encourages, or at least tolerates, violence, while critically analyzing tired media-encouraged storylines. For example, do my word choices, television and video game habits, etc. actually impact the way that I and those around me view violent behavior? Additionally, we can consider combat gun violence and treat the victims of domestic abuse. We can advocate for improved treatment of mental illnesses, promote programs to oppose bullying and be politically active. We can pray. I am unwilling to accept a single cause as an explanation for violent acts. I do not believe that all or any of the above steps would necessarily aid in the prevention of violent crimes, but we owe it to the dead to try.