After the slaughter of innocent young lives in Connecticut, the country was promised a national dialogue that would include some very "tough questions." Sadly, what we've gotten instead is the same old political posturing about whether the country will impose new restrictions on the access to guns.
In fact, the debate we are now having - versus the one we should be having - is not really a debate at all. And the reason it's a phony debate is because limiting gun sales would do absolutely nothing to prevent the next lunatic from gaining access to one or more of the 250 million to 300 million guns already in circulation.
Don't get me wrong; my point is not to argue against imposing restrictions on the purchase of guns or suggesting that we shouldn't stop selling "assault" weapons altogether. In the abstract, they are probably both good ideas. But we don't live in the abstract. We live in the real world, where almost anyone can easily get their hands on a gun and impose enormous carnage, with our without a large magazine of bullets.
The tough questions that I think a lot of us were hoping to hear are less about how - and more about why - these senseless acts are occurring in the first place.
I certainly don't have all or even some of the answers. And I don't pretend to know every question that needs to be asked. But I can think of five pretty good questions that our national leaders aren't asking and consequently aren't trying to answer:
1. Why aren't we demanding to know what the people closest to all of these deranged individuals did to prevent these terrible tragedies from happening?
In the Connecticut massacre, we are told the young man had a father, but the father lived a couple of towns away. So in today's world, that means he's off the hook. He had a brother, too. But the brother lived in New Jersey, we are told. So we give him a pass, as well. And what about the neighbors who now tell us they knew something was terribly wrong with this young man? I'm not suggesting that family members or neighbors be held liable for the acts that took place in Newtown. But I do believe we all still have a moral responsibility to be "our brother's keeper" - especially within our own families.
2. What part of the First Amendment says that free enterprise has to give the peddlers of gratuitous violence a stage and shelf space?
We've known for a long time that a large number of violent video games, movies, television shows and song lyrics are desensitizing our children, especially young males, to the consequences of violent behavior, and yet we do virtually nothing about it. I'm not suggesting or advocating for laws that would violate the First Amendment. But I believe we can and should ask our entertainers and entertainment companies to voluntarily reach for higher standards for themselves and their organizations.
3. What do these violent acts say about society's embrace of secularism?
As our society drifts further away from its origins as "one nation, under God" and we become a more secular country, without the rite, ritual and guidance of religion in our lives, how will so many young people learn a sense of right and wrong and morality and immorality? Despite the best efforts of lots of good parents, neighbors and teachers, the fact is that too many children are still left without the direction and sense of purpose that religion once provided.
4. When the pop culture bestows celebrity status on deviant individuals, are they also inspiring socially detached individuals to seek a brief moment of fame through violence?
Deviant acts that once made people infamous and outcasts are now often the basis of sudden fame and celebrity. And, increasingly, psychologists believe that part of the motivation for the assailants in these mass killings has been their desire to bring some attention to their desperate lives. What if the mass media agreed right now to start withholding the names of the people who commit these horrific attacks? If we can withhold the names of certain crime victims in order to protect their privacy, surely we can consider withholding the names of criminals in search of notoriety.
5. Does anyone really believe that solutions can still be found in Washington, D.C.?
If it wasn't already abundantly clear, this whole fiasco demonstrates once again that the federal government is broken and leaderless. For anyone seriously interested in learning what, if anything, the government can do to protect us, I strongly encourage everyone to pay more attention to what is happening in the states. In fact, I believe that our own governor, John Hickenlooper, has taken some of the most constructive steps of all by urging the Colorado Legislature to "pass legislation that will update civil commitment laws, make it easier to identify people with mental illness who are a danger to themselves and others and provide safer, more humane systems for their treatment."
Now, why couldn't someone in Washington, D.C., have thought of that?
Charlie Leonard lives in Aspen. His column runs every other Thursday in The Aspen Times.