It was a Tuesday afternoon, April 9th 1968. A beautiful sunny spring day in Kansas City. My mother had taken me shopping in downtown Kansas City and our usual lunch at Kresge’s diner. This was just five days after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination in Memphis. She wasn’t aware that there was a lot of civil unrest going on that day as student protesters had lined up in front of City Hall, upset that that Kansas City schools weren’t closed for Dr. King’s funeral. A riot ensued later when the Kansas City Police Department deployed tear gas on the student protesters.
Although I was four years old at the time, I remember this day like it was yesterday. We came out of a store and you could smell the tear gas off in the distance to the east of us. My mother tried to shield my eyes with her jacket, but I could still see some of the damage that was done. Signs of looting. Store fronts with broken glass and the items in display cases missing. I could see the broken glass on the sidewalk as I looked down while walking and my mother cautioned me not to step on any of it.
As we scurried to the bus stop to get the hell out of downtown, a man in a suit told my mother it was too dangerous for us to be on the streets. A policeman led us inside a bank where we hid in the bank’s vault behind its closed bullet proof door until police got the riots under control.
This was my first exposure to violence and mass violence. The end result: six people dead, 43 injured and over 100 arrests.
Unless you have been living under a rock the past week, you’ve heard about the two mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. Naturally, as it is every time one of these mass shooting occur, it often becomes political on social media and an opportunity to bash the NRA and any President who received an endorsement from the NRA. Or, as it is currently, another opportunity to blame President Trump for the ills of society.
Perhaps I grew up in the age of innocence where I could attend sporting events and not have to go through a metal detector and the extra half hour delay getting through the turnstiles.
It was a different era and one with very few mass shootings. An era when some of my high school classmates drove pickup trucks to school that had a gun rack in their rear window.
So why all the mass shootings. What has changed?
In the 1960s and 1970s era that I grew up in, gun laws were less restrictive than they are today. The percentage of borderline insane people living in society has to be roughly the same. We have better and more effective antipsychotic and antidepressant drugs today than we had back then.
Understand that mass shootings are not an American problem, it is not a political problem, it is not a President Trump problem, it is a societal problem around the world. When viewed per capita, the US looks much safer than a lot of European countries including France, Switzerland and Norway. See: Mass Shootings By Country Data.
For those who think the mass shootings are related to President Donald Trump and his rhetoric, President Obama had more mass shootings in his last year in office in 2016 (382) than President Trump had in 2017 (346) and 2018 (340). See: https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/past-tolls
I remember people blaming Dr Martin Luther King Jr for race riots and he was a peaceful man who led peaceful demonstrations for civil rights. He certainly would not have condoned the riots I experienced that April day in Downtown Kansas City.
What do I think is the problem?
From my perspective, I think its fairly simple: too much violence on television, video games and in movies. Bad input in, leads to bad output out. The desensitization of human life and graphic violence from media.
As kid in the 1960s and 1970s, we played Cowboys and Indians, Army Men, Cops and Robbers, had toy guns but kids and adolescents today are exposed to much more violence and more graphic violence. I’m not alone in thinking the violence in the media and entertainment is the main problem. Below are some facts and quotes from a position paper from the American Academy of Family Physicians on Media Violence:
- In 2000, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released a report noting that media violence is a risk factor in shootings in school.
- A 2003 NIMH report noted media violence to be a significant causal factor in aggression and violence.
- The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a 2007 report on violent programming on television, and noted that there is “strong evidence” that exposure to violence through the media can increase aggressive behavior in children
- Studies have found that 91 percent of movies on television contained violence, even extreme violence.
The AAFP position paper adds “Multiple studies have shown a strong association, and suspicion or suggestion of causality between exposure to violence in the media, and aggressive or violent behavior in viewers.”
Yet, Hollywood loves to hypocritcally bash the NRA and gun control in commercials and at award shows like the Oscars.
If you really want mass shootings to decrease, a good place to start would be curbing graphic violence in movies, television and video games and putting pressure on the entertainment industry to change its ways.
“I’d be lying if I said that people don’t imitate what they see on the screen. I would be a moron to say they don’t, because look how dress styles change. We have people who want to look like Julia Roberts and Michelle Pfeiffer and Madonna. Of course we imitate. It would be impossible for me to think they would imitate our dress, our music, our look, but not imitate any of our violence or our other actions.” — An anonymous well-known movie producer. Annals of Communication, The New Yorker, Ken Auletta May 17 1993