Home > Current Affairs, Politics > The School Shooting in Connecticut: Reason and Emotion in America

The School Shooting in Connecticut: Reason and Emotion in America

Contrary to our best hopes but entirely in line with our fearful expectations, there has been another deadly school shooting in America today. Facts continue to trickle in and the outline of the tragedy remains sketchy (and Columbine should have shown us the folly of leaping on patchy, unreliable initial reports and tying them into a narrative that suits our prejudices). But what we know is that a gunman opened fire at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut this morning, killing 26 people including himself, among them as many as 20 children between the age of 5 and 10.

Reasons and causes are as yet unclear, but then, really, they always are in such cases. What can we know of the mind of any mass shooter, let alone one who targets children? Reason collapses in the face of such senseless hate, such reckless destruction. What does “why” matter in the face of wilful murder of innocents? “Why” matters no more or less than “how”, which will also become more terribly, painfully clear in the coming days. This is the only certainty in such an event: the gradual, painful unfolding of details and facts, the picture filling in but the accretion of information offering little solace and less enlightenment of meaning. Reason holds that evidence leads to conclusions, solutions, and closure. Reason cannot fathom what has happened in that school in Connecticut.

And so emotion and ideology step in to fill the void left by impotent rationality. The immediate reactions, especially among the decent mainstream in the centre and on the left (the right has been and is likely to remain fairly silent; nothing their belief-system suggests to them can avail them in this discussion), have been righteously angry, in particular at the continued laxity of American gun control laws. The same arguments for and against stricter gun laws have been and will continue to be loosed from their rarely-closed cages. Perhaps 20 or so dead children are enough to shift the Overton window on the subject; perhaps not even dead children can shift the axis of the NRA and their gun lobby confederates. Yet despite the inordinate number of mass shootings in the past decade or so in America, gun laws have moved more towards permissiveness than restriction. Protestations aside, Americans have, by and large, chosen to live in a country with a liberty of access to guns, and have not yet been moved to change this by any number of massacres. If dead kids are the price to pay, lawmakers and even the general public have seemed to say, “So be it”.

Still, this time already feels different, and we are still in the immediate aftermath of the event. As can be seen in the video statement below, the President (hardly known for his hysterical displays of public emotion) can barely compose himself when discussing the cruel murders of so many children. Barack Obama is not a feel-your-pain sort of politician; indeed, at times during his re-election campaign his even-keeled nature seemed so at odds with the frustrated, strained barometre of the nation’s voting public that he threatened to lose control of what turned out to be an easily winnable contest against the flawed representative of a moribund, cynical ideological movement.

But this may be a moment that defines him, especially if it sparks long-overdue legislative action on gun control. Obama’s tenure manifests the earnest hopes of level-headed Americans who wish an end to the counter-productive practices of political-tribal resentment that have frozen America’s longtime upwards trajectory in mid-climb, if not actually spinning it back down into a precipitous plummet from progress. It is tragically ironic that it may require an intense and raw emotional wound to make a more reasonable and productive social polity possible. But for all of our hope for the future and attempts to forestall its darker possibilities, it often takes a horror to move us to real action. This may be that horror. What, then, will be the action? The American future awaits the answer.

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Categories: Current Affairs, Politics
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