Much as we don’t always want to own up to it, America has a tendency to create and then offer templates that later lead to tragedy and heartbreak. The somewhat lighter, but not any less important, end of the scale on this might be teenagers aping stunts they’ve witnessed on wrestling shows or “Jackass.” They’ve seen somebody jump off a garage roof onto a card table covered with bits of glass… and now they’ve got a video camera and they’re ready to try the stunt themselves. With any luck, Dad runs out into the back yard in the nick of time to start swearing at them and stop the show.
At the much darker end of this template phenomenon is the event of a grown man, deeply distressed, deciding that the answer to his feeling of hopelessness is homicide followed by suicide. We hear of these events, watch the sad video of bodies leaving the house, and we can’t discern any rationale. “What was he thinking?” we want to know. We conclude that he wasn’t thinking… not normally, anyhow. Months later, another distraught person repeats the template.
Any useful or helpful examination of these events should rightfully be made by highly trained professionals with a bushel of degrees and background. I confess: I’m out of depth here. But I’m going to justify commenting on this by merit of having had a brush with this kind of thing. When I was in high school, I came home and found my mother and sisters very downbeat. “Who died?” I thought. Exactly. The woman next door, a mother of three, had gone down into her basement with a shotgun and taken her own life.
Although it was many years ago, I remember that day every time there’s another tragedy in the news similar to the Lupoe murder-suicide in Wilmington. Would that suicide next door in the 1960’s have been an even more tragic event if our neighbor had presumed she was going to ‘take’ her family with her… somewhere?
I don’t know that we can hope to manage human depression to the point of preventing Wilmington-type events. But I do believe – and I’ve used this column to previously assert—that reducing access to guns can and would reduce the number of deaths by gun. It just seems logical that more and better gun control is something we should constantly be working on. We act decisively to keep drugs away from our children, but we let the NRA whistle the tune on gun distribution? In the next six months, will there be more resolve on the cleanliness of peanut butter following the salmonella scare than there will be on guns following Wilmington and continued gang killings?
In Wilmington-type scenarios, there does seem to be another critical component. Somehow the distressed party, the shooter, comes to believe that rather than heinously relieving their mental disease by killing, they are instead solving a problem of location… by means of taking out the rest of the family. We could fill hundreds of column inches with sharp-edged debate on whether religion somehow figures into the thinking in these scenarios, and we’d still be saddled with the fact that these events are the melding of a mentally destabilized person to an available gun. But am I wrong to wonder aloud if religion is somehow inculcating that this life we live is but a phase or plateau and that peace is available elsewhere, thus contributing to the template that, by now, we must concede these troubled people are copying?
Our country readily and regularly provides death templates. Fictional TV and movie narratives too often end in gun stand offs that are resolved by way of the distressed protagonist taking their own life. Story telling in any media about people with crushing mental burdens too often ends with suicide, not because that reflects life but because it serves up drama. Remove guns, gunplay and death by gun from the scripts of 100% of entertainment industry product and you’ve probably cut that globally distributed net output by at least half. Let’s not even get into video games since already know where that discussion is going.
Still, these are really only notes on various details of our contemporary living environment. No one single element initiates an act like Wilmington. I can say with some certainty that my next door neighbor all those years ago did not take her own life because of repeat exposure to cowboy movies and police detective shows.
But if we’re anticipating an increase of distress and crisis in people’s lives because of what’s happening to our economy, and if we simultaneously recognize the power of templates to influence behavior, then aren’t we at the very least compelled to acknowledge and discuss those templates and address the issue of access to the killing hardware involved in those scenarios? Wilmington was an event of mental distress, societal pressures involving economics, possibly the power of suggestion from religion, and while I’m sorry to put it this way… the convenience of guns. It seems like there’s at least one of those we can do something about.