It’s exactly one week since we participated in the March for Our Lives in Washington DC. Having reflected on what I witnessed last week and studying the bigger picture surrounding guns in schools over the last year, I wanted to share my perspective.
I cannot think of a more pressing problem gripping our nation than the number of lives lost due to gun violence, where our lack of a Systems Thinking mindset is crippling our ability to effectively address the issue. The annual death toll due to gun violence, from suicides to homicides and mass shootings, is simply staggering.
My daughter, a junior in high school, wanted to participate in the rally on March 24 th . So we drove to DC and joined her in the March. To prepare for the rally, we made signs. I was particular that we highlight all the issues that need to be addressed to solve this crisis in our country–and determined that we not pick one side OR the other and focus on their partial list of solutions.
A Systems Thinking mindset starts with adopting a disciplined approach to capture all the factors that seem to contribute to a problem and understanding their relationships over time so that we can identify the unintended consequences of our actions and make wiser choices to avoid the negative side-effects.
What disappoints me the most is the polarizing aspect of the debate on guns. Every person living in America would agree with me that they want to be safe from violence, with their families and children safe at home and in school. So, why has this become a political issue, when it is a human survival issue? Why did it have to become a Republican OR Democratic issue? Singling out the NRA as the cause will not solve the problem, instead fuel more partisanship and anger. We need to identify all the contributing forces that seem to perpetuate the problem and address them collectively as a community and not as splintered factions.
We can view the problem that we are facing with gun violence analogous to a fire, where our initial reaction is to rush and get a fire extinguisher to control it. When the extinguisher fails to put out the fire, we look for better fire extinguishers. We tend not to invest the time and effort to explore the other side of the equation; i.e. the causes for the fire AND ways to prevent it. The best way to put out a fire is to eliminate the conditions that lead to it getting started.
COMBUSTIBLE MATERIAL/FUEL + OXYGEN + IGNITION = FIRE
While we try to apply the same philosophy to violence, we do not have the luxury to restore life like we can restore damaged property. Therefore, it’s even more crucial that we devote our energies to managing ALL the elements to the left of the equation that lead to the conditions and generate the acts of violence. Implementing measures to control it after the fact will still lead to the loss of lives. There can be no substitutes for human life.
Implementing gun control measures, such as better screening procedures, increasing the age limit and reducing access to assault weapons, is only one of the many steps needed to reduce the loss of lives to gun violence. Gun control will only reduce the ignition component of the Fire equation above.
As Barry Richmond elegantly illustrates in his book, Guns at School , “Until we have a solid grip on the relationships responsible for producing and maintaining the scary phenomenon of school students shooting their peers and teachers, we have scant hope of doing much to effectively address it.”
“I think the biggest problem we have is the amount of alienation and rage in our young people,” U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige said March 11, 2001 on the CBS News program “Face the Nation,” after the school shootings in Santee and Williamsport. Even after 17 years of learning this from Secretary Paige, we seem to have made little to no progress along these lines.
HUMILIATION + ALIENATION -> RAGE + GUNS = VIOLENCE + DEATH
Unless we address the humiliation and alienation that leads to the rage, gun control will not necessarily eliminate the violence in our schools. We have to expand programs that address bullying in schools and more importantly fund and implement programs that provide the needed social support and adult role-models to those who feel the alienation. If we don’t address the forces that generate the rage, but only implement gun control, I can easily see gun violence transforming to bomb violence, as it is already beginning in front of our own eyes.
Until we as adults, parents, teachers, politicians, liberals, conservatives, Democrats and Republicans unite to embrace the 2nd Amendment AND take the steps to also address the other causes that lead to the violence, we will fail as a nation.