As this weekend comes to a close, I cannot help, like the rest of America, to spend this Sunday reflecting in disgust and sadness at the awful events that transpired in Connecticut this past Friday. However, while so many in the country are asking the expected questions that occur after such an event; “Why would this happen?”,”What were the shooter’s motives?”,”How could this happen?”, I am, sadly, not all that surprised that something like this happened, and doesn’t in fact happen more often.
Before you get all huffy-puffy and say, “Now is not the time to politicize this issue.”, I challenge you to ask yourself the question, if not now, then when? I would remind someone who makes that statement what the original meaning of the word “politic” is. It comes from Greek politikos “of, for, or relating to citizens”. Well, if this isn’t a situation that doesn’t “relate to citizens”, and especially to their well-being in the country they live in, then I don’t know what is.
We have more violent deaths in this country by guns than any other western, developed country. By recent reports, the estimates are around 17,000 gun related deaths per year due to violent crimes. That’s not even including the amount of accidental gun deaths from hunting accidents, or self-inflicted gun deaths due to suicide. This stark number of deaths would, in another context, cause an outcry from our citizenry demanding something be done. Just think about all the activities of daily life that the government already regulates in order to protect the best interest of the general public.
We have DUI laws, primarily because of Mother’s Against Drunk Driving (MADD), we have speeding laws to control traffic deaths, we have have a national drinking age to (supposedly) control the numbers of alcohol related deaths among young people (although I think these do more harm then good by causing binge-drinking among youth). We have extremely invasive security procedures at airports to protect us from the foiled plots of shoe bombers and underwear bombers. And even, shampoo-bottle bombers? And yet, gun violence like we saw this past Friday, while temporarily causing us grief and to ask the generic questions, will likely not amount to any changes in our nation’s gun laws. Why? Because, unlike American gun owners and manufacturers, terrorist bombers, of the shoe or underwear kind, do not have a war chest of lobbyists buying Congress and preventing any meaningful change. And, because money is closely tied to the success of political careers, to few politicians (especially on the conservative side) are too in fear of losing the support of their constituents over the fight for stricter gun control laws. It is easier to placate your constituents, telling them that gun laws are fine and that there is no need for change, that it is the “person” not the gun that kills, than it is to try and have meaningful substantial conversations about what the reality is.
I will admit, it’s not all gun control issues that are the problem. It is also the poor state of mental health care and support in this country, as well as the mindless culture of violence perpetuated by our media. We live in a culture and society that is generally more offended by two men kissing, than by two men shooting each other to death. There is something seriously wrong with this picture. Regarding mental health care, it is time our state and national legislatures realize that allocating money towards programs that provide these much needed services is in the best interest of the public at large. Mental health care, just like dental and medical health care, is not a luxury that should only be afforded to those who can pay for it outright. Why? Because an overall healthier citizenry, both physically and mentally, is in the long-term best interest of society. Call it what you will – socialism, or whatever. The truth of the matter is, we are ALL better off when more people are healthy and happy. Not only does a happy/healthy citizenry contribute more to their communities, but violent crimes go down, addictive behaviors go-down, thereby lowering the overall financial cost to society in terms of burdens placed on police departments and hospitals.
I could probably go on about this forever. But for now, I will leave you with one more thought. Maybe we’ve got it all wrong when it comes to how we measure the well-being of society.
Today, our government’s way of measuring “standard of living”, and how “well” the country is doing, is via the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This is a macro-economic indicator that measures “…the market value of all officially recognized final goods and services produced within a country in a given period of time.”(Wikipedia). What is wrong with this measurement? Any guesses? Well, it assumes, just by it’s very premise for what is measured, that “well-being” and “standard of living” are equal to “happiness” and “contentment with life.” It assumes that more “stuff produced” and “having more stuff” will make a more content, happy society. I think the data in happiness studies presents a different picture.
The new way to measure success in a country, Gross National Happiness, is starting to garner more attention these days. The country of Bhutan, located in landlocked central Asia, applies this philosophy to measuring the well-being of the people who live there. Based on this idea of measuring well-being, people’s contentment with life is prioritized over how much money or stuff they have. I think the United States could certainly take a lesson in this philosophy.
To bring it all full-circle, the shootings in Connecticut this past Friday are merely a tragic symptom of a much larger problem. That larger problem is multifaceted. It is a Congress that is afraid of the gun lobby, a broken mental healthcare system, a culture that glamorizes and promotes violence, and a Federal government that values the well-being of it’s citizens not in terms of their health or happiness, but by how much credit card debt they can rack up during the holidays.