Denver, Colorado resident Aaron Stark wrote a letter to his local news station in which he admitted “I was almost a school shooter.” The heartfelt letter was written in response to the Parkland School Shooting after Stark’s wife and daughter kept saying they could not understand why the shooter lashed out with violence. Stark recognized the role guns play in violent outbursts and how a lack of access to guns prevented him from acting on his feelings. He also recognized the role mental health issues, bullying, and abuse played in his thinking. Above all, however, he emphasized the impact of kindness on his decision not to act. It was, in fact, small acts of kindness and love that ultimately steered Aaron away from violence and helped him triumph over his troubling circumstances.
The Parkland School Shooting has, of course, unleashed a volley of political commentary and public policy debate. Unfortunately, the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is yet another tragedy in a long line of similar tragedies. It happens to be one of the deadliest mass shooting in US history. It happens to be testing the ability of President Donald Trump and his Administration to tackle gun violence. Unfortunately, the standard debate on gun violence and mental illness, coupled with some questionable policy shifts, has taken center-stage alongside Trump’s emotional reactions. People are also angry at four Sheriff’s Deputies for not entering the school, even though the standard operating procedure for most police departments faced with threats like shootings is to avoid risking the lives of their officers instead of aiding victims under attack, but nothing new is truly being discussed.
The Aaron Stark letter, in contrast, helps facilitate an alternative public debate. For the most part, conservatives, including social conservatives who allegedly espouse religious ideals, have responded to the Parkland School Shooting with vitriol and condemnation directed at the shooter as well as those with mental health issues. Liberals, who are allegedly advocates for civil liberties, have responded by undermining the Second Amendment Rights of youths and those with mental illnesses, as well as everyone else. Stark has embraced the need to address the mitigating factors in gun violence and make public policy changes, but he has also discussed the role of community and individuals in preventing violent crime. The issue of violence crime is an issue for government, but government can only be part of the solution.
In many respects, mass killings create identity crises for both liberals and conservatives. Liberals need to reconcile their desire to protect victims of gun violence with their desire to secure the liberties of all individuals. For their part, conservatives need to reconcile their ideological aspirations with their emotional impulses, i.e. forgiveness versus condemnation. The Parkland School Shooting is, of course, not the only story to shake the conscious of the conservative world. The death of world-renown televangelist Billy Graham is another. Billy Graham had many followers, but he was detested by many on the Left for helping to blur the line between religion and politics. His political views were, however, also very different than most in the Righteous Right.
Bill Graham supported Republicans like Dwight Einstein and Richard Nixon, because he felt they were honest and Godly men. Graham wanted to inspire a nationwide moral revival and saw politics as a means to preserve the Christian identity of America. From his experiences with Richard Nixon, he learned manipulators within the political world would use evangelicals and their preference for Christian leaders to empower themselves, which is a threat he warned about. To younger generations, whose thinking has been heavily intellectualized, as well as significantly compartmentalized, by America’s objective, science-based education system, Graham’s views seem almost indistinguishable from those of his contemporaries who he often criticized.
The people of Graham’s generations were, however, largely emotional and intuitive thinkers who interacted in a very different way when compared to current generations. Graham’s “political views” were not necessarily political views. Graham’s political views were his religious views simply applied to situations that happened to be political. Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and the other conservative evangelicals of the “Christian Right,” in contrast, are religious leaders who embrace political views and use their religious identities to help mobilize Christian Evangelicals in support of their political causes. In practice, these religious political leaders have often been forced to neglect their religious views to address political issues, thus the political stances of the united Conservatives movement often fail to incorporate the “moral” considerations a man like Graham would deem the primary concern.
In terms of gun violence and other issues, this has led conservatives to see public safety threats in terms of public policy and politics when they need to see it in human terms. Because liberals are responding to the positions of conservatives and they are unwilling to admit to their own, often-non Christian, morals, liberal have also failed to see these issues in human terms. The public policy debate has largely hit a wall, so the solution to issues like gun violence will not come from political leaders. It must come from communities. Individuals and communities as a whole must recognize the acts of murderers are not simply the actions of heartless monsters. They are the actions of people who have been hurt and abandoned by their communities. Moreover, the most important solution to the reoccurring problem of mass violence is the human solution, which must be embraced by conservatives and liberals.
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