After Newtown: Shifting the Structure and Culture of Violence towards Peace

NewtonA look at the structural and cultural violence underneath the Sandy Hook attack and action steps to move towards peace. by Marianne Perez de Fransius, Peace Is Sexy Founder

While there is a tendency to think that the violence has stopped in Newton, CT, because Adam Lanza is no longer pulling the trigger on the Bushmaster AR-15 rifle and two handguns, only the direct violence of this particular incident has stopped. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Below the waterline, there is the largely ignored cultural and structural violence that set the preconditions for this shooting, and if not addressed, will be fertile ground for further similar acts.

On Friday, December 14, 2012 there was another attack at an elementary school, but this one was in Henan Province, China.  A 36-year old man, Min Yingjun, reportedly broke into an elementary school stabbing 22 children and one adult with a knife. This is important for 2 reasons; it gives us a window to look at the structures and cultures that perpetuate violence.

On the structural side, China has strict gun control laws, so the perpetrator could “only” do as much harm as his knife yielded. The net result is that of the 22 people that were attacked at the school in China, none are dead and security guards were able to subdue the attacker. It certainly begs the question, “If the US’s gun laws were as restrictive as China’s would we now be grieving the lives of 20 children and 7 adults?” (Not to mention those killed by firearms in Aurora, Colorado, at Virginia Tech and every day in the US’s inner cities.)

In terms of cultural violence, coverage of the Chinese elementary school attack appeared in the Friday morning news cycle on US networks. While we may never know if the Chinese attack inspired Lanza, it is highly probable that he saw coverage of it, as well as coverage of the Aurora and Virginia Tech shootings earlier. Mainstream media likes to think of itself as objective and thus reports these incidents with out condemning the violence. Sadly, because violence is so pervasive in the media (in movies, video games, song lyrics, as well as the news), we need more voices and public figures saying that violence is not permissible. Most likely, this pervasiveness of violent culture contributed to Nancy Lanza’s (Adam’s mother) doomsday fears and desire to protect herself with so many weapons.

edward r murrowAdditionally, mainstream media needs to take a hard look at the US’s gun laws and compare them to other countries’.  Finally, mainstream media would do well to report on the US’s (lack of) healthcare system and demystify mental illness. In fact, in China as well as many other parts of the world, symptoms of mental illness and appropriate interventions should figure on every news rooms’ editorial calendar.

Many of the approaches that have led to the decrease in lung cancer in the United States, could be applied to the cancer of gun violence. The leading cause of lung cancer is smoking cigarettes. The US not only restricts the sale of tobacco, but it also taxes it heavily. Additionally, smoking has become more and more restricted in public spaces, starting in restaurants and now even public parks in New York City. While cigarette advertisements have largely been regulated and even banned in many media, tobacco use in films and television shows remains problematic. But at least we no longer see our newscasters smoking cigarettes while delivering the news. Increased reporting about the correlation between tobacco and lung cancer as well as effective public education campaigns have led to a decrease in the incidence of lung cancer in recent years. Why not adapt these strategies to gun violence?

Planned defense expenditure 2011How do we do this? Simple. Halve the military budget ($673 billion in 2013, half would be $337.5 billion) which still leaves the US with the biggest military expenditure in the world by far and re-allocate that funding to address gun violence. You’ll still have enough left over to address health care (all aspects, not just mental health), reform the education system, rebuild infrastructure, generate green jobs and decrease the debt burden. As an added bonus, it gets us off the fiscal cliff.

The Oreo Cookie demonstration video below by Ben & Jerry’s Ben Cohen doesn’t have the latest numbers, but the proportions are still accurate.

How is this going to happen?

It’s great to use Facebook, Twitter and other social media to grieve, inform yourself, and exclaim outrage. But unless we all take directed, purposeful action, meaningful change won’t happen.

Here are some actions you can take:

–       Write to Members of Congress (all you have to do is put in your zip code and this website does the rest!)

–       Petition the NRA to support reasonable gun laws

–       Support Dick’s hardware decision to stop selling assault weapons by sending them a thank you note.

–       Ask media outlets to include more condemnation of violence, information about mental illness symptoms and research on root causes of violence in their reporting

–       Donate to organizations that have a track record of working on systemic change around violence


What other actions can you take?

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