Cepeda: Making society safer goes beyond addressing guns

By Esther Cepeda, Columbian Syndicated Columnist



CHICAGO -- You have to applaud the White House for its pragmatism in managing expectations the day after President Obama attended a memorial service in honor of the victims of the school massacre in Newtown, Conn. Press secretary Jay Carney defended not having a full agenda for what the president described as "whatever power this office holds" to prevent more tragedies such as what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School: "It's a complex problem that will require a complex solution," Carney noted. "No single piece of legislation, no single action will fully address the problem."

Certainly true. Even if those who would impose a total ban on civilian firearms got their way, there would still be no assurances that another tragedy wouldn't happen. There's got to be middle ground between eliminating our constitutional right to keep and bear arms and turning our backs on a patchwork of state laws, many of which make it easier to obtain a legal firearm than to qualify for a driver's license.

The only way the country will start clawing toward that middle ground is to accept that these ever-increasing violent rampages are not simply about guns or the laws that regulate them. For instance, we won't prevent gun violence by trying to ban guns. Ask any Chicagoan about that. Illinois is the only state that doesn't have some form of concealed carry law, and Chicago itself effectively outlaws any kind of gun possession. Yet at midyear, gun violence was mostly to blame for this startling statistic: More Chicago residents had been killed in the city than the number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan -- 144 soldiers compared with 228 victims in the Windy City.

We can't point fingers at law-abiding citizens who enjoy owning, shooting or collecting legal firearms. According to a 2011 Gallup poll, 47 percent of American adults have a gun in their home or elsewhere on their property.

Three possible culprits

If you want to look for blame, here are three possibilities: the erosion of intact families, lack of parenting resources, and a culture of shame and fear regarding mental disability or illness.

First is the one few want to talk about, lest he or she be denounced as a bigot -- the wearing away of the family unit. National statistics prove that there are more and more children being born into or raised in single-parent homes. They are at higher risk for poverty, under-education and violence than those with two adults in the home. But few people risk being criticized by saying that there would be less of all three of those things with more intact families.

Parenting resources are key, too. Several states require firearms training before you're allowed to purchase a gun. But I can't think of any that requires a parenting class as a prerequisite for high school graduation. Sure, it's easy to blame video games and movies. But there's never any blame for parents who allow children to steep themselves in our culture of violence-as-news-and-entertainment without establishing strong values such as respect for the sanctity of human life.

And maybe we can't fully blame parents. Community-based parenting classes, especially those aimed at raising teens, are generally hard to find.

Then there is the taboo about mental disabilities and illness. We still don't fully know what troubles plagued the shooter's household, but by all accounts, Adam Lanza had the sort of emotional issues that kept him from living independently. It appears as though his mother tried to put on a brave face and deal with her son's emotional issues by herself, until she became a victim to them.

So, yes, let's talk about how to make our society safer from the threat of guns. But let's not try to do so without also attempting to address all the other factors that create a breeding ground for ever-more violent destruction.