It is natural in the wake of any tragedy to ask questions, to seek answers, to place blame, and particularly to ask how a similar tragedy can be avoided in the future.
Thus, following the school shooting in Broward County, Florida, many people have proposed solutions they think will save lives in the future.
For many people, the answer is to ban guns — if not all of them, then at least the AR-15 style rifles that increase the efficiency of killers. That, however, runs counter to the Second Amendment freedoms that have been guaranteed to us for more than two centuries, nor is there any reason to think mass murderers would not find a way around those restrictions in any case.
For others struggling with school violence and similar episodes, the answer is increased law enforcement — a heightened surveillance and awareness of those most dangerous among us (although that would have little effect if police cannot also lock up people whom they consider dangerous).
Some people point to mental illness, and treatment of people who present a danger to themselves and others, as the key to preventing future shooting tragedies. But, again, our courts have ruled that people who are mentally ill cannot be locked up indefinitely just because of a “potential” threat.
A few think that the answer is arming more people, so that good people will be able to defend themselves and others, but that could result in a Wild West lifestyle that few of us would embrace. It is also unlikely to deter those who are determined to kill the innocent. They will simply take more defensive measures.
Hopefully, we can agree on some things that will make a difference — like working to ensure that mentally ill people will not have easy legal access to guns … like outlawing bump stocks such as the one used by the Las Vegas massacre killer to mimic an automatic weapon … like empowering law enforcement to track threats online and to have access to social media accounts when such threats are made.
But none of these solutions — even the ones that are most drastic and restrictive — are going to get to the heart of what ails us. They are more like a cold remedy: They treat the symptoms but are not a cure. Dextromethorphan can suppress a cough, but it can’t kill the virus that causes the cough.
By the same token, laws can suppress or diminish violence, but they can’t cure the sickness that makes random violence such a virus in our modern society.
And since this is such a modern problem, I think it behooves us to consider what about our modern society is different from earlier societies where slaying innocent children was not so common.
For most of us the modern era of mass shootings began on Aug. 1, 1966, when former Marine sharpshooter Charles Whitman entered the Main Building tower at the University of Texas and shot more than 40 people, killing 16, after killing his mother and wife earlier in the day.
What seemed unusual to those of us alive then would now seem almost commonplace. Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Sutherland Springs, along with many others, have taught us that a sickness in our society can turn fatal at any time — striking down the good and evil alike, the young and old, the weak and strong.
But if we are going to do more than treat the symptoms, we must have the courage to look at the patient and diagnose honestly just what the sickness in our society is. That means looking at America before 1963 — before the Kennedy assassination, before the University of Texas tower shootings, before Charles Manson — and asking what has changed since then?
I’ll venture my opinion, although it won’t be popular among a generation that believes its own publicity about how brilliant it is. Rather, I would argue that we have lost our way and are no longer tethered to what C.S. Lewis called the Tao, the natural law that used to be nurtured in each of us by our schools, our churches, our families and our government, until like Satan we rebelled in order to prove just how smart we were.
Here’s what we did in our all-too-finite wisdom:
— Ended school prayer and took the Bible out of schools: When I started my education in 1960, public schools taught students that we owed our lives and our sacred honor to the Creator that is memorialized in the Declaration of Independence. That was ended by the all-knowing Supreme Court in 1962 and 1963, so in order to avoid offending atheists, we offended God.
— Legalized abortion: Thanks to the Supreme Court again, in the early 1970s, we as a a nation declared that life has no value, not even the most tender, most innocent life. Sixty million dead babies later, we continue to pretend we are morally superior.
— Celebrated divorce and diluted marriage: The broken family is the emblem of our sick society. Is it any wonder that children raised without any moral compass have a hard time finding true north?
— Legalized street drugs and put legal drugs on the street: At least two and probably three generations have been raised to numb their feelings with marijuana, cocaine, meth, oxycodone. If you play with fire, you are bound to get burned. Many of the most disturbed killers in the last decade have been dosed with dangerous “anti” psychotic drugs whose listed side effects include, delusions, violent fantasies and aggressive behavior.
— Promoted the trivialization of sex and violence in our culture through popular culture: Movies, TV shows and video games have normalized the pornography of both sex and death and have inured children to behavior that previously would have been condemned as decadent.
The common thread in all of these destructive changes is that they are defended as increasing our “freedom.” Of course, that was the same excuse that Satan used to tempt Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and we all know how that turned out. They were sent out from the innocence of Paradise in order to take their chances in a world full of death and despair.
As Milton’s Satan declares after realizing he is to be exiled from God due to his own arrogance, “Farewell happy fields/Where Joy for ever dwells: hail horrors, hail Infernal world.”
No, we cannot restore the peaceful era of an earlier America just by banning certain guns or by increasing the police presence. No Band-Aid will set this nation right. As long as we consider ourselves superior to God and natural law, then we will reap the whirlwind.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: In the following two weeks, I will reprint two 2011 columns that further diagnose and seek the root cause of the moral sickness that has turned our society upside down.)
Frank MIele is managing editor of the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell, Montana. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.