New Castle News


December 28, 2012

Our Opinion: Nation needs to do more to uncover causes of mass murder

NEW CASTLE — In the film “Casablanca,” Police Captain Renault routinely issues orders to “round up the usual suspects” following a crime.

The classic movie makes it clear that Renault is mainly interested in a scapegoat, someone who can be tied to a crime, whether guilty or not.

And so it is with random acts of violence in America. In light of this month’s mass murder at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., the usual suspects are being trotted out.

They include guns, even though most guns are never involved in crimes. They include the mentally ill, even though most of these people display no propensity for violence. They include entertainment, even though multiple studies have failed to identify a link between violent entertainment and the real thing.

But there is something wrong in America. The number of mass shooting in the United States is a call to action. Yes, other nations have similar tragedies. But statistically, they are more prevalent here.

Why? It’s tempting to point at one of those usual suspects as the culprit. Yet a dispassionate examination of these killings suggests a more complex, and more nuanced, explanation is waiting to be identified. And finding that explanation is crucial if Americans are to avoid living in fear and suspicion of each other.

Fortunately, some efforts are being made in the aftermath of the Newtown killings to conduct a broad review of such violence in the hopes of reaching a better understanding of what lies behind it. President Obama has established a national commission to examine the issues.

And in Pennsylvania, the Republican chairman of the state Senate Judiciary Committee is calling for something similar for the commonwealth.

Sen. Stewart Greenleaf wants to establish a task force that will explore ways to prevent gun violence. He has called on his fellow senators to create the task force, composed of various experts, to examine such matters as firearms regulation, mental health laws and bullying. The goal is to gain a better understand of the causes of such violence and to determine if there are actions the Legislature should pursue in 2013.

Such efforts are commendable, but we would be remiss if we failed to note the potential pitfalls. Any recommendations coming out of these examinations will be attacked by defenders of the status quo.

Still, a serious debate over violence is long overdue in America. Citizens should encourage it and be wary of those who automatically reject any changes.

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