Life through my myopic eyes.

Sandy Hook Shootings: the Un-Reality of Violence


Edna Buchanan, crime reporter retired, journalist, author, Pulitzer Prise winner.

In one of the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author Edna Buchanan‘s books she (The Corpse had a Familiar Face, Vice, et al) wrote about a shootout at one of Miami‘s larger shopping malls in the 80’s. “The only people who screamed and ducked for cover were the cops. Everyone else thought that an episode of Miami Vice was being filmed.”

Therein lays the problem with violence in real life versus violence in “reel” life. Despite the bleeding hearts of the world who still scream to the rafters that television and films are too violent and that Mr and Mrs Joe Citizen and their offspring are becoming anesthetized to the effects of violence, I argue that the reverse is true.

Very few directors in this day and age have the cojones to show just how sickening, and let’s face shocking, real violence is. Real violence is painful, bloody, sudden, and sometimes, final. In real life no one is blasted off their feet by being shot or hurled backward (or forward) by the force of the  bullet striking their body. Buckets of blood do not flow when they are stabbed unless the person doing the stabbing has twisted the blade when withdrawing it.

Real violence takes modern men, women and children aback. It throws them off-balance and they do not know how to react. In this modern-day and age of “civilised” society where everyone is given benefit of the doubt and bad guys/gals are dealt with by the legal system, people have become sheep (aka victims) of a great lie.

That someone else will protect you.

My daughter and I were discussing the Sandy Hook shootings. It is not often that we both, Meg and I, share pretty much the same epiphany but this was one of those moments.

Looking at me over her scrambled eggs and toast she said, “It looks like only one person tried to stop the kid from shooting.” I thought about this and while trying to come up with a suitable response, she finished with, “And there is nothing in the news about the shooter except a name, Adam Lanza. No one seems to know anything about him. Don’t you find that odd?”

I do and I don’t.

The world is full of people who have fallen through the cracks of everyday society. Home schooling, the internet, the “new” version of the nuclear family all make insulation an easy lifestyle to maintain. What is odd is that this 20 year-old nut did not have a traceable history (there wasn’t even a photo of the guy in his yearbook) and he doesn’t appear on any social networks either.

What we do know is Mom was a gun enthusiast and she regularly took her boys to the shooting range to improve their aim. These trips proved to have fatal consequences for not only the adults and children Adam killed, but for her as well as it appears she was his first victim on the 14th of December 2012.

But my post is not about Adam Lanza so much as it is about the adult’s reaction to him. This skinny social inept – he allegedly had Aspergers syndrome – who, despite his guns, was not physically threatening. This was no Rambo-like warrior. This was an almost anorexic looking kid in combat fatigues who was armed.

*I would just like to point out here that the guns used by Lanza and the one found in his car all belonged to Momma Lanza and not Adam. He tried to unsuccessfully buy a gun and was denied the privilege. The point being that folks that want to use guns to kill don’t have to own them, they just have to have them; legally or illegally. So gun control lobbyist’s just chew on this fact for a while.*

What concerns me is that only one person tried to stop Lanza, the vice principal if I remember correctly, but it doesn’t matter who it was. What matters is it appears that only one individual realised that this was real. Real enough to be acted against and not just reacted to.

I have worked for the last ten years as a prison officer in the United Kingdom. I have seen violence first hand over that time. Nothing lethal, thank God, but pretty gruesome. Prison officers react quickly to threat and to violent action. We have to, it’s part of our job. What is not part of our job is recognising that a threat exists and keeping an eye on it. We try to intervene as quickly as possible to prevent more people getting hurt.

Policemen and women do the same thing, but in the civilian environment and with a lot more lethal results and weapons. The worst “weapon” I’ve seen in action was batteries in a sock that could possibly kill someone and definitely gave someone a concussion.

But the point I am trying to make is that your average person has no “awareness” of threat nor do they have the presence of mind to react assertively in the face of that threat. People now rely too much on having someone else act for them. After all, that’s what the police are for, right?

Wrong.

Police, as they themselves will tell you, are an after the fact organisation. The police will gladly tell you that there is no way in hell (my emphasis not theirs) that they are able to protect everyone. But people want to believe that in this civilised modern world that we live in, the police can and do “protect and serve.”

But we need to face the facts that unless the cops are right there when the threat presents itself, they will not be able to respond quickly enough to save anyone.

I am not saying that the answer lay with more firearms being available to more people or even that folks should start strapping gun belts on before they leave the house.

I am saying that people need to be more aware and less “politically sensitive” to others. The question everyone should be asking is this, “How in the world did this skinny 20 year-old madman get into the school to begin with?” I am not pointing a finger of blame at anyone here. The point is that no one apparently felt that something was wrong until the young man began shooting.

No one, apparently, noticed that this guy did not belong. No one was aware.

I raised my daughter to always be aware of her surroundings. Not only that but to be aware of people who did not “feel” right; that person that you pass on the sidewalk or hallway who is giving off “bad” or “not normal” vibes. The place where bushes or trees are too close to the road or path you are on; a place just perfect to get mugged or worse.

I am not saying be paranoid, but be aware. I’ve lived for over 54 years and a good portion of those I was aware of what was going on around me. I have been in strange cities all over the world and walked alone through a lot of dodgy places and not once have I had something bad happen as a result.

I have been lucky, I know that, but I have also been aware. I would also, I like to think, have tried to stop the young man.

I was trained, along with other prison officers, how to disarm someone with a knife or a gun (although the instructors always went to great pains to explain that no one is faster than a bullet) so that other people, and of course yourself, would not be hurt. I’ve never had to do either and probably never will.

But with modern societies focus on law and order and the breeding of a generation of sheep leads me to believe that the reason that more of these mass shootings (mass murders) are happening more often is because of the lack of response by those being threatened or killed. I am not talking about children here I am talking about responsible adults.

Have we lost the ability to recognise real violence and death? Like the citizenry that Edna Buchanan talks about at the Miami mall shootings, do we view all violence as a film scenario? When we hear a gunshot (providing we even realise a gun has been fired) do we automatically look for the cameras and the film crew?

Have we become so “cowed” by the sight of blood and death that we cannot react to stop the violence? I don’t mean to imply that everyone needs to have a “have-a-go-hero” attitude and be a John McClane. Sandy Hook elementary had heroes, one of which quickly hid her charges in a closet and lied to the gunman about where they were.

It would be nice to think that everyone could or would be so quick-witted. But most people when interviewed after the fact all say that the violence and death did not feel real. Sadly due to the cinematic style of violence in the movies real violence, that is still painful and bloody, is not cinematic. It is harder to recognise because it is, compared to its celluloid cousin, quite low-key and not put through a Dolby sound system.

But we must not let ourselves believe the lie that others will protect us and our families. We are just as responsible and more importantly we are probably closer to the violence when it is happening.

I know that gun control will rear its ugly head again and the NRA and the anti-gun crowd will go to battle stations once again. On Twitter some idiot from the UK said, “We outlawed handguns after our school massacre and have had no more mass shootings since.” Besides sounding like a pompous prig, this fine chap also forgot to mention the several victims in Cumbria, Wales (part of the United Kingdom) shot to death in 2010 or injured by a 52 year-old taxi driver who shot innocents with a legal shotgun.

A bit of news for you mate, a shotgun is not a handgun, all right?

The lesson that could be learned is that we need to be not only more aware, but to be more active in trying to stop the violence. I know that before I trained and worked as a prison officer, I always had the attitude that if someone was trying to hurt or kill me or someone around me, I would try to stop them. Failing that? I’d at least have slowed ‘em down a bit and given someone else a chance to get away.

I pray that I never have a chance to find out if I really would or could react quickly enough to try. Of course I also pray that people start realizing that they themselves are the first person responsible for stopping the violence and for protecting themselves.

And like the NRA like to say, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” True enough, but guns (besides being a damned good deterrent) are made to kill. But if someone wants to kill badly enough, they don’t need a gun. Hell a golf club can be used to kill someone and you’ll need to “get up close and personal” to do it.

Let’s leave the gun issue out of it, shall we? Let’s concentrate on being more aware.

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Categorised in: Crime, Culture, Personal, Political, Reflective, Social

15 Responses »

  1. Always thought provoking Mike, and my take away from your essay is that this is a problem which requires multiple solutions and an open discourse. The New York Times also has some pieces I think you would find interesting. It sounds like you taught your daughter well, wishing you both a very happy holiday.

  2. Nicely put, Mike. I’ve been thinking a little about this lately, not specifically because of this incident, but just how violence is depicted in media. It’s always very clean and quick. You shoot someone and they’re dead. They don’t suffer, scream in agony, or plead for their lives much of the time. I was watching a live-action Skyrim parody the other day and it struck me that the combat between the Dovakhiin character and the bandit that had waylaid him was rough and arduous. It was no “swing your sword x number of times and the enemy is dead,” affair. It was a hard, muscle on muscle battle that would have been how sword fighting really was, but is sadly missing from Skyrim’s game mechanics. It made me want to write something depicting the very dire life and death struggle of a real fight, much like the scene in “Saving Private Ryan” where the American and German soldier struggle as the German soldier tries to shove a bayonet in the American’s heart and shushes him tenderly as it sinks in. When violence is depicted more realistically it unsettles me a little, and I think that’s healthy.

    • My point exactly. Real violence is disturbing and hard and dirty. Most films don’t even show that it hurts to punch someone in the face (and it does). Too much homogenised violence is pumped out these days. Thanks for commenting mate!! :-)

  3. Excellent article, Mike. Meg was pretty much saying the same thing on her blog. It’s definitely terrifying sometimes how unaware people have become. As I told Meg, it’s as though we’re sleepwalking, or living in a bubble, and your comparison of ‘reel life’ to real life was spot on. We’re such comfortable creatures today, that anything that removes us from that comfortability, by default, becomes a hassle. It could be something as simple as not wearing your seatbelt, just because it’s uncomfortable or takes an extra two seconds to snap on.

    I’m certainly of the mind that a good offense is the best defense, and though Lanza was 20-years-old, he was still very much a kid, and someone should have definitely recognized early on that he was troubled, though I think we say this everytime something like this happens. I’ll never believe that people are born killers; that’s an easy answer to the problem. I do believe that everyone is shaped, during childhood, into the adults they become, clearly, and that goes for Lanza as well. Who knows what kind of life he had, good or bad, that caused him to commit himself to these actions– what was actually going through his head PRIOR to the event. I also believe that people are born imperfect, and that sometimes, whether at birth or in early adulthood, mental illness shows up to play a factor, definitely. I have no idea what Lanza’s mental health was like, but clearly by the end, it wasn’t very good. But most people aren’t born ‘Nuts’, with an objective from birth to slay others once they’re of a capable age. There is a point where the mind hits ‘critical mass’.

    But I feel that, in part, it’s our inability, or unwillingness, to recognize mental illness in others, or their instability for what it is, that helps in allowing for such events like this to happen. If someone needs help, we can’t always just stand aside, mainly because if we did, that person could end up one day shooting their way through a school or a movie theater. Again, offense is the best defense. By helping others, we help ourselves. Probably a cold perspective, but true enough. Sometimes, when we give up on others, or don’t offer a helping hand when we can, we wind up hurting ourselves in the long run; when those people who we’ve ignored go off the ‘deep end’. In that way we reap what we sow, collectively of course– I’m certainly not implying that those little children were deserving in any way of what happened to them, and my heart goes out to all the families affected, especially so close to Christmas.

    It’s monstrous, but we have to remember that at one point, Lanza was also a little, innocent kid. Children have always been the most important people to a society, because they’re the future, but it’s up to us while we’re here, to shape that future. If we fail, and fail to act when we should, things like this happen, and others suffer for it– sometimes closer to ‘home’ than we’d usually imagine. Be wise, know your surroundings, and remember that life isn’t a movie; it’s random, dangerous, and can usually end as abruptly as ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’– with no fanfare whatsoever, and with no credits set to follow your final scene.

    …Sorry for getting ‘soap-boxy’, Mike! Great article again, from both of you!

  4. I wish I could agree. I know that when I go to the US, I will have to agree. Next year, I will have NRA inlaws. When the matter is raised I will politely refuse to participate feigning ignorance and smile awkwardly. It´s another country, I will say, of which I know nothing. My opinions, however ill-informed, will be sidelined for long-term family happiness. And, because of my ignorance, I will curb my opinions on the web too. The silence won´t make me a wiser man but I hope it will make me a happier man for not embracing the futility of getting another person to change their opinion or modify it. The silence doesn´t means I agree, it just means there is nothing I can possibly gain by giving my opinion – that´s the ill-informed, ignorant one mentioned previously.
    I will say: “Yes, it must be very complicated,” and “I can see that it must be difficult.” I will hush my mouth and not laugh at Charlton Heston´s stance even if I see his photo in a living room or study (That would be a nightmare situation.) This is the one and only time I will express my opinions to an English speaker. From now on I promise to myself complete silence on this issue.

    • Unfortunately the “outspoken” proponents of the NRA cause a lot of not only negative publicity but also derisory publicity. Hopefully over time, a solution will be hammered out that pleases a majority of both sides of the gun debate and not just one side or the other. Good luck with your silent stance, sometimes it’s damned hard to remain silent. Thanks for stopping by and letting me know what you think. Cheers mate!

  5. Thanks Mike for this. As I’ve said before – I find your insights on the subject fascinating and, while I find it hard to understand your position on your gun control sometimes , it is refreshing to see your perspective eloquently and maturely expressed in a way that confounds the ‘guns n glory’ stereotype so often seen in the US.

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