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It Isn’t About Guns, It’s About Us: Reflections on the Colorado 'Dark Knight' Shootings

What does the Aurora, Colorado, mass shooting teach us about our culture?
Let me open by saying that like all of you, I am deeply grieved at the loss of our fellow Americans in yet another senseless and tragic shooting rampage that took place just after midnight this Friday, July 19, 2012, in Aurora, Colorado in a movie screening of “Dark Knight Rises”.

I am not interested in talking about politics, guns, or gun laws today. That is a discussion best had by our political leaders and those in Congress who can take expert testimony, listen to law enforcement, public interest groups and hopefully come up with the best way to balance our freedoms as Americans and our right to bear arms (as guaranteed in the 2nd Amendment) with our equally important duty to protect our citizens from such random acts of violence.

The issue I am interested in discussing is what has gone so wrong in our culture that we seemingly have become immune to violence and the tragic deaths of our fellow citizens in some communities like Chicago for example, and yet in other communities we seize on the tragedy and mourn collectively as a nation.  We saw this last year with the horrific shootings of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and some 18 of her constituents (6 of who died) in Arizona at a grocery store constituent event. We saw it in 2009 with the shooting deaths of 12 uniformed soldiers at Ft. Hood in Texas by a fellow military officer. And we experienced it with the Virginia Tech campus shootings in 2007, where we lost 32 citizens.

I think the time has come for us to be honest, and to have an honest public dialogue about the value we place on some lives and not on others. At times like this we need to be a reflective, loving, and concerned people. We can debate all day about laws, and the need for mental health assistance for those who would commit such acts, but the truth of the matter is too many of our kids, our teens (including teen girls), and our young men see violence as a way out. They are “immune” to death. They are “cold”, “void” and they handle conflict or any life challenge poorly at best.  While we can certainly point the finger and say that all of us as individuals are ultimately responsible for our actions and choices, we all must bear a collective responsibility for the seeming demise of respect, compassion, human connection and love in our midst.

Our modern culture is producing a generation of young people who believe that they are entitled to success, to prosperity, to whatever they want, when they want it.  Sadly, for some who are emotionally and, perhaps, chemically imbalanced that includes the right to take another’s life, or to “lash out” and become instantly famous for committing “infamous” deeds.

This latest tragedy in Colorado, once again calls us to our “better angels”. We have got to “reconnect” with the people in our lives and start being engaged in their mental well being, their care, and their needs. Our kids see violence as normal. They are hardened before they become teens. This is not just in so-called urban violent communities, it is in well to do suburban communities. We are all so busy that we are missing what matters. People like the shooter in Colorado, the Virginia Tech shooter, and others all have one thing in common: they were isolated, emotionally challenged, deeply damaged individuals. Everyone around them saw the warning signs, yet no-one acted to intervene. We have to become a people who are willing to intervene one again. “Love thy neighbor as yourself” is the command we are supposed to practice most of all.  

In the final analysis, God created us as “human beings”, not as “human doings”. It is time for us to slow down, stop “doing” (please know I am talking to myself first and foremost), and start being.  Every day we have here on earth, no matter how bad things might seem is precious. Let us start living and acting in a way that reflects our gratitude for life and the living. May God bless those who lost their lives in Aurora, and may those who have been wounded and left behind heal physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

sophia-nelson-by-Damon MooreSophia A. Nelson is a regular contributor to Essence.com and is author of the award winning book, “Black Woman Redefined” which will be re-released & updated in Trade Paperback this October 2012.