I am sure I am not the only Friend who listened to the reports of the massacre at Virginia Tech this past April, remembering that Friends General Conference had held two Gatherings there in recent years, acquainting quite a few Friends intimately with that campus and its surrounding neighborhoods, and giving us many warm memories of the place. So learning of this most recent U.S. massacre was all the more shocking for having been in that place, having walked through those halls.
"How can such a thing happen?" many lamented afterwards. Yet those same folks likely do not see the gratuitous violence around us all the time every day in the U.S. The last time I walked into a local video store to rent a movie with my now grown daughter, both of us were so offended by the walls and walls of horror and "killer" films that we walked out. My daughter, just recently returned from a trip to China, Japan, and Australia, commented that the sickness of our culture was up there on the walls for all to see. I frankly agreed.
How many of our little boys—even those Quaker boys who’ve been denied access to toy weapons as children—spend countless hours "playing" with hand-held video games, honing the skills of hitting targets? Even Quaker parents like my husband and me, who forbid ownership or use of any violent games, must face the fact that these "toys" are really a form of target practice, no matter how innocuous the story line. In our home, playing with these games occasionally became a group male bonding activity for our young son and his friends. A Friend recently informed me that the original "games" were invented by the military to improve the kill rate. If I could do it over again, I think I would withhold permission to play with such games from my young son—and deal with the social and emotional issues it would inevitably raise.
Violence, particularly lethal violence, is never appropriate material for entertainment, yet today as I rode into the office, I saw a poster on a corner bus stop trumpeting a new film in which ten people will fight and one will survive—and "you get to watch." This is commonplace in U.S. culture. Gun violence abounds—and our legislators cower at the clout of the National Rifle Association, and cries of gun owners about Constitutional rights to bear arms. I sincerely doubt that our nation’s founders had in mind the bloodbath that now occurs in our cities, and is increasingly springing up in our schools.
Most of us no longer live in circumstances that require that we hunt for our food. There is no reason I can think of for those who claim the need for self defense to own more than one weapon for that purpose. Yet many of our state laws constrain citizens to the purchase of only one gun per month! Imagine—in a year you could buy up to 12 handguns. And citizens are legally entitled to own war weapons, such as machine guns, as long as they follow state laws. I wonder what our nation’s founders would have thought about that.
"How could such a thing happen?" How could it not happen, given the way we saturate ourselves through films, TV, music, and "toys" with lethal violence? The administration of Virginia Tech will be held accountable by many for moving too slowly to take action in this tragedy. The deeper tragedy, in my opinion, is that we all are moving far too slowly. If we do not dismantle the culture of violence in which we live, it may well be the end of us.