Thursday, December 27, 2012


“Oh my gosh, here we go.” Those were the thoughts of Newport Beach Deputy Chief David McGill when he got the call last week about a man firing a weapon at the city’s Fashion Island shopping center.

The previous day the lives of twenty young children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school were brutally ended after the killer murdered his own mother at home. Fortunately, the Newport Beach shooter “released his tension” in a less horrific manner—directing more than 50 shots to the skies.

The next day Los Angeles police arrested a 24-year-old Pomona man for threats made against “kindergarten and elementary school kids” via the college student’s Facebook posting.  L.A. County prosecutors, however, declined to file charges despite a large cache of firearms that police found at the parental residence where he was arrested.

According to neighbors the now-free young man is a “head-of-the-class student” and a “totally good kid.” Perhaps the threatening post was, for him, a form of humor—not unlike Jamie Foxx’s Saturday Night Live comment (prior to the Connecticut horror) that in his new movie (“Django Unchained”) “I kill all the white people. How great is that!” Audience laughter followed.

The absence of a recent body count in California perpetuates the illusion that such things happen “somewhere else.” Disappearing down the memory hole is April’s murder of seven at Oikos University in Oakland. Last year’s shooting at Seal Beach, where eight persons were killed, has become ancient history—an artifact as remote as the slaughter of twenty-one humans at a San Ysidro McDonald’s in 1984.

Many folks are eager to assure us that these horrific events are no worse than shootings in the past. According to one scholar, “mass killings actually reached their peak in 1929.”

Those individuals are quite literally “whistling past the graveyard.” The late Senator Patrick Moynihan, himself a distinguished scholar, noted that the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929, where four gangsters killed seven other gangsters, was a huge event meriting two entries in the World Book Encyclopedia. How many folks even remember  Seal Beach?

Only in the last few decades has violence been mass-marketed extensively via films, music, and video games to both adults and kids. Ten years ago when I was teaching at a La Jolla prep-school, one teacher felt comfortable showing another ultra-violent Quentin Tarantino movie, Pulp Fiction, to students in a religion class. There was no administrative reaction.

When folks in authority are more worried about being called prudes than about setting high standards--for language, parenthood, and entertainment--that culture is in trouble. Not all shots will be fired into the air.

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