Addressing America's Culture of Violence

More regulation from Washington isn't the answer to America's gun violence problem.

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This time last week, we just starting to learn about the awful shooting in Newtown, Conn. As the terrible news unfolded over the next several days, there was an understandable reaction that "somebody needs to do something" to stop this from ever happening again. Like so many times before, that reaction was focused on the White House: The president gave a press conference and a speech, and appointed Vice President Biden head of a task force. Press Secretary Jay Carney said the president would support Sen. Dianne Feinstein's proposal to reinstate the assault weapons ban.

Banning military-style assault weapons isn't a bad idea— Republicans should realize that if done properly, such a ban should not threaten our Second Amendment rights and would be supportive of outgunned police on the streets—but for citizens to think that the only answer to this problem lies with the government is misguided. Government can only do so much. In fact, if you're a limited government conservative, you don't want the government doing much about this. There are better ways to handle it.

[See a collection of editorial cartoons on the Newtown shooting.]

For example, the Entertainment Software Association put a statement out this week saying that despite what everyone thinks, research has "shown no connection between entertainment and real-life violence." That may technically be true, but it's just not credible. And it tells me that when it comes to shoot-to-kill video games, the industry is not about to change. But if enough teens follow the lead of 13-year-old Andrew de Luca in Newtown, who is offering to buy back of copies of violent games like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto from other kids, maybe the industry will take notice. No parent I know is buying their kids violent video games this Christmas. Censorship by the government isn't the answer. A drastic drop in sales could be.

Along those lines, this week the star of Django Unchained, Jamie Foxx talked about the Newtown killings: "We cannot turn our back and say that violence in films or anything that we do doesn't have a sort of influence." Foxx said in an interview, "it does." If enough Hollywood stars say they won't participate in shockingly violent movies anymore, the movie studios will realize that they've got a problem at the box office. Last summer, after the The Dark Knight Rises massacre, studio executive Harvey Weinstein called for a film industry summit: "I think as filmmakers we should sit down—the Marty Scorseses, the Quentin Tarantinos and hopefully all of us who deal in violence in movies—and discuss our role in that ... I've been involved with violent movies, and then I've also said at a certain point, 'I can't take it anymore.'" Well, the rest of us can't take it anymore either, and we're still waiting for Weinstein to hold that summit. He could have more influence on America's gun culture than any new government regulation.

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Did the Sandy Hook Shooting Prove the Need for More Gun Control?]

Let's think about putting in our schools the equivalent of "sky marshals"—those low-key, undercover, armed guards on airplanes who protect passengers in case of a terrorist attack. Like many private schools in Washington, D.C., my children's has armed security guards; down the street, the school the Obama girls attend has Secret Service protection. Private schools should not be the only ones with protection—don't public school kids deserve the same? Surely the public schools can find a way to hire off-duty or retired police at reasonable rates. Perhaps a public-private partnership to fund them could include corporate sponsors from the gun industry.

One more idea: how about private equity companies funding start-ups of local facilities for people who need help with mental health issues?  Places like Sunrise Senior Living, which is owned by private equity firms, help families in over 300 communities deal with dementia. The addiction treatment industry includes for-profit institutions—many of which are owned by private equity firms—assisting families all over the country dealing with substance abuse. Cancer Treatment Centers of America are for-profit facilities nationwide that help cancer patients. Why not do the same for families facing mental illness? The problem doesn't seem to be that the cost of treating mental illness is so high that no one can afford it; it's that there's no place to go in the first place.

[Take the U.S. News Poll: Should Teachers Be Armed?]

Families need help raising their kids in the midst of such a culture of violence. To think that government is going to "do something" that will fix this is naive. The answer for our society doesn't lie with more regulations from Washington. It lies in the space between the government and the individual—the space inhabited by the entertainment industry, the gun manufacturers, the movie moguls and Hollywood stars, the mental health industry, Wall Street, churches, and schools. That's where most of the solution lies.

But really, in the end, it comes down to each individual doing the right thing. I have faith that each of us will realize that in the long run, we need to change.

  • Read Susan Milligan: How Dare People Blame Teachers for Sandy Hook Shooting?
  • Read Peter Roff: What Democrats Mean When They Talk Gun Control
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