School counselor Mark Vander Ley sees the issue of gun control as a broader societal issue of individuals taking responsibility for oneself
I see the video of students running to embrace their parents after the Columbine shooting. I hear the 9-1-1 calls from Aurora, Colorado. I fear for my child’s safety following Newtown, Connecticut. These tragedies raise serious questions about our society: Where does this violence come from? And what can be done to protect my children?
The issues have been discussed on news shows, experts have weighed in and there are all sorts of opinions. Recently, however, the discussion seems to have focused on gun control. Who can own them? How many rounds should they hold? What is the difference between hunting and military style weapons? Should there be a national gun registry?
I am afraid that these discussions about gun control miss the more important point. If we are seeking to answer the questions, “what is wrong with society?” “Where does this violence come from?” and “How can we protect our children?” then we must instead be talking about self-control. We have become a nation of self-indulgence. The Centers for Disease Control reports that over 1/3 of American adults are obese. The collapse of the U.S. housing market revealed a pattern of gross overspending and irresponsible lending. In my work as a school counselor I see many parents indulging their child’s every desire while expecting very little responsibility. We are surrounded by technologies designed to make life quick and convenient while avoiding the arduous and difficult.
Our children are told that happiness comes from living in the moment, following their heart, and being themselves. Yet according to the U.S. census bureau between 1990 and 2009 for every 6.8 marriages there were 3.4 divorces. The emphasis placed on self-indulgence does not seem to create successful relationships. What if this over indulgence of self actually makes it easier to discard important relationships? What about the influence celebrity? In 2012 Americans spent $1.37 billion on movie tickets. Many look to these movie stars as well as athletes as role models for success. However, based on the number of front-page mug shots and court appearances even these cultural figures struggle with self-control. I am very concerned that my children are growing up in a nation that views impulsiveness, selfishness, and self-aggrandizement as virtues rather than vices.
Why are we surprised when a product of this culture does exactly what he was taught to do? He follows his angry heart, disregards the value of others, and impulsively, irrationally, and selfishly murders innocent people? The real solution for the gun control problem is a radical shift in our national values. Self-control must not be viewed as an attempt to limit individual freedoms. Instead, it must be viewed as the ability to choose what is best rather than what is immediate.
Self-control provides a person the power to direct one’s life. I have encountered many students who do not know this. They seem to believe that self-control is a position of weakness rather than strength. They are convinced that limiting themselves will result in limited freedom. What they don’t realize is that controlling one’s self is the ultimate in power. The ability to control our impulses, emotions, and desires may be the most difficult task of life. However, as we learn to harness these inner experiences we are set free from the ups and downs of inner volatility. We realize that others have absolutely no control over our inner world and thus no control of us. “I am the only one who can control me.” What a great freedom and responsibility. The freedom provides the path to make life what I want it to be. The responsibility requires that if life is not what I want it to be I have no one to blame but myself. Man, life is tough!
My guess is that those who perpetrate mass shootings never learned the lesson of self-control. They never realized that they were ultimately in control of their thoughts, emotions, fantasies, and actions. I would guess they felt a sense of their life being out of control. I imagine they felt provoked to commit these crimes and saw no other escape from their prison of anger. My hope is that as we shift from a culture of self-indulgence to self-control that the would-be murderers will regain the power to direct their life. I hope they will find freedom in valuing others, connecting in relationships, and living in reality. That is the best gun control only an individual can create.
—photo by gideon_wright/Flickr
Read more from Mark Vander Ley