Tuesday, October 9, 2012

"Be Nice" Isn't Enough

Last evening, I was in an audience made up mostly of parents of high school students. We had come to hear the lecture that was presented earlier in the day to the entire student body. The presenter was the uncle of a girl who had been among thirteen people who were shot to death at Columbine High School in 1999. His message was simple: we should all be nice to one another.

The speaker didn't say a word about the gun culture in America, the issue of gun control, or how it was that the two killers at Columbine were able to get hold of the weapons and ammunition they used. He didn't mention that just a couple of months ago there was another shooting just down the road from the Columbine shooting which killed another twelve people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. He didn't mention that even after the Columbine shooting, Colorado law allows people to carry concealed weapons nearly everywhere, including on college campuses.

The speaker didn't talk about people committing suicide using guns, which happens much more often than mass shootings and kills far more people. He didn't say a word about mental illness, which contributes to a large number of shootings. He didn't talk about poverty, racism, or the gang shootings which arise out of urban ghettos. All he talked about was one shooting incident, and the only message he derived from it was that we should all be nice to one another.

It was a simple message. It would appeal to people who like the “Just Say No” approach to drug abuse, even though that approach has been proven to be ineffective. It would appeal to people who don't want to deal with the complexities of the gun-violence problem.

If everyone took the speaker's advice, some shootings might be avoided. But a lot more would still happen. People get depressed even if other people are nice to them. People who are taught that violence is a legitimate solution to problems use violence in response to the challenges they face, even if they see someone wearing a rubber bracelet that encourages them to have a nice day. People who have guns at hand use them when they are angry, frightened, confused, drunk, or just bored.

“Be Nice” may be a message that soothes suburban parents' anxiety, but it is largely irrelevant to the types of people who end up in the headlines because of who they shot. It's a nice message for kindergartners, but way too simple for high-school students and their parents. Unless we take a more meaningful look at what is causing the shootings which are daily occurrences across our country, we can expect the shootings to continue unabated.


  1. Who was the speaker and what organization did he represent?