Reaction to the Newtown school shooting is ripening into a classic moral panic. Society wants someone to blame, and the Obama administration is now gunning for video-game makers. That’s a direct attack on free speech that should concern all of us who rely on the First Amendment to tell you valuable truths, even if you find them unpleasant.
Child murder demands a response, but the extraordinary impact of Newtown compared to America’s daily homicide parade reveals a dark underbelly of race and class. Groups of black and Hispanic children are shot to death regularly on the streets of this city and many others with no protests from organized moms, no presidential speeches. The ugly fact is that American society deems that violence somehow acceptable, or even deserved, or worse yet, boring. It is dramatic violence in a rich, white suburb that shocks America by shattering the illusion of privilege and perfection as protection.
Widely different “solutions” to Newtown are proposed, but most amount to the same thing: blaming a disfavored group and insisting they act like our perfect selves instead. Yet history shows that humans always have been innately violent and many of our current national institutions treasure violence.
There is only one American group that definitely causes people to kill with assault rifles—the U.S. military. Is someone going to ban that? There are games that unquestionably cause real-life violence among players and spectators alike—they’re called football and hockey. Where’s the rating system on those? The president who speechified about Newtown is killing children as collateral damage in drone-strike assassinations. Who’s protesting his bad example?
Mass murders are not some outside corruption of our society. They are cases of our society’s violence and vengeance happening in places other than where we expect—or even enjoy—seeing them happen. They’re a made-in-the-U.S.A. product put on the wrong shelf.
Step number one to any real solution is acknowledging that the beast of violence paces within us all and we all release it one way or another.
What we should never do is restrict the art and other free speech that allow us to attain that self-understanding. Censorship is itself, ironically, another form of revenge killing.