Shifting Responsibility

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Our country was founded by rebellious people, many of whom were descendants of folk who were having a difficult time in Europe. They were people that might be referred to today as “deplorables” from religious sects that had been persecuted, poor who came as indentured servants, youngest sons who would never inherit land, adventurers who wanted to try something new, troubled souls who barely escaped jail or a hangman’s noose, fatherless boys and girls called bastards. Each and every person who came here was looking for opportunity, a chance to reboot and make something of themselves. What they found was a harsh environment very unlike the places from whence they had come, but they carved out a place for themselves and many times made good on their desire to make something of themselves in a way that would not have been allowed in their homelands. By the time of the revolution that created the whole experiment called the United States of America many generations of people had only known life in the colonies. They bore the independent characteristics of their ancestors who had long ago settled there. They had been taught to be wary of infringements on their rights, and so when the king of England pushed harder and harder to get them to finance wars with untold taxes, they pushed back and eventually chose to break completely.

It’s important that we note the characteristics of our beginnings whenever we attempt to understand the political thinking of today. We were a nation of people who were very consciously concerned that too much interference from the government might lead to the same kinds of prohibitions and problems that had driven many of their ancestors here in the first place. The Constitution itself along with the Bill of Rights were designed to keep governmental interference as much at bay as possible. Because of the very nature of the people who began this experiment in democracy, it is difficult and maybe even a bit ridiculous to compare our nation to others. We are quite simply put very different from them.

Admittedly there were glaring flaws in the first iteration of our laws. The fact that women were not given the vote and slavery was legal were egregious mistakes that haunt us to this day. Still, creating unity among so many disparate voices and ideas took compromise without which we might still be part of the British commonwealth and only a fraction of the size that we are today. It’s been an uphill battle to set thing right, particularly with regard to the souls that we enslaved and their descendants. The incremental tendencies built into our Constitution can be frustrating, but they are also a bulwark against hasty legislation that has the power to dilute our freedoms.

We are a young country compared to our European counterpoints and more diverse in every possible way. Pulling all of us together in a common cause is not easy, especially as we deal with problems that our forefathers could not have foreseen. Still beneath all of the quibbling and unwillingness to work together that rises up again and again, there is a belief that somehow we will ultimately find a way to mend the injustices and grievances that have been part of every government that has existed since the beginning of time. There is no perfect ideology, nor is there a sin free group of people. As humans our flaws create problems that we sometimes allow to fester until we grow weary and realize the necessity of finding solutions. Thus we engaged in a revolution that freed us from the greedy grasp of the crown, and then later fought each other over the question of slavery that should never have taken so long to address.

Today we are a global nation as are all places on earth. It is virtually impossible to be isolated from the symbiotic nature of our world. We must take part in discussions and resolutions dealing with places seemingly so far away that they have little to do with us. Additionally we have questions specific to our own country that need to be answered. Juggling all of the modern day political responsibilities is a balancing act indeed, and it plays out against a backdrop of considerable numbers of people who share the same fears of losing freedom as the people who long ago shoved King George out of their lives. On the other side is a growing group that wants government to take more responsibility. The debates over which type of political system is best is seemingly a reiteration of questions that created the glorious cause so long ago.

Front and center of our national angst is the growing trend of violence in our schools. There are so many layers to this issue that believing that any one thing will solve the problem is little more than wishful thinking. That being said we all have a sense that something, and perhaps many things must be done sooner rather than later. We know that we cannot live in the fear that is overtaking us nor can we allow the murderous copycats to continue their ways.

Among the many ideas making the rounds these days is to hold parents liable if their children use guns that they have left unsecured. This idea ranges from giving them monetary punishments to actually charging them as accessories to murder. As someone whose ancestor fought in the American Revolution I find myself shuddering at the very thought of such an invasion of freedoms. I also base my belief on the decades long relationships that I have had with teenagers as an educator. One thing that I know for certain is that young people can be quite shocking in the things that they do, even when they are being carefully monitored by loving and caring adults. There is almost a kind of secret life in the years of adolescence when young people are experimenting and involving themselves in pursuits that would in no way be reflective of the lessons they have been taught at home and in schools. Most of us if we are honest would attest to doing things that now cause us both regret and a modicum of shame. We would not have told our parents what we were doing and are thankful that we made it through our experimental stages without getting into serious trouble.

What I am saying is that even with locked gun cabinets and responsible training there will always be teenagers who find ways to break the rules. Holding parents legally responsible is a very slippery slope unless it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the parents were so lax that they actually encouraged the bad behaviors. There is a huge difference between giving a teen alcohol to drink and then allowing him/her to drive and having that same teen stealthily take a family gun from a closet to do harm to others. It might be argued that the gun should have been locked away, but even then how is it possible to prove that the gun was just lying around so cavalierly that it was an open invitation to disaster? Teens never fail to amaze me. They watch adults using combinations and memorize the numbers. They find keys to unlock forbidden doors. Unless the parent is alert twenty four hours a day and essentially following a teen’s every single move, there will be times when they lose control.

In most cases the parents of shooters are as shocked and overwhelmed with grief as anyone. They must truly wonder what they did nor did not do to be such failures. I can’t even imagine having to walk in the shoes of a parent whose child has become a monster. To further their own anguish by insisting in a court of law that they also be held accountable seems to be a violation of all of the freedoms that we want our country to represent.

There are bad seeds among us. We need to deal directly with them. We can create laws that restrict their access to weapons and public places, but surely we do not want to be so vindictive as to send their parents to jail as well. Unless it is certain that adults actively contributed to perpetrating violence punishing them further has no place. We must attack this issue from other angles that are in keeping with the intent of our forefathers. Our fears must not allow us to be unjust or to shift responsibility. 

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