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The Canaries Are Dying

Two centuries ago, miners would carry a canary in a cage with them because poison gases underground would kill the bird long before the miners. If the canary died, the miners were at risk, and it was time to go back to the surface. The canaries are dying today, but no one is leaving the mine.

When I was growing up, there were kids who didn’t fit in, who were mistreated by their classmates because they were “different.” I was one of those kids; I lost track of the number of times I was beat up in elementary school and junior high. But I never even considered killing anyone. It wasn’t impossible; I knew how to make poison gas out of common household chemicals, and the crowd of computer nerds that I hung with in high school built all sorts of explosive devices. I suppose that if I had really wanted to, I could probably have found a gun, somewhere. At no point, however, did it ever occur to me that the solution to being mistreated was murder.

Don’t just read the headlines about this kid accused of murder in Santee, California. Read the rest of the news stories, and ask yourself if there isn’t something a bit more wrong here than just a kid with a gun. Handguns weren’t invented recently; they have been in American homes, in large numbers, for more than a century. The Washington Post’s March 6th story reports that the alleged killer in middle-class Santee hung out at the skatepark, “Drugs were readily available to those who wanted them: marijuana, mushrooms, acid, speed.” Santee is no different from where I live, except that these sort of drugs are available in middle school here.

The Los Angeles Times distributed a news story the same day that contained allegations that would have been shocking twenty years ago: “a break-up last week with his 12-year old girlfriend.... There were allegations that Williams tried to entice the girl into having sex while she was intoxicated.” Raising kids in Sonoma County, I don’t even find such allegations surprising; that’s actually pretty common behavior around here for kids that age.

A culture based on bullying, mocking, violence, degradation, and intoxication has taken over America. The entertainment business—the purveyors of “poison gas”—keep insisting that the problem isn’t violent movies, violent video games, degrading television shows, divorced parents, parents too busy to supervise their kids, or songs (and presidents) that encourage teenaged boys to see girls only as objects of sexual gratification. No, they insist that the problem is guns; ignore the dead canaries filling up the bottom of the cage. But the guns have been around for a very long time in America—and yet these random mass murders by schoolkids have not. We have received our warning; will we have the courage to repudiate the culture of violence and depravity?

Clayton E. Cramer is a software engineer in Northern California.