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Culture of Guns

No perfect solutions in the shooting of Andy Lopez

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'He shouldn't have been carrying that replica of an AK-47." Sounds just like "She shouldn't have been wearing that short skirt," doesn't it?

"He was just a child!" doesn't factor in that children now shoot and kill.

Maybe this is more complicated than either reaction.

Andy Lopez was growing up in a country that was sending him some very conflicting messages. This is a gun-worshiping nation. In 2011, the Santa Rosa Police Department encouraged small children to play with real weapons in a local park. Our culture assigns god-like status to its law enforcement and military. Capitalism says that we can't infringe on the rights of a company to sell replica "toys." Parents dress their babies in camouflage. How can we then turn to a young boy and tell him he's not supposed to be influenced by this culture?

And what is law enforcement supposed to do in the face of children who kill? I'd first suggest we understand that any child with intent to kill is a child in despair. Our first instinct should be to save that child, not eliminate him. Shoot to kill and ask questions later does not work. This has not always been law enforcement policy, but gradually we have become convinced that the safety of a deputy, a police officer or a soldier is more important than anything else.

It's time for some creative problem solving by law enforcement, working with community input. Yes, it's more difficult than just picking up a gun and firing. No solution will be perfect. But really, the current policy is a disaster.

After WWII, the Defense Department conducted a study which concluded that 80 percent of soldiers refuse to kill, even at risk to themselves. Soldier training was changed, so that now 80 percent will kill. Part of this change includes militarizing and desensitizing civilians—with predictable results, including dead innocent children.

We all have a role to play here. The cultural change that is required for a safer society—where safety is created by more peaceful people, rather than by more law enforcement—will require all of us. It's long past time to get to work.

Susan Lamont is a local peace and social justice activist and writer.

Open Mic is a weekly op/ed feature in the Bohemian. We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write openmic@bohemian.com.

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