A deeper question about our society

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Has erosion of a shared sense of right and wrong made us vulnerable?

BEFORE THE GUNSMOKE cleared in Las Vegas the public conversation took a predictable turn - politicians and pundits arguing over gun control measures.

It has become a recurring theme. Someone does something horrendous - mowing down children at an elementary school; killing people in a workplace; gunning down strangers at a night club.

Then the argument begins over whether limiting access to firearms would have prevented the mayhem. The sides already have been chosen. No minds are being changed. Only the sad circumstances of the bloodshed differ from incident to incident.

LET US OFFER another narrative. There is something deeply wrong with the society in which we live today. The proliferation of guns does not help. But neither is it cause and effect.

Hate comes from hearts and minds. Insanity comes from tortured brains.

The coarsening of the culture over decades may have broken down barriers that once helped restrain aberrant behavior. Popular movies and television celebrate selfishness and the pursuit of personal pleasure. "Pushing the envelope" becomes the norm, because what shocks today is ho-hum tomorrow. From video games to mainstream entertainment, kids are exposed to a constant barrage of "solving" issues through violence.

In everyone's hand is a device that defies parental supervision, and it's often a babysitter for today's kids.

Even simple manners have become all but an anachronism. The ubiquitous F-bomb has become inescapable in overheard public conversations, whether kids are around or not. That, and worse, are fashion statements emblazoned on shirts and bumper stickers. Hold a door for others? Say please, and thank you? Apologize for unintentional slights? Dress up for church or public events? Dine with dignity - or even together as a family?

LET ALONE SHOW proper behavior in school. Or on a playground. Or the sidewalk. Or the shops. Or at ball games and concerts and other public gatherings.

Look, it's never been a perfect world. There have always been crazy people. Senseless violence was not invented by modern people.

Neither, however, is life just an aggregation of unconnected happenstance. We create the world in which we live. And to a significant extent, we contribute to the way we are treated by the way we treat others.

If Americans chose to be less divisive and angry, would it prevent the next loon from acting out some violent fantasy? Probably not.

If Americans were less harsh in their language, less financially supportive of sick entertainment, less tolerant of public displays of vulgarity and bad manners, would it shield us from cold-blooded killers? Doubtful.

But it could help bond a broken people together and, over time, make aberrant behavior easier to identify and, perhaps, encourage early interventions.

WHEN POLITICIANS bicker over guns, they miss the point. Bad people use guns to do bad things, whether it's from a high-rise window in Las Vegas or a drive-by shooting on a Beloit street. The bigger question is: Why is America producing so many bad people?

That's not to say sensible gun restrictions should be off the table. Reasonable people can have reasonable gun laws that both protect Americans' Second Amendment rights and make it more difficult for individuals bent on murder to stockpile the means.

But turning the conversation to lawmaking before the blood dries on the sidewalk serves the politicians, not the people.

A deeper discussion needs to take center stage. And that's about why our impressionable children are growing up in an increasingly coarse and fractured society.

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