A week ago the big news was whether the statue of Joe Paterno would come down at Penn State in the wake of the university's report that he and other higher ups had covered up Jerry Sandusky's child abuse. Then, last Friday, a gunman opened fire in a crowded theatre in Aurora, Colorado, killing a dozen people and injuring over fifty.
The two tragedies seemed completely disconnected. Different crimes. Different places. Different victims. But they actually have one thing in common.
We have created a culture where individual responsibility is a paramount moral imperative but social or collective responsibility is denied at every turn. If you look at the commentary on the defrocking of Paterno or on this week's announcement by the NCAA of the penalties it will impose on Penn State's football program, you may be struck by the sheer number of individuals who think these results are unfair. The football team never molested a child and the players should not be penalized, so the commentary goes. Maybe it was acceptable to take JoePa off his pedestal, they continue, but that is where it should have ended.
Now fast forward to the commentary on the tragedy in Aurora. The reaction of many to those who suggest flaws in a legal regime that allowed the suspected killer to confront his intended victims with ammunition magazines that allowed him to get shots off at the rate of 50-60 a minute is the same. Guns don't kill, people do; if only some of the theatre-goers had been armed, the carnage would have been abated; in fact, said some, the law was part of the problem because it allowed those theatre goers to carry concealed weapons but prohibited those same theatre goers from firing them.
This is denial on a large scale. And until we confront it, the tragedies in Aurora... or Columbine... or Tucson will continue, and the disgusting crimes committed by the Sanduskys of this world will never be completely unearthed and eliminated as future possibilities.
It is well and good to condemn the suspected Aurora shooter and Penn State's perverted assistant coach. It is also well and good to condemn the college officials and Happy Valley icon for their head in the sand cover-up.
But after we have done all that, it might be a good time to look in the mirror.
Intercollegiate football is a multi-billion dollar business. Those football powerhouses bring in enormous sums to the universities that sponsor them. In western Pennsylvania, Paterno was untouchable, and so was the football program he repeatedly put on the national map. When he was told to resign by the university's president years ago, Paterno just ignored the demand. When he finally retired, he was given a multi-million dollar severance package, complete with access to jets and luxury boxes. Why? Because in our cost-benefit world, JoePa was a football entrepreneur whose program funded libraries, endowed chairs, and kept State College more than afloat.
No one could afford to say "no" to him until a former FBI director unveiled what was really going on.
By then, unfortunately, it was too late.
Last Friday, it was also too late in Aurora.
There is no rational reason anyone needs or should be permitted to buy an ammunition magazine that can enable a firearm to be unloaded with the rapidity of a sub-machine gun. None! And the notion that we can even the scales and avoid these tragedies by allowing Joe Average the same firepower as any would be killer is simply ludicrous. The suspected Aurora gunman had outfitted himself head to toe in bulletproof vests and body armor. One reason the hundreds of theatre-goers could not escape was that he was able to spray the crowd repeatedly with deadly bullets from his fast-action ammo clips. Under those circumstances, it's impossible to see what well-armed victims could have done -- if they got up to shoot, they would have been killed; if they succeeded in shooting, the body armor would have protected their assailant.
And how many others would have died -- in this proposed 21st-century version of the shoot out at OK Corral -- is not even considered.
Guns, too, are a multi-billion dollar business in this country. Because there are no truly protective national laws -- the assault ban was allowed to expire in 2004 -- we labor in an environment of patchwork state laws where gun manufacturers in low-control states can grossly overproduce given the demand in those markets, knowing full well that the supply will inevitably (and illegally) find its way to the high-control states.
Nevertheless, it is considered impossible to pass national gun control legislation given the NRA and a Supreme Court that has turned the Second Amendment into something it never was -- a right to bear arms unmoored from any need to provide for a well-regulated militia, which was that Amendment's original (and only) purpose. Meanwhile, President Obama says his administration will not propose any further controls, and Mitt Romney --- who actually signed an assault weapons ban in Massachusetts when he was governor -- claims no new laws, not even renewal of the old assault weapons ban which limited the size of ammo clips, are necessary.
We cheered for Paterno and those Nittany Lions for years. And we have voted in those NRA-fearing senators, representatives, state legislators and presidents for those same years.
If we think there aren't more Sanduskys out there in the untouchable venues of intercollegiate sport, or more Auroras in a future beclouded by a distorted Second Amendment, we are in denial. And until we confront the reality behind those tragedies, they will not end.
Because, as Shakespeare once put it, the fault is not just in our stars...
It's in ourselves.