We need to talk about Kevin. Such is the title of Lynne Ramsay’s film adaptation of the chilling novel by Lionel Shriver. It tells the story of a mother struggling to love a son with increasingly violent tendencies. The film begins with a glimpse into the life of a woman who is ostracized by her community for a reason yet to be revealed. The narrative then unfolds with a back-story of how she became so detested. She was once a wife and mother. Kevin, her eldest son, was
a manipulative sadist with a clear intention to indulge this interest. In his early adolescence, Kevin took a liking to archery. He developed this skill, with his mother’s blessing. The film concludes with Kevin murdering his father and sister, then bringing his bow and arrows to school, shooting his classmates and teachers. He kills many but he spares his mother, and she is left to live with the shame and regret of having created and raised such a monster.
The mother finds herself in the same predicament as America finds itself in regards to gun laws. Just like a child, the laws we decree are our offspring. They are social constructs of our own establishment and we are as much responsible for them as a mother for a child. In light of the recent slew of mass shootings, how can America contend with the sins of its progeny?
On the morning of Dec 14, 2012, a mass shooting took place at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Despite the growing number of gun-related deaths, this incident struck a deep chord because many of the victims were young children.
In the first seven weeks after this massacre, there were over 1,280 gun-related deaths. And the bodies continue to pile up. So we need to talk about Kevin. We need to talk about what to do with Kevin, because if we do nothing but foster this war-child, he will destroy us, one bullet at a time.
It is easy to blame the recent shootings on lax gun laws. In 1994, President Bush implemented restrictions on military-style semiautomatic rifles and large-capacity magazines. In the year 2004, Congress let that bill expire. Now the United States has assault weapons and large magazines on the market for anybody to buy. Gun show vendors will sell to anyone over the age of 18.
In reaction to the shootings, a bill was issued that required all gun purchasers to undergo a background check before procurement. This method has proven ineffective. The Colorado killer acquired all four of his weapons, as well as thousands of rounds of ammunition, just months before the massacre, and he did so legally.
Colin Goddard, a survivor of the Virgina Tech shooting in 2007, proclaimed, “We need to improve the background check system that’s already there.” Ensuring the enforcement of gun laws that already exists seems like common sense, but people are growing impatient with how long it is taking for these improvements to take effect.
Although it is true that a gun makes it virtually effortless to kill and, contingent upon the size of the magazine, to kill en mass, the gunner is undeniably at fault. We need to look past these instruments of death, down the barrel of the gun, to the eyes behind it.
Most of the perpetrators involved in these shootings are mentally unstable individuals, so naturally Americans have begun condemning the mental health care system. In particular, people are blaming the recent budget cuts to this area.
Executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Southern Arizona, H. Clarke Romans, says, “individuals who have the most serious forms of mental illness were … basically pushed out of the system.” He says these individuals are unable to manage costs of case management, medications, support groups, transportation and housing subsidies. Romans explains that these people are, “being pushed to the point where they can’t manage. So they’re decompensating. There’s suicide attempts.”
Treatment Advocacy Center statistics revealed that Arizona jails 9.3 times more people with severe mental illness than it hospitalizes. It also states that, “Arizona has 5.9 psychiatric beds per 100,000 population.”
The direct result of this deficient treatment is marginalization. This is exactly what happened to Jared Loughner, the gunman who
opened fire on Jan 8th, 2011 at an event held by Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords at a Safeway market in Tuscon, Arizona.
Steven Cates attended an advanced poetry class with Loughner at Pima Community College in the spring of 2010. He admits, “I could tell that he was definitely off. He just didn’t have the same stability that was apparent in most people.” Cates explains an incident occurred between Loughner and another classmate. A couple of weeks later, prompted by a gathering of students and professors who felt he was a threat, Jared was removed from the college and asked that he not come back until he had a psychological evaluation proving that he was mentally sound.
This was as far as the university was willing to go. Pima County behavioral health officials have no record of Loughner, so when he went to purchase his guns before the Arizona massacre, his background check did not flag him for any mental incompetence, and he obtained his weapons with ease.
The point to contend with here is that Jared was not dealt with constructively. The university merely removed the problem from their vicinity. This is how the mentally ill are generally dealt with. Instead of connection and compassion, incarceration is often the solution to the problem of the mentally ill. The result of deficient mental healthcare is that we are breeding a nation of Kevins and arming them with assault rifles.
In Ramsay’s film, the one seemingly harmless activity Kevin took joy in was archery. The parallel here goes without mention. Those with
an appetite for violence and a cognitive inability to control their urges are easy targets for the NRA. On top of that, high profile politicians are spouting hateful rhetoric such as that of Jesse Kelly, who is quoted saying, “Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly.” Also, around the time of the Arizona shooting,
Sarah Palin tweeted, “Don’t Retreat – RELOAD!”
Although highly inappropriate, this vitriolic language stems from an inherently American gun fetish. Many people are attracted to heads of state with a penchant for gun-strapping because it is tied to the American identity.
Paul Barrett, author of ‘Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun,’ said, “the United States, for better or for worse, is a gun culture.” This is why when this debate arises, so many pro-gun Americans immediately invoke the Second Amendment, which is something sacred to people because it was enacted at the beginning of the republic in 1791. Barrett explains that, “firearms represent not something evil to many Americans, but something associated with individuals and self-reliance, the American profile.”
How can a nation condemn those individuals it has so carefully created? Individuals who have been raised in a society that fetishizes guns, marginalizes the mentally ill, and sustains a political climate of paranoia wrought with hate-loaded rhetoric? Hours after the shooting in Connecticut, Michael Moore spoke with Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, saying, “I really believe that even if we had better gun control laws and better mental health, that we would still be the sort of sick and twisted, violent people that we’ve been for hundreds of years. Guns don’t kill people, Americans kill people.”
Perhaps neither guns nor inferior healthcare are the triggers for the growing number of shootings in the United States. Perhaps Kevin’s violent nature stems from the very strands of America’s DNA.