When I was 15 years old, I brought a gun to school. I knew then, and I’ll admit now, that it was a desperate cry for attention.
Just to be clear, it wasn’t loaded. Actually, it didn’t take bullets at all, at least not in a modern sense. It was a black powder, cap-and-ball pistol that belonged to my father, and I had it with his permission. That year in school, I was taking a speech class, and the assignment was to give a speech to explain or demonstrate something. My speech was how to disassemble and clean the pistol. I thought it would be a way to elevate my cool factor.
High school, however, was not a great time for me. I was smart and got good grades, but I was socially awkward and not terribly popular. Girls were a complete mystery to me, and since I didn’t know much about cars or sports (or girls), I had little on which to relate to most other guys. On top of that, my parents’ deteriorating marriage made me question much of what I thought I knew.
Frankly, I didn’t know what I wanted, and no clear path presented itself.
So like many boys who are lonely, unfocused, and confused, I found solace in music, TV and movies, and video games. And I looked for ways to be more cool. Hence, the speech about the gun.
It didn’t work, though. Public speaking, to this day, is not one of my strengths, and adding to that teenage social awkwardness made it doubly unpleasant. I was nervous and sweaty. The speech was disorganized and ran too long. It more likely elevated my weirdo factor.
Looking back with the benefit of time and distance, I’m astounded that my dad let me bring the gun to school. And I’m astonished that my teachers were okay with the idea and the school administrators didn’t do anything. Since it was obvious to me, even then, that this was a transparent ploy for getting noticed, I’m surprised that nobody in authority saw it that way. Which makes me doubtful that the next Adam Lanza will ever be stopped.
The old joke is that God didn’t make men equal; Samuel Colt did. A gun makes up for the disparities that God and genetics inevitably provide. The small, the underprivileged, the outcasts and the dispossessed, they seek a means to even what appears to them as an uneven playing field.
In addition, boys naturally gravitate toward guns. There is something seductively potent about that small piece of machinery that contains so much power. You can demand respect with it. You can even the score, in a flash and a bang.
So it does not surprise me at all that Adam Lanza and so many severely troubled boys like him reach to firearms to make the supreme statement.
But it’s not an inevitable outcome.
I grew up shooting guns, playing video games, and watching a lot of TV and violent movies. Today, I am a fairly average, productive individual with a steady job, a wife and children, and a home. I am not a homicidal maniac. I’ve never committed a crime. What makes the difference?
Many things, actually, all working together in unpredictable ways. But key to it all is finding purpose—especially, for boys, finding a male-focused purpose. By purpose, I mean a sense of contributing to the community, the giving of your skills and your knowledge, and the gaining of respect in return.
Adam Lanza clearly lacked purpose. And if he felt his own life was worthless, it’s no wonder he felt other lives were worthless too.
Next week: The Roots of Newtown, Part II: Purposeless boys