Friday, December 14, 2012

this day...

Today in my wood shop, I'm going through all the 500 boxes, adjusting fit of lids, matching lids to bodies of boxes, and wrapping them for delivery on Wednesday.

This is not such a good day for folks interested in woodworking. Newtown, CT, the home of Fine Woodworking Magazine and Taunton Press, was the site of a tragic elementary school shooting in which 28 were killed including 20 kids between the ages of 5 and 11.

Some folks have already noticed that people with guns kill people. Another thing I've observed is that folks with mental imbalances are often drawn by their own fantasies toward engagement with guns. A third thing is that schools often become the target of violence. Of the 62 mass shooting in the US in recent years, 16, over 25% have taken place in schools. Is there some reason that in twisted minds, schools would represent such cause for resentment and violence?

The conservatives will tell us that guns and violence are unrelated and that the right to own guns is sacred to American society, so sacred in fact that we should not use tragic events  like that today as an excuse to talk about solving the problems of gun violence. If one were to choose which is more sacred, the lives of children or the right to unrestricted acquisition of guns, I would choose kids. And while some blog readers would tell me right off the bat that they disagree, there is no time like the present, with two gun tragedies in a single week, for some serious discussion of gun violence to take place.

This tragedy hits too close to home for me to ignore. I have friends in Newtown associated with Fine Woodworking and the publisher of my books. At this point it appears that although some Taunton/Fine Woodworking employees have family at that school, all are safe. But who can live in such a small community and be untouched by these horrid events?

When I went out this afternoon to pick up some supplies, I found the shop keeper glued to the television as events unfolded at Newtown. He said, "If only teachers were allowed to carry firearms, one of them could have fired back." Is that the kind of nation and education we would prefer for our kids?

Folks who live disconnected lives may believe that the hands and brain are separate, and that the hand that holds the gun is in some way set apart from the violence that may result from it's use. We do, on the other hand, have the opportunity to discover our human capacity to create, and that happens when young and we are given the opportunity to make... And I have this theory that children invited to discover their creative side, will not take part in the kinds of tragic destructive acts we witnessed today.

make, fix and create...


  1. Doug, you may have touched on a significant thing. It raises a reasonable question that if more youngsters had learned about tools that create instead of tools that destroy or instead of pseudo tools like game controllers used to simulate destruction, would they then take to destructive violence? I would like to think that it might at least be a partial step in the right direction. Not the entire answer but a positive step.

    Chuck Walker (Northeastern Woodworkers) We met at Showcase a few years ago.

  2. Chuck, It is good to hear from you.
    There is a relationship between depression and lack of creative outlet and opportunity. According to psychologists, in some cases there's a relationship between depression and the inclination to participate in violent episodes.

    It boils down to the old swords vs. plowshares choice.

    Kelly Lambert, PHD has described the neuro-hormones that accompany creative hands on activities as providing "effort-driven rewards"... leading one to a sense of greater fulfillment, power and control within one's environment.

    One of the primary symptoms of depression is the loss of sense of power and control within one's environment.

    If folks have every day, and each day, the opportunity to see their own creative power in action, they would never contemplate senseless acts of violence toward others.

    But we create schools in which children's creative inclinations are stifled. Can it be that there is some anger in the results?

  3. Dear Mr. Stowe
    In this tragic time of young children being the target of someone who has a mental problem is a simple one in my eyes. Children are easy targets they don't know how or have the means to fight back or defend themselves. As for guns well I will leave that discussion for a later time when more rational thinking can prevail. Right now the problem in my mind is not how but why what made this person feel this was the right course of action and why these people as targets.

  4. Stephen, when do you think would be a good time for rational thinking to prevail. Many of us have had too many opportunities to think about this already. If gun folks were to police themselves, no regulations would be required.

    This is actually a very good time to be thinking about this. Circumstances in a cascade of incidences in which innocent young souls have met death head long have made foolish the notion that guns prevent violence.

  5. Stephen, As far as I know, we still don't know if the shooter was suffering from mental problems. We do know he was heavily armed and protected with body armor, and therefor unlikely to be brought down by the presence of more guns in the school.

    Until we can guarantee that folks with mental problems are not going to kill children with guns, it is only reasonable and rational to ask that access to guns and particular kinds of guns be restricted. Just because we are outraged by the events in Newtown, does not mean that we cannot address the issue full intelligence and reason.

    When those who oppose any restrictions on gun ownership are put in the kind of defensive position by these almost regular acts of gun violence, they accuse those of us with a more reasoned approach of not thinking "rationally". We are cautioned to wait until all the facts are known, or until the bodies are in their graves, or we've had a proper time to mourn.

    We are told not to politicize the horrors we've witnessed. And yet in telling us to keep our mouths shut, the situation that caused such tremendous loss is allowed to continue forever.

    I can assure you that I am quite reasonable and am willing to discuss this issue at any time.

  6. Thank you, Doug, for putting into words what i've not been able to. Given the frequency of these disasters, there is no "later"; there's always someone, many, who are mourning. Moreover, I find it dismissive when people say "now is not the time", because it’s inconvenient for them. It’s not disrespectful to the heroes and victims to discuss ways of preventing this kind of thing. Perhaps if, the first time it happened, there had been the meaningful discussion of root cause, contributing factors, and potential solutions, these events would have not happened, or not been as severe, and the frequency of such catastrophes would certainly be decreased.

    I really like the solution you propose, as it deals with what may very well be a root cause. The availability of guns, and the lack of access, attention to, and recognition of mental illness are other issues that must be considered.

    While I've read the shooter here had no history of mental illness, anyone who conceives to do what he did, certainly must have been in the midst of some mental crisis. I question whether those (generally the pro-gun crowd) who suggest it has nothing to do with the "tool" recognize that people of all kinds face daily challenges, crises of their own, and some, even some who've never shown signs of anything, can "snap" and do irrational things. I'd argue its best that, in such moments, access to weapons capable of such rapid lethality should not be so readily accessible. I do not argue that guns must be taken away (I find the fear-mongerers who suggest the government is out to get them and take their guns away simply unreasonable). Rather, I say that anyone who wishes to own one may submit to testing, licensing, safety classes, background checks, etc. (we do it to drive cars), guns registered (like cars), sellers more strictly regulated, and sensible limits on the types that can be purchased. (Really, you don't need or automatic weapons for...well, anything, these are only made to be used against a fellow human being).

  7. (con't from previous, the comment system said too it was too long!)

    To the argument sure to follow: Yes, you're right, criminals will always commit crimes: murderers will murder, bombers will bomb. We do not need to make it easier for people to do. Explosives are highly regulated for that reason. Human impulses, sometimes irrational and uncontrollable, are difficult things, to the point that you can do things you regret. Strict regulations across state borders, few loopholes, strong enforcement, and severe penalties for criminals who use firearms WILL reduce, but not eliminate gun violence. Doesn’t work in Chicago (because there are so many guns around, local regulations can’t work, they can buy them along with milk just across the border in IN), yet it DOES work in Japan (no abundance or access and VERY low gun violence).

    The constitutionally argument: I think it fair to say that, while wise, the drafters of the constitution couldn't see the future. They were smart enough to make the constitution a "living" document which needed to be amended when necessary to reflect the context of American life. What was written 200+ years ago may be changed if 'WE THE PEOPLE' see fit to do so (It's not sacred writing folks, we change it when it's wrong. Ex.: Women's suffrage, Voting Rights, Abolition of Slavery). I'm not saying take away your guns, I'm suggesting sensible regulation and enforcement.

    On Mental health: clearly a long-forsaken, ignored, underfunded area in this country. So are education, arts and the creative pursuits.

    It’s hard to believe that video games and television are large factors in the equation: the games and themes of the shows are pretty much the same globally, yet the US has 15-20X more homicides by guns (per-capita) than the next 22 developed nations combined, and as many or more guns per capita as places like Yemen.

    Perhaps a combination of violent culture, little attention to mental illness, and an abundance of tools designed to do harm to fellow man combine in this nation to produce what is rare everywhere else? Does the rest of the world place more value on creative pursuits?

    Apologies for using a comment to capture my thoughts. I'm glad to learn the friends I have at Taunton haven't been directly impacted, but I'm certain they've been impacted, we all have been to an extent. For me, this is a haunting event. I think of my own 1st grader, and think with compassion of those parents, classmates, the town, and all of the ripples beyond.

    A last thought: Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Life is first (those wise men intended it that way). If you would have sacrificed your life for even one of those kids, why would you not sacrifice a little bit of what you feel is your liberty to prevent the next one? (A question I direct to those reasonable gun owners willing to think hard about what is sensible, and what they would be willing to sacrifice).

    Again, thanks for your words and for suggesting solutions.

  8. Nick, there certainly is no easy or fast fix for the tragedy that seems relentless. One place after another seems to be visited by this horror of gun violence. One congressman claimed that if only the principle had been armed, she could have taken the shooter out. But we have to ask if that what we want our schools to become? Armed enclaves ready for whatever shoot out comes next?

    I think there is a natural human inclination to make things of useful beauty, and to share those things with others. It's too simplistic to propose that kids making things would solve the problem, but we would be a more sane and healthier society in all kinds of ways if we were to reinforce our most natural inclinations to make.

  9. Doug,
    Thank you so much for putting these important thoughts to (virtual) pen and paper. Your comments and Chuck Walker's about more hands-on teaching with real tools resonate fully with me. That once-familiar adage, "the old tools teach us," rings true.

    And as regards those other tools, guns--like any tool, dangerous in the wrong hands but by their nature, tools for killing only, and not for building: you are absolutely right--the time to talk about this is now: with all the rationality that comes from the the evidence we have at hand, and with all the emotion that comes from the grief of this tremendous loss.

    With thoughts for our dear Newtown and its heroes and angels, and with all best wishes from Limerick, Ireland--
    Wolodymyr ("Vlad") Smishkewych
    (Former FWW associate editor)