From Sandy Hook to Boston: guns, bombs, and a changing America?

Sunday 20 October, 1.30pm until 3.00pm, Pit Theatre Wrestling with the World

In recent years, there have been several seemingly random acts of violence committed by young males in the US – shootings in Aurora, Colorado and Sandy Hook, Connecticut and a bombing at the Boston Marathon. Following each case, there has been heated discussion about how these acts should be interpreted. Was there a political dimension, whether in the tradition of right-wing domestic terrorism or Islamist international jihad? Or were the killers following the well-established script of high school shootings by disaffected teenagers? Typically, the latter seems much closer to the truth. What all of these acts have in common is seemingly nihilistic and motiveless suicidal violence. Shootings or bombings seem to be an end in themselves, an attention-seeking outburst by disturbed young men.

In the case of the Boston bombings, however, the US authorities arguably overreacted badly in forcing a million people to hunker down in their homes for an entire day, perhaps because this case bore more of a resemblance than most to the Islamist terror script. In retrospect, it seems that script was deliberately manipulated by perpetrators who turned out to have more in common with home-grown high school shooters after all. But the resulting restrictions on freedom of movement, not seen even after 9/11, helped spread a terrible message of fear throughout the city of Boston. Moreover, many who objected to anti-terrorism measures after 9/11 on civil liberties grounds are nonetheless quick to call for tighter gun controls in the wake of nihilistic shootings. Is this hypocritical, or merely common sense?

Is there a tension between the rights of individuals – to own guns, or even to communicate without fear of surveillance – and the security of the many? And should we see random acts of violence as the work of mentally unbalanced individuals, or symptomatic of a cultural malaise? How, if at all, does the discussion about more recent outrages differ from that about the pre-9/11 Columbine shootings of 1999, for example? And what if anything does this tell us about US society today?

Nancy McDermott
writer; advisor to Park Slope Parents, NYC's most notorious parents' organization

Christine Rosen
fellow, New America Foundation; senior editor, New Atlantis

Dr Tim Stanley
leader writer and columnist, Daily Telegraph

Dr Kevin Yuill
senior lecturer, history, University of Sunderland; author, Assisted Suicide: the liberal, humanist case against legalization

Jean Smith
specialist development consultant; co-founder and director, NY Salon

Produced by
Jean Smith specialist development consultant; co-founder and director, NY Salon
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