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Gun culture is about fear. We must give our children an antidote

York Dispatch editorial board

People search for answers every time there's a spate of gun violence like what York City — or Harrisburg, or the United States or, let's be honest, the world — has seen in recent weeks.

The problems are easy to recognize.

Solutions are more difficult.

Just like there are no overnight successes, there are no easy fixes to prevent 14-year-olds from playing desperado in the streets.

"We have to figure out a better way," York City Police Commissioner Michael Muldrow said, after yet another kid was stopped with a gun within shouting distance of a school, "or we'll never solve the problem."

We don't blame Muldrow for being frustrated.

We feel it, too.

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First thing's first, let's state the obvious: It would be a lot easier if our political leaders passed common-sense gun reforms.

Just last year, Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey reintroduced legislation that would at least require the feds to share information about background check denials with the states. Much like Toomey's 2013 deal on background checks, it languished for want of bipartisan support — the necessary 60 votes to overcome the filibuster.

Stronger background checks aren't nearly enough but they would at least slow the pace of illegal guns that end up in the hands of our young people.

In the absence of true leadership from D.C. or Harrisburg, the only way to combat gun violence is to address its root causes.

What is gun culture rooted in?

Fear.

It's why groups like the National Rifle Association are so preoccupied with the idea that "our guns are being taken away" despite all the evidence to the contrary: Fear is a powerful motivator. Their underlying message is that violence — or at least the threat of violence — is the best response to fear.

Our children can't help but absorb that message and, in a world full of free-flowing weaponry and good reasons to be fearful, they pick up a gun.

If we want to stop the violence, we have to teach our children better ways to deal with fear and reduce the very real threats they face each day.

That's a whole lot easier said than done, of course, because it involves the consistent efforts of so many people.

As Muldrow rightly pointed out, we must create economic opportunities so young people have realistic alternatives to the culture of street hustling — whether that be drugs or prostitution — so often linked to gun crime.

But we must also change our cultural norms about what it means to be a man. Sure, young women can and do pick up guns but there's a pervasive belief in our community that "real" men keep score and lash out violently when provoked. Real men do not.

We must foster a culture of mental wellness, to expand access to health care for people who need it and to have honest conversations about the traumas — personal and communal — that lead to violence.

Finally, we must lead by example and hold each other accountable.

If law enforcement is unjust and violent, our children won't respect the law.

If schools don't teach relevant lessons, our children will seek wisdom elsewhere.

And if parents can't be relied upon for food, shelter and emotional support, our children will seek comfort in dangerous and self-destructive pursuits.

It's on us.