Earlier this summer, Americans reacted with outrage to a video
of bullying on a school bus in which several teens unleashed a
barrage of invective against the older woman serving as the bus
monitor. Viewers were shocked by the bus-bullies' willingness to
attack their passive victim at her most vulnerable points. With no
apparent empathy, they taunted her about her family problems, her
poverty, her appearance and her weight. Like a cougar attacking the
throat of its prey, a bully is adept at finding its prey's weak
According to psychologists, bullies know where and how to
attack. They use their offense as a defense and a way to define
their power and social standing. Witnesses may feel empathy for the
victim, but are afraid that the bully will turn on them and so they
stand on the sidelines or even participate.
Marlene Snyder, Development Director for the Olweus Bullying
Prevention Program based in Clemson, S.C, is quoted in Discovery
News talking about the motivation behind bullying, "The simple
reason is bulling shows that they have power over others. The
reason that they do it repeatedly is that they are getting away
with it. Nobody is calling them on their bad behavior."
In the bus-bullying case, Americans rose up and reacted with
anger, the bullies were chastened and the victim became the focus
of an outpouring of sympathy and donations.
So when yet another disturbed young man amassed a stockpile of
weapons, ammunition, body armor and explosives with no apparent
regulatory impediments and started shooting people in a packed
movie theater, the country again reacted with shock and horror at
the story, and at the grief of the families of the dead, dying or
Our leaders and would-be leaders dropped everything and flew in
to show their empathy for the victims and their families. There
were lots of pious words about family, community and shared grief
but not one word about the proliferation of unregulated guns. Just
days ago, another gunman walked into a Sikh temple and started
shooting in what some suspect is an act of "domestic
I believe our fear of discussing gun control in this day and age
is the result of political bullying by the NRA. It's been going on
now for more than a generation. We and our leader's need to stop
behaving like the fearful children on the bus. An outpouring of
empathy and money for the victims is one thing, withholding our
righteous anger at the bullies for fear of being bullied ourselves
is quite another.
I used to hunt but find it hard to understand those gun owners
who seem less interested in hunting than they are in bluffing and
bullying a world that's changing in ways they find threatening -
much like adolescents, struggling to find their place in an
evolving social hierarchy.
Bullying is a complicit act, as we learned during The Third
Reich. It's imperative that we, as a nation, insist that our
leaders open a new dialogue about reasonable regulations on gun
ownership in this country.
Editor's Note: Bill Schubart is a Vermont entrepreneur,
author, commentator on VPR, and writes about Vermont and the nation
in fiction, humor and opinion pieces.