An important book written in 2000 gives the answer to a question considered in the Aug. 10 Herald-Dispatch: How do we avoid mass shootings? While the book was well received, in my opinion, no action based on its prescriptions has yet been taken.

Before getting into the substance of the book, let me admit that its premise might be hard to accept: The shooters are themselves victims. It would not take much to get me to agree that perceptions of victimhood have, of late, been overdone. It looks like there is not a racial or religious or ethnic group that has not found some reason to whine. Generally speaking, I say, enough already — you are not as badly off as you apparently think. Stop.

But since these (generally young) shooters have obviously traveled a dark road, we are compelled to ask: What has led them to pick up guns and slay strangers?

The answer, as masterfully presented by Robert Putnam in his book "Bowling Alone," is alienation. These men are loners - their long, dark road began years before any bullets were fired; they drifted away from connections to family, friends and co-workers. Much time in front of the TV or on the internet; little time in easygoing human camaraderie. Most of the interventions I have seen suggested to prevent random slayings are Band-Aids that seem to focus on a time frame of several weeks before a potential incident occurs. Some of these ideas, no doubt, would have some good effect but all are intrusive, if not coercive. Albeit slow, Putnam's way is better.

So: Is bowling a potentially effective way to prevent shootings (and suicides and drug overdoses and )? One can almost hear the sneering rejoinders about airhead academics. OK, OK. Perhaps an explanation of Putnam's thesis will convince a few who are open-minded.

Bowling has both a social and athletic aspect, but the social one is dominant. Those readers old enough to have bowled a few decades ago will recall this scene: every lane in use has several participants. There will be several guys (often having a beer) and, less often, several gals. There will certainly be families, with the younger bowlers eagerly learning their skills and the older ones kindly helping. And there will be some formal bowling leagues (with identifying shirt logos).

Think about these scenes for a moment and then consider Putnam's key finding: bowling (at that time) was increasing in popularity while, simultaneously, league bowling was on the wane. More activity; less sociability: bowling alone.

Obviously, bowling is, so to speak, the canary in the coal mine. Name any public venue that creates and depends on human connectedness and you undoubtedly will have named a declining activity. Military service, for example, used to be almost universal for males when there was a military draft. And church attendance is another important activity with a social connection aspect that has declined.

Now, a word to the hard-headed "realists" who have been sneering, if not guffawing, as they have read this. Do you suppose this idea is not for real businessmen who have had to meet a payroll? I have an MBA and have managed an overseas commodities wholesale operation and military non-appropriated fund activities, and spent four years in uniform, as a commissioned officer (with an honorable discharge). My head is not pointy and my neck is not pencil-thin.

We must have greater social cohesion. Discord and distrust are rampant. If neither bowling nor church attendance moves you, there are other approaches. Schools, for example could strictly limit (both small and big) screen time and insist on at least some instruction featuring teams (every team member gets the same grade and team members grade each other). Universally required intramural sports wouldn't hurt, either. Ditto ROTC.

So far as I can see the only long-term solution to these massacres is increased social cohesion. Given the polarized and divisive political situation today, can you imagine a team league with both bosses and workers, wearing their league shirts, amicably alternating in beer sipping and bowling? Neither can I. Team-league bowling: MAGA.

John Palmer is a Huntington resident.


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