Another mass shooting graced this country this week with its presence. Another senseless loss of life. I can only say that I feel an overwhelming sense of disappointment not only in the event itself, but in the aftermath.
It follows two other headline-grabbing tales of horror, one a terrorist attack using a truck to mow down victims, and the other, another mass shooting, the worst in US history, by a gun-obsessed, (allegedly) mentally-ill individual. All 3 events are horifying in ways not only relevant to the loss of life. More concerning to me however has been how our society has responded: with blame and fighting.
I wasn’t planning to write anything about the topic, even though I have my own strong opinions on the topic. When I went onto Twitter the other day and saw a tweet from a favorite writer of mine calling the NRA (National Rifle Association) a terrorist organization, I felt that surge of disappointment and felt that a written essay was needed at least to help me sort out my own emotions. Although I am aware of the stance of that particular writer, their reaction was not what I had come to expect. This followed a similar reaction on the Hollywood sex scandal. Understandably these are all infuriating events. And it’s hard to sit, to be a voice of reason, when everyone is screaming at each other. The world feels likes it’s imploding. But a voice of reason is what I am going to try for in this essay.
To start, I believe that most people are screaming for all the right reasons. We’re just blaming all of the wrong things. Or we’re focused too narrowly on one piece of an overly-complicated puzzle. Blame can go everywhere, but blame isn’t a problem solver. We have a problem to solve. It needs cooperation. Blame fights against the willingness to cooperate.
Let’s get some obvious things out of the way too. Guns, for example, are extremely dangerous. There’s no question there. Most people never need one. Much of this country is safe enough that a gun is useless. Sure, it may add to some people’s sense of security, but beyond that, they serve no purpose in much of this society.
Also, there is a massive, shit-ton of firearms available in the US. Because of that, they easy to get, both legally and illegally. No matter what a person’s intent of use is, a gun of some kind is easily procured. That means if someone has the goal of going on a rampage, as far too many people have, they can find a weapon to help them to that end. Some level of control is needed. But how much?
There is also the question of the NRA, an organization only interested in protecting gun ownership rights. Period. Making sure the 2nd Amendment is the only law on firearms is their ultimate goal. The majority of the attempts to add regulation of any kind have been blocked by their efforts. My father is a member, so I’ve been able to see the propaganda they send to mobilize their members. I honestly laugh at the ridiculousness of some of it, but their concern over government controlling weapons, of taking away their rights, is a palpable one. Besides, their lobbying and propaganda does still work within the system, all arguments of whether that system is broken or not aside. And as my father says, “there’s plenty of laws already [for firearms], if they’d [the gov’t] just do a better job at enforcing them we’d be OK.”
I’m not exactly certain that’s true or not.
There is that one law that is at the center of all of their efforts. That law is a part of the ultimate law of the US: the Constitution. The 2nd Amendment is that law. But I am not a constitutional lawyer, so I am not going to attempt to interpret it in any manner. I may come back to it though.
Emotions drive much of the discussion on gun violence and gun control. Both sides of the debate scream at the other not making a fucking thing better. When emotions run a discussion, how can anything be solved? It’s similar to my own frustration with the anti-Trump campaign. The continued yelling and berating as to how horrible he is. I know. I do not like the guy either. Didn’t vote for him. But I am now tuning out as I am just exhausted by the complete lack of genuine attempts to work with those who did vote for the guy to push us forward. These elections last Tuesday were a better way to send a message, but we must be careful not to squander this message, to push for open debate with the opposition. There is no open debate in gun control. Each side feels certain they are right, they are justified. Sit back and look and each side is as clear as lava.
Of course we could always agree to blame mental illness. It’s a cheap shot that all sides tend to converge on. In that case however, who’s going to own one then? And who decides? How do you regulate that when I could then pay a shady psychiatrist to certify my mental health? I personally blame our culture. But not the way one thinks. Not our culture’s obsessions with sex and violence in entertainment. It’s more deeply rooted than that.
Western culture, with all of its innovation and advancement, has been eroding the human condition. Even the basic idea of gender and gender roles has gotten out of hand. And with the sex scandals in Hollywood spilling into the headlines, our culture is imploding, fighting against our tribal, primal brains. Prescription drugs are probably the only thing more common in the US than guns. We run and hide from the fact that many of us aren’t happy and we don’t know what to do about it. When someone snaps and kills a number of people, we rush to blame guns, beit the guns themselves, our access to them, or our obsession with them. And the NRA bunkers down, ignoring that the thing they protect does indeed help those who seek to cause harm. Do we sit down to find the underlying causes? There’s no time to; I am pissed NOW!
These mass shootings are but a symptom. It’s a result of a disease rotting the US from within. Guns are not the disease, although it inflames it. As such, outlawing or restricting firearms only will treat the symptoms, not the disease. And there might be other flare ups that occur due to the treatment.
Treating this symptom does seem very tempting. Think of the misery we’d avert! It makes total sense. And while it does, the screaming for it to happen isn’t going to get us there. It’s building defenses, inflaming the tissue. And even if we do eventually get there, and we remove the guns, the disease will continue to rot us out, even though fewer lives will be lost in the process… at first.
As far as laws, there is credence to the accusation that enough laws are already in place. But the system that enforces those laws is a mess. Records are in terrible condition and virtually untrackable, punishments are often lenient, and little is done to combat illegal arms dealings. I still remember when I was younger how I nearly purchased a sawed-off shotgun off the street. I declined in the end, but it was right there. All of this is possibly due to a lack of resources to support these agendas. The NRA could use its influence to help here while continuing its work to keep additional laws off the books. Afterall, what good are additional regulations when they can’t or won’t be enforced to the level necessary for effectiveness?
When you dive in on just how bad our problem is with guns, you might find unsettling information. We aren’t the worst, nor the best, even though we have one of the highest rates of gun ownership per capita in the world. And compared to all premature deaths in the US in 2016, gun violence wasn’t in the top 11 except where it may fit into the category of “self-harm.” That’s not saying incidents that didn’t cause harm wouldn’t exceed that stat, but that is what the stat shows. These statistics might frighten proponents of the anti-gun campaign, showing that though still an issue, gun violence may not be as pressing an issue compared to other threats to our health. These stats aren’t useful in that side of the debate.
And yes, I said “useful,” because when push comes to shove, each side has an agenda. There are individuals who hate guns, think that it is appalling that the US has guns, and think that they are a scourge unto our society. Conversely, there are also those who think that everyone should own at least one and that guns are the only reason America is great. Each side is going to only look at the pieces they want to to forward their cause.
Take a few snippets from the latest mass shooting at a church in Texas:
- The gunman, Devin Patrick Kelley, was killed by a gun-carrying member of the NRA – hooray for the NRA
- The gunman bought his weapon legally – bad news for the NRA, good news for those seeking more controls be in place.
- The gunman had a history of violence and assault, information not shown in the database used for background checks when purchasing firearms – a black-eye on our government’s system.
- The gunman was in fact discharged for the above behavior, but it wasn’t sent to the database by the branch of the armed forces he served – another black-eye for the gov’t.
What in hell is going on here? It seems to me that the gun debate and why we are having it is all a fucking mess.
Had the laws in place worked as they should have, Devin Patrick Kelley would not have sourced his weapon legally. I can say he would have likely found another way. Given the plentiful nature of guns, it’s possible to believe that to be true despite that statement being pure conjecture. The high rate of gun violence in Chicago despite it being a gun-free zone supports the guess. But this is one example in a mess of examples. Crimes have been committed en mass by those who got their weapons both legally and illegally. One example doesn’t spell doom to either side of the debate.
Beyond violent gun deaths, what about the sport of firearms, such as hunting? What would tighter laws do to that industry, an industry vital to conservation and environmental control? We always believe laws be so cut and dry, helping only those who need help and not causing harm except to those who deserve it, but let’s look at what Obamacare did to insurance rates. Many Americans were finally able to get insurance, yes. Many Americans also saw their coverage cut and out-of-pocket expenses increasing to in some cases, unsustainable levels. Healthcare is not gun control, although reducing gun violence is it’s own form of healthcare, so using the comparison is in a way a cheap shot, but I wanted to illustrate the idea. Making things better in one way can hurt in others. Curing cancer in many cases means poisoning the rest of the body. We have to also understand that reducing guns here in the US is not going to equal the results in other countries such as Australia.
Instead of forcing the issue (anti-gun lobby), or ignoring it altogether (pro-gun lobby) as the two sides propose, we need a real, honest, and heartfelt discussion. Each side can’t claim to understand the other, rather they need to seek genuine empathy for what their opposition stands for. The NRA should realize that no matter the reason for doing so, they are choosing to protect a tool designed with the sole purpose to cause harm. It’s given those who choose to, a more efficient means to hurt others. Those who hate the NRA and want guns completely banned should understand that the 2nd Amendment is important to the founding of this country, that there are those who stand vigil, ready to guard this country and its people against the possible tyranny of government or those who seek to destroy us. They should understand that power is often easily relinquished from the people to its government, but seldom is it given back. They also need to understand that many, dare I say the overwhelming majority of gun owners do not desire to seek to harm others, even respecting their capability to do so as more reason not to. The NRA could do more to support the people affected by gun violence rather than snapping to a defensive stance at the 1st sign of trouble. The government needs to find the means to manage the regulations it has now rather than looking to expand its reach to patch up the awful mess it has now. People need to stop shouting and name-calling as it doesn’t do anyone any good, even when we are trying only to do good. We also need to have a real, hard look at what has been happening to our society and our mental health. Stress, anxiety, drug use, depression are all out of control with the hole only growing deeper. We are feeling increasingly separated from our fellow man, losing touch with who and what we are. That is the disease. That is the problem we really should be solving. Guns or no guns.