Pointing Guns & Fingers: Who’s To Blame For America’s Epidemic of Gun Violence?

1386971623920
Who’s to blame for this unyielding barrage of mass shootings that has gripped this country for the past two decades, if not longer? All I know is that my liberal friends and my conservative friends are sticking to the same predictable script, and it’s all just a lot of noise for a few days or a week, and then we’ll all quietly forget that we live in a country plagued by an epidemic of gun violence. Mass shootings are becoming almost a daily occurence. So far in 2015, we’ve had 355 shootings in 336 days and today’s shooting was the second today alone! Just days ago, President Obama pleaded for this to stop and for us to take action, and saying “we can’t let this become normal.” Today he said, “We have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world…This is not normal.” I’m afraid it has become normal. We’re ten mass shootings away from an average mass shooting every day of the year in 2015. This is the new normal.

Personally, I don’t care for guns, but I respect that possession of them is enshrined in our 2nd Ammendment, and that it is the law of the land. Just as I would hope conservatives could respect Roe v. Wade and marriage equality is the law, and must be enforced and upheld as such. I support sensible gun ownership, and although I don’t hunt, I respect those that do.

I’m not proposing we take anyone’s guns away, but perhaps take reasonable steps to control the flow of guns in this country, and the types of artillery we’re putting on the street. The average American isn’t allowed to possess a weapon of mass destruction like a dirty bomb or a ballistic warhead, yet some of the hardware out there could be considered weapons of mass destruction, and have no place in a civil society.

Cars kill people, yes, and no, we shouldn’t ban cars. Obesity kills people too, and no, we shouldn’t ban McDonalds. Americans should have autonomy, and be able to enjoy their rights and take responsibility for their poor decisions. But cars weren’t designed to be lethal, even if they are used that way sometimes. Airplanes weren’t meant to be used as missiles, but 9/11 taught us this was no longer true. Anything can be a weapon, in the right hands. But some objects were designed to be weapons. Guns were made for one purpose…to kill. To say that it’s unfair to blame an inanimate object is a disingenuous argument. No sensible person would propose we ban baseball bats because some angry fool used it to beat another man to death. It’s not the bat’s fault. But guns aren’t just any object, sold in a store, and passed around the dinner table. They aren’t used at your kids Little League Game or kept in the refrigerator at work. They are, ostensibly, weapons of mass destruction. Their purpose is to kill or maim. We don’t allow people to store ricin in their cabinet, enrich weapons grade plutonium in their kitchen, or store dirty bombs in their basements. A gun may not have the potential to cause that level of widespread carnage, but it still has the potential to kill a lot of people.
In this country, we issue licenses for fishing, selling homes, bonding plumbers, driving cars, practicing law, and operating on patients. We register our cars, pay taxes, get boating and pilot licenses, take background checks at work, submit to credit checks to hook up cable, and disclose our illnesses and medical conditions on physicals for life insurance. Yes, we live in a free society, and the Constitution ensures our civil liberties, but we are still held accountable to the society around us. Sadly, we seem to have more oversight and control over these other areas of our lives, than with gun ownership — a potentially very lethal hobby. Just because a right is protected and guaranteed in the Constitution doesn’t mean it is the wild west, and all rules are off. Voting is also ensured, but we have rules and regulations regarding our right to vote. Freedom of Speech is also guaranteed, but it is not a blank check, and with each of these freedoms, comes great responsibility.

I’m sure there are reactionary liberals out there who would like to ban guns outright, but I’m not suggesting anything like that. I respect that gun ownership in this country goes back to the early colonial days, and we have a proud tradition of gun possession, weaving its way through our history, from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War to the Wild West, and up through the 20th and 21st Century. With less than 5% of the world’s population, the United States is home to roughly 35–50 per cent of the world’s civilian-owned guns, heavily skewing the global geography of firearms and any relative comparison. The US has the highest gun ownership rate in the world – an average of 88 per 100 people. That puts it first in the world for gun ownership – and even the number two country, Yemen, has significantly fewer – 54.8 per 100 people.

Americans love their guns! I get that. And I have many friends who are proud and responsible gun owners. I don’t propose taking away their rights or confiscating their guns. I think many gun owners and NRA members are whipped into a defensive frenzy at the very suggestion of gun control, spreading the fear that it naturally must equate to the abolition and seizure of legally owned weapons and a tyrannical violation of their 2nd Amendment rights. Every time we have this discussion, both sides predictably divide, and become polarized in their language. Extremists on both side confuse and complicate the matter, and there can be no reasonable discourse.

What liberals refuse to understand or accept is that America has a long and proud tradition of gun ownership, and it was at least important enough to our Founding Fathers to enshrine the possession of guns in the Bill of Rights. Many on the Left argue this is a misreading of the document, and guns were only meant for a well regulated militia, in order to protect the fledgling nation from the tyranny of King George. But honestly, how are we to know? These were hunters and sportsman, and the average family owned at least one gun. It’s not unreasonable to assume that the Founding Fathers included it in the Constitution to ensure we had the means to feed ourselves, protect ourselves, and forcibly resist the bonds of tyranny. It was obviously important enough to be the SECOND of ten amendments! I grew up in Maine, and I was surrounded by hunters and outdoorsman, and gun ownership is very high in this state. Although I would never hunt, myself, I respect those who do. I would never suggest we take away guns from those who are legally entitled to own them.
Having said all that, a gun is not an innocent victim, and something that simply falls into the hands of either the sane and responsible or deranged and dangerous. We do have the ability to place some regulations and restrictions on who should own it, how and when one acquires one, and what kind of excessively lethal weaponry we’re sending out onto the street. Fully automatic weapons with high capacity cartridges/ magazines simply have no place in our society. No one is hunting deer or rationally playing target practice with a high velocity machine gun, designed to simply obliterate a target. These are military weapons, and belong only on a battlefield. They serve no useful function on our streets. We don’t allow civilians to ride tanks through the streets or place land mines in their front yard. Hand grenades are regulated under the National Firearms Act (“NFA”), a federal law first passed in 1934 and amended by the Crime Control Act of 1968. The 1968 amendments made it illegal to possess “destructive devices,” which includes grenades. (26 U.S.C. § 5801.) There’s no doubt that a live hand grenade designed for military combat fits within the law’s provisions—non-military people may not possess them. Bombs, grenades, rockets, missiles, and mines (and similar devices). How a defendant intends to use the device is irrelevant—mere possession is enough for a conviction. High power guns meant for battlefields should fall under the same provisions, and should be highly restrictive.
Perhaps the most infuriating thing to those of us who propose sensible gun control laws is the bitter resistance to background checks. It’s especially hypocritical, considering as a society, we all undergo background checks every day, from mortgages, credit checks, criminal background checks for employment, life insurance research into our medical histories, driver’s license checks, passport to fly, and much more. You may call yourself a Libertarian, and bristle at such intrusions on your civil liberties, but like it or not, we live in a Republic…or Representative Democracy, as the case may be, and we live in a society of laws and civic duty. There is no reasonable argument that can be made why someone purchasing a lethal weapon — capable of inflicting mass carnage and much loss of life — should NOT have to register their weapon and undergo a criminal and mental health background check. Why should we require such commonsense measures be taken to drive a car, teach children, practice medicine, or any other number of things, and not do the same when it comes to guns? GUNS. To objects designed to kill and maim, and even when handled safely and responsibly, are lethal dangerous weapons, always capable of taking a life.
Gun nuts would have us believe the government would keep a registry of guns and gun owners, for the sole purpose of invading them in the middle of the night, and seizing all their weapons. That would be the tyrannical government, bent on enslaving the populace and taking away all their rights. Firstly, that’s just crazy conspiracy theory crap that has sadly trickled down into the populace and urban-rural lore. Secondly, if the U.S. Government wanted your guns and was coming after you in the middle of the night, I’m sorry, I don’t care how many high profile military grade weapons you have, you and your separatist survivalist nutjobs don’t stand a chance. Have you seen what the U.S. Military is packing these days? One drone strike, and it doesn’t matter how many guns you have in your arsenal to fight the ‘Good Fight,” cause your dead. On the other hand, you could come out of your compound and actually participate in government, rather than fear and despise it, and play an active role in shaping how it works. That seems like a more reasonable and realistic way to hold onto your guns.

Waiting 24 hours, 48 hours, or even three days seems like a minor inconvenience, at best. I’m not sure I can believe anyone needs a gun so badly they can’t wait a day for it. Perhaps you should plan ahead better. People often have to wait for new cars, new merchandise, and the chance to move into a new house. After you file your taxes, you have to wait for the return to come several weeks later. When waiting at the deli counter, we take a number, and wait our turn. When we see a red light, we stop, and obey basic traffic laws. That’s what it means to be an adult. Patience. And the ability to delay instant gratification. That’s what it means to live in a civil society, where we aren’t only responsible for ourselves, but have a duty to others.

If waiting 48 hours to get your hands on a brand new gun even helps to save ONE innocent life, than it is absolutely worth any minor inconvenience your delay cost you. This is such an inconsequential and easy compromise to make, and shouldn’t the saving of lives be more important than your 2nd Amendment anyway? Again, we’re not proposing taking guns away here, just finding better ways to regulate them. We do it with every other industry and potentially dangerous thing — yes, even cars. And the FDA with food and medication. And the FAA with air travel. And on, and on… Why should guns be any more privileged and sacred than these other important areas of our lives?

Okay, now on to mental illness. As someone who suffers from mental health issues, and is a strong advocate for those afflicted, I completely recognize that something is seriously broken in this country when so many deranged and disturbed individuals are taking guns and shooting up innocent people. Many of these people suffer from diagnosed or undiagnosed conditions such as Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Borderline Personality Disorder, Schizo-Affective Disorder, and others. There is no doubt that this country needs to do a better job at early intervention, and not letting loner individuals slip through the cracks and become psychotic and homicidal.

We need an educational system which truly invests not only in the academic needs of its students, but its psychological as well. We need to practice holistic learning, where we treat the whole child, and find ways to reach them early and often. If we can diagnose children when they’re young, or when they begin to exhibit symptoms, we will be able to find effective medications, enroll them in therapy that is helpful, supportive, and not stigmatized in the way it is today. If we all were to understand that therapy and counseling is healthy for anyone, and that we could all stand to gain from talking to someone regularly, perhaps these loners wouldn’t feel the need to escape into the Internet, with its White Supremacist groups, Neo-Nazi organizations, anarchist groups, and sick and twisted grip it can have on fragile minds.

Psychotic mass shooters are often lonely and frightened, and many want to die, but don’t have the courage to take their own lives. Perhaps they’ve tried. Yet, they somehow are thrilled and stimulated by the idea of taking other people’s lives. There’s power in that. Some of these small people seek recognition, some seek fame, some seek infamy, others want to punish those they perceive wronged them, while others want to inflict carnage on the innocent. As we saw last week, many are driven by ideology like an extremist need to punish abortion providers and fight a righteous war for human life. I am not defending these monsters at all, and yet, I think it’s important we recognize that these are human beings, and they are profoundly disturbed and mentally unbalanced. They are sick. It’s easy as a society for us to simply label them sick and perverse monsters and cold blooded killers, but they each had families…they were once children…at one time, they had hopes and dreams of fitting in and belonging to something. Somehow, somewhere along the line, WE failed them. I’m not saying they aren’t responsible for their actions, but they’re sick all the same. We wouldn’t expect a patient with two broken legs to run a marathon, and in some ways, we can’t reasonably expect these profoundly sick individuals to maintain their sanity and fight the homicidal tendencies brewing inside them. It is a sickness. Some may be hearing voices telling them to commit the crime, while others may legitimately feel they will finally be recognized and liked once they commit such a heinous act. These people belong in hospitals and halfway houses, NOT in prisons, and not locked up in their rooms, on the Internet, stockpiling weapons, and planning a mass shooting. They need to be diagnosed early, because statistically, with proper medication and treatment, many of these individuals could have lived normal, non-violent, and nonviolent lives.

The problem is, we live in a complex society, where it’s not possible to point fingers at one thing in particular. I can’t, in good conscience, blame guns for all the mass shootings this country has seen over the last 10-20 years. They are inanimate objects, and it’s not wholly fair to scapegoat a legal weapon. However, those who would claim guns play no role in our disproportionately high gun mortality rates are fooling themselves. I just returned from Portugal, where last year they had less than 50 gun deaths in the whole country. They also have many regulations on gun ownership. Of all the developed superpowers, only America has staggeringly high gun homicide and suicide rates. No other civilized country within our standing has gun mortality rates anywhere close to ours. There aren’t regular mass shootings at schools and businesses in England, Ireland, France, Germany, Australia, Spain, Holland, Norway, China, Russia, etc. Sure, there have been the exceptions. Obviously, as we saw earlier this month, Paris fell victim to a terrorist attack. No one is truly safe these days.

And in regards to domestic terrorism, who could forget Anders Behring Breivik, the far Right terrorist and mass murderer in Norway? In 2011, he killed eight people by setting off a van bomb amid the Government quarter in Oslo, then shot dead 69 participants of a Workers’ Youth League (AUF) summer camp on the island of Utoya. Clearly, killing 77 people in one spree is prolific and rare, but it’s also memorable because these things simply don’t happen in much of the rest of the world — particularly Europe.

Not too long ago, Australia had very permissive gun laws, and then they had a mass tragedy. In 1995, a man named Martin John Bryant began a shooting rampage at a popular tourist resort in Tasmania, and killed 35 people in the process. Almost immediately, Australia was so shocked by the carnage, they decided to take drastic measures. As a response to the spree killing, Australian State and Territory governments placed certain restrictions on semi-automatic centre-fire rifles, repeating shotguns (holding more than 5 shots) and high-capacity rifle magazines. In addition to this, limitations were also put into place on low-capacity repeating shotguns and rim-fire semi-automatic rifles. The Tasmanian state government attempted to ignore this directive but was threatened with a number of penalties from the federal government. Though this resulted in stirring controversy, opposition to the new laws was overcome by media reporting of the massacre and mounting public opinion in the wake of the shootings. America has had had its fair share of shootings like this….the Virginia Tech shooting claimed 32 lives…in Sandy Hook, a disturbed young man killed 20 children and six adults in an elementary school. And yet, we haven’t had our watershed moment, where we decide as a nation that enough is enough. We haven’t reached the breaking point, where we decide that giving up a few minor conviences is nothing compared to the number of lives it could save. Even though This IS normal. This IS a daily occurrence.

Clearly these other civilized countries have their fair share of mentally disabled and disturbed individuals. Clearly, they have people who have the potential to be homicidal. The difference is, most of these countries have socialized healthcare, and care for their citizens from the craddle to the grave. Secondly, they have varying rates of gun restrictions and control. Some of these countries have almost as much access to guns as we do, but there still isn’t that relationship that we have. They don’t sleep with their guns the way us Americans do. If you’re curious as to what other countries have the highest rates of gun homicides, don’t look to our neighbors to the East or members of the G8. The countries with the highest gun mortality rates include El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Jamaica, South Africa, Brazil, and other poor countries. These are countries with high crime rates and often a low standard of living. And us. It’s like the Axis of Evil, and yet, we’re on the list.

And yet, you might say, Canada has almost as many gun rights as we do, and they have hardly had a single mass murder attack on their soil over all these years. This is a very strong argument for not blaming guns, and it almost works. However, again, Canada has national healthcare, and is much more comprehensive in treating its citizens. Secondly, and probably most importantly, Canadians have very different dispositions than we Americans. Wherever I travel in the world, I meet a lot of people whose opinions of Americans comes out of the lurid headlines, where all they hear about is school shootings and gang violence in Chicago. Interestingly, many of these people are afraid or uninterested in ever visiting America. Many think that it must still be like a Wild West show, and everyone is packing heat, and shooting each other dead in cold blood. They honestly think that about this country. And why shouldn’t they? Canada may be able to be permissive with their guns, because their population is more well adjusted and responsible with their weapons. They are not us, and we can’t hold them up as an example why we should have limited to no gun laws and restrictions. America has a troubling history of gun violence, and it seems to be embedded in our very DNA. What I do know is that most of our trade partners and allies do not suffer from the same kind of gun violence we do, and they have more restrictive laws than we do. And I’m not even suggesting we curtail Americans’ rights that much. I’m simply suggesting some reasonable gun legislation.

At the end of the day, I don’t know that this argument will ever be settled. Gun enthusiasts see guns as their God given right, and one protected by the Constitution. It is our cultural inheritance, and built into the fabric of this country. On the other hand, those on the Left believe that national security is at stake, and there are lives on the line. It only seems reasonable to allow some minor restrictions and regulations, if it saves lives. In every other aspect of our lives, we impose regulations, especially if it concerns public safety. But the two sides couldn’t be more apart. As a liberal myself, I recognize the sanctity of the 2nd Amendment, and respect law-abiding gun owners. At the same time, I think that the real compromise has to come from their side. Their stubbornness is unjustified, and can only harm lives and public safety. A minor inconvenience certainly seems worth it if it even could save one life.

Perhaps there is no one area we can point a finger at. Our society is complex, and there are a lot of culprits in making these cold blooded killers. There are many areas that likely failed these young men, such as a poor education, inadequate healthcare, mental health stigma, easy access to guns, access to high capacity rounds and lethal weapons, the Internet and social media, video games, poor home life, poverty, etc. Again, this crisis is not going to be solved by banning all guns….nor will it be cured by completely fixing the mental health care system. It’s not fair to completely let guns off the hook, and blame all this violence on mental illness. Ultimately, it will likely be a combination of all these things. No matter what, it’s not enough to point at mental health as a way to deflect from the responsibility of guns.

It’s not fair to only single out guns. The irony is that many of the gun supporters pointing at mental health are the very people that routinely underfund or defund mental health clinics and services in their states and cities. Furthermore, it is their actions and words which tend to fuel the stigmatization of mental health, and perpetuate the ignorance that leads to things like psychosis and alienation. Precisely the kind of things that incubate cruel thoughts and facilitate violent tendencies. We wonder where these monsters come from? We created them. We ostracized and ignored them. One very important step to removing the stigma on mental health is to fund it, and hold it in the same esteem as the regular medical field.

The best way to prevent such widespread gun violence is to regulate guns in a reasonable way, taking pains not to violate gun owners’ Constitutional rights, yet also striving to protect the safety of the public. There is no reason to have weapons of mass destruction out on the street. There is no need to have guns with high velocity bullets capable of piercing armor and bullet proof jackets, and with magazines of 20 – 60 bullets. Hunters don’t need those types of weapons, homeowners don’t need them, and they are simply weapons meant for a battlefield. Or for police officers. Civilians do not need those types of weapons. Combined with background checks, mandatory waiting periods, and other reasonable measures, we could reasonably expect a decline in gun violence. Even if such measures saved one life, it would be worth it. But we all know it would save significantly more lives than that. The very future of this country depends on such compromise.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s