If the gun control conversation were a house for sale, its foundation would be infested with termites. Or it might be a pre-sale inspection of the wrong house altogether.
It’s arithmetic with unlike terms. It’s clapping with one hand. It’s two foreign travelers screaming at each other in their own languages.
To me the biggest problem with the dialogue is that people don’t seem to be constructing basic lists of the following and then linking them together.
Let’s explore some of these components on their own first, and then build some scenarios that connect them.
Threats in this context will be a scenario we’re trying to avoid, such as a mass shooting in a school, workplace, or any other public place.
Man purchases a handgun legally and uses it to kill 12 people at his former workplace after he is fired from his job. He has a history of mental illness.
Group of three teenagers kill 41 people at their high school using guns found in their household. They are known to be part of a reclusive, anti-social group that has been bullied in the past.
78 people die due in gun-related gang violence in Chicago over a holiday weekend.
64 kids die accidentally from their parents’ legal guns.
13 people take their own lives using their own handguns over a short period of time in the United States.
26 establishments are robbed at gunpoint in Detroit over the course of a month.
12 police officers are shot in a year with their own guns.
These scenarios all have two things in common:
They are things we don’t want to happen
They involve guns in some way
Let’s call something a cause if it’s the most important motivator or initiator of an action or scenario.
homicidal mental illness
frustration with one’s life
So maybe someone is an actual calculated murderer, and has been for decades because they’re psychopathic—like a serial killer. We’ll call that mental illness.
Or maybe someone just does not wish to live anymore, due to severe depression, and they take their own life. We’ll call that depression.
Or maybe someone is so committed to a set of religious beliefs about other people or ways of life that they feel compelled to take action in the name of that religion.
Or perhaps someone feels completely abandoned by society, by their loved ones, and by “the system”. And they feel their only recourse is to ferociously attack it. This can surely mix with mental illness, but the root cause is a feeling of being unwanted and unimportant.
Now let’s talk about what conditions make these sorts of scenarios possible, more likely, or more harmful when they do happen. This doesn’t mean they are bad, mind you, only that they are present truths about our current situation, and can make attacks more likely or more damaging.
We live in an society with lots of freedom to move without inspection
There are many public gatherings of hundreds or thousands of people
We have a history of gun ownership supported by the 2nd amendment
It’s easy to legally acquire a large number of handguns and rifles, along with hundreds or thousands of rounds of ammunition
The fact that most targeted people are unarmed, and it takes police quite a long time to respond, even when it’s fast
It’s easy to illegally acquire a large number of handguns and rifles, along with hundreds or thousands of rounds of ammunition
Now we’ll look at some solutions that are either being proposed or might be proposed to solve gun violence.
Make a new kind of gun that is only fireable by the legal and authorized owner of that gun
Make it illegal to buy guns that look like military weapons
Make it illegal to buy magazines that hold more than a certain number of rounds
Limit the number of guns that one can legally purchase
Remove the illegal guns from circulation
Require that guns be tightly controlled by their owners, and hold them heavily responsible for anything bad that happens with them
Allow more law-abiding citizens to carry guns, in many more situations, so that they can respond to gun violence when it happens
Prohibit concealed carry laws that increase the number of guns in public places
The issue we’re having in this conversation is quite simple:
People on all sides are proposing solutions where the various causes, threats, and vulnerabilities make those solutions ineffective or even counterproductive.
We’re not all facing the same threat scenarios, and those threat scenarios don’t necessarily share causes.
When a bunch of poor people die in Chicago due to gang violence, there are demands for gun control.
When disgruntled teenagers kill people at their high school, there are demands for gun control.
When religious people kill groups they think their god hates, there are demands for gun control.
When disenfranchised middle-aged men fall through the cracks and have nothing to offer society, and end up shooting someone as a pure demand to be noticed, there are demands for gun control.
When deeply unhappy people kill themselves with their home defense weapon, there are demands for gun control.
So, as a data-loving, liberal-leaning, gun owner, I have a few questions.
Why are we mostly treating these as the same issue with a universal answer?
What if these are fundamentally different problems that require equally different solutions?
What if gun control is the right answer in some of these situations and not in others?
What if an armed population was actually more safe than one with fewer guns?
What if gun control is, to some degree, not possible in the United States just due to the unbelievable number of weapons already in circulation?
And what if that problem is exacerbated by the likelihood that it’ll soon be easier to make our own guns?
Let’s take a few of these scenarios and look at them as a combination of threats, causes, vulnerabilities, and then possible solutions.
A group of teenagers are bullied into starting some sort of pseudo-para-military club where they obsess over killing their classmates. Their parents have had legal guns for years. Their parents don’t notice that they’re basically withdrawing from society and becoming increasingly reclusive, obsessing over violent media, etc. They then kill 36 kids at their high school using 10 handguns they got from their respective parents’ houses.
Let’s walk through this.
Get rid of the illegal guns! They’re legal guns obtained by law-abiding citizens. No background check would have stopped them from buying them
We need smart guns! They might have been approved users for home defense, or been able to easily find non-smart versions online or on the street.
Let’s just pretend they couldn’t get guns another way! Ok, fine. They make a few bombs instead using stuff from the hardware store. They kill 121 people instead of 36.
The vulnerability here is that it’s easy to obtain or build weapons that can kill hundreds of people. And it’s easy for anyone to do this, with very little money, even as a 15-year-old. All you need is sufficient cause.
I’d say the cause here is poor parenting, caused by poor parenting, caused by a society that has fewer and fewer good jobs, available mostly to those with educations that fewer can afford.
The parents are broken, and they’re creating broken children, who are entering a broken society.
But they’re all legal, law-abiding citizens who can purchase as many guns as they want as long as they haven’t yet committed a crime.
It’s also legal to make child after child who have little chance of obtaining a good education or a good job, and who will grow up rejected and angry in a society that doesn’t need or want them.
Completely legal, and millions are doing it right now.
But guns are the problem.
Anyway, let’s continue.
Six religious men decide they’re tired of society, which has turned far too liberal (against God), and they’re going to become protectors and enforcers of God’s will. They buy a bunch of AR-15s from some online store and load up on 10-round magazines. They wait until a Gay Pride event and kill 54 people while screaming the name of their religious group.
Get rid of the illegal guns! That’s a speed bump. They could have just bought the guns at a gun store since none of them have records.
Stop selling scary guns at gun stores! Ok, how about basic hunting rifles? Could have done the same thing essentially. Not much difference really between scary AR-15s and an average hunting rifle.
Let’s just pretend they couldn’t get guns another way! Ok, fine. They make a few bombs instead using stuff from the hardware store. They kill 87 people instead of 54.
The issue here is that there are beliefs so powerful that if you hold them, you feel compelled to take action against those who harm society and act against God.
It’s not about hate. Nobody actually teaches hate. They teach a worldview that has truths in it, just like anyone else’s worldview. And if you accept that set of beliefs, gay people are sinful. They are evil. And killing them is less of a crime than killing innocent people.
This doesn’t require hatred. It only requires that you believe what is being taught.
And hundreds of millions of people hold these beliefs, and millions more are being taught them all the time. Everyday. All over the world. And they get tax breaks.
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But guns are the problem.
Different causes, different solutions
From my perspective, there is no question that there exists some type or degree of gun control that can help in some situations.
Reducing the number of illegal guns in Chicago’s poor areas, for example, could likely reduce gun violence. I don’t know that for sure, but it seems logical to the point of being obvious.
But giving the law-abiding population guns so that they can protect themselves might help as well, since it seems unlikely that more police will help, or that we can actually remove the guns any time soon. Again, I don’t know that it’d help, but the answer might very well be to let people defend themselves when we can’t defend them as a society.
And even if removing illegal guns helped in Chicago, that solution doesn’t fix the white kids shooting up suburban schools. That’s a broken country, with bad parenting, and far less opportunity due to an evolving society.
It also doesn’t help protect against disgruntled 48-year-olds who have been tossed in the garbage by society. Laid off. Divorced. Rejected. Denied. Promises rescinded. And they’re pissed. Some are pissed enough to do something about it, and guess what? They don’t have criminal records. They can buy all the guns or bomb-making ingredients they want.
Same goes for the teaching of belief systems that provide meaning yet poison minds. Extreme religious groups are attractive because they give meaning where none existed before. That’s on us for leaving that opening. And you don’t have to teach hatred—just the undeniable fact that God hates X. That’s more than enough to inspire murder at scale.
Our problem is one of reasons, not of implements.
We have too many people, and not enough ways for those people to become and feel valuable. That situation is guaranteed to cause violence, whether it be through sharp stick, pipe bomb, or hunting rifle.
If someone is depressed in a first-world country, and kills himself with his own handgun, we don’t have a gun control problem.
If someone believes gays are evil because of their religion, and uses their legally-purchased weapons to kill said gays, we don’t have a gun control problem.
If someone is rejected by society and feels so hopeless that the only way to be heard is through gunshots, we don’t have a gun control problem.
As we suffer the consequences of a society that does not provide the opportunity to obtain meaning in healthy ways, it could be that an armed populace will be the only way to reduce harm when outbreaks of our illness occur.
Most of our 300 million people are terribly easy to kill with anything, as long as you are willing to do it. It may make us safer in some counter-intuitive yet logical way to have people nearby who can stop a random shooter when they inevitably appear.
But it won’t always be better, in all situations. It will only be better in some cities, counties, and states—depending on the causes of the violence and the health and capabilities of the citizens. In other places we should remove as many guns as possible, or make the move to smart-weapons.
That’s the point, really.
Don’t say gun control is the answer to school shootings where the guns were purchased legally and where parenting was the first line of defense
Don’t say smart guns are a bad idea if accidental gun deaths from legal handguns are increasing
Don’t oppose legislation to remove millions of illegal guns in poor areas when it will clearly result in far fewer deaths
Don’t say mass-shootings of gays are a gun control issue when the guns were legally obtained and the act required a religious hatred of homosexuals
In short, understand that we are a society full of problems, causes, and potential solutions, and that these need to be linked properly to achieve any degree of progress.
And any dialogue that speaks in the binary language of adding or removing guns is fundamentally missing the fact that guns are just an extra in this film.
Not all situations are the same, so the solutions won’t be the same either. And focus on the causes, not the implements.
Image from therightplanet.com.