Like everyone in America this weekend, I am struggling to understand why these horrific acts of violence are occurring, and why no one in government seems to be able to suggest even the tiniest step toward addressing them. Unlike many of my friends, I can't make up my mind about a solution. For them it seems to be a simple decision. I can't seem to get there, so I'm trying to organize my thoughts here, in hope of clarifying the issue for myself.
On one hand, I am seeing my “liberal” friends posting statistics pointing out that European countries that have strict regulations of guns have lower per capita gun deaths. On the other hand, I have “conservative” friends that point out that dis-arming of populations has been the first step to establishing totalitarian regimes in many other countries. To me, neither of those examples means anything when dealing with the gun control issue in the US, but it does illustrate the basic divide in political thought in the US, and why our federal government can no longer govern effectively on any of the key social issues of the modern age. Yes, if we make guns illegal, only criminals will have guns. Unlike the UK, the guns are already out there. Only a nation-wide house-to-house search could rid this country of guns, and we can all agree, that is not something we want. And yes, no one needs a high-cap assault weapon to hunt deer, and yes, most gun deaths occur in the home. All of these things are true. So where does that put us?
A few facts about school shootings in America: school shootings have been occurring in US schools since there have been schools in the US. Of course, killing technology has advance exponentially since Matthew Ward shot Schoolmaster Butler with a flintlock pistol in Louisville, Kentucky in 1853, and high capacity automatic weapons have made the outbreaks of violence increasingly horrendous. Another fact- in most cases the throughout history, the shootings have been premeditated acts of mentally ill individuals. In many, if not most cases, the individuals committed suicide after the killings.
Other factors: In most cases, historically, the weapons used in these cases were legally obtained. In most cases the shooters were white males from average households. In recent cases, many of the shooters have been treated for mental conditions with prescription drugs, and many have been avid players of violent video games. These factors are all far to vague and subjective to really take into account. Although I suspect that in recent cases, the violence in our entertainment, and the over-use of drugs, most of whom list “suicidal thoughts” as a side effect right on the box, I'm going to set those aside. I think they are symptoms of a much bigger cultural problem.
Let's go back to the two undeniable key factors of the situation- guns and mental illness.
Gun Control- This country was founded by the gun. It is linked to our history- who we are as a nation, for better or worse. For some, it is a symbol of their self-sufficiency, or their distrust of government. I understand both of those. I think this explains why, despite the fact that per-capita gun ownership has steadily fallen since the 60's, support for the right to own a gun has increased. In the back of most Americans mind is a deep-rooted fear that maybe, someday, they will need one.
On the other hand, most everyone agrees that a less violent society is what we need to strive for- one where we don't need to worry about being robbed, raped or enslaved in a police state. It comes down to another bigger cultural problem- What IS freedom, really? What happens when your “freedom” collides with my “freedom”? Okay- back to bigger cultural problems again.
Mental Illness- Government funding for mental health services are dropping rapidly, despite the increased need for those services in these difficult times. Insurance companies won't pay for them either, unless you have an expensive, premium policy. How are parents with sick kids supposed to get help? Shit, again, back to huge cultural problem.
Okay, so I'm back to square one, just like our government. Unlike, the government, I am not willing to accept that somehow legislative band-aids will create a solution. The popular Einstein quote says that Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I don't accept that a government of, by and for special interest groups like the NRA, big Pharma and the Insurance lobby can fix this problem.Finally- Let's be clear about what a ban on guns will and won't due. It will prevent the random killing of 10-20 innocent, mostly white, middle class people each year. It won't prevent illegal gun violence, most of which is committed with revolvers and shotguns and happens in lower-income and minority communities, due to poverty and bad drug policies. It also won't lead to a loss of personal freedom or the US becoming a police-state- that is happening despite individual ownership of automatic weapons. I don't see the President crying publicly over all of the suicides of people who can't get adequate health care, or the innocent children killed in drone strikes. I think we have a way bigger problem here, and freaking out over the same old hot-button social issues won't do jack-shit.