Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What's the Answer to Gun Violence?

Let me say right at the outset that this blog offers no "answer" to the problem of gun violence, or violence, in general.  But I thought the title could suck in some folks who might have something useful to contribute.

I have no answer because there likely is no answer!  At least not a single, magical solution that will solve everything at once.  In the weeks that have passed since the Newton, CT school shootings, the "discourse" on the topic has mostly been extremely polarized:  on the one hand, there's a minority of folks who want to ban all guns, and perhaps even send law enforcement out to confiscate all firearms in the USA.  On the other hand, there's another minority of people who believe the 2nd Amendment entitles them to own unlimited firearms with no controls whatsoever.  Recent events have produced a feeling within what I would like to call the rational majority who would like to have a discussion about how this country controls its firearms.  Most rational people believe it should be possible for Americans to own guns, but with some controls in place - the argument then is only about what those controls should be and how effectively they're enforced.  Sadly, whenever the topic comes up, it seems the one minority immediately jumps to the position that any gun control is bad and any attempt to confiscate guns will be met with gunfire and revolution (shades of Ruby Ridge and the Branch Davidian disaster in Waco), even though virtually no one is proposing a blanket confiscation of guns.  The emotional "You'll have to pry my gun from my cold, dead hand!" rhetoric is usually repeated as a rallying cry against a mostly imaginary proposal to ban guns.  The other minority immediately jumps to the position that guns are evil and need to be eliminated entirely from our society, thereby reinforcing the mostly imaginary threat the gun lobby feels.

The fantasy of armed, self-appointed militias protecting what they believe to be their freedoms from the evil government using their semi-automatic weapons, should the government actually decide to confiscate their guns, is absurdly unrealistic.  If the government truly wants everyone's guns, they have overwhelming firepower to use against any opposition, as has been demonstrated many times.  Throwing up this bogey man of the jack-booted American government thugs confiscating guns has no place in a rational discussion of gun policy in the USA.

It's definitely true that guns, as inanimate objects, have no morality and they commit no crimes.  They're neither inherently good nor inherently evil, unless you believe that any deliberate taking of human life is a crime.  All societies condone the taking of human life in self-defense, in war, by law enforcement in the course of their duties, and so on.  Sanctimonious proponents against killing in any form have a problem with the "arbitrariness" of the boundary between murder and sanctioned killing.  For most of us, the taking of human life is justified, at times.  The vast majority only differ about where the line should be drawn, which can be a distinctly troubling issue (as shown by the contentious issue of abortion).

Removing all guns from the USA is just not possible - at the very least, criminals will not obey laws about gun confiscation (to say nothing of armed, self-appointed "militias" who would then be criminalized), and will find ways to obtain guns no matter what.  Let's take any such proposal off the table as it's just not practical, and doing so would require an amendment to the Constitution that would never be successfully ratified.  Even if a hypothetical effort to confiscate all guns could be successful, there always are alternative ways to kill people other than guns.  Those who wish to kill can find a way.  The reason guns come up in connection with gun violence is that guns are so damned good at killing!  In fact, their basis for existence is virtually entirely about killing.  Most guns are specifically designed to kill people efficiently, as opposed to those designed for hunting, or purely for target shooting.  As is the case for many tools we humans use, no matter what they were designed to do,  guns can be used to kill people without regard for morality.

Any "solution" we might find to the problem of gun violence in the USA necessarily involves some consideration of gun control policies.  The gun lobby has been pretty effective over the years at blocking any legislative consideration of gun control enhancements, resorting to emotional propaganda to galvanize support from the millions of gun owners in the USA.  In effect, the minority that believes gun control is inherently a denial of their rights has removed this topic from any sort of rational discourse.  It's true that no modifications to existing gun laws will "solve" the problem of gun violence completely, for many reasons.   Neither will it be a solution to turn America into a modern version of the wild west (or a version of Afghanistan).  As I've said elsewhere, a  society where virtually everyone is armed isn't a polite society - it's a violent society!

We don't need more polarizing rhetoric.  We need to begin a process of figuring out ways to limit gun violence to the maximum extent possible, knowing that reducing it to zero is basically not possible.  The fact that we can't prevent all such incidents is no excuse for doing nothing!  Changes to gun control laws have to be on the table, but they should never be presented as some sort of panacea.  Reducing gun violence will be a complex problem with many components, only one of which is gun control policy.  People will have to be willing to compromise to make progress, rather than stubbornly opposing any departure from a dogmatic position.  If some measures to control gun violence failed in the past, they need to be reviewed and alternative ideas proposed that have at least some chance to be more successful than they were in their previous form.  We won't produce perfect solutions at any point, so we need to be able to discuss rationally the outcomes of any measures we've tried and consider how they could be improved.  And of course, a discussion about reducing gun violence needs to consider many topics other than gun control policy!

To be paralyzed into inaction by polarization over gun control policy is unacceptable!