Ok. Let’s Talk Gun Control.

Ok. Let’s Talk Gun Control. June 24, 2015

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Paretz Partensky Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by
Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Paretz Partensky Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by

Ok. Let’s talk gun control.

I’m writing this post for one purpose. That purpose is to talk about what so many of you evidently need to talk about: Gun control. It’s a big issue for these times, one that isn’t going to go away. We really do need to discuss it at Public Catholic, at the intersection of faith and public life.

This post is an attempt to separate the discussion from the post I wrote about the tragedy in Charleston. Getting into the gritty stuff of political discussion on that post makes me a bit queasy. I react as if we’re engaging in the mud pie throwing of a political discussion at a funeral.

I’m going to delete the posts that are incoming over there. Please move them here.

Now. To gun control.

The issues are black and white to everyone, on both sides of the argument. As usually happens in this time of terminal personal self-righteousness and culture war, everyone thinks the people on the other side of the debate are unreasonable demagogues with the consciences of serial killers.

I think — for what my thinking is worth — that both sides are trying to deal with the intractable problem of evil, manifesting itself in human actions, without acknowledging that this is what they are dealing with.

I am personally opposed to limiting second amendment rights beyond a few reasonable legal codicils. As usual, I have the votes to prove it.

But that does not mean that I think that people who favor gun control are acting out of ignorance or a craven desire to limit American freedoms. I think that they are good people who are focusing on a different set of dangers than I am.

That is a key point in this discussion: Both sides of the debate are advocating a dangerous position, and both sides refuse to see that their position is in fact a dangerous one to take. There are no easy, harmless solutions to the problem of the human propensity to murder other humans.

Among the dangers inherent in gun control is that it is first of all a cavalier approach to limiting a basic Constitutional right. It ignores the increase in the reach of government power and oversight of Americans that would be involved in such a change in the laws.

America is not Europe or even Canada. We are a heavily armed people. Here in Oklahoma, just about every home has at least one gun and most homes have several. Most Okies not only have guns, they know how to use them. They do use them, for target practice and hunting.

I’m pretty sure that this same situation prevails throughout most of the South and the Southwest. I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t also exist in other parts of the country, as well. The political realities of gun control legislation seem to indicate that there are a lot of Americans out there who keep and bear arms.

The bureaucratic measures of filling out forms and undergoing checks of various sorts that office holders keep proposing would not dent the gun violence and mass killings we’ve seen. Ideas about limiting access to ammunition have been floated. But the political realities of that idea are probably even more extreme than those for gun control.

Not only that, but a lot of Okies are perfectly capable of making their own bullets. They do it now, as a hobby. I imagine that’s true of other, non-Okie folks, as well.

Removal of guns, such as has happened in other countries, is where this argument has to go. That would result in draconian government intrusion into the lives of otherwise law-abiding citizens. It would also be even less effective than Prohibition was. The resistance from the public is not something I want to contemplate. Not only that, but, once again, Okies are perfectly capable of making their own guns, as are a lot of other people, I’m sure.

We need to be careful about making criminals of law-abiding citizens as a means of getting at a few individuals who are in the grip of a killing fever that the rest of us can’t explain or understand.

Also, mass murder is not just a function of guns. Fertilizer and gasoline will make a bomb. You can kill many innocent people and maim many others with it. You can blow up big buildings and murder little children with it. Rwanda suffered a genocide that slaughtered hundreds of thousands in a short time with clubs and machetes.

We deny the power of human ingenuity if we seriously think that limiting access to a category of inanimate objects will stop these mass murders.

It is a simple historical fact that we did not suffer these repeated mass killings earlier in the history of this country. Guns were even more ubiquitous in our past, but the tragedy of one or two people randomly killing strangers, co-workers or fellow students for no apparent reason is a relatively recent phenomena.

It’s the people themselves who have changed. And this is a result of societal breakdown that evidently predicates toward the creation of psychopaths and rage killers.

This leads me to the dangers of opposing gun control. People are being killed. We know that what happened in Charleston has happened before. We know that it will happen again. And again.

We know, whether we will admit it or not, that it takes less time and is easier to pick up a gun than it is to build a bomb. It’s neater and cleaner to kill people with the squeeze of a forefinger on a trigger than it is to build a bomb, swing a club or wield a machete.

The trouble with this entire debate is that it is about inanimate objects which are only tools, rather than the tool wielders. I think this is because we do not want to face what we have wrought.

These killings are not about mental illness. Mentally ill people, like guns, have been with us long before these killings started. They are also not about poverty, or racism.

While one murderer may kill a school full of little Amish girls and another murders black people at a prayer meeting, their brothers in murder may decide to go on a military base and start shooting, or to their place of employment or even to the local McDonalds. They may, as I remarked earlier, build a bomb, put it in a truck and park the truck under a day care center.

The evil is not in the guns. The evil is not in the fertilizer. The evil is not in the truck.

The evil is in the young men who commit these murders. More to the point, the evil is in the society that built the young men.

The one constant is that the murderers are nearly all young men. Most of them are from privileged backgrounds. They are not hungry, battered, sexually molested or on drugs. We say they are mentally ill, and some of them may be. But others clearly are not. All of them have sufficient wits to plan and commit what are fairly complicated acts of mass murder.

This problem we are dealing with is a symptom of a larger societal sickness. And that is what we don’t want to face.

The entire gun control debate is ruse of sorts that lets us believe in the lie of simple solutions and one-off fixes. Focusing on gun control allows us the luxury of avoiding the deeper discussions of what has gone wrong in our society that, after around 150 years of gun ownership without these mass murders, has been plunged into the hell of seeing them happen over and over again.

That discussion, which would take us into the subterranean world of the things we dare not say, is one that we are willing to accept mass murder and maybe even give up our freedoms to avoid.

But it is the only discussion that has a hope of yielding ideas which might actually address the problem.



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17 responses to “Ok. Let’s Talk Gun Control.”

  1. The years earlier in our history had less publicity when a hideous crime was commited but today the monsters think they are cult heros of some sort by the way the media portray’s them. Look at how many people are talking about this kid now. We would be much better at stopping this if we would talk about how he suffered in his last moments of life during his execution (this year). Swift justice for the victims would do much to save other lives later.

  2. The total number of people killed in these incidents is relatively small compared to deaths from other causes. My greatest concern is that the incident in Charleston detracts from attention to the problem of excessive force by law enforcement officers.

    As for regulating guns, I am all in favor of responsible use measures such as licensing and education. Those who seek to ban guns should look at the failures we have encountered in controlling substances such as alcohol and narcotics.

  3. As mentioned by another commenter “As for regulating guns, I am all in favor of responsible use measures such as licensing and education.” There’s no reason why there shouldn’t be an equivalent level of regulation on people who are accessing firearms as there is on people accessing automobiles. Those who show themselves unfit for the responsibility of operating firearms would lose the ability to do so, just as is done with vehicles.

    Here in Canada we’ve also gone further and restricted access to certain types of firearms with the proviso that the issue can always be revisited. While no one has advanced convincing arguments as for why the average citizen needs access to assault weapons (so they remain restricted), good arguments about access to handguns have been made, resulting in a relaxation of restrictions and increased access. It’s a middle-ground position between the US and UK and works well for us.

    We tried a national gun registry for several years and came to the conclusion that it didn’t have the effect we wanted from it, so it has been scrapped, although Quebec is looking at its own provincial registry. As always it comes down to desired outcomes and the best means to achieve them.

    People can decide not to exercise a right if they feel they will benefit more otherwise, and if there are measures that would increase safety and reduce tragedy, people can adopt them, if they truly believe they will produce the desired results.

  4. I don’t know about Canada, but California doesn’t require a license to own a vehicle, just to operate one on the roads. Just buying a firearm of any kind, on the other hand, requires a background check and a waiting period. And there are substantial restrictions on which ones we can choose from.

    Getting a license to drive here is pretty easy, almost about everyone has one. A permit to carry, on the other hand, is quite difficult to get. It requires approval of a head law enforcement official, many of whom deny them as a matter of policy.

    It would be great if it were only as difficult to buy and carry a firearm as it is to get a license to drive.

  5. Color me cycical, but my experience in criminal justice is absolute: criminals can get guns. I’m all for background checks, but it would be interesting to see the frequency with which the charge is “Felon in Possession” or a convicted felon commits a crime with a gun. Yoy can tally about reducing overall availability, but that’s just the, War on Drugs with ammo. Or prohibition.

    The answers are in the heart first.

  6. I just want to point out that the term “assault weapon” really has no meaning or category. It’s a catchall term for “guns that look scarier than other guns regardless of caliber or other details.” There are handguns, shotguns, and rifles, automatic firearms (which are already illegal for most people), semi-autos, etc. A semi-automatic .22–a lower caliber that allows one bullet to fire per trigger-squeeze without a manual reload–can look like a military weapon because of the styling. A higher caliber firearm can look less intimidating simply because it has more classic style–a wooden stock, a less obvious clip, etc.

  7. As most everyone has said, anyone can get a gun, most any kind, if they want one. I’m in favor of education to reduce accidents. Even in places that vigorously control firearms there are mass and random killings. In China, no one is allowed a gun yet a knife-wielding man killed 33 people. In the UK, 2 guys with machetes cut down a British soldier in a Main Street in broad daylight. I could go on.
    Here is a list of mass killings this century, https://www.raptureready.com/time/massmurder.html
    I looked it up because I was curious. Looks like there are a few reasons that are common, derangement and paranoia, ideology and grievance seem to cover them.

  8. While that is true in common parlance, in Canadian law it’s a term that refers to a specific list of firearms, primarily fully-automatic weapons and other specific tactical firearms. That’s the context in which I was using the term.

  9. We’ve got two documents here. One is a Firearms Acquisition Certificate (FAC) that permits the purchase of firearms and is relatively easy to get if one doesn’t have a criminal record. Most people who think they will want to purchase firearms get one asap, and so there’s no wait at point of purchase. Criminal conviction after the FAC is acquired can result in its cancellation, serving the same purpose as the background check and waiting period without having the actual delay at purchase time.

    The other is evidence of having taken safety training and it must be produced to get a hunting license or use a shooting range. It requires the completion of a course, and can be revoked if one is convicted of an activity which involves the unsafe handling or use of a gun.

    We are fairly strict on weapons transportation as well, but having cause to transport results in a typically automatic approval. Concealed carry is another matter, we have very strict requirements for that.

  10. There was this discussion when all those beautiful children and staff were killed in
    CT. Lots of talk, and no action to restrict or make it harder to get guns. I’m afraid this renewal about gun control will be the same way. Memories are short—-unfortunately.

  11. “It is a simple historical fact that we did not suffer these repeated mass killings earlier in the history of this country.”

    Are you sure about that?

    The deadliest school massacre happened in 1927. Four of the top ten deadliest shootings were after Columbine, which may indicate an increasing problem; but the others took place in 1949, 1966, 1984, 1986, and 1991.

    But of course anecdotes do not equal data. Looking at broader numbers, the simple truth is that violent crime is way down in America over recent decades. Gun crime is way down. Even some specific sub-categories that are constantly in the news–school-associated violent deaths, for instance–continue to trend downwards.

    I don’t trust us as a society to make sensible policy decisions when we are so ruled by bathos and media sensationalization that these statistics come as a surprise.

  12. My point was that, contrary to the implication of your statement, it already is tougher to get a firearm and carry one that it is to buy and drive an automobile for many of us. Doesn’t seem to have made much of a difference.

    “There’s no reason why there shouldn’t be an equivalent level of regulation on people who are accessing firearms as there is on people accessing automobiles.”

  13. Ah. I wasn’t aware Canada had defined them. In the US, it’s the term brought out any time someone wants to sound scary (my father’s a gunsmith, with enough knowledge about firearms that he has actually corrected museum displays that were improperly labeled, so proper firearm terminology was a big deal at our house). Calling automatic weapons assault weapons makes sense.

  14. Pagansister, Connecticut has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, so, that didn’t work. Since the school had a “gun-free zone” sign, the shooter knew he would be safe to do whatever. Maybe if the janitor or one teache had had a gun, the results would have been different.
    There is a study that shows that with no one but the shooter armed, 11 people are killed, with an armed bystander, the number of victims is 2, so maybe armed is better.
    I believe Rebecca is correct.

  15. Thank you for your response. Would it actually have saved lives if a person in the school in CT. had had a gun? We don’t know. Was that one study that came up with those numbers? I do agree that restrictions don’ t stop all the horror caused by folks who set out to kill, but if some of those laws have stopped one person from getting a gun, then to me that is worth it. Needless to say, education in gun use is also very important.

  16. Actually, studies show that the odds of getting caught are more important in deterring crime than a harsh penalty. If you think you can act without getting caught, the penalty is irrelevant.