Wednesday, December 19, 2012

On The Mass Denial of Mass Shootings: The Sandy Hook Question

Two days after the Sandy Hook Shooting, the very large, conservative and politically influential gun lobby, the National Rifle Association (NRA), had this to say about the latest and particularly gruesome school shooting in Newton, Connecticut: “No Comment.”

I thought this response was sort of refreshing at first. Maybe like most of Americans today they, too, are so dumbstruck by this mass shooting that a call for profoundly new strategies for dealing with violence in America seems beyond urgent, a subject that should now be front and center in the national debate. Isn’t this time for meaningful reflection and re-assessment of some of our most basic beliefs? Isn’t this a natural reaction when another angry, young, suburban white male lays carnage to an unsuspecting school with the aid of any legal pistol, rifle or machine gun laying around the house? Has the NRA paused to rethink their position that America needs more guns?

Not in this universe. Under the auspice that it would be disrespectful to “politicize” the incident so soon after the tragedy, the NRA took a few days off and then simply re-branded their same old tired argument, which goes something like this:
   The problem isn’t guns, the problem is violence (“guns don’t kill people, people kill people”).

Yes…but they use guns! When the NRA frames the national debate toward the problem of overall violence in America, the question that gets framed out of that discussion is the most central: How are guns helping? Ironically, the same group of conservative-thinking people who argue for a larger government role in controlling terrorists and women’s bodies – all for the sake of protecting innocent life – suddenly feel their own personal liberty (the right to shoot a gun) is worth more than the lives of now hundreds of innocent schoolchildren, and the lives of those children yet to be gunned down. To talk about gun control legislation is quite simply off the table for these people, and of course for the NRA, whose mission is to put more guns in the hands of more Americans. These people believe that this is the most important thing we should be doing right now, in the name of “freedom”.
   The problem isn’t guns, the problem is crazy people (and an emerging culture of entitled, liberal, irresponsible and godless strangers who now live among us regular folk).

Yes…but they use guns! Once again, by framing the national debate toward mental illness and a sick and non-traditional America, the more obviously urgent discussion is lost: How are guns helping? If all you can think about when you think about the uniquely violent United States of America is how to find the crazies before they kill, then you’ve missed the point. Of course, there will always be crazy people. But there are lots of ways to be crazy, right? Why do crazy people in this country use guns and go on killing sprees in our schools and movie theatres? Where do these ideas enter the twisted mind? Is it possible that some kind of artificial distinction between our genes and our culture make us believe that these crazy people have not been shaped by the social environment in which they were raised – in a culture that glorifies violence and fame – and one in which guns and bullets are freely available at the nearest Dick’s Sporting Goods?  Instead of reflecting on this more central issue, we get Bill O’Reilly from Fox News telling us that “some kids are just born evil”, and, of course, that a rising tide of liberal, morally dead, atheist, un-American hippies and foreigners are responsible for the imminent destruction of his beloved “traditional America,” an America that never existed.
   Obama-loving socialists are just using the tragedy to advance their socialist agenda, which includes taking away our God-given right to own assault weapons.
bull·shit (definition)
Noun.  Vulgar. Stupid or untrue talk or writing; nonsense
Verb.  Talk nonsense to (someone), typically to be misleading or deceptive.

Again, by deflecting from the more central question related to actually reducing this most uniquely American form of violence (mowing down people in public spaces with automatic and semi-automatic military-grade weaponry), we find ourselves debating whether or not we are heading into an era of communism which, don’t forget, is THE key problem facing this country. Another narrative brought into your home by Fox News, and sponsored by the NRA.

Meanwhile, another angry suburban male is stockpiling Glocks he bought down at the gun show, planning the next national massacre.

By the way, am I the only one who has noticed that these mass shooters are always young, white, suburban males? If these mass killers were black, you can be sure we’d be talking about the “black problem!” True, there is the equivalent of a Columbine every day in this country, committed disproportionately by young black males in our cities, but we seem unwilling to accept the fact that the profile of the mass shooter is the profile of a typical teen boy in suburbia. Is this not relevant? The media tells us we have a problem with violence, mental illness, video games, religiosity, Marilyn Manson, etc, etc.. In doing so, we are left with the impression that there is no profile to be found, that just anyone can do these things. But, in reality, it isn’t women or girls, atheists, gamers, crazy people (incidence of violence among the mentally ill is less than in the general population), or even most gun owners who engage in mass shootings – it is typically a young, white, suburban male with easy access to guns. Of course, most young men don’t go on killing sprees, and mental illness is, of course, also part of this profile, but like I said before, there’s a lot of ways to be crazy. Why a mass shooting with massive amounts of firearms? Here, again, the most important question arises:

How are guns helping?

To be clear, we do have a larger problem in this country with violence, a problem that cannot be solved simply by trying to get rid of all the guns lying around. We have to accept the fact that this is not possible, even if we wanted to do it. The government cannot control the quantity of guns in this country, no more than we can build a fence to stop people from jumping our borders. Where there is a will, there’s a way, right? There is merit to the argument that by taking guns out of the hands of law-abiding people, we put ourselves at greater risk to those who will find those same guns and point them directly at us. Exactly how we go about controlling guns in this country is a debate we should be having, but outside the politically misdirected context of creeping socialism or our God-given Constitutional rights. In much the same way that we almost instantaneously enacted the Patriot Act after 9-11, which gave the government sweeping powers to infiltrate our privacy, surveil our digital lives, and feel us up at the airport, or when we stopped kidding ourselves about second-hand smoke and banned smoking in public spaces, or when we banned fully automatic weapons from public sale because we didn’t think you really needed a machine gun to kill deer, or when we imposed limits on toxic and climate-changing emissions from our industries (oh, wait, we haven’t done that yet…), we should be talking about direct and practical ways to control the use of guns in this country. As someone raised in the rural Midwest, in a farming and hunting community, it is easy to see this as a slippery slope. I get it. Anyone who enjoys hunting as a total nature experience gets it. But isn’t this a right we should be willing to negotiate, for the sake of society as a whole?

Historically, Americans are also hyper-sensitive to a future where only outlaws have guns, where a citizen does not have the protected right to protect herself from the real dangers that lurk in our modern world, up to and including a threat from our own government. But does this right trump the life of a 1st grader in Connecticut who is about to get her face shot off by another disaffected teenage boy who was just grabbed the Glock from his mom’s bedroom? We should be willing to give up some of our ill-defined “freedoms” in this scenario.

On this particular subject – of banning military-grade assault weapons - the peculiar NRA-driven logic employed is based in the more general assertion that you can’t control violence by controlling guns, distinguishing method from motive. Would you outlaw cars to stop car accidents, they ask? This logic seems almost sound until you realize that cars are not guns. Cars have an important and useful purpose in society. The purpose of an assault rifle is to kill another person, preferably many. And just like we accept speeding laws to control people driving those cars, we should readily accept a national ban on assault weapons and a stronger strategy to control the crazies who can, if they wish, buy one legally at the nearest gun shop or mega gun show. If an alienated American male is intent on killing, why should we make it easier for them? I’m sure every kid at Columbine would agree that they would have rather been assaulted with a knife, taser gun, or deer rifle than a pile of semi-automatic and automatic weapons (and hundreds of rounds of ammo) purchased legally from the nearby WalMart.

How are these guns helping?  

Mindless gun advocates then morph these unfounded assumptions into a more dubious claim that we need more guns to protect ourselves from scary people who want to kill us. The narrative goes something like this:

The walls of our fortress communities have been breached by Godless, amoral and un-American forces that seek to destroy us. They are jealous of our success and they want to take our stuff, and our lives, out of spite. They are evil and you should be prepared to kill them if they dare set foot in your community (e.g. Treyvon Martin incident).

With a worldview like this guiding you, you might fail to see the obvious tautological reasoning that follows, which ultimately is this: MORE GUNS = LESS VIOLENCE. Because more people could protect themselves in these situations, the evil villains wouldn’t be able to kill as often, or as many. So, for instance, if teachers at Sandy Hook had been required to carry a concealed weapon, one of them may have been able to shoot the shooter.  Or so the logic goes.

The MORE GUNS = LESS VIOLENCE argument fails the test of logic and falls way short of the empirical evidence. If you examine the facts of gun violence in America, you learn that, overall, areas with the highest levels of gun ownership have the highest levels of gun homicide (contrary to false reports by conservative news media), and that accidents in the home of a gun owner and assaults by a family member living in these homes are the leading cause of homicides in these homes. In other words, if you are shot by someone in the U.S., it will most likely be someone you know – and they will use a gun they obtained from you, your neighbor, or your local gun dealer. Statistically speaking, and despite the disinformation campaign of “facts” sponsored by the NRA, the oft-cited home invasion by a stranger who is shot dead by a gun owner in self-defense, or the mass school shooter for that matter, is a relatively rare event compared to the more common ways people die from guns in this country.

In the case of mass shootings, the guns used are almost always purchased legally in a local store or taken from a home in which guns are stashed for the very purpose of defending against those evil “super predators”, who it turns out are some of their own children (just ask Adam Lanza’s gun-loving mother). In this way, the false logic creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. The guns that kill our children are the same guns we bought to protect them! After the Sandy Hook incident, how many well-intentioned parents ran out and bought a gun? How many of those parents will use that gun in a successful thwarting of some stranger in their homes or communities? How many of those guns will fall into the hands of those who would victimize the innocent, or harm someone they know intentionally or by accident? Unfortunately, we do know the answer to these questions, and it does not support the case for more guns in America.

The vacuous argument that MORE GUNS =LESS VIOLENCE just fails the smell test of empirical facts and defies overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Like trying to snuff out a fire by pouring gasoline on it, it’s just doesn’t work.

At the end of the day, if guns equaled less violence, then the U.S., with an estimated 300 million guns, would be the safest place on Earth. We are, in fact, the world’s leader in gun homicide when compared to other developed nations by a longshot.

The Sandy Hook tragedy reminds us, once again, that a national debate over gun control in the U.S. is long overdue. As others have said, talking about a national strategy to stop mass shootings in the early aftermath of such an unthinkable act like this one isn’t “too soon”. It is much too late. A national solution to crime and violence in America starts with the understanding that these phenomena are complex. Only a muti-faceted, comprehensive strategy for curbing gun-related crime and violence in America will have any shot at success. But one part of that larger strategy should be stronger regulation in gun ownership (such as prohibiting sales of guns to the mentally ill), banning assault weapons that serve no useful purpose in a civilized society, and better enforcement of gun laws that already exist. But no such strategy can even be conceived until we are brave enough to ask the most obvious question:

How are guns helping?

Kenneth H. Laundra, Ph.D.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Check out my disc golf course review page HERE with a recent review of the new disc golf course in Decatur, IL at Nelson Park.