The tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, naturally re-activated the “discussion” of guns and gun control in the blogsphere. As with reproductive rights and gay rights, it’s not really a discussion so much as two sides throwing comments (or worse) at each other.
At least they aren’t throwing bullets (yet?); I guess that’s something.
Full disclosure before I continue. I own a couple of handguns. I haven’t been to the gun range or fired those guns in years. I like to explore the world, and part of that was a period where I “got into” guns and hand gun sports (target shooting and IPSC). I don’t hunt (too much work; gutting a deer isn’t my idea of fun), and I don’t conceive of my guns as being for self-defense. (At least not right now. If the world should become a much scarier, dystopic place, that could change.) I don’t think I could be considered a “gun nut,” and I can see good points on both sides of the issue.
And that’s what this post is about. My take, written to interweb stone, on the gun issue. I’m not under the illusion this will mean anything; it’s just my view and vote on things. Those who already agree will continue to agree; those who don’t won’t.
I learned long ago the futility of discussing social hot topics, so I’ve tried to avoid entering the fray. Blog posts about gun control tend to generate long comment threads containing the same retreads. But I did stumble into two discussions, and I’m actually glad I did.
One, a comment to the post The Body Count, on Roger Ebert’s Journal, amongst 700+ comments there, hit a very large nail with me, “Why is EVERYTHING in this country 50/50?” (It’s the 20th comment down if my count is right.)
The comment was in response to statistics showing the near 50/50 split in this country regarding opinions on guns (and, by extension, so many other issues). I think it targets a real difficulty about public policy in this country: there is no single “will” of the people. We are as divided in our views as any society can be. It’s a source of strength (diversity), which of course also makes it a source of weakness (indecision). Fundamentally different world views make this a seemingly unsolvable Gordian (not to be confused with Gourdians).
As I mentioned above, it’s pointless to make points… one ends up preaching to the choir or tossing pearls on deaf ears (pardon the triple-mixed meta). And per the quoted comment, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see a consensus. Still, the ‘web is all about making points, so here’s a few from me. They won’t matter worth a Tinker’s damn.
Firstly, with regard to the idea of controlling guns, consider the “success” of the “drug war” (leaving aside the idiocy of a “war” on some social issue). It’s pretty clear that this war is lost, and was lost, from the beginning. Drugs flow into this country at a huge, unstoppable rate. They are easy to get for anyone with an interest. In some cases they are grown or manufactured locally, and this, too, has proven impossible to eradicate.
The way I see it, it’s even harder to control guns than drugs. Guns have legitimate purposes (hunting, police, military, security) so will always be manufactured (unlike many drugs which have no legit purpose and could, in theory, be interdicted at the source). Also, drugs are distinct organics, and (again, theoretically) could be detectable via science. Something like an MRI machine could detect specific organic molecules. But gun parts, just bits of metal and plastic, are indistinguishable from sewing machine parts, so good luck blocking their illegal import.
Secondly, even if we decided that police and armies can do without guns, and we did end the manufacture of all guns, the problem remains (and actually becomes worse). Guns are easy to make. Trivially easy. So is gunpowder (even Capt. Kirk did it). All you really need is a tube, blocked at one end. (On Mythbusters they once made a cannon out of duct tape!)
[Scary thought for the day: we lock criminals up in places where they often learn metal shop skills and learn from each other. A lathe, a metal rod, a gun!]
So, bottom line, you can’t control them. All you can do is take them away from law-abiding people who aren’t the problem at all. You can make them as illegal to possess as you like, but criminals—pretty much by definition—ignore the laws. That the criminal had no legal right to the gun that killed a loved one is scant comfort after the fact.
Third point. A common anti-gun argument has the form, “Why does anyone need X?!” Where “X” is usually the dreaded “assault weapon” but is sometimes “lots of guns” or some other aspect of gun ownership that alarms people. I think this is a false argument. It’s not about need. The only thing anyone needs is food, water and shelter. The rest is stuff we want or enjoy. The question then is: In a free country, where do you draw the line between personal freedom and public safety?
And that’s not an easy question to answer due to those different world views. Some want the world to be as safe as possible, sometimes even when that safety is nothing but an illusion (airport security springs to mind here). Others feel that’s a losing, impossible, pointless task. (Put me in the latter category.)
The simple truth is that gun collectors and gun hobbyists aren’t the problem. Even the “gun nuts” aren’t really the problem (nearly all of them are as harmless as “Star Trek nuts” if, perhaps, a bit scarier (but have you been to a Star Trek convention?)). It’s the honest-to-gosh insane nuts that are the problem. A very good question here is: Does the availability of guns make it easier for these insane people, who intend to kill, to kill more people. The answer is almost certainly: Yes!
But in a world where over 150,000 people die every day, and where traffic accidents and heart attacks kill many orders of magnitude more people than gun incidents (even five-gallon buckets have a surprisingly high kill rate, and they kill infants), such incidents—as horrific as they are—are just statistical blips. They are outliers, and cannot, must not, be used to form public policy.
It’s a bit like airplane crashes. They are horrifying, if extremely rare, events, and the headlines scream about any crash. But the fact remains that your air trip is vastly more safe than your drive to or from the airport. Part of the reason for that is that the people involved are highly trained, and nearly all aspects are controlled by strict regulations. Every person I know who is “into” guns is fine with requiring training and nearly all are okay with some forms of restriction.
Point four. Another common target of the gun “discussion” is the Second Amendment. The usual argument is that simple guns, such that citizens can own, would be useless fighting the American military, should things come to that. But consider what happened in Viet Nam and Afghanistan. In both cases a severely under-armed society of very determined fighters made mince meat of advanced mechanized armies (and not just us; the Russians got their asses kicked in Afghanistan, and they were way more ruthless about retaliation than we).
Or consider Iraq and IEDs. Consider that the most horrific violent attack against innocents on American soil… was (allegedly) accomplished with box cutters, not bullets. Or that another horrific chapter in our history was accomplished with fertilizer and diesel fuel.
And, oddly, if you really buy into what the Second Amendment is about (that citizens should be able to take down the government if needed), then it’s a weird argument in favor of citizen ownership of the “Scary Weapons.” (So, where’s my tank? If not a tank, can I have a bazooka? I would really like a bazooka! Mostly because I just really like the word, bazooka!)
So, if we can’t control them or ban them or end them, where does that leave us?
You have to somehow try to solve society, and that’s even harder than solving “the gun problem.” American society is, perhaps, one of the most complex and dynamic on the planet. This, by the way, makes the usual comparisons to gun control in the UK or Australia, or comparisons of gun ownership in Switzerland utterly unsuccessful to my mind. We’re a whole different ball of wax floating in a whole different kettle of fish (got the Meta-Mixer on puree today).
As always, at least to my eye, the only possible, no doubt partial, solution to any social issue is education. We have got to fix our severely broken education system. The sheer ignorance of most Americans is at the heart of the decay of this country (and make no mistake, we’re no longer #1 in lots of areas, and we deeply deserve our demotion).
People often resist being educated, and we’ve listened to that resistance and slacked off. We’ve allowed people to maintain their ignorance. That needs to stop. Teachers need to be some of the most revered people in our society (how is it that those who form our childrens’ minds are not?). I’m sorry, but most of you really need to have an education pounded into you, since you apparently haven’t have the sense to go and get one.
Which brings me to my last point. I mentioned stumbling into two blog posts that interested me. One was Roger Ebert’s, and it was really that one comment that stuck out (to be honest, much as I love the guy, have read him for decades, his posts in his areas of ignorance often seem very off-target to me). Most of the rest (of the comments) were what you’d expect, although one thing about Ebert’s blog: the level of discourse is very high. It’s a refreshing read.
The other was by an author here on WordPress. She had just been “Freshly Pressed,” which is how I stumbled on her blog. In fact, the Freshly Pressed post was about grammar (a topic for another day), but later she posted one regarding gun control. What really stuck out was the intelligence, perception and self-awareness of this young 20-something (from Kansas no less, a state oft associated with, shall we say, an odd perspective on education).
It’s good to know that some young people are this much “on the ball.” It gives us old farts hope that the world won’t completely turn to shit in the future. Maybe, just maybe, the future of Idiocracy (a funny and scary movie) can be avoided.