Some Things to Ponder During the Great Gun Debate

This post is a reworking of some thoughts I recently posted on Facebook.

As the nation considers taking away (some or all) gun rights from the public, so as to make incidents like the Parkland, FL massacre less likely to happen in the future, I’d like to submit a question for public consideration:

At what cost are we willing to “do something”?  Are we willing to take measures that would otherwise–on any normal day–be considered a violation of sacred rights? 

Here’s what I’m getting at.

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Since firearms became generally available in the United States, women–for the first time in history–had the means to defend themselves with these instruments against violent and aggressive men, who were naturally larger and stronger than the women.  It changed our culture.  It didn’t make it perfect, mind you, but it made much better.  Many bad guys of this sort have been killed in this way, removing their evil menace from our society.  Meanwhile, many a brutal attack has been deterred by women with guns–either in the heat of the moment, or more generally, because bad guys know that many women do have guns, and will use them to defend themselves.

Just imagine the outcry, however, if Congress should announce tomorrow that women were no longer allowed to own or carry guns!  We’d immediately hear charges of Misogyny! and Discrimination!  And rightly so!  Indeed, a great many women are gun owners and enthusiasts.  If you doubt me, just read some of these articles that come up in a Google search for [women for guns].  And this site claims that a whopping 40% of NRA members  are women, so we’re not talking small numbers here.  (I’m not an NRA member, by the way.)  So, if we were to single out women, disallowing them to have and to carry guns, there’d be a huge blowback, to be sure.

And it doesn’t stop with just women.  For example, it was with guns that the Lakota and Cheyenne defended themselves successfully against Custer at Little Big Horn.  Among other weapons, they used state-of-the-art guns that were superior to those used by the US troops at the time.  But imagine if Congress were to announce tomorrow that the members of native tribes were no longer allowed to have guns.  Rather than Misogyny!, the cry would be Racism!   Congress has no right, we would be told, to disallow a class of people the right to defend themselves with modern instruments.  (And they’d be right.)

Indeed, other minorities have their gun rights supporters, too.  Consider, for example, the articles returned in my Google search for [blacks for guns].  Here’s a class of people who once had zero rights in those states (both North and South) where they were held as slaves–and while there are certainly still some inequities today, no one can reasonably deny that it’s a monumental change to go from slavery to gun ownership (even if it took a immorally-long time to get there).  Imagine, then, the uproar that would occur if Congress were to announce tomorrow that blacks were non longer allowed to own and to carry firearms.

And here’s a list of articles returned on a Google search for [gays for guns].  Should we expect any less outcry from gays over having their gun rights revoked than we should from blacks or natives or women?  Wouldn’t it be an equally-egregious violation of their rights?  Of course, it would!

The fact of the matter is that many classes of people have made effective use of “the great equalizer” (the gun) to defend themselves and their interests against violent attackers–whether those attackers were from their own class, or from some other.  Gun rights supporters include people of all skin colors, people of various sexual dispositions, young people, old people, people with families, people with small businesses, people protecting themselves, people protecting others, people assisting law enforcement officers, people protecting their property, and people protecting law and order in general.  Left-handed people, right-handed people, short, tall, fat, skinny, nice, mean, good-humored or bad-humored.  Single out any one of these groups and tell them that they’ll no longer be allowed to have guns, and you will feel the sting of backlash as they assert that you are a tyrant for infringing on their rights.

What is being proposed?

One of the more popular proposals in play since the Parkland shooting is to raise the legal age for purchasing a long gun (a rifle or shotgun) to 21, where it is currently 18 in some states.  (The Parkland shooting suspect is 19 years old, so to many, such a measure seems appropriate to keep 19-year-olds from using rifles to commit mass murders.)  But just what are we doing here?  Aren’t we singling out a single class, and disallowing them guns, just as I discussed above?  In this case, it’s not women or blacks or gays or natives, but young people who are being singled out.  How is this any different from singling out all blacks, had the shooter been black, or all women, had the shooter been a woman, or all gays, had the shooter been gay?  And, of course, should such a law be passed to discriminate against 18-20-year-olds, whatever shall we do when a 22-year-old with a rifle shows up to commit another massacre?  (More about this later.)

Another popular proposal is the ever-present idea of taking away guns from all non-law-enforcement citizens.  How does it make it any more fair, however, to violate the rights of all these various classes of people?  If I rob everybody in a train holdup, is that somehow more justifiable than if I were to rob only, say, the women or the gays aboard the train?  By what manner of chimerical logic could this be defended?  The more people I rob, the more egregious the crime.

How is it that denying the rights of a huge class of people is the proper way to avoid massacres in the future?  And where has it been proven that either of these particular proposed strategies would even be effective?  Just what are we willing to do here, in order to “just do something”?  Just how much are we preparing to gamble on a proposition that hasn’t even been demonstrated to be true?

“If it saves the life of just one child…”

One fairly popular argument is that the violation of the rights of so very many people is justified “if it saves the life of just one child” or “if it saves just one life.”  (See these articles returned on a Google search for [if it saves the life of just one child].)

Is this really true?  Is a policy automatically justifiable if it “saves just one life”?  If that were the case, the banning cars would certainly save at least one life.  (People sometimes die in car collisions.)  So would banning dogs.  (People are sometimes mauled to death by dogs.)  So would banning knives.  (People are sometimes killed with knives.)  So would banning abortions.  (People are sometimes killed by abortion.) And so would banning medicine.  (People are sometimes killed by medicine.)

Under this (poor) reasoning, therefore, all these bans would be justifiable.  But are those in favor of banning guns in favor of banning all causes of human death?  Well, I don’t know, but I can tell you that I have not yet met such a person in my 52 years.  Indeed, I’m quite sure that many of the “ban the guns” people I’ve met would vigorously defend against any attempt to ban cars or abortions or any of these other things that they consider to be their rights.

So, is gun control really about “saving just one life”?  Or is that just a thing to say when you’re playing to an emotionally-charged audience that’s not likely to think this one through?  Yes, I think that’s it.  It has to be it, because as it stands today, a great many lives (even children’s lives) are being saved each month because people do have and use guns to defend themselves against violent people.  How many children, then, are we willing to endanger in order to “save just one child’s life?”

Suppose that the authorities were to show up at your door to take away your child because another child needs an emergency heart transplant, and your child has been chosen as the donor.  Would you think this a fair arrangement?  Would you find it convincing when they apologized for the situation, saying, “I know this really sucks for you, but if it saves just one child’s life, it’s worth it!”

Of course, you wouldn’t.  Why should you have to pay the price for someone else’s benefit?

And so it goes with taking away the rights of all these varied people to keep and bear arms, in an attempt to “save just one child’s life.”  Look what an inordinate trade that is. What you’re doing is making a lot of people vulnerable to violent people, where, as of today, they could should them dead in justifiable self defense.

“Just DO something!”

I totally understand the urge after a tragedy like this to “just DO something!”  But are we not to be careful what we do?  Is it impossible that we could make a foolish decision in the matter?  Suppose, for example, that we were to ban all schools (the shooting happened in a school), so as to make it impossible to replicate this crime.  Or suppose that we we were to ban Uber (the shooter took an Uber car to the scene) to make it impossible to replicate these crimes?  Wouldn’t those two “solutions” be rather stupid and counterproductive?  Sure, they would.  But they’d be “doing something,” wouldn’t they?

It’s just really not that hard to see that “doing something” is not in itself an adequate answer to our problems.  We had better be careful what we do.  It will have consequences.

Are we up to the task of solving this one?

So, our society, which is not really accustomed to giving careful thought to our ways, is prompted by this Parkland incident to consider that something ought to be done.

Great. I get that.

But let’s do something easy, right? (I’m being sarcastic here.)  No need to figure out the actual cause of such massacres, right? No, let’s just slap a Band-Aid on it, and pretend that we’ve done enough–until the next tragedy comes along.

For example, this 19-year-old shooter who had legally bought his own rifle, could not have legally done so had the legal age been 21, so let’s raise the age. Easy, right? Sure it is, and then when some 22-year-old shooter commits mass murder with a gun later, we can debate raising the age to 25 because that’ll be easy, too.  It’ll be our new policy–as in the Geico commercials that say, “It’s what you do.” 

But will we apply such policies to all such problems?  For example, when some 22 year-old decides to plow a car into a crowded sidewalk, killing just s many people, are we really going to do something of this sort about that?  Probably not.  We wouldn’t disallow driving–or sidewalks–or walking on sidewalks in the case of a mass murder via automobile, because, for some reason, we’re much more willing to write such cases off as anomalies that are not worth changing the whole culture over.

Now, why is that? Isn’t there some sort of bias in play when it comes to those particular deaths that are committed with guns? Of course, there is.  When guns are involved, some of us take off our normal, every-day “thinking caps” and put on special caps for a special kind of thinking we wouldn’t dream of using in day-to-day matters.

Only the woefully-ignorant or the insane would believe that the gun itself is the actual cause of the massacre. That is, that owning the rifle itself is the one factor that caused this kid to commit murders. If that were true—that a gun can cause a person to become criminally insane—then we’d have millions of massacres each year, because there are millions of gun owners who would be under the corrupting influence of the guns they own.  (If you want to see how many people believe that guns cause crime, see these Google search returns:  [“guns cause crime”] and [“guns cause murder”].)

Whatever we do, however—and I’m speaking sarcastically again—let’s not get into why this particular kid did it, because that would be too hard a topic. That would cause us to face the fact that 30 years ago, a dozen or more trucks in the school parking lot had shotguns and rifles hanging in their rear windows—loaded, even—and the doors were left unlocked at school—-and a great many thousands of school days came and went without anybody going nuts and murdering their classmates. In fact, in those days, had there been an active shooter in the schools, most of those boys would have run to their trucks to get their guns in order to put the shooter down.

But let’s not figure out what is causing this tiny, tiny fraction of boys in these last two decades to commit such atrocities, because that’s just too much work. Let’s not look at violent influences. Let’s not look at poor parenting. Let’s not look at the continual lowering of the bar when it comes to teaching character and virtue in the schools. Let’s not look at the growing hands-off policies, such has how the kid who punches the bully in the nose gets punished more severely than does the bully who started the whole thing—and how everyone’s afraid of being harassed or even sued by the parents of bullies. Let’s not look at how violent behavior can be protected behind the facade of “racism” (because the violent kid has this or that skin color, and we all know that any criticism leveled against anybody with that skin color simply must be an outcropping of racism, right? I mean, nobody of this or that particular skin color could be violent, and in need of being punished or removed, right?)

The fact of the matter is that many things have broken down in the case of a boy who would do such a thing as this.

Banisters, Handrails, and Cliffs

Here’s a (not-so-great) picture I recently took, showing some boys standing at a banister.  Why don’t these boys jump over?  Why don’t they accidentally fall over?  In fact, when was the last time you saw anybody fall over a handrail or banister?  In your experience, isn’t this an exceedingly rare event? 

Yes, it is.  There’s something about normal humans that makes it pretty easy to keep themselves from go over banisters, handrails, and cliffs.  Whether it’s fear of pain or death, or some other motivator, they prove quite capable of keeping themselves from crossing the line, so to speak.  So, why is that?  By what miracle can billion and billions of people each year keep themselves from falling over rails and stepping off cliffs?  I submit that this is a standard human capability—just as is the capability of keeping oneself from committing mass murder.  Kids who commit mass murder are the exception, and not the rule.  Even in the case of natural cliffs that have no handrails, most people have no problem self-regulating.  That is, in deciding for themselves how close is too close to get to the edge.  And so it is with murder.  Even those who might have a thought of murder pass through their minds are plenty well-enough in control of themselves not to act on it.

What is it, then, about this very small group of boys who have committed mass murder in schools these last couple of decades?  This has not been going on for as long as there have been guns?  (And that’s another proof that the guns themselves are not the cause of the crimes.)  Are these “normal” boys?  Has the “standard model” boy in the United States somehow changed such that they are all now predisposed to mass murder?

I don’t think so.  These murderous kids (and I’m assuming for this point that they are all guilty as charged, even though I have not examined the evidence against them to make a judgment myself) are the exceptions, and not the rule.  But what has changed is that such exceptions seem more likely than before.  Let me explain.

What should we expect?

In an increasingly dehumanizing culture—where kids at school become more and more like cattle in a cattle chute—just commodities to be managed—not real persons, but liabilities—not to be interacted with on the personal level, but only en masse—not to be personally trained and corrected as needed, but to be sent off to school, where the expectation is that he or she will get everything he or she needs to be a “productive member of society”—and lastly, where if we cared one iota to look at the actual outcome of this way of thinking about our kids, we’d see that each decade of this practice cranks out kids that are less mature than the decade before——in a culture like this, you’ve just got to expect that some percentage of those kids are going to sail right through the widening cracks, and turn out to be murderers.

The pendulum has swung too far on too many issues—and there are several causes behind it. Here are a few that should be considered (in no particular order):

  1. In the rush to de-religionize the schools, we have made the foolish mistake of assuming that character and virtue are matters of religion, and not of general civic interest. So, we don’t teach such things at school any more. Instead, we put kids in a situation where the bulk of their social life is conducted in a system that pays practically zero attention to such matters. The standards of behavior that are enforced have more and more to do with keeping order in the schools, and less and less to do with why order might just be a good thing.
  2. In an increasingly litigious society, school officials are afraid to tell it like it is for fear of being sued. If you’re wondering what happened to moral courage, see #1 above. (Remember, today’s administrators were yesterday’s students.)
  3. The defensive punch in the nose that previously cured a great many bullies is now forbidden, and is grounds for expulsion in too many school systems. They are now taught that it’s the school’s business to deal with the bully, and not the victim’s business. But now that the schools are in charge of that, we get to see just how incompetent they are to handle it—particularly in a system characterized by points #1 and #2 above.
  4. In this age of the video screen, there are myriad influences that simply did not exist 30 years ago. There are many more ways to go astray today than before. Many more things for the loner–the maladjusted kid—to get into while letting his bad thoughts fester. He’s not out riding bikes with his friends, and suffering the shunning that naturally comes when he treats them wrong, so he’s not learning these valuable life lessons early–when they can do the most good.
  5. In this poor economy where inflation steals value from the dollars one has already earned and put into his pocket, there is less and less time for family—-which used to be a much bigger influence on child development than it is now. Practically every family today has 100% of the parents working full time. Money is very needful, but money is not the only thing a kid needs to grow into a mature adult. And whatever time the hard-working parents do have to spend with the kids is being competed for by the video screens with which the parents themselves have now grown up. See #4.
  6. In religion (and in Christianity in particular), there is a broadening movement in which it is argued that what really counts the most are things like grace and forgiveness and patience, while things like responsibility, maturation, reliability, and character are grossly de-emphasized. This is now more prevalent than before, and surely, it is not without its widespread societal influence.

Now, #6 brings me back to this idea that the pendulum has now swung too far, for a great many people have found themselves unwilling to treat this Parkland incident with “things like grace and forgiveness and patience”, and are more inclined to “do something” in hopes of avoiding any such event in the future. Does this mean, however, that we’re finally ready as a society to tackle things like 1-6 above? Hardly. That’s much too hard for us; we have no intention whatsoever of giving careful consideration to the question, “what kind of people are we?”

No, it’ll be much easier just to pass a new law—even though we already have plenty of laws against murder. Whenever we’ve finished whatever we’re going to “do about” the Parkland shooting, we will congratulate ourselves that we have won a “victory”. Then we’ll forget all about it, until the next atrocity—because that’s what kind of people we are.

On the whole—when you consider all of us together in some sort of “average” way of looking at things—we are an increasingly sorry nation, caring less and less about honesty, rationality, and responsibility with each generation. Even those of us who think that we personally are not “part of the problem” quite often are. Surely, the millions on the “just do something” bandwagon don’t think that whatever measures they will end up supporting could possibly be adding to our woes and avoiding dealing with our real problems—but that’s exactly what is happening. And that’s what almost always happens–because that’s what kind of people we are.

Now, if you personally are not that kind of person, then how about working on some solutions for the more fundamental problems (such as 1-6 above), rather than hacking away at the leaves of evil while its root lies unchallenged? Our lame and wayward concept of citizenship is what prompted me to write my recent novel.

The fact of the matter is that there is much that can be done that actually addresses fundamental issues. But as it is, few of us are accustomed to thinking in this expansive and analytical fashion, and are much more apt to end up being suckers aboard the “just do something” bandwagon.

Jack Pelham is the author of The Extraordinary Visit of Benjamin True:  The State of the Union as no one else would tell it, and the founder of the Society for Reality-Based Thinking (WebsiteFacebook.)


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