Saturday, December 22, 2012

Thoughts on Guns

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The debate about gun control has been raging on Facebook, and I've written a lot of my ideas out there, but I want to pull them all together in one cohesive essay. That way when the gun control threads start, I can just link back here and save myself a lot of time. Who knows, maybe someone with some power to implement these ideas will do something with them?

It seems like there are four kinds of people who are pro-guns.

1) There are hunters. I honestly don't have a problem with hunting, as long as you eat what you kill. I think that's more honest, in many ways, than buying meat at the grocery store (which is an artificially sanitary way of eating flesh that makes it easy to forget that the flesh used to be alive). I know a lot of families rely on the meat that they obtain through hunting. These people shouldn't worry that anyone is trying to take away their guns. Except maybe PETA. They'd probably take away your guns, and your furs, and your leather jacket, and your cheeseburger... I like cheeseburgers.

2) Then there are the Evangelical Constitutionalists, who seem to think that God himself came down from on high and wrote the Bill of Rights, and that the 2nd amendment is the be-all-end-all of rights. They tend to forget that there is a process for amending the Constitution because the Founding Fathers knew that they weren't God, and that the world would change. Let's all think for a moment about the 18th amendment (prohibition of alcohol) and the 21st amendment that repealed it. The Constitution is meant to be a living document. Anyone who thinks that the Founding Fathers could have imagined that semi-automatic weapons would be cheap and easily available at Walmart 24 hours a day is crazy. These are people who had muskets, not machine guns. As far as I'm concerned, you have the right to bear muskets (see above re: hunting) and anything beyond that is up for debate.

3) There are the self-defense gun owners, who honestly believe that their gun makes them safer from crime. I'll swing back around to them later when I talk about the true risks of gun ownership according to research.

4) The fourth group is the group that thinks that it's their responsibility to have guns so that they can either overthrow the American government or so that they can fight off invading armies. They'll say things like, "I'll bet the Native Americans wish they'd had guns..." (No, the Native Americans had guns.  They wish they'd been immune to Small Pox, but anyway...).  They tend to forget two things.  a) there are two large oceans on either side of the U.S. that have protected us from land-based invasions for 200 years, and b) any organization large enough to attempt to invade the U.S., including the U.S. military itself, has weapons, like Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles and nukes, that are completely immune to your guns.

The reality is that Pandora has opened the box.  Like it or not, the U.S. population is armed, and if we outlaw guns (forcing people to turn them in at the police station or something) it is true that the criminals will keep their guns.  I've thought about a "cash for clunkers" style program to buy back guns, but that probably would just make the NRA folks insane.  Just like there has been an uptick in gun sales since Sandy Hook, because the pro-gun contingent thinks that the anti-gun contingent is going to take guns away, if any sort of a buyback program were to happen, it would increase weapons stockpiling.

It does no good to imagine a world where guns don't exist, or to imagine a world where everyone is armed everywhere at all times, because both of those scenarios are impossible.

So what CAN we do to make our society safer?

Well, that's when I started thinking about other things that kill people.  I started thinking about cigarettes.  I started thinking about drunk driving.  How have we reduced the number of deaths from those killers over my lifetime?  We've done it with public safety campaigns.

Let's spend some time, money, and effort on educating people about the following:

1) Gun safety.  How to safely handle and store guns.

2) Teaching children what to do if they find a gun accidentally (run, tell).

3) The true risks of having firearms in the home. (In a nutshell, you and your children are more likely to die a violent death if you have a gun.  Research proves this.  It is not arguable.)

4) Suicide education and prevention.  Mental health initiatives.  Increased public awareness of the nation's Crisis Hotline System.  Increased publication of resources for those who are suffering from mental illness, and where they can get sliding-scale fee help.

That's step one.  Now step two is a little more complex, and it's going to piss people off, but we need to get semi-automatic and automatic weapons out of the hands of private citizens.  There is no legitimate use for those sorts of weapons that can't be fulfilled by non-automatic weapons.  The argument about invading armies is invalid.  I would support a buyback program for these weapons - to get them out of the hands of citizens and into the hands of the military and the police.  True, criminals won't turn them in, but can't we stop the manufacture of ammunition for this sort of weapon, or stop the sale of it to anyone other than military and police?  I honestly don't know enough about the different sorts of bullets to know if this is feasible - I'm asking.

Step three is legislative.  We need to make laws about how weapons are stored, and we need to enforce them.  This isn't going to be easy - but if someone commits a crime with my gun, and it can be proven that I didn't have it properly stored and secured, I should be liable.  I should be punished.  We also need to make the penalties for crimes committed with automatic weapons (whether they're fired or simply brandished) extremely severe.  Basically, if someone robs a bank with a machine gun in his hand, I want him put away for life, whether he kills someone or not.  Maybe then the criminals will think twice about having them.  Maybe not, but it's better than doing nothing.

We need to close the purchasing loopholes that exist - gun shows being just one example.  People should have to have a clean criminal background in order to buy a gun, and there needs to be a waiting period - nationwide.  And there needs to exist some kind of fingerprinting technology, so that if you commit a crime with a gun that I purchased, I can be held responsible, too.

Finally, I think we need to focus on the message that guns don't truly make you safer.  All the research shows that a gun in the home is much more likely to kill you and your kids than it is to kill an intruder.  It is a false sense of security.  There is proof of this in research, and we need to publicize the hell out of that research in a way that people will 1) understand, and 2) trust.

One more thing...  The reason that the 26 deaths at Sandy Hook horrify us, but the hundreds of deaths that have happened in the intervening week barely register with most people is because it is our nature to "otherize" the victims of gun violence.  We read a news article about someone getting shot, and we unconsciously and automatically start looking for the differences between that person and ourselves.  "He lived in a dangerous neighborhood. I don't."  "She hung out with criminals. I don't."  "He isn't like me.  She isn't like me."  It's how we cope with living in an inherently dangerous world.  It's the thousands of little lies we tell ourselves every day, so that we can function and not be terrified of all the risks we face in our day-to-day lives.  40,000 people a year die in car accidents in the U.S., but who thinks about that when they drive to work?

With Sandy Hook, though, we can't "otherize" those deaths.  They were just kids, just like our kids, who went to school.  They were just teachers.  We all know teachers.  We all care about at least one teacher.  We can't just make them into an "other" because they were just like us - just going about their everyday life, and they were killed in a way that they had almost no control over.  (Why do we retell the stories of the teachers who saved their kids by locking them into a bathroom or a closet?  They comfort us - they give us a way of thinking that if something like that happened to us or our kids, we, too, might cleverly avoid being murdered.)

In the coming weeks, it will be important to not revert back to the habit of "otherizing" gun violence again.  We have to remind ourselves and each other that any one of us could be shot and killed - at work, at school, at the mall, at the movie theater, in our own homes.  And if we want to be safer from guns, we need to start educating people - just like we have with smoking and second hand smoke, just like we have with drunk driving.  Sure, just as there will still be people who smoke and there will still be people who drive drunk, there will always be people who die from gun violence in the U.S.  But maybe with careful initiatives we can bring that number down.

Thanks for reading.  I look forward to hearing your ideas.  Let's try to keep it civil and reasonable.

1 comment:

morganna said...

This is really well-written and says just what I want to say. Is it okay if I share on my Twitter & Facebook?