Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Problem (as I see it)

I've been putting off talking about last week's shooting because I wanted to give myself time to wrap my head around it. It's pretty clear, if you spend any time at all on social media, that things have been sharply divided yet again. However, since I have a background as a scholar ( of those damned liberal intellectuals), I've devoted my time to presenting figures and fielding counter-figures.

Here's what I've learned:

  • Japan, the UK, and Australia have very rigid gun laws, and since enacting them have had no mass shootings.
  • Switzerland, Norway, and even Canada have fairly expansive and open gun regulations, and also have few to no mass shootings.
  • Take guns away and psychos will just find another method of murdering people en masse; like McVeigh did with his bomb...
  • ...except that McVeigh opted to use a bomb instead of a gun, when guns are readily available. And there's no evidence from countries (like the UK) where guns have been removed from private ownership that bombs will become the weapon of choice.
  • We're only talking about the industrialized world. I won't get into countries that are actively torn apart by civil war and/or (largely American led) invasion.
  • Bill Maher points out that defending hunters' rights is a bit silly, since in North America food is readily available in stores.
  • Hunting is important, because it helps cull herds and manage wildlife populations...
  • ...except a) wildlife populations do that on their own, and b) I've never heard a hunter declare, "Look! I shot the weakest, sickest deer in the herd!" They always -- always -- make a point of looking for the best breeding stock as their prize.
  • The NRA and its devotees continue to tow the line that guns don't kill people. They're inanimate, so it's not their fault (as if it's even possible to blame an inanimate object and hurt its feelings).
  • You can kill people with knives. Taking guns away won't stop murder. Then again, it's harder to run away from a bullet than a knife.
  • One side argues this is because they (meaning liberals, presumably) took prayer out of schools. The other side argues it's the wider "gun culture" (meaning conservatives, presumably) that's to blame.
Net result from my perspective as a relatively gun-indifferent Canadian outsider and liberal? Neither of these positions is correct. In fact, they're both WAY off the mark.

First, a fact. The Second Amendment, which is wielded like a carte blanche for any and all gun violence, states quite explicitly:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Very few in the "gun lobby" can quote this in its entirety, but it's important to what's at stake in the US. First: "a well regulated militia" does not mean free and unfettered access to firearms of all kinds. It means, "a militia that is well regulated." For what its worth, this was written in because the United States had no army at that time. Second: "security of a free state" does not mean in defense against the encroachment of liberty by one's own government. It means "against invasion by the guys we just ditched." Third: "the right of the people to keep and bear arms" simply means there is no class restriction on who can participate in the aforementioned militia. Switzerland has no standing army, and so its citizens are required to own and be trained in the use of firearms and come to call in the case of threats from foreign powers; i.e., a well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state.


My own take on the responsibility of owning firearms of various action and calibre: more control is necessary in terms of restricting who can access them. Gun control doesn't mean taking weapons away from qualified people. It means ensuring those who own them are actually qualified (read "not dangerously insane").

The list of reasons to own or not own a firearm is far too extensive for a blog post. But I will say that I've been discussing these issues in an open and honest conversation with a friend who is an avid gun collector and shooter. In fact, he hand-builds firearms himself, which is pretty cool. I personally have no use for a gun and see no purpose in hunting, therefore, I don't own one.

My friend and I resolved that it's impossible to look at precedents in other countries, because the impact of varying degrees of gun control has no set pattern of result. And we can't know the motivation of an occasional insane person either. On the surface it seems easy: if there are no guns at all, at least the sociopaths won't be able to use them.

So where does that leave the discussion? Nobody's right, gun control does or doesn't work, and mental health has yet to be worked in as a significant factor (it's curious that the Regan administration seems to have eliminated a lot of mental health programming while simultaneously espousing freer gun regulations...hmmm). Here's where we come to what I think is going on.

I'd hate to argue for censorship. But you see so much TV where people are devalued more and more; a culture where image is everything and relevant thought is actually frowned upon. A place where things are valued more than lives and celebrities worshiped more for what they can get away with than for what they can do. Disaster movies kill off millions as easily as they blow apart buildings, and the recent trend in the zombie genre even makes play cannibalism a source of amusement rather than revulsion.

I believe that the glorification and dehumanization of gun violence in entertainment creates a dissociative effect in the mind of the killer. They see the act frequently enough without consequence and internalize it as a rational possibility.

Life is losing its currency, and human lives aren't any more valuable. So it's easy to look for fame, relief or catharsis by making lives disposable in as dramatic and marketable a way as possible. Given the sensation and attention mass shooters get in the news, it's not surprising that this could be an attractive outlet for a disturbed individual.

It's not about the Ten Commandments in school. Our culture as a whole has to stop treating violence as an end in itself, and start giving a shit about meaningful living again. Stop humiliating ourselves for a hundred bucks just to get on TV, and focus back on the value of human life.

That means the only way to fix it without censorship is to instill critical thinking in our kids. If they have an aesthetic and can tell good from bad entertainment they'll find better things to do. And with no audience the media will have to change its message. It will have to stop promoting the escapades of mass murderers, each of whom tries to outdo the last in both carnage and shock value, and start providing value once again in the form of entertainment and stimulation.


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