Regarding Guns, Part 2

There are some who, understandably, wish that in the wake of yesterday’s tragedy more people had taken “at least a day” before launching in on any of a variety of agendas. I apologize if what I wrote seemed insensitive or too political, and I acknowledge the sentiments of those who wanted just a little reprieve.

I suppose it’s fair to say I never considered what I said to be pushing an agenda. It was predominately an anti-gun message, but I have never considered myself to be anti-gun; that is to say, I have never paid much thought to the issue at all, and as a registered libertarian it’s uncommon for me to desire government regulation in general.

As such, I did want to clarify a few questions that have come up, and raise a couple thoughts which didn’t quite fit into my remarks yesterday but are still relevant.

First, under no uncertain terms do I place blame for yesterday’s tragedy on gun companies or gun legislation. The only one truly responsible is the shooter.

The question, the uncertainty, comes in when we ask what allows a rational, together human being to commit an atrocity of this magnitude, and the answer is found in the way that question is loaded: nothing. No rational, together person could do such a thing. And that points us to the fact that perpetrators of such violence aren’t rational. They are mentally unstable individuals who either don’t understand that what they are doing is wrong, or understand but lack the ability to care. Sociopaths don’t care about pain because they don’t feel it in the same way your or I do. A crucial portion of the cost/benefit analysis simply isn’t there.

I do not know this particular shooter’s mental or behavioral history. But I find it incredibly unlikely that he was a well-adjusted, friendly member of society. There were almost definitely warning signs — not of specific intent, mind you, but that he wasn’t “normal” — which, had they been caught and identified, might have been treated or watched with enough care as to ensure he never had opportunity to do what he did.

I don’t want to play Monday morning quarterback here. As these signs (nigh) inevitably are remembered, we must recognize as always that hindsight affords a perspective with which few are gifted prior to such tragedy. That doesn’t tell me that incidents like yesterday’s are unpreventable; it tells me that we, as a society, need to be more diligent in understanding mental illness, identifying it, and treating it. The signs are there, but we don’t recognize them; these people are speaking to us, but we don’t know their language.

This is important, because we like to talk about personal responsibility but we don’t always think it through. A baby is responsible for crying insomuch as no one else is crying for her; but she does not understand annoyance, sleep-deprivation, or any of the other things she inflicts on those around her through her crying and as such is not “responsible” in the way we tend to use the word.

In the case of a true sociopath, we must consider what it is like to be emotionally immune, to know right and wrong, love and hate merely as textbook terms rather than tangible realities. They are responsible for their actions only in the most literal of ways (in that no one else acted for them), but no further. If a sociopath feels no conscience, he does not act according to one, and we can’t expect him to understand the reality of what he has done.

I focused yesterday’s post on guns because I still believe what I emboldened: the event would not have been possible if we had stricter gun laws. I want to clarify that statement because some of you have misunderstood it. This is what I did not say:

Shootings are impossible if we ban guns. I did not say that, because it isn’t true. There will always be guns, and people who really want them will find ways of getting them. We can never truly disarm the entire population of this country (let alone the world). The most we could hope for is to truly disarm all law-abiding citizens, which would ensure a nation in which any armed criminal had full confidence of successful violence. Which brings me to the next thing I did not say:

We should ban guns. I did not say that. I said “stricter” gun laws. Over the course of the post I made a case for the need for some rifles. I also noted that self defense as a justification for private ownership is nuanced and requires a great deal more research on efficacy before it can either be ruled in or out as viable. This doesn’t merely apply to the misuse of privately owned weapons to commit crimes; it must also entail the number of accidents involving privately-owned guns harming either their owner or a loved one of that owner.

As I explained to several friends afterwards, I am not against the concept of private gun ownership in principle. I have personally considered getting a handgun in the future. On the other hand, I have also considered getting a cat in the future. And between the two, if the government outlawed both I’d be far more upset about the latter.

What I meant to imply in my statement, but did not explicitly say, was that the speed and efficacy of yesterday’s crime was enabled primarily by the gunman’s legal access to an assault weapon, an item for which (as I believe I established) there is no valid reason for a citizen to possess. If, as I believe to be the case, the number and volume of gun-related tragedies could be lessened significantly by the removal of those weapons from the public’s hands, that good outweighs the negative of the government dictating what property its constituents are allowed to enjoy safely in their own home.

There are of course limits, and it’s a slippery slope. My position allows for gun ownership to a point, but argues that the current point is too inclusive. I don’t know or propose to know what the safest gun ownership arrangement would be; I merely know that this is not it, because there are plenty of places with stricter regulations that have far lower gun-related death tolls than we do despite much larger populations. On the other hand, as with the country’s experiment with prohibition, outright banning potentially harmful luxuries that a decent segment of the population doesn’t want banned will almost definitely result in a burgeoning criminal underground.

That comes with a caveat: guns are not alcohol or drugs. Guns are not grown in one’s back yard or created in a bathtub in one’s basement. They are expensive and difficult to build privately and effectively. While particularly tenacious or well-off criminals will find their way to black market arms, average would-be killers likely would not. Granted, there are plenty of other ways to kill people (heck, building a pipe bomb is cheap and incredibly easy to do), but those are straw men because unlike guns, they can’t be regulated or controlled. Also unlike guns, they aren’t the things currently being used.

There’s one last gun-related point I want to mention, and that is the rather prevalent argument I’ve seen which goes in the exact opposite direction of mine and says that we need more guns, rather than fewer, to avert these tragedies. The most common line states that teachers and school officials should all have weapons, and that this would disincentivize violence in schools.

Now the very first issue I have with that is that it’s narrow-minded to this particular case. School shootings are not the only shootings. Less than a week ago one took place at a mall. Aurora’s case was a movie theatre. So if we’re aiming to arm potential victims, it’s worth noting that the scope of that is phenomenally larger than a handful of school teachers or principals. While the killing of kids strikes us as particularly heinous, I don’t really consider children any more or less innocent than the victims of the other (noticeably less-talked-about) tragedies over the past months and years.

Yet to the point of schools in particular, I’m not exactly sure much thought has gone into the realities of the proposal. First and foremost, we are talking about placing weapons in the hands of a tremendous number of primarily over-worked and underpaid individuals. We are also talking about putting a lot of guns in public places. If they are too inaccessible, they won’t be useful, and if they are too accessible, they won’t be safe. Moreover, potential shooters would no longer need to secure their own weapons, because they would be able to acquire them within the very classrooms they planned to target, even if they had to strong-arm a teacher into relinquishing that weapon.

Again, imagining that none of my other reservations were valid, there is the matter of pure and simple economics. The hardware, licensing, training, and maintenance of these weapons would put an enormous strain on the budgets of districts which are, for the most part, already straining to support adequate curricular and extracurricular activities for their students. I’d hate to be the parent at the local town hall meeting asked to relinquish my child’s band program to put a pistol in his English teacher’s hands. And if the money isn’t coming from local sources, then where exactly will it? State sources? Federal? I suppose you never can have enough taxes.

The crucial thing I hope you take away from this all is that guns are not to blame for these crimes, but guns play a part. Save a scenario of mutually assured destruction, wherein guns are so common that the likelihood of overpowering people without immediately being overpowered yourself is so low that you have no incentive to try, it seems reasonable to believe that the fewer guns, the safer the majority of people will be. Meanwhile, the real problem, the one that won’t go away even if all guns go away tomorrow, is the fact that there are people, perhaps even people you know, who can shoot twenty children and their teachers.

Sure, there’s the “…and not feel remorse part.” But it’s really just the fact that they could do it at all that should strike us. The fact that they could plan to do it, that they could even consider doing it, and then actually go ahead and, amidst the screams, proceed with annihilating an entire class of children.

These people are monsters not because they do these things, but because they lack the inhibition to keep them from doing so. And to the extent that we do not identify and prevent them from realizing that potential, we fail as a society. At best, these people can be helped. At worst, they can be restrained. But where we are right now, we’re worse than worst, because we’re neither helping nor restraining, and we’re letting the potential for disaster roam unfettered and unchecked through our lives.

Our focus, meanwhile, should be anywhere but sociopaths. We should stop suggesting in our conversations, in our blogs, in our tweets, in our media, that there is anything special or interesting about this killer. There are others like yesterday’s shooter: unhinged, disconnected, bombs with invisible fuses. Any one of them could have done what he did, and any one of them could be encouraged to act because of what he did. We do ourselves a great disservice by glorifying him and his actions, because in doing so we legitimize them as a path to fame and recognition. I don’t actually know the shooter’s name, and I’m intentionally ignoring it, because I don’t want to remember it, or him. I’ve seen this sentiment expressed by some friends, and I don’t think it can be overemphasized.

Instead, I want to remember the town. I want to remember the kids.

I want to remember the families that most likely have dozens of presents hiding somewhere in their houses which were purchased with anticipation of huge smiles that will never be seen again.

I want to think about the loved ones I have who I could lose just as easily, as suddenly, as irrevocably, and cherish them a bit more this season than I might have otherwise.

And moving forward, I want to think about actually changing things for the better, and evaluating which right — to life, or to property — is actually God-given and inalienable. Where the two coexist, great. Where they clash, life wins every time.

Or at least it should.

Make it so.

One thought on “Regarding Guns, Part 2

  1. Bogert, I’m assuming you saw the Morgan Freeman quote today. From the looks of it, you’re very much on board with his sentiments…and I am too. Let no more ink or pixels be wasted the proclamation of his actions, and let’s just think about the kids and their families instead.

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