Gun Violence

What Should Be Done About All The Gun Violence?

antipas2

The volume of gun violence in this country is, by any measure, staggering. As a Christian, (although I’d like to think it’s not exclusive to Christianity) I place a high value on human life. Although the statistics are overwhelming, that each person lost is a life with a story, family, and friends is crushing. It’s easy to focus on the terrorist attacks and the seemingly random mass casualty events in public spaces, but we ought not to distinguish them so dismissively from drug-related violence, gang fights, and domestic disputes. A life is a life.

I’m no expert on gun control. Yet, it seems that any reasonable person would see that our current system is nonsensical. As I write this, it’s possible for a person on a terror watch list to buy a gun. A person can fail a background check and still buy a gun if the background check takes longer than 3 days. Guns can be sold privately without any sort of background check or required process.

These sorts of glaring holes in the system are absurd to rational thought. Simply requiring a license for a gun could help close these gaps and does not violate anyone’s rights – we have to register our cars annually and get a government permit just to replace a hot water heater. A NY Times editorial points out the absurdity of being so cautious about abridging the rights of people buying guns while calling for a blanket ban on Muslim immigration.  You don’t roll out a tank to crush an ant hill while your house is on fire.

Again, I’m not an expert, but I fail to understand why we wouldn’t at least make it difficult to get a gun. This is an incredibly dangerous weapon we’re talking about. The other side argues that it isn’t the gun that kills people, but the wielder. This is of course true, and clearly anyone who has a strong desire to commit a crime is going to commit it. Our violent culture kills people at an alarming rate and we’ve got to speak up about the violence too.

Yet, even those who argue that our culture is violent aren’t willing to do much about it. We avoid talking about the neighborhoods where violence is a way of life. We won’t have a serious discussion about violence in media, despite a virtually proven link to desensitization and potential aggression. But we still aggressively ban Kinder Eggs because they are potentially dangerous.

If we’re going to talk about gun control, let’s talk about it in a rational way, not with charged preconceived notions. Such as how our media make us misunderstand guns. We see an actor take somebody down with a single shot, when even trained police officers miss 70 to 82 percent of their shots. That misunderstanding makes us think that even in a crowded place, having armed do-gooders makes us safer.

This is no easy issue to deal with. Nobody is seriously suggesting taking away everyone’s guns, or banning violent video games – neither suggestion is rational. We’ve got to have conversations about due process and the transparency of the terror watch list. But doing absolutely nothing, which we’ve been doing for years, is not rational either.

 – Antipas

Response from Aurelius

You bring up several good points. The “good guy with a gun” fallacy is rampant among gun advocates. The NRA’s executive VP, Wayne LaPierre, declared after the Sandy Hook shooting, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Making it harder to get a gun seems intuitive. Unfortunately, the gun lobby is powerful and the public is unsupportive of most gun control measures. Our country needs a mindset shift, and increased mass shootings don’t seem to be jarring the public. In fact, even though the public overwhelmingly supports increased background checks, we are now more opposed to stricter gun control laws in general than previous decades where mass shootings were less frequent. What will convince us to actually make a productive change?

I’m one of the irrational guys you mention in your last paragraph that thinks we shouldn’t own guns. It’s a losing battle, I know, but any measure short of drastic will only at most dampen the gun violence. We need to reverse the trend. Australia enacted a gun buyback program once firearms were made illegal, buying back over 700,000 guns. The U.S. currently has somewhere around 300,000,000 guns. That’s an absurd number of guns. A buyback program probably wouldn’t scale to that size, but we should do the studies to find out what’s feasible.

Having a gun in the home increases the likelihood of suicide, homicide, and accidental death. Our gun-obsessed culture needs to change.

aurelius

There is a major problem in the U.S. with gun violence. While there are some countries in the world with significantly more gun deaths, the U.S. is high on the list. It’s important to establish this fact first. We have a problem that needs to be addressed.

Several news stories this past month claimed that there have been on average more than one mass shooting per day in 2015. This is true if we define mass shootings as four or more people wounded in a related gun incident. As others reported, the way the public generally defines mass shootings as four or more people killed, not just wounded, brings the count down to four in 2015. I don’t care to nit pick the definition of a mass shooting. One a year is too many. We are numbed to mass shootings. Each time one hits the news, gun control advocates repeat, “We need to make it harder to own guns,” while gun rights advocates repeat, “We need to arm and protect ourselves from incidents like this.” At least both sides agree that something needs to be done, but they talk past each other because productive debate on gun control is hindered by culture bundling.

As stated in the New York Times piece above based on an FBI study, “the more narrowly defined mass shootings have grown more frequent, and overwhelmingly involve legally obtained firearms.” Even with strict gun laws and background checks, people are legally obtaining firearms in order to commit atrocities. My proposition is that we should simply not be able to own firearms unless we need them to defend against predators such as wolves and mountain lions or for strict hunting-for-food purposes. The UK has these types of prohibitive gun ownership laws, and while mass shootings still occur, they are significantly less frequent. Australia has even stricter gun laws prompted by a horrific mass shooting, and they now have fewer than 10% the number of gun deaths per capita as the U.S.

We have many laws that protect us from being harmed by others – speed limits, airport screenings, customs, environmental regulations – but we hold on to our right to own firearms because it is deeply ingrained in our culture and written into our constitution. It is a huge part of what defines us. When we now have active shooter training at elementary schools, we need to redefine ourselves and rethink what’s best for our society.

Our second amendment grants us the right to bear arms for the purposes of establishing a well regulated militia. We now have a police force and state/national guards that serve this purpose. Citizens with semi-automatic weapons are also no match for a government that owns multitudes of tanks, F-16s, and drones.

Since this is a serious topic, I’ll end with a 16-minute stand up bit from Jim Jefferies discussing America’s gun culture. Our ownership and obsession with guns is causing more harm than good. We need to entirely rethink our gun culture.

-Aurelius

Response from Antipas

First of all, that’s a hilarious video of Jim Jefferies, but he does make some very good points. You’ve got a very well-researched post here. I’m particularly interested in the argument that the right to bear arms is no longer really a relevant right since we have police and military to protect us from outsiders and we aren’t going to win a war against our own government anymore.

Really, I think the point that Jefferies makes is a strong one: really the reason we want guns is that we just like them. They’re macho, they’re cool, they make us feel tough. I went shooting at a gun range with a friend once and I couldn’t resist making a tough guy face with the handgun for a photo. It’s just like driving really fast on the highway. Do we really need to get to our destination 30 seconds earlier or do we just enjoy it?

You’re also absolutely right about the “culture bundling”. That’s a new term for me, but it’s spot on, and of course one of the reasons why you and I, my friend, started this site. Irrational debates are fun, as the article points out, but I think we’ve lost the ability for meaningful dialogue when we need it. This is one of those instances.

I won’t go as far as you to say that all guns need to be banned and bought back. I’m a fan of reasoned steps, and it could be that we ought eventually to end up with no guns, but I think it’s better to take things one steady step at a time to measure the impact and ensure we aren’t making unintended consequences. This is a bit of my political philosophy, but in general I don’t think it’s always a bad thing if governments move slowly.

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6 responses to “Gun Violence

  1. unkleE January 4, 2016 at 12:33 am

    Hi, I’m an Aussie, and I’d say that the gun buyback program was not a major factor in Aussie gun deaths. I’m sure it helped, but I think the stronger factor is that we have a different attitude to guns, to safety and to life. I seems (as an outside looking in) that American culture is built a lot on fear and anxiety, individual selfishness and a sense of unreality perhaps encouraged by Hollywood and TV. So even though it is obvious that having more guns in the community must almost inevitably increase gun deaths, both homicide and suicide, many Americans want the gun because it makes them feel safer, even though statistics show they are not safer. I don’t think Aussies are any more moral than Americans, but I think we are more pragmatic at this point.

    As a christian, I find it interesting that the US is the most christianised of western countries and also the most violent. What does that say? It is also the one with the highest level of inequality, so that may be the connection, I don’t know.

  2. Authors January 6, 2016 at 12:19 am

    (Aurelius here). Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    I read a book several years ago called “The Culture of Fear” by Barry Glassner highlighting how the US media appeal to America’s fear regardless of the statistics. One example in the book is that shark attacks started getting covered heavily in the news, increasing public fear substantially, while the actual number of shark attacks had gone down. There’s some validity that American culture is fear based, especially when compared to Australia. Individualism is also highly valued in American culture. Personal responsibility is praised, sometimes at the expense of the collective good. Social programs can be extremely hard to fund or keep funded.

    Here’s a study of the Australian buyback program effectiveness finding that suicide and homicide rates dropped by 50-80% in the decade after the program was introduced (with no significant changes in non-firearm death rates) http://andrewleigh.org/pdf/GunBuyback_Panel.pdf

    To be fair, though, this compulsory buyback program would most likely not work in the U.S. as outlined in this piece: http://thefederalist.com/2015/06/25/the-australia-gun-control-fallacy

    Inequality can lead to tensions which increase violence, but I think the high levels of gun violence in the U.S. have more to do with our obsession with guns and our strong desire to exercise our individual freedoms. It is sad though that Christianity is not at its core a violent religion, and although the U.S. isn’t a Christian nation, it sure has a lot of Christians that commit violent crimes.

  3. unkleE January 6, 2016 at 12:58 am

    Hi Aurelius, just one reply. I didn’t express myself well. Yes, it is true that gun deaths have dropped, and there have been no mass killings since the buyback. But I still think that the major difference between Australia and the US is not the gun buyback, but the attitude, a view reflected in your comment about it likely not working in the US. US attitudes have to change, and from the outside it seems to me that they might just be beginning to shift. Do you agree?

  4. Authors February 7, 2016 at 3:06 pm

    (Antipas chiming in here) Hey unkleE, thanks for your thoughts. It is unfortunate that the US has such a strong Christian presence and yet so much violence. Sadly, people groups are always dragged down by the poor examples of a few. For example, Islam is opposed to drinking alcohol, but when a refugee from a Muslim-majority nation gets drunk and commits a crime, it’s a poor reflection on the religion as a whole. In that case, the problem isn’t Islam, it’s the actions of an individual. Same here. Christianity is not a violent religion, as Aurelius pointed out, but US Americans are, for some reason, violent. I’d have to maintain that this is a weakness of particularly American Christians who have their own demons to face, whether they realize it or not.

    As for the question of gun control versus attitudes that you’re bringing up, I hope that my thoughts in the article helped to point out that it’s not an either/or situation as some make it out to be. It’s both. Sensible gun control should be a no-brainer, and we also ought to be having conversations about why our culture is so violent and driven by fear and anxiety, as you mention. Gun stocks and purchases spike after mass shootings and anytime there is talk of gun control, as reported in this article: http://www.ibtimes.com/san-bernardino-shooting-sturm-ruger-smith-wesson-shares-spike-wake-massacre-2209952 This agrees with what you’re saying, and as an American I actually don’t see that changing anytime soon – I actually see it getting worse.

  5. unkleE February 8, 2016 at 2:38 am

    Hi, these are interesting matters, and two further thoughts come to mind.

    1. The Oregon occupation and standoff was/is by people who consider themselves “patriots” defying an unreasonable and evil government, a position we might call “anarchic” or at least “individualistic”. Yet a patriot is a person extremely loyal to their country, and any country is an artificial construct in which citizens agree to abide by certain conventions and rules for the common good – e.g. they pay taxes to support a police force and an army because they know that individually they cannot stand against oppressors such as invaders or crime gangs. So these “patriots” are actually defying that agreement that sustains a democracy, so by definition it is hard to see how they can be truly patriots. Their actions thus in some senses are illogical yet one person has already died for the cause. But they are also gun owners and users. And I would guess there is a fair degree of correlation between gun ownership and right wing semi-anarchic small government views. The bottom line observation is that this little episode is a picture of how illogical and intemperate some gun owners can be (not all of course), showing how difficult it would ever be to reduce gun availability and ownership.

    2. Gun ownership in the US is an interesting exercise in games theory. The more guns there are, the more likely there will be accidents (and I have seen some stats that show that accidental deaths far exceed protective killings). So the safest option is to reduce gun ownership. But every time there is a crime, a shooting or a robbery or rape, gun sales increase, because people feel unsafe and they believe owning a gun will make them safer. And if they were the only new person buying a gun, it would make them safer perhaps. But because many people are also buying guns, any personal increase in their safety is outweighed by the increased threat from the increased number of guns. Classic games theory where the selfish choice appears to be good but works out bad if everyone does it.

    Thanks again for your thoughts.

  6. Authors February 9, 2016 at 9:08 am

    (Antipas again) Your reasoning on the Oregon occupation and standoff is an interesting one, and perhaps one that should become a future topic for this blog. The social construct you’re referring to is a basic concept but it goes to the core of everything we believe in and fight over in this country – how much do we cede to the government? Everyone agrees that the government provides the police and military, and that the government ought to provide roads, but then we get into ones that are slightly less certain – does the government have to provide national parks, or post offices? And then one more step – does the government have to provide schools, and hospitals, and health care? The right wing is typically going to prefer that we cede less to the government, and thus they are therefore going to cling a bit more tightly to guns and those liberties that they don’t want to live without. It’s perfectly understandable and a rational position based in core beliefs about the relative weights of government oversight versus individual liberty, but it brings us back to the Jim Jefferies video that Aurelius posted.

    It just scrolled through the news feed again yesterday: http://time.com/4211826/toddler-shoots-gun-kills/ Another toddler killing someone with a loaded, unlocked gun. The article refers to 43 toddler-related shootings last year, and five already this year. They’re so common they barely hit the back page news. And then there’s this one: http://time.com/4212385/tennessee-murder-benjamin-tiller/ A child using the family shotgun to intentionally and willfully kill another child! Are we kidding ourselves? As Jefferies points out in his comedy, this logic of gun ownership is flawed to its core and really quite irrational.

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