America’s Gun Violence

America’s Gun Violence

Let’s start with the fact that there are 300 million guns in the US, or almost one gun for every man, woman and child.  There have been thirteen mass killings using guns in 2012, and the year is not even over yet.

UPDATE:  There have now been FOURTEEN mass shootings in the US in 2012, and the year STILL is not over.

Even the NRA is now proposing “solutions” to this crisis and I am glad that they are!  We need to come together in civil discourse to discuss solutions, welcoming all parties so that somehow we can get beyond the partisan bickering and break the impasse of gun violence.

This is a complex problem with many facets.  There are no easy answers or bumper sticker solutions.  Solving this problem will take a mutual effort and the willingness for everyone to give up their “talking points” for the broader public good.

Gun Toting-Vigilantes

Wayne LaPierre of the NRA has said that a good guy with a gun is the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun.  If only the world were that cut-and-dried, with good guys wearing white hats and bad guys wearing black hats.

Think about the Trayvon Martin case.  Here, the “good guy” is out on neighborhood watch, protecting his neighborhood from the “bad guys”, meaning African-American teen-aged boys. The tragic result of George Zimmerman’s vigilante justice was the death of a seventeen-year-old boy whose only crime was to go to the store to buy some Skittles while wearing a hoodie.

Zimmerman’s defense is now that Martin attacked him, and he shot Martin in self-defense.  This is to suggest somehow that Martin had no right to defend himself from the gun-toting thug who was stalking him.  Now, could someone please tell me who was the “good guy” and who was the “bad guy” and how are we supposed to tell the difference in a life-and-death situation?

Neighborhood Watch programs were designed to be extra eyes and ears for the Police Department.  There is nothing in this program to justify gun-toting vigilantes.  While some would argue that Zimmerman had the right to carry a gun on the street, no-one would suggest that he had any rights to make demands upon his victim, such as ordering him to halt.  He had no right to accost him, to question him, or to engage him in any non-consensual manner.  Is it any surprise, then, that Martin tried to fight him off?  And did not Martin have the right to use any force to repel his attacker?  What is clear to everyone is that if only Zimmerman had stayed in his truck, Martin would still be alive.

If we say that we want to be protected by gun-toting vigilantes, then how do we make sure that these people are qualified?  Should we require that they undergo police academy style weapons training?  Do we insist that they have continuous weapons training including target practice?  Without such training it is easy to see that these people would be a menace to society, and not a source of protection.

There was a recent episode in New York City where the police showed up to deal with a shooting.  The police ended up wounding nine innocent bystanders.  If the police do this much collateral damage, then just think how much damage could be done by untrained, undisciplined, gun-toting vigilantes.

We can envision a lock-down incident in a school.  The principal retrieves a gun from a locked cabinet in the school office.  The principal breaks the shrink-wrap on the box, pulls the gun out and starts reading the instructions.  The next step would be to find ammunition for the gun (stored in another locked cabinet for safety reasons).  Then, the principal would try to figure out how to load and fire the weapon.  When you think about it, this person is probably not the person that we want defending the school.

Now, imagine the situation at the Aurora Colorado shootings.  The theater is dark except for the light from the screen.  The movie soundtrack is full of gun shots and explosions.  Then the gunman enters and throws smoke bombs.  At first the audience thinks that the real violence is simply enhanced movie violence.  A few pro-gun folks have told me that what was needed was a few dozen armed vigilantes in the theater to stop the killer.  But it is hard for me to believe that this would actually be helpful.  Given the smoke and the darkness and the violent movie setting, the thought of more guns joining in the mayhem would seem only to increase the death toll, not to limit it.

Psychological Screening

One solution that everyone seems to agree about is that we need to keep guns away from crazy people.  No-one would disagree with that.  The problem is, however, how to we decide who is too crazy to own or have access to a gun?  Just like the “good guy” “bad guy” debate, it is not obvious at all who should be allowed access to guns.

The simple truth is that most of the recent shootings have been carried out by people with no criminal or psychiatric record that would preclude them from owning guns.  But just because a person has not yet been convicted of a serious crime, or been confined to a mental hospital, does not mean that they are fit to own and handle guns.

There are countless people out there who are unstable, deranged, or otherwise mentally impaired.  Some are psychologically withdrawn; others have violent tempers.  There are racists, misogynists, homophobes, psychopaths, sociopaths, and a host of others who are a menace to society. There are criminals who have not yet been caught, and hence have no criminal records. There are terrorists motivated by politics, ideology, ethnicity, tribalism or other special group affiliations.  Meth addicts or other types of drug abusers can create extreme mayhem without warning.  We know that drunk drivers can wreak havoc on the roads.  Imagine a drunk with a grudge and a handgun and the damage that she or he could do.

Even “good guys” can snap.  They might be facing unbearable stress such as a loss of employment, or finding out that their partner is having an affair.  Or perhaps they are having a reaction to their medications.  Toxins, chemicals, allergic reactions, viruses, and some bacteria such as syphilis can affect the mental health of even the most stable of persons.  Something as common as diabetes can cause severe mood swings, violent outbursts, and even a condition resembling a drunken stupor.

I am sure that most of us could find five or six of our friends to vouch for our character and mental stability, but that would not make us safe.  The simple truth is that all of us are nuts, or at least all of us are vulnerable to going nuts.

In the Sandy Hook case, the shooter was using his mother’s weapons.  So, even if the shooter could have been stopped from buying guns, there would be no way of stopping him from acquiring guns from friends or family members.

All of this is to suggest that there is no practical method of keeping guns out of the hands of crazy people.

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