One other thing I find remarkable is that given the large number of guns in this country is how little violence we actually have compared to the second highest country in ownership – Yemen. Violent crime, gun crime, murders by whatever measure you want to use has shown a large decrease from the high water mark of the 1970s – and declined a great deal since the 1990s. With a few notable exceptions (like Chicago), this trend has extended to the cities as a matter of percentages – there are always going to be more murders in cities than rural areas because there are more people. I think the debate of why this has occurred is important because most academics, criminologists, academics, law enforcement professionals etc. will tell you it was the confluence of many reasons of which gun ownership rates was a very minor part of it. Improved law enforcement methods, shifting priorities in the Drug War as well as the declining importance of imported cocaine (big driver of the 90’s violence), urban renewal, mandatory minimum sentencing laws and most importantly, improved economic circumstances largely drove this trend. I have seen a strain of argument that more privately owned weapons = less crime but I would say, show me the hard academic/government data. Correlation does not equal causation.
This brings us to the matter of mass shooting incidents like Newton and Oregon. Here is the uncomfortable fact: Jeb Bush was right – there is little to be done to prevent a mass shooting event. If a person is so mentally ill or angry enough to walk into a site and start shooting children and civilians, there isn’t a thing you can do to stop it. In almost all of these incidents, the weapons used were legally obtained with little prior reason for concern.
You can harden the sites by arming teachers or having looser concealed carry laws but really all you are going to be affecting is the final body count, not preventing the event altogether. I think gun advocates would point out that these events typically, but not always, happen in ‘gun-free’ zones and they would have a point – but is the answer really arming up and hardening all of American society like 1880’s Tombstone? Most Americans wouldn’t want it that way, me included and I am quite comfortable with guns.
I am skeptical of plans for armed presence in schools. Put aside the rarity of mass school shootings and the hypocrisy of a society that is largely silent and complacent on the far more frequent violence in ‘poor’ schools which has been a problem for a long time. I don’t really have an issue with resource and police in schools, but the arming on principals and teachers? That would be a solution until the first time a teacher shoots a kid out of anger or ‘stand your ground’, a kid overpowers a principal and gets a gun, breaks into the teacher’s desk and gets the gun, or any number of the other things that could happen and then people would be wondering why we ever did it? If you don’t think such a thing could happen, you obviously don’t know many teachers or haven’t worked at a school. As for the idea of drafting armed veterans into guarding our schools – remember Private Smith? Smith was the window licker in your platoon who once lost the bolt of his weapon when deploying into theater after he was told to take it out and put it in his pocket. You want that guy guarding your children just because he was a veteran?
What does strike me is the gun violence we do have in this country we need to be concerned with is handgun violence in high population density/high poverty areas – it certainly isn’t ‘assault weapons’ which are actually a very small part of overall gun violence. I think this is significant because if we are truly serious about dealing with gun violence in this country than it seems that the proper course of action would be fighting poverty and rethinking the drug war.
On the first point, people who have jobs and having their needs met tend not to go shooting people. They have too much to lose and this is why you don’t see free-fire zones in the suburbs or affluent neighborhoods. It has nothing to do with morality or race, as certain of my right-wing friends like to insinuate, it is about being poor (trust me, watch all the white Irishman in ‘Gangs of New York’ if you want this point reinforced.). As for the Drug War, it is functionally no different than Prohibition. There was a product (alcohol) that people wanted which the government for morality/public health reasons denied and just like then, we have gang/criminal problems over the matter. Why we are surprised by this fact? Why do we think we are going to have better results than the Prohibition age?
My position on the NRA is complex. On one hand, I have many friends in the NRA and the organization has throughout its history been a responsible player in sporting, hunting, and ownership of firearms. They advocate responsible ownership and have many great programs for teaching people how to handle weapons. But the NRA has also become for all intents and purposes almost entirely identified with one side of the ideological wars – they of course deny it but read the biographies of many of their board members, the campaigns they have worked, and look at the causes they advocate, many of which have nothing to do with weapons but with more traditional right-wing causes, and the truth shows. Along with that rightward shift comes an uncomfortable dogmatic stance. The NRA has had its hand in some of the most significant and responsible ‘gun-control’ legislation in America’s history. Nowadays, they actively subvert that same legislation around the country and have become increasingly reactionary.
One thing about guns which is striking is the culture of fear which is associated with selling guns. I get it – fear of a home invasion is a motivating factor in buying weapons and probably always has been. It seems to me the culture has gotten way frothy with fear of home invasion, being accosted on the streets, being shot in theaters or schools, Muslim terrorists and Mexican rapists, the Apocalypse, race wars and Black Lives Matter, Jade Helm, Hillary Clinton in the White House – all of these things are being used to incite people, particularly conservative and libertarian types, to buy increasing amount of weapons to defend themselves.
I have a good friend who is a law enforcement officer and he is as baffled by it as me. Unless you live in an inner city neighborhood or doing something stupid, the vast amounts of American citizens will never be in a situation in their lives where they will need a weapon. He is baffled by the fear and I tend to think the constant fear mongering is actually rather unhealthy for a democratic society.
The whole mental health aspect of the current argument makes me deeply uneasy. Mentally sick people shouldn’t own weapons – I firmly believe this after having an encounter with an agitated senior citizen with dementia and open carrying a large pistol in a supermarket. But I can’t help but to think there is a huge slippery slope here. Who gets to determine who is mentally ill and to what degree? What happens if a perfectly healthy person grows mentally ills (example: Solider with PTSD? Elderly man?) and becomes dangerous? Is it then acceptable to confiscate their arms?
I am all for better mental health treatment and recognition but there is a huge potential for abuse of civil liberties. This country has not had the best record for forced societal solutions such as this. If you don’t believe me, do a little research on the California Eugenics Movement in the last century, forced sterilizations of ‘mental defectives’ in North Carolina, the practice of lobotomies by mental health professionals in the ‘50s-‘60s, and rampant sexual and physical abuse in mental health facilities in America today. For all the white knuckle hallucinations which people have about even a minimal level of gun control inevitably leading to a police state, locking up political dissidents and opponents under the guise of ‘mental health’, something which happens TODAY in China, is a far more likely path to oppression.
I vehemently support the right of Americans to own guns, but I am deeply distrustful and personally disdainful of ‘gun culture’. I don’t define ‘gun culture’ as the act of owning a gun, or enjoying target shooting, or having a concealed carry license. I define the above as the folks who fetishize their weapons, who seem to make it a central part of their personal identity and like Cross-Fitters, Atheists and Vegans, can’t shut the hell up about it! You know the type, the folks who live on social media with their gun memes or think it is perfectly acceptable to walk into the Atlanta Airport with an AR-15 at the low ready. I think my biggest issue with these folks is their absolute conviction that they are totally right and the opposite side is completely wrong.
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