Over on Facebook, a comment of mine has resulted in a thought provoking discussion between friends on all sides of the political and gun control spectrum — and I thank all the participants for being willing to listen to others and have a civil discussion. There have been some key underlying notions that have emerged that provide some good ground rules for discussion on this issue:
- The answer is a complex one, and there is no single solution — or to use a bad analogy, no silver bullet. However, there are a number of small things that might work together to reduce risk.
- The answer is not blanket taking away of guns. The guns are just a symptom of an underlying problem, and if you take them away without doing anything else, people will find another outlet that could be equally deadly.
The following is a collection of ideas and thoughts I’ve had from these various discussions. None are fully worked out, and I’m open to further civil discussion on them. Although they are numbered, that is solely for ease of discussion, and not to indicate any priority or ordering.
- Constitutional freedoms are not unlimited. Courts have ruled that there are limits on speech, especially when it goes to the level of harming others. Some rights are limited to citizens; others can be lost with criminal convictions. It is permissible to regulate guns in various ways (“well-regulated” is part of the 2nd amendment) — the question is what is the right way.
- In discussions like this, people commonly bring up Benjamin Franklin’s statement about giving up liberty for security not being the answer. That’s true on both ends of the spectrum. Just as giving up the ability to legally own guns doesn’t bring security, nor do armed guards and bag checks and hardened facilities everywhere. Some levels of both, when warranted in a risk reduction context, are appropriate; however, neither is a complete answer.
- One approach might be to treat more lethal weapons (automatic or semi-automatic weapons, for example) differently. Not to take them away, but to have increased regulation of ownership: regulations for refresher training on how to store such weapons, more frequent health and anger screenings, special permits. Handguns and hunting rifles and such may have easier ownership regulations. In a way, this is similar to what we do with vehicles: motorcycles and commercial vehicles have different training and licensing regulations than passenger automobiles and trucks.
- It is increasingly clear that we need to address the root causes of the problem: the stresses that make people turn to guns and such violence as a solution to their problems. Perhaps what we should be discussing is the cost and benefits of a different tradeoff: the tradeoffs of tight gun control or armed protection on one side, vs. the cost of health and societal safety nets on the other. It might ultimately be cheaper — and more preserving of liberty — to have no cost, low cost, or affordable mental and physical health services available so that those facing the stresses can get help before turning to guns; to have living wages and financial support for families in need so that those pressures don’t result in a turn to violence; to have programs that address the inequalities and bullying so that people don’t feel the need to turn to violence. It could be that the cost of providing those things is much less than the cost of arming or taking away things (with the concurrent costs of the regulatory and legal structure). There’s often the comparison to other countries that don’t have those problems. Those countries don’t have the guns, but they also typically have better support systems as well.
- We need to address the culture of anger and hate that underlies the violence. We need to teach people that violent assaults are not the proper response to stress and anger. Just as the car chases you see on TV never result in the criminal winning, shooting up innocents has never solved the underlying problem behind the solution. We need to better understand the role our various media — the internets, publishing, music, games — play in this culture of anger and hate; we need to figure out appropriate regulations — but regulations and processes that move away from taking away things (negative) to positive additions. This means emphasizing a different message, and using media to teach other ways to resolve problems.
- We need to address the acceptance and glorification of violence in society. When our media celebrates violence; when video games focus more on violence than positive interaction; when guns are used casually and no thought (and no consequences) in movies; when our social media celebrates and amplify violent memes — we’re doing something wrong. We need to replace violence as a solution with a different message.
- We need to address dehumanization. When one sees others as “less than” due to various attributes: economic status, skin color, sexual orientation, political stance, religion, gender … then violence against them becomes more acceptable. I have seen — on all sides — views that people of different political stances are not worthy of life … and that’s plain wrong. We need to value everyone, from the lowliest welfare recipient to those with economic success; gay or straight; all shades of skin tones; all religions. We need to address the Internet echo chambers that feed upon and amplify the hatred of the different.
- If we are to build a culture that values life, we need to do it at all stages. One can’t be valuing the life of a fetus and then turning a blind eye to the person once born. The entire spectrum needs to be considered. Reasonable regulation of abortion (making it harder to obtain as independent life outside the womb is increasingly viable), as well as social safety nets demonstrating we value the child once born, and the adult that child grows into. If we value children and adults in everything we do, than it becomes increasingly unacceptable to have violence against those who are valued.
- We need leaders that are role models again. When we have leaders that joke about violence to others, that act in ways that dehumanize segments of society, and that who operate through bullying and ridicule, we teach that those values are acceptable. We need to make it clear that such leaders are not leaders to be followed and emulated.
- We need to care about and for each other, and that means recognizing that the camel’s back is about to break before it breaks. We need to teach society to recognize the signs that indicate someone is antisocial and about to snap, that someone is dealing with situations they cannot handle. This is not to “take away their guns”, but to intervene with solutions that will help the individual before they turn to violence. The best gun is not one that is taken away, but one that isn’t used out of choice.
- While it is reasonable, in a National sense, to restrict certain rights and privileges to citizens (for example, ask yourself if the Second Amendment applies to the undocumented immigrant or the violent felon who has lost certain rights), some solutions may not be acceptable to limit. For example, we don’t restrict vaccines to citizens, because non-citizens can get sick and spread disease. It may be reasonable to extend societal safety nets and other support systems broadly, because even non-citizens and undocumented residents can go crazy, get angry, and grab their weapon of choice to assault others. Weapons don’t work only for citizens. (This, by the way, is a notion similar to why drivers licences should be available to undocumented residents — they still share the roads, and their vehicles can still crash into ours. That doesn’t prevent the license from making clear that the bearer is not documented, which simplifies law enforcement’s job if they do get in an accident.)
- There has been much discussion of thoughts and prayers. But I never seem to see the notion that God’s answer to our prayers might be the brains that God has given us. We were made in God’s image, and that includes the ability to answer our own prayers by developing a solution, perhaps with a little divine inspiration. We have been given free will; we have been given the choice of life or death, right or wrong, to act properly or not. The answer to our prayers is not doing nothing, the answer is choosing to do the right thing even when it is difficult to do.
- In general, the answer is not to ban and take away things, to be negative. Rather, the answer is to be positive and proactive. Prevent the situation that leads to the violence. Educate people on alternative solutions. Make the necessary help available so that violence and guns are never considered even as a potential solution.