After the horrific shooting in Las Vegas Sunday evening, my Facebook feed has been filled with calls for gun control, expressing the seeming belief that gun control will be the answer. But, as I wrote on Facebook Monday, stopping mass shootings and terrorist incidents is a complicated issue. I’m all for a sensible gun control policy. There should be background and mental health checks on all purchases of guns with waiting periods. There should be limits on assault weapon purchase and ownership, limiting access to those who have a reasoned need to such power: registered members of registered militias, and perhaps firing range owners so that people can have the hobby of shooting without the risk of urban assault. There should be the simple policy that the registered gun owner is also legally responsible for any crime committed with a gun registered to them — that will ensure guns are secured in houses, and address under the table transactions.
But we must also be clear that even if all gun manufacturers went away today and there were no new guns, there would still be a vast number of guns out in the wild. [ETA: And as later discussions noted: There is also the ability to 3D print guns, even if there were no manufactuers]. Gun control policies reduce risk, but primarily only among those who are sane and law abiding. They are part of the risk reduction picture, but not the complete answer. Similarly, all the scanning at events is also risk reduction (with an element of deterrence through security theatre), but does nothing to stop at-a-distance attacks like Las Vegas.
We need to do much more to reduce the risk. We need universal affordable healthcare that includes coverage for mental illness. This is the easiest and best way to address the mental health problems that lead to these incidents. We need periodic mental health evaluations to be included as part of regular physical checkups. Last time I looked, the brain was part of the body.
We need to address the economic causes that lead to these problems. This means reducing economic stress. This could be welfare; it could also be a universal basic income.
We need to address real and perceived inequality in society. Here in America, we are of the belief that what is significant is what you do, not who you are. That means real inequality must be stopped: discrimination and different treatment based on race, religion, gender, orientation, sex, and so forth. It means understanding what #BlackLivesMatter means: equal treatment for all by law enforcement, irrespective of origin or race. It also means addressing perceived inequality: there are many in this country who perceive an inequality or bias against the White / Male / Christian. Whether it is there doesn’t make a difference: perception can color behavior. Hence, addressing all inequality — real and perceived — is necessary to reduce that stress.
We need to address our society’s glamorization of violence. The Media and the Internet glamorize violence on the small and large screens. Action adventure movies show the power of mass terror. We make celebrities of those who commit these atrocities, and give tremendous publicity to their causes when discovered. Our political partisanship leads one side to so demonize the other than mass terror against the other is perceived as acceptable, because they don’t deserve to live. Much of society places more value in the unborn child than we do in adult humanity. When we devalue adult life so — when we view people who are different as unworthy of life — is there any question why mass murder and terror occurs?
We are never going to eliminate all possibility of such incidents. Those determined to do harm will find a way; they always have. But we can reduce the risk. However, we must be clear that gun control is only part of the picture, and addresses only the symptom of the underlying problem. For the best risk mitigation, we must address why these people do this.