Band-Aids Won’t Heal Gun Violence (Part I)

It all became clear on Christmas Day.  Sitting in my living room, I heard an adult woman outside my door yell out “Are you shooting each other?”  Then after a pause, “There’s more bullets next to you.”  This…just days after the school shooting in Newtown, CT…to children under ten years old!

I had already spent a lot of time contemplating the causes of the recent rash of violence – not just gun violence but violence of any sort as the way to resolve some internal issue, the voice of an inner demon demanding to break free.  I’ve read with interest the various reactions and proposals, searching for something that made sense.

While all the proposed measures seem, on the surface, to be ways to reduce the chances of another mass shooting, none of them would have guaranteed a different result in the events that brought us to this point.  Here’s a look at the most often cited measures:

  • Assault weapon ban – While true assault weapons can kill more people quickly, handguns still kill far more.  Someone determined to commit an act of violence will find a way, no matter the weapon.  Plus, there are already enough in circulation; it wouldn’t be hard for someone on a mission.
  • High-capacity magazine ban – The amount if time it takes to change magazines or switch to another weapon is marginal in terms of protecting innocents.  Again, where there’s a will, there’s a way, and there are already plenty in circulation.
  • Putting armed officers or volunteers in every school – I do not believe posting armed guards everywhere is reflective of the environment we want for our children or ourselves in America.  And even if they stop violence at school, perpetrators will find another opportunity elsewhere – we can’t place armed guards at every park, playground, daycare, restaurant, museum, skating rink, and so on.  And, even if we tried, it would transform us into a fear-based paramilitary society, pretending that armed protection makes us safe  – and we would lose what we value in a “free country.”
  • Violent video games, movies, etc. – I believe there is some truth to the argument that we have become desensitized to violence.  I don’t believe it’s purely from video games or Hollywood movies.  The message that permeates practically every facet of our lives is that it takes discord and, “more effectively,” violence to resolve problems – from Congress to war, video games, domestic disputes, and more.  In other words, I don’t believe being exposed to violence incites violence en masse.  On the other hand, I believe it could be a contributing factor in hatching a concrete plan by someone already compromised by mental health issues.
  • Media coverage – I also don’t believe media coverage of the perpetrators necessarily encourages additional acts of violence.  (There has always been a strong market related to the pathology behind crime – whether the crime is serial killing, mass murder, baby killing, kidnapping, or a crime of passion.)  I believe the vast majority of those interested seek to learn more because it scares them, and, as humans, we always fear the unknown more than those things on which we gain some insight if not understanding.  But much like violent entertainment, it could give specific ideas to those whose demons are getting the best of them.
  • Expanded background checks – This would not have had any effect in the mass shootings recently, as the perpetrators either passed a background check or used someone else’s legal weapons.  It has nothing to do with the lack of background checks for gun shows and personal sales.  Again, where there’s a will there’s a way.  And sometimes a will develops after the background check is passed.
  • Mandated gun-owner responsibility – Some have suggested some type of punishment for legal gun owners whose weapon was used in a crime because they did not adequately secure it.  This also would not have prevented recent cases.  And like with the Newtown tragedy, the gun owner may well become a victim as well.  It’s hard to hold a dead person responsible (or punish them) for not having better control of their guns.
  • Mandated mental health evaluations – While this might identify those who have certain conditions, there is no clear connection between most conditions and violence.  Yet, anyone who was diagnosed as “aberrant” in any way at any point could be labeled for life, especially if this information were to get in the hands of schools, employers, competitors, etc.  It would be a very subjective, and likely fine, line that could negatively impact many while saving virtually no one.  And if someone who was not identified as a risk delivered another tragedy, the line would be redrawn, with more and more people stigmatized.  (And let’s keep in mind the role being stigmatized and thus isolated seems to play in many violent cases.)

So the problem is much bigger than the proposed solutions.  These proposed actions are purely “band-aids” designed to make us “feel” safer and to placate as opposed to effecting real change (much like limiting liquid amounts on flights).  None of these measures will make anyone safer in measurable terms; they will mainly impinge on our freedoms and inconvenience those who are already law-abiding and exceedingly unlikely to carry out a mass murder.  So instead of wasting time and energy (and thereby taxpayer dollars) on non-solutions that haven’t worked elsewhere (e.g., Norway massacre) and that will only create more hoops for law-abiding citizens to jump through and criminals to ignore, shouldn’t we be looking for real solutions?

To actually address the escalating problem would take far more reflection and research on the actual causes of these behaviors.  And I propose it would require us to repair the very fabric of our society — reinstating a sense of community, responsibility, self-respect, empathy and acceptance.

(continued: Part II)

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