Just watching the President’s statement giving context on the gun violence issue and charging Joe Biden with coming up with a plan of executable action. Every moment of the follow up has been about the ‘fiscal cliff’. Our attention, in the eyes of the media in the room- who allegedly represent their audiences- apparently have no urgency or inquiry about the many issues that addressing gun violence involves. Even when the subject was visited, it was in the context of politics as usual. The President says they will consider ‘even bad ideas’.
So here is mine a decades old thought on what we need to do to keep guns out of the hands of madmen.
Clearly our history and our culture eliminate the possibility of becoming a gun free society. We have to accept that the nation’s current supply of a gun for nearly every man woman and child is not going to be reduced anytime soon. We have to accept that the issues in play in the many mass killings are not going to be resolved simply by eliminating the legal status of automatic or semi automatic weapons. We need to address mental health, competence of those that have guns and access to them, their responsibility in that ownership, education, and cultural influences.
In reflecting on these issues while my own gunshot wound was still fresh ( and 26 years later, everyday I start my get-out-of-bed routine with stretching the muscles scared by it) it was obvious that it isn’t the guns themselves, but the people holding them. Yet the people most often stating the ‘guns don’t kill people’ argument fail to take the equally obvious step of examining who are the people doing the killing, and what can we do to identify and help them before their madness becomes mortal action. Today’s New York Times includes the opinion of someone who has made a study of what is common to those who both kill and kill themselves. We need more real information on how to identify those individuals whose alienation escalates to thinking that killing others is justified by their pain need our love, manifested throughout our society be it family, neighbors, community and government. Why the gun community hasn’t created filtering of its own to prevent these events which challenge their business far more than any gun control legislation, is something I hope the NRA includes in their “meaningful” contribution this Friday. Our inability to care for the mentally ill, much less educate the rest of the populace as to what it is and how to relate and view it instead of stigmatize it, puts our country in the dark ages when it comes to true compassion.
And as a citizen that has seen governments of every view lie and abuse our trust, I fully embrace the concept of being able to organize and resist that abuse, especially as it is articulated in the Second Amendment. For some people, access to the ballot, petition and courts is inadequate. If forming a militia and having weapons is what is required for some to feel their rights are defendable, so be it. If they are truly parts of communities, I am comfortable with their holding whatever arsenal they determine fits for them. Such groups are far more likely to actually train themselves in the care and use of such weapons. Had Adam Lanza lived in such a household, he wouldn’t have had access. His mother’s reported need for self defense would have included a locked gun cabinet. If she wanted a gun bedside, it would have had a trigger lock or been secured against that most common event- someone else finding it and using it against the owner. Sandy Hook’s trail of sorrow and tragedy would have had to begin somewhere else.
At the end of the day we want people who are isolated and likely to generate a violent action to be brought into some community which can give them care. An appropriate gun access law would require that any individual would need to have the approval of those five or eight people they live closest to. If the people most likely to have regular interaction with you don’t think you should have a gun, I don’t either. If you can’t display self control in the ebb and flow of daily life, why would we give you access to the power to kill at a distance? While this creates an obligation upon friends and neighbors, the costs of our current mode of being are high and wide.
Additionally, gun owners need to demonstrate that they keep their weapons secure. The most common death by gunshot is suicide. The benefit of regular mental and physical screening of gun owners would bring many people to care, whenever we as a society decide to provide it, as well as reduce the number of people who use a family member’s weapon to end their life. Gun owners would be exposed and educated to understand the behaviors of their households in the context of mental health.
We also need to include gun education at every level. While I have a past with gunshot wounds, I did not tell my children they couldn’t have them as toys. Instead I was insistent on training them to never point their toy weapon at anything they wouldn’t shoot. If they pretended to shoot the family dog, I would sit them down and walk them through what shooting their beloved pet really meant. I would show them my scar and tell them about the blood and pain that were part of that mark. I would tell them that the only way even an accidental shooting occurs is when people aren’t thinking about the power in their hands, but of some other need. Often this meant upset and tears. When laser tag toys and games became available, we would play them. Paintball was an exciting and vigorous outlet. And each time at the end of play, I would remind them of how unreal such games are- our walking away, however splattered with paint and sweat we might be, we weren’t bleeding, or worse. My favorite martial arts class included a gun take away move and the teacher shared studies on the mental state of people who use guns as opposed to knives, and included language that has been demonstrated to be successful in deflating the circumstances in which guns are drawn.
And we need to make gun violence depictions honest in our culture. Violent movies and television shows make the consequences of such use trivial. The compression of time, the impossible strength and resilience of the characters engaging in violent behavior makes light of the dangers and present unrealistic human models that are as hyperbolic and exaggerated as Barbie dolls present female physiques.
At the same time, I don’t find video games and movies to have hardened my children to violence as much as bad comedy or adult cartoons have numbed them to sexism and racism. Killing zombies in series or mastering the hand eye coordination to take out multiple targets in a single shot hasn’t made my sons think that they should resolve their conflicts with weapons or martial arts. Listening to bad sketch comedy satirize rape has desensitized them. The idea that we must reexamine the first amendment along with the second is a red herring.
Community is where both the ideals of the Second Amendment and protection of our daily lives are addressed. Building the participation of community into gun ownership seems far preferable, and possible than arming everyone, or implementing personal identification technology in triggers. All of the consequences of such action are positive. Just as we screen for early detection of our common cancers, we can use gun access to detect those who are disconnected and serve them while making our streets, and hunting grounds safer.