A cycle of violence

Because it's all over the news lately, for good reason, I wanted to explore the controversial topic of gun regulation.

First of all, I want to say how disturbed I am that we've had yet another mass shooting. According to http://www.gunviolencearchive.org, there have been 34 mass shootings in 2018 - we haven't even made it through February yet. All of these are distressing, but that this was another school shooting too makes it worse. CNN claims that there have been eight school shootings so far this year (an average of one per week).  I am truly saddened and angered by this tragedy and feel for the families and friends of the victims.  But the fact is 'thoughts and prayers' will do nothing to end these shootings.  Only action will do that.

I also need to point out that anyone who stands by or says we can't do anything to prevent this from happening in the future (these people tend to cluster on the conservative side of the spectrum ... the same as the anti-abortion and pro military/pro-war camps) or that now is not the time to talk about gun regulations, are lying out their asses - about that as well as their general pro-life stance.  If they were pro-life, they would try to protect all lives; if now isn't the time, then right after terrorist attacks isn't the right time to talk about anti-terrorist actions.  When is the time, if not now?

I believe that something needs to be done to help curb this problem.


What is that something though?

I'm going to lay out a few of my positions here, and get into them in more detail a little later - they may have complex interactions.

  • I am not opposed to responsible gun ownership.
  • I am in favor of regulations and background checks.
  • I am in favor of banning personal ownership of some types of guns and accessories.
  • I think a lot of the talk about 'assault rifles' is not quite right.
  • Teachers should not be required to carry weapons.
  • I despise the NRA

Guns were created for one purpose - to kill; either for food, as in hunting, or protection, or in battle.  Through the necessity of learning and the conditioning nature of practice, we've added sport to the list (target shooting and competition - I do not regard non-food hunting as sport).

I've never been hunting and there were no regular trips to the target range; guns were not a large part of my life growing up.  However, when we would go target shooting, safety and respect were always taken seriously and it was stressed that guns were not to be played around with.  They were objects with great destructive power.

More recently, I've actually considered the protection aspect.  Crime comes in waves around my neighborhood, and with it the thought of having a weapon in the house.  I'm not too concerned about most things in the neighborhood, but the thought of a home-invasion does get to me.  We do have an alarm system, and when it goes off the monitoring service will call to see if we need help.  If no one is reached they'll send out the police (the closest precinct is about a quarter mile away).  If it takes only five minutes for the police to arrive, that could be four minutes too late if someone is in the house and they are prepared and willing to injure or kill myself or my wife.

I've heard statistics stating that keeping a gun in the home is more likely to injure or kill a resident than a potential invader, and I don't doubt the numbers.  However, as a part of responsible gun ownership, the owner should keep the weapon in a safe location away from children and non-experienced people; additionally, the owner needs to practice with the weapon with the intended use in mind - if for protection, then the practice should include scenarios which can approximate defense use.  If these two conditions are met, I would suspect that the statistics would change.

If we could wave a magic wand and have all guns disappear (along with the knowledge of how to create them), that would almost alleviate the need for one.  The truth is, there will always be a need for a weapon (I wish this weren't true), and there will always be a need for a distance weapon.  Until there is no income or wealth disparity, no poverty, no envy, no political or national ideological differences, etc., there will always be a need for protection from something/someone - and the best weapon is one you can use out-of-range from the other person's weapon.

So am I pro-gun?  Not exactly: I would love to be able to remove all guns from the world, but since we will never live in an ideal world, I can see a use-case for protection from attack as well as for hunting (even though I do my meat shopping at the grocery store, some people still hunt for food).

If guns are going to exist, and people are going to own them, I believe that we should ensure that responsible ownership is enforced.  We license people to drive - certifying that they have a basic (bare minimum, unfortunately) understanding of the operation of the vehicle and of the rules of the road.  I would support a similar process for gun ownership.  Background checks for criminal history, training and certification of knowledge (with renewal of certification), and ensuring owners have a method of properly securing and storing their weapons.

I also do not believe that a private citizen needs to own an assault rifle, automatic weapons (or bump-stocks - intended to turn a semi-auto effectively into an automatic), silencers, grenades, mines, flame throwers, rockets, tanks, etc.  There is no rational reason for a private citizen to own any of this.

While we're close to the topic of assault rifles, I wanted to touch briefly on calls to ban the AR-15.  The common AR-15 (Colt) is not an assault rifle (the original ArmaLite AR-15 was an assault rifle, but Colt continued the AR-15 branding for its semi-auto rifles).  Incidentally, the 'AR' in the model name stands for 'ArmaLite Rifle'.  It may have many of the characteristics in common with the classification, but it fails to meet all.  It is a semi-automatic rifle, like many others.  It is a popular one for a couple of reasons; it seems to be well reviewed and of good quality, and it looks like a military weapon (i.e. it looks 'badass' to some).

If we're going to ban assault rifles (for most people it currently seems highly impractical to purchase a military-grade weapon - meaning if these criteria are not met, then ownership is already illegal), then the Colt AR-15 will still be available.  If we ban the Colt AR-15, then people will simply move to another semi-automatic rifle - it would be like banning only McDonald's french fries, people would just get their fries from Burger King.  I'm not trying to make light of the issue, but taking away one option of many will have little practical impact.  The next step is banning guns completely (again, in an ideal world where there is absolutely no need of protection, then I am all for it) but I don't see that step as practical.

One of the more asinine proposals I've heard in relation to the recent Florida school shooting is that we should arm teachers.  They've got enough going on daily than needing to be concerned with carrying a weapon.  As Brittany Packnett says in the latest episode of Pod Save The People (2018.02.20 - The World We Want to Live In) in a segment that starts at 38:53:

The only job that makes more simultaneous decisions at any moment than a teacher is an air traffic controller.

...

So imagine arming someone who's got that much divided attention at one point in time, it doesn't make any sense whatsoever.

Let the scenario play out though.  You take the step of requesting/requiring? armed teachers.  Is that going to stop the violence? No.  But it does put a weapon in easy reach of a motivated individual/group.

I also want to share an article about this topic that I read today from a teacher: Why I will never carry a gun in my classroom.  Among other reasons, this teacher worries about the possible liability of teachers and the school if they begin carrying weapons - it's worth a read.

Additionally, teachers are already underpaid for the job they're doing.  Is the government going to pay for arming them when they can't offer them good wages?  Are we going to have patreon pages, a gofundme, or donors choose listings so that we can buy guns and ammo in addition to the other school supplies the teachers need.  It's absurd!

I don't know whether the NRA has as much power in this arena as the reports would indicate.  They certainly have some voice and some power, and that voice is despicable and hateful and predicated on the fear of losing one's freedom to own a gun ... never-mind the loss of the freedom to live that many friends and family members are having to deal with now.  At one time in history the NRA was a positive organization, promoting and providing training for safe firearm usage.  At some point they turned toxic - fuck the NRA!

So, there's a brief overview of my positions on guns.  I can see the practical use of guns, I support gun regulation and access, responsible gun ownership.

So, back to that first question: what should we do?  In the absence of utopia, we need rational gun control.

  • Prospective gun buyers should have background checks, be certified and licensed (like drivers are), and have proper, secure storage facilities (e.g. safes).
  • Military-grade (including assault rifles) should not be available to private citizens - no exceptions.
  • And there's one more important thing I want to talk about ...

Controlling the types of guns and who can own them is an important issue that deserves serious and rational discussion.  However, there is something that is even more important that gets ignored in these discussions.

In the articles and podcasts I've listened to recently that have discussed the school shooting and gun control more broadly, it has been asserted that we need to enact strict gun control to prevent these events as well as suicides which account for the greatest number of gun-related deaths.  Jon Lovett, in the latest episode of Pod Save America (2018.02.19 - Hold My Putter) at about 55:15 says:

One of the things I saw a few people say is "reducing gun access won't stop mass shootings, it'll just prevent suicides".   Yeah, great. We have three giant problems all caused by guns, we have suicides, we have, quotidian murders, and we have mass shootings. They are very different crises, but they have one thing in common which is that people have too much access to deadly weapons.

We talk about gun control as if it is the solution to these problems... if we could just keep guns out of the hands of people, we could prevent these tragedies.

Guns are not the root cause of murder. However, they can exacerbate the problem.  A person can kill without a gun, the gun can increase the extent of the damage, the number of people killed.  My point is that we need to figure out what lead that person to the point of committing murder (mass or otherwise).  Why is that their course of action?  What can we do, as a society, to help those people to not get to that point?  And I don't mean just to identify them early and lock them up somewhere - that is not a solution.

Similarly, guns are not the cause of suicide.  A gun does increase the chances of a successful suicide, and perhaps easy access to a gun may make a person commit to it sooner than if it wasn't available.  The more important issue to solve here is: what lead a person to the point where they were ready to commit suicide?  Can we, as a society, work to figure out the causes and help eliminate the conditions which lead people to make this decision?

There are many problems in this world.  Everyone experiences them differently.  Our current political and social environment is producing more stress and inequality.  I expect that we will continue to see an increase in suicides, mass killings, depression, poverty, etc. as our society continues to be divided further and further.  We're taking away people's agency, security, health-care, and morality.  We need to reverse this trend and start caring for all of our people - whether they're legal or not, whether they're white or not, whether they're rich or not.

I'm not sure whether these issues are solvable, but if they are, it'll only be if everyone cares enough about their neighbors, whether they believe the same thing you do or have different life experiences.  We need to stop isolating, demoralizing, dejecting, and demonizing those around us.  We should be working toward the improvement of all in our society, not just the ones who can help us get ahead.

I've been reading a book on addiction, which I found while working on a previous post (Perpetuating Failure: part one and part two), called The Globalization of Addiction by Bruce K. Alexander.  One of the topics discussed is psychosocial integration and how the lack of integration (dislocation) can lead to addiction.  Beyond addiction though, dislocation can lead to a feeling of isolation and loneliness and depression, among other issues.  It's an idea which makes total sense to me, and to an extent can identify with the idea - I think this is essentially behind my drive toward community and co-housing.  Here, I'm quoting several paragraphs of a review article for The Globalization of Addiction (it already contains sections of the text that I'm interested in sharing here):

"Psychosocial integration is a profound interdependence between individual and society that normally grows and develops throughout each person's lifespan... Psychosocial integration is experienced as a sense of identity because stable social relationships provide people with a set of duties and privileges that define who they are in their own minds.... Psychosocial integration makes human life bearable and even joyful at its peaks. Moreover it is a key to the success of the human species, which flourished by simultaneously evolving close cooperation and individual creativity."

 

"Lack or loss of psychosocial integration was called 'dislocation' by Karl Polanyi. Dislocation ... denotes psychological and social separation from one's society, which can befall people who never leave home, as well as those who have been geographically displaced. Like psychosocial integration, dislocation has been given many names, perhaps the most familiar being 'alienation' or 'disconnection' ...."

 

It is this understanding of the powers of dislocation that is captured in the subtitle of this book: "A Study In Poverty Of The Spirit."

 

"People can endure dislocation for a time. However, severe, prolonged dislocation eventually leads to unbearable despair, shame, emotional anguish, boredom and bewilderment. It regularly precipitates suicide and less direct forms of self-destruction. This is why forced dislocation, in the form of ostracism, excommunication, exile, and solitary confinement, has been a dreaded punishment from ancient times until the present...."

 

"Material poverty frequently accompanies dislocation, but they are definitely not the same thing. Although material poverty can crush the spirit of isolated individuals and families, it can be borne with dignity by people who face it together as an integrated society. On the other hand, people who have lost their psychosocial integration are demoralized and degraded even if they are not materially poor. Neither food, nor shelter, nor the attainment of wealth can restore them to well-being. Only psychosocial integration itself can do that. In contrast to material poverty, dislocation could be called 'poverty of the spirit'."

 

 - Review of "The Globalisation Of Addiction: A Study In Poverty Of The Spirit" by Bruce K. Alexander

Perhaps, if we treated our fellow humans with dignity and respect, included them in our lives in a meaningful way, and worked to improve everyone's lives, we could climb ourselves out of the cycle of violence.