Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Thoughts on Gun Safety in the Wake of (Yet Another!) Mass Murder

Where my M9 at?


First, let's agree that there is no "gun problem" in American society.

What!? 

That's right. We don't have a gun problem. What we have is a people problem. Our society values guns--or, more probably,the gratuitous display of power--but we do not value the associated competence and courage as we once did. Somewhere along the line, our guns stopped being a means to an end. Too many untrained people and mentally unstable people can get access to guns. Too often the resulting violence is glorified. Too often, raging wackos are idolized in popular media, their emailed self-pity labeled "manifesto" and studied--even copied. Not even the most hard-core gun advocate could argue the point that when people kill people, the weapon of choice is often a nearby gun.

Guns are awfully good at what they are designed to do.

Incidents of gun violence persist, and after every incident, we say, "No more Columbines! Oh, wait. No more Virginia Techs--er--Sandy Hooks!" The headlines change so fast that the mantras can barely keep up. For your information, I have included links to compilations of well-publicized and tragic mass killings in the United States at the bottom of this post. You may think you've read about all of them but I wager you will be surprised when you see the list.

For the record, I began writing this post after the September 2013 attack at the Navy Yard. This, like the 9/11 attacks, the anthrax attacks, and the sniper attacks, was "close to home" for me. I know people at the Navy Yard. The NoVA / DC area has been home to more than its share of violent deaths. The history of violent gun death in DC would take three volumes to tell.

  • One could write a complete volume about the gun violence in the National Capitol Region. Attacks range from historically significant assassinations completed (Lincoln, Garfield) and attempted (Reagan) to the drug-and-thug killings that took place when DC was known as the Murder Capitol. The town itself is synonymous with guns. 
  • A second volume would include the political and racial assassinations of the 60s. JFK, Malcolm X, MLK, Jr., RFK. Again, the issue was not guns so much as the underlying turbulence caused by racism, classism, and other forms of bigotry. These killings did not occur in DC but they may well have occurred because of progressive political ideas emanating from DC.
  • A third volume would be required to describe the local and national attempts to control the sale and use of weapons, to include banning hand guns in DC from 1976 to 2008, instituting post-Reagan national gun buyer background checks (Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act) in 1993, and the ironic act of hunting for the snipers that terrorized the DC region in 2002.

Honestly, when I set our to write about this issue after the Navy Yard shootings, I did not want to get into all that heavy history. As a military retiree, gun owner, marksman, and 2d Amendment supporter, I just wanted to address the knee-jerk anti-gun sentiment that comes spewing out after every mass shooting that takes place. This knee-jerk is invariably countered by utterly ridiculous nonsense from Wayne LaPierre and his minions at the NRA that the answer is guns, guns and more guns. Arm the teachers? Are you kidding me? In what bizarre world is handing out guns to untrained people considered a good idea, a positive role model for the kids, or anything but an accident waiting to happen?

Mass shootings are fewer than 1% of the gun murders that occur in this country, but mass shootings seem to be taking place at an increasing rate, they get perhaps too much press, and they engender irrational reactions from many concerned citizens who incorrectly view guns as the problem or the solution. Again, we have a people problem...

The issue is not whether there is a problem, but what to do about it.To explore possible solutions to the people problem with respect to guns, one could compare gun violence in this country with that of other so-called first world countries, some of which have banned hand guns (Japan, England, Australia) and others which encourage private arsenals (Switzerland). One could also point to the relative effectiveness of the prohibition of alcohol and the war on drugs. Attempts to solve problems through disincentives and punitive regulation rarely turn out well. 

But in the midst of these musings about what to do, I got distracted, and set the post aside. Six or seven months slipped by, and suddenly--yet another in a long (and growing?) line of mass shootings shook me from my slumber.
  • 1999: Littleton / Columbine 
  • 2007: Blacksburg / Virginia Tech 
  • 2009: Fort Hood 
  • 2011: Tuscon 
  • 2012: Aurora 
  • 2012: Newtown / Sandy Hook
  • 2013: Washington, DC / Navy Yard
  • 2014: Spanish Fork, UT
  • 2014: Santa Barbara
The Navy Yard shootings ended when police shot and killed the suspect in September 2013. Since then, there have been 16 mass killing incidents (shootings, stabbings, incinerations, or bludgeonings) in the USA. Mass killings -- defined by the FBI as four or more victims, not including the killer -- have occurred across the U.S. at the rate of about one every two weeks since 2006. Of the 248 incidents on record in that period, the majority (187) have involved guns.

Many of these rampage murders never make it past the local news. But there was something different about the Santa Barbara killing spree. The spoiled son of privilege experiences teen-aged angst, bewilderment at the mysteries of the opposite sex, and writes a bunch of self-absorbed. self-pitying emails. Despite being in therapy he is allowed to by guns. Despite his mother's concerns, he his able to convince authorities that he is no threat to himself or others.

This is a picture of some messed up punk in his (really his daddy's) Beemer  The punk stabbed 3 men asleep in his apartment and shot random pretty women because he was angry that he couldn't get laid. His name? Doesn't matter. He was a boil on Mother Earth's tuchus. Move along. There is nothing to see here. The 6 murder victims and the 13 injured survivors were just unfortunate to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Watch for wackos: they are everywhere.

"This most recent massacre by twenty-two year old Elliot O. R. Rodger has shown the interconnectedness of a few of America’s big-ticket societal issues. The complex relationship between access to guns, racism, mental health, and male entitlement and misogyny has had it’s curtain pulled back by the powerful, one-two punch of social media and twenty-four hour television news." --Richards Burroughs

I would like to say that I have this all figured out--that the answer to our "people problem with respect to guns" is an emphasis on individual responsibility, coupled with rigorous training, high standards, and strict discipline. Banning guns is the ostrich solution (head buried in the sand). Better to have guns everywhere, and insist that every gun owner is trained, licensed, and competent. Unlike the ostrich solution, my pipe-dream solution follows from a Utopian view of society that is not realistic. However, my emphasis on competence and courage is at least a positive stride, as opposed to the negative, bureaucratic, regulatory, and fearful Big Brother stumble.

I'd rather move through this life standing tall, and carrying with me the the means to protect myself. As the US Army Ranger t-shirt says,

"Lord, if today is truly the day You call me home, let me die in a pile of empty brass."


Great Resources for Further Study

Newsmax.com, http://www.newsmax.com/TheWire/mass-shootings-newtown-connecticut/2012/07/20/id/445971#ixzz33VIhDQIS 

The Telegrpah, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/10516913/Interactive-graphic-the-23-US-mass-shootings-since-Sandy-Hook.html

CNN, http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/16/us/20-deadliest-mass-shootings-in-u-s-history-fast-facts/

USA Today, http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/mass-killings/index.html#frequency

Reddit, http://www.reddit.com/r/GunsAreCool/wiki/2014massshootings