August 30, 2015

What Kind of Problem Do We Have? Pick One.

I've had lots of gun conversations in this blog, and with friends around the lunch table, with family at the dinner table, and with total strangers on comment boards and the like.

Generally, my positions and beliefs are as follows:
  • I believe that having as many guns as people in America is a problem; I don't know who has 'my gun' but I've never met them, I have no idea what their intentions are, and I wish they had asked me first. 
  • I believe in reasonable gun control, including background checks for all gun sales at gun shows, stores, and online.
  • I believe you should have more magazines on your coffee table than bullets in your magazine. 
  • I believe that, if  you have a family member with a mental illness, you should know better than to keep guns in your house. 
  • I would not for a single moment feel more comfortable if every Tom, Dick and Harry was wandering around wearing a sidearm in plain sight, much less carrying it in their shorts or their socks or their shoes or wherever one conceals a weapon.

I don't like that people kill police officers. Ever.  I also believe that probably 99% of police officers would like to go through their entire career and never shoot, much less kill anyone - black or white, Christian or Muslim, child, teenager or adult, armed or unarmed, on drugs or stone cold sober.

I truly believe that some people are too foolish or stupid to be allowed anywhere near a firearm of any kind, and that we should have a way to weed them out and prevent them from owing guns.


So, if we don't have a 'gun problem' in America, what kind of problem do we have, that other civilized countries don't seem to have?

(1) I think the publicity we give people who commit heinous crimes like the Roanoke murders, the Houston police officer execution, the Sandy Hook shootings, the movie theater killing, and on and on, does more harm than good. If you're a wanna be famous nutjob, this is a surefire way to get what you're looking for.

I would prefer we never show the name or face of the person who committed the crime on television, in magazines, or anywhere else; instead, we should flood the airways and pages and the cloud with pictures and stories of the victims, whether police officers or television reporters or folks on dates or innocent children in school.

(2) Further, the lengths to which we go to 'define' these shootings, or the bastards who commit them, makes the situation worse.  Paraphrasing Hillary Clinton here,
Was it racially motivated, or was it because the person was mad at his mother and father, or was it because of violent video games or television shows, or was it because the guy liked to play with guns, or had a mental illness, or thought the gun wasn't loaded, or had a grudge against his employer, or had a hatred for Muslims or Christians, or didn't like the military, or had a run-in before with one of the victims, or thought the best defense against a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, or because of guys out for a walk one night and decided they'd go kill someone?
What difference - at this point, what difference does it make?
We struggle to determine whether we should call something terrorism, or a hate crime, or workplace violence, or domestic violence, or some other identifier. Who benefits from that? Not the victims, not their families and loved ones, and frankly not the rest of us. In reality, all it does is make excuses for people who have committed very bad acts.

(3) Even if we know, or think we know, or believe we have ascertained the 'reason' for the crime, we respond in ways guaranteed to inflame.

Case in point? The Charleston shootings.  The killer has racist tendencies, so the obvious answer, of course, is to remove the Confederate Flag from the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse. Because no one will ever shoot up a black church again, now that the offending flag is down.

Case in point?  New York's SAFE Act, after Sandy Hook. Some good ideas, some not so good - but crammed down everyone's throat, because Governor Andrew Cuomo knew there was no other way to get something passed. In the aftermath, we have calls for full repeal, even from people who agree with much of what's in the law, because of how it was done.

Case in point? The NRA declaring that the reason why people get killed in these horrific shootings is not because someone pulled a trigger, but because we have 'gun-free zones.' (Except, of course, when they thought it was OK that we had gun free zones.)

(4) We treat guns differently than anything else that threatens us. One person tries a shoe bomb, so everyone takes off their shoes before getting on a plane.  Heaven forbid we talk about closing loopholes in gun laws - because while we have no problem stripping in front of strangers at every airport, don't dare make us prove we're OK to purchase or own a gun.

(5) The Colorado movie theater killer was just sentenced, after what's been described as a parade of pain, to a term of life in prison for each of the 12 people he murdered, plus 3318 years in prison for wounding another 70 people.

The crime occurred three years ago; there was no doubt about his guilt, and whether he was sane or suffering from mental illness, there is no excuse for what he did, and he does not deserve rehabilitation. Should it take three years (sometimes longer) for the outcome to be known? Should we have an option for juries and defense attorneys, one that allows for a verdict or plea of 'guilty, but insane' which will guarantee the person never sees the light of day?  And does anyone really benefit from a sentence, and a sentencing production, like this, or does it just add to the murderer's fame?

(6) We have a huge 'us vs. them' mentality in America: rich vs poor, citizen vs. immigrant, Christian vs. everyone, state vs. federal government, black vs. white, this 'life' vs. that 'life', government vs. teacher, suburb vs urban, gun owner vs. non gun owner, pro-birth vs. pro-choice, reporter vs. interviewee, and so on. We seem to thrive on our differences, and forget our similarities.

Combine that mentality with our time where anyone, (like me, and this blog), can say anything we want, any time we want, and find an audience for whatever we say. This gives equal voice to ideas from the fringes as to those from the mainstream, and I think ultimately contributes to the general lack of respect and increased vitriol that we see these days.


What does all of this do? Individually we might be able to counter the effects of these issues, but when taken together, they paralyze us from actually doing anything about gun violence, or preventing the wrong people from getting guns, or doing anything about mental health, or about our frequently slow and prodding system of justice. In the end, is that what we really want? I honestly don't know.

Do we have a gun problem in America? We can, and will, continue to disagree on that, I'm sure. But one thing I do know is, no one has ever committed a similar mass murder with a bathtub.