How to Curb Gun Violence (Really)

US-still-divided-on-passing-stricter-gun-control-laws

Mass shootings like those in Las Vegas and Sulphur Springs, terrible as they are, are only a small taste of the carnage that goes on in America on a daily basis, courtesy of firearms. Most of it slips under the media radar; it’s only when a bunch of people are killed all at once that the lead holocaust is considered newsworthy. It’s only then that the media start talking about what can be done about it.

And the line of thinking from most media talking heads goes like this. If the shooter was a Muslim, we need to tighten immigration laws. If the shooter was Hispanic, we need to build a wall. If the shooter was black, we need more prisons and tougher laws. If the shooter was white, thoughts and prayers will do the trick. And above all, protect the Second Amendment and sell more guns.

And the causes of all this violence? Well, in addition to immigration, some of the causes that have been seriously suggested are: video games; Hollywood movies; Barack Obama; day cares; the “liberal media” (hey, I guess if the violence isn’t reported, maybe it won’t exist); mental illness; antidepressants (nothing like hedging your bets); abortion; “taking God out of our schools” (not sure how that’s even possible, since God is supposedly everywhere); “gun control”; pornography; not beating kids enough (to teach them violence is wrong, don’t you know); not enough guns out there; and, of course, the victims of the shootings themselves.

The actual causes of gun violence are varied, complex and even to an extent inscrutable. So are the remedies. But as difficult as solving the problem may be, there are really just a few simple principles that we need to keep in mind.

1. Weave a web of regulation

Quite simply, a society should regulate the hell out of firearms. There’s no valid excuse for not doing so, no matter how much distaste you have for “big guvmint” cramping your right to shoot things up.  One of the gun culture’s popular sayings is “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns” — which is irrelevant, since regulation is not about “outlawing”.  When you are required to be tested before obtaining a driver’s license. and stick to the speed limit, and drive in the right lane, does that mean that the government is trying to “take away” your car?

Regulation is not the final solution, by any means; on the contrary, it’s just the first step, a necessary foundation.  It’s something that we can’t afford not to do, if we want to avoid a broken windows effect that invites crime and carelessness.

Of course whenever you propose firearm regulation,  someone is bound to respond with another old tried and false big fat floppy red herring: “Criminals don’t care about laws”. Well, their victims might not “care about” bullets, either, but they’re still just as dead. Who the hell cares what criminals “care about”?  The real questions are (a) what kind of message do we want to convey, and (b) do gun regulations (“gun control” in the haughtily dismissive vernacular) help reduce crime?

The evidence is very strong that they do, both when we examine states within the U.S. and when we examine countries around the globe. Japan, to take just one example, has very strict laws about types of firearms allowed, registration, background checks, renewal periods and penalties. And it has, on average, about 30 gun deaths per year (and as few as 6). In contrast, the U.S. (with a population about two and a half times as large) has about 30,000 gun deaths per year.

2. Think long term

Still, even if the U.S. adopts the same gun policies as Japan, that doesn’t mean that America will suddenly become Japan.  They are very different nations with very different histories and cultures.  Japan has a culture of respect and courtesy and a constitution that explicitly states the nation will never again resort to aggressive warfare.  The U.S., on the other hand, has a long tradition of people believing (incorrectly) that they have a constitutional and/or god-given right to build up their own private arsenals without restriction.  And a long history of brutally enslaving and exterminating entire races of people — with the aid of guns.

We here in the U.S. have developed a mythos that brandishes the almighty gun as the infallible key to conquest and power. That mindset won’t be changed overnight. And the effects of gun legislation or any other reforms cannot be expected to manifest immediately.

3. Get creative

When we talk about measures to curb gun violence, we’re not just talking about “gun control”. To tackle a problem of this scope and complexity, we really have to think outside the ammo box. Strangely enough, one of the most interesting proposals came in jest(?) from a comedian. Actually, that’s not so strange; comedians tend to possess the kind of insight that politicians and pundits rarely do. In any case, this is what Chris Rock said in 1999:

You don’t need no gun control, you know what you need? We need some bullet control… I think all bullets should cost five thousand dollars… people would think before they killed somebody if a bullet cost five thousand dollars. “Man, I would blow your fucking head off– if I could afford it. I’m gonna get me another job, I’m going to start saving some money, and you’re a dead man. You’d better hope I can’t get no bullets on layaway”. So even if you got shot by a stray bullet, you wouldn’t have to go to no doctor to get it taken out. Whoever shot you would take their bullet back, like “I believe you got my property”.

Doesn’t it indeed seem logical that making bullets prohibitively expensive would reduce the number of times people fired them? Furthermore, the extra fees could be in the form of taxes that could go toward further steps to reduce gun violence and/or to clean up the mess it leaves. And what about target practice, you ask? Well, with today’s technology, it surely would be possible for virtual bullets to substitute adequately for the real thing.

And for that matter, technology offers a wealth of other possibilities. What about, as a random suggestion, mandating that guns be designed so they only can fire when handled by an authorized user. The point is that there are many, many different ways to approach the problem.

4. Radically alter public (mis)perceptions about firearms

And now we come to the portion of the discussion most pertinent to the content of this blog. Even if the Chris Rock Doctrine proves to be impractical, it at least makes a very important point: in order to combat gun violence, you have to condition the public to think about guns very differently. If you think this suggestion reeks of Orwellianism or totalitarian efforts to “reeducate” citizens, what you need to bear in mind is that the public already has been conditioned, for many generations, to have certain perceptions about guns — and those perceptions are quite faulty.

We have inherited the archetype of the rugged frontiersman who lived and died by his gun,  lionization of the screen personae of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood,  and a false perception that an “armed good guy” has a good chance of stopping an “armed bad guy”. A great deal of what the public believes about guns has come from popular entertainment. This is not to suggest that Hollywood is to blame for the violence, but it is to suggest that Hollywood could play a role in addressing it.

Many people seriously think it’s practical to shoot a gun out of someone’s hand. Most Americans don’t even recognize the sound of a gunshot when they hear it, because they’ve been conditioned by entertainment media to associate gunfire with a totally different sound (an unfortunate fact that could affect how quickly a person can respond and get to safety in an active shooter scenario). In the movies, the good guy mows down the bad guy with both six-guns blazing (which in real life is a difficult feat to pull off); the bad guy dies immediately and the good guy rides off into the sunset without a care in the world.

Imagine instead a film industry that portrays gun violence more realistically and responsibly. Imagine studios that stop promoting action films by using publicity photos that make guns appear sexy and glamorous. Imagine an entertainment industry that routinely gives some indication of how much gunshot victims often suffer before they die, and how long it takes them to do so. Imagine more realistic portrayal of the emotional recoil that people feel when they fatally shoot someone — an effect that can haunt them the rest of their lives. Imagine this knowledge uniformly transmitted through awareness programs at schools like Straight Talk About Risks (STAR). Can we afford to be any more lax with kids about the dangers of guns than about drinking or drugs or sex?

If we instill in the public what horrific deadly implements guns can be (which is one of the purposes of enacting stiff gun laws), chances are not so many people will automatically reach for one to settle a dispute over a parking space. Ironically, we can help reduce gun violence by respecting guns — respecting them for what they are rather than worshiping them for what they are not.

5. Spread civility

Even if everybody had a gun, there would be considerably less violence if everyone behaved civilly. That’s a big pipe dream, of course; there is no way everybody will ever behave civilly, which is precisely why it’s a bad idea for most people to be armed.

The gun lobby likes to say that “an armed society is a polite society”. but the facts just don’t support such a thesis. Americans are armed to the teeth, but America is a seething cauldron of anger and rudeness. In fact, there is some evidence that gun ownership actually contributes to this animosity. In any case, it makes the anger and rudeness far more dangerous. The hostility quotient would be high enough even if left to its own devices. But it’s very far from being left on its own; it’s constantly being amped up by a virtual army of demagogues saturating every corner of American media and American culture. And it certainly doesn’t help matters any that one of them is currently in the White House.

Again, the U.S. will never become Japan. But by exercising courtesy as much as possible, we should be able to defuse many of the situations that lead to violence, and thus lead to shots being fired. Arming a society certainly doesn’t make it polite, but being more disarming can make it a bit more dis-arming.

6. Tame the Testosterone

You hear a lot about mental illness being the cause of mass shootings. Well, it does seem to play a role. But it’s clearly not the only factor or even the most important factor.  There are approximately as many mentally ill women as men. But guess what? All the mass shooters, with one exception, have been male.  In fact more than 75 percent of all violent acts are committed by males, and about 90 percent of killers are male.

Maybe some of this is biological. When my son was a toddler, we made a point of keeping him away from “war toys”, and minimizing his media exposure to weaponry. But he still went around pretending to shoot things with whatever object he could pick up.  Maybe there’s something about having a Y chromosome that makes a person attracted to lethal phallic symbols.

But it’s also unquestionably cultural.  (My son soon outgrew his armament phase, unlike many other males, and as an adult has shown no interest in guns at all.) Violence, and particularly an addiction to guns, is largely learned just as misogyny is. And the two tend to go hand in hand. Is it just coincidence that committers of gun violence frequently have a strictly patriarchal worldview, and often a history of domestic abuse? Is it just coincidence that terrorist cultures are also sexist cultures? Is it just coincidence that the U.S., which is a lead-sprayer’s paradise, is now discovering a widespread, deep-rooted epidemic of sexual harassment that has been right under its nose all along?

Bullet Points

The gun lobby incessantly promotes an obscene, and obscenely profitable, lie: the pulp fiction fantasy that guns make you safer. (This is often bolstered by mythical “statistics” about defensive gun use.) In fact, having a gun multiplies several times the odds that you will be the victim of a crime and/or be shot yourself.  You may assume (as many gun enthusiasts apparently do) that probability is for wusses, and you’ll beat the odds, by god. Maybe you’re even lucky enough to be right. But you might want to consider that guns and gun incidents don’t just affect gun owners; they affect potentially anyone the owner — or a recipient of his bullets — comes in contact with.

It would greatly behoove us to reduce and limit the number of guns in circulation. It should be at least as hard to get a gun as it is to get an abortion,  and their use should be at least as stringently controlled as the use of automobiles.  But we also need to radically alter how the public thinks about guns. And we need to clean up cultural garbage of more than one kind.

All of this constitutes a tall order, and we need to be in it for the long haul. But the benefits would be well worth the effort and minor inconvenience.

8 Boringly Predictable Responses to the Charleston Massacre

Reuters

Reuters

Ho-hum. Another week, another gun massacre in the U.S., another round of boringly predictable responses. How predictable can they be? Let us count the ways:

1. More guns

If guns are used to commit mass murders, then even more guns would mean fewer slaughters, right? Makes perfect sense. At least to gun profiteers. You can count on them to use every mass murder like this as a golden opportunity to drive home the message that the real cure for the plague of violence is a hair of the dog — or rather lots and lots of hairs. (The guvmint wants to take away your guns; but if you buy one gun for every federal agent out there, you should be able to fend them off.) They’ve convinced a good many impressionable souls that more guns equals less crime, though the evidence strongly suggests otherwise.

2. Guns don’t spout soundbites, people do

And heaven forbid that anyone might suggest, as President Obama did, that we have a problem when guns get into the wrong hands. Why, that’s… that’s… that’s (horrors) CAPITALIZING ON A TRAGEDY.  And we all know that guns are not really to blame. If the punk in Charleston hadn’t had a firearm, he just as easily could have slaughtered those folks with a pipe cleaner or toothbrush. Besides, criminals just ignore laws, so what’s the use in having any?

3. Pay no attention to that racist behind the curtain

Stop calling it a racist attack, already. It’s just a coincidence that all the victims were black.  There must have been other factors contributing to the attack. Like drugs and the librulmedia. Or “diversity”. Or transgender people. And of course we mustn’t forget the vast conspiracy against Christianity. Never mind that the killer announced his racist motives at the scene, and that he has a distinguished white extremist history. Racism doesn’t exist in America anymore, remember?

4. It’s all about mental illness

Oh, and since the shooter was a white male, his violence must have been triggered (oops) by mental illness.

5. Enough with the victimization — they asked for it

Stop calling the murdered congregation members victims. Maybe there’s no such thing. Maybe some of them, at least, brought it on themselves.

7. If all else fails, blame Obama

Somehow, the buck must go back to the black guy in the formerly White House. Somehow or other. Surely.

8. Instant fame

Immediately and very frequently thereafter, the killer’s name and  likeness got splashed all over TV, print and the Internet. A killer who admits to having been inspired by the highly publicized killer of Trayvon Martin. Don’t we ever learn ANYTHING from these incidents?

Gun Culture Fires Back – With Blanks

It really isn’t hard to elicit an attack from ideological fanatics; all you have to do is suggest that their particular ideology might not exactly be the cat’s pajamas. Gun addicts can be among the most passionate of ideologues, so it was only a matter of time before my posts on the Second Amendment myth and the twisted logic used to justify gun ownership drew fire from a gun propaganda website.

This article, on the website TheTruthAboutGuns.com, is written by a fellow named Bruce Krafft, who seems to have a great deal of time on his hands, and a willingness to devote it all to promoting his passion (which he deems a matter of “civil rights”). The site is at least more intelligent, more articulate and more adult (despite its haughty dismissal of dissenting voices, even of the most respectful and regularly contributing sort, as “trolls”) than most assemblages of firearm fanatics. It even makes some valid points. If you seek propaganda to quote in support of your gun habit that doesn’t make you sound like a blithering devotee of Beck or Rush, this is the place to get it.  But it’s still quite prone to misinformation, misinterpretation and faulty reasoning.

Now I’m not one to respond to everyone who takes potshots in my direction. That’s mostly a fruitless exercise that only gives them more ammo to twist and distort, and it will go on forever if you let it. I have no desire to engage in a pissing contest, especially with someone totin’ a hogleg. But Mr. Krafft’s remarks do provide some further examples of specious reasoning and other forensic follies, and since that’s partly what this blog is about, it’s worth taking a look.

Racing to Conclusions

The alarm bells start playing a sonata as soon as he mentions the present blog, summarizing its posts about the gun culture thus:

The Propaganda Professor – Gun owners are racist and unrealistic about self-defense.

I suppose the second part is a fair enough conclusion about my commentary. But racist? Where did I ever say that gun owners are racist? Exactly nowhere. The only mention I made of race at all was to note the frequent correlation between paranoia about violent attack with paranoia about illegal immigrants (specifically from south of the border), and how this is reflected in the fabricated Hispanic names in the bogus anecdote I cited. Does this suggest that racism is sometimes a factor in gun addiction? It would appear so. Does it mean that gun owners as a whole are racist? I’d never say so, and to claim that I did is misguided if not misguiding. This type of unwarranted extrapolation is a common way to distort someone else’s words.

He then goes on to accuse ME repeatedly of invoking “straw men”. Seriously. In fact, his “dissection” of my posts is little more than one shell game after another, often with a distinct whiff of straw mingled with the gunsmoke.

Barely Bearing Arms

He takes me to task for describing only one of the bogus incidents I mentioned. What he means is that I described only one of the many variants of the same story I see over and over again. If there really are so meany genuine cases, why is it necessary to keep rehashing the phony ones?

To buttress his implication that defensive gun uses (DGUs, as they’re affectionately called)  are more commonplace than farting, he tosses out a list of 75 of them “from just the last 4 months”. Holy crap – 75 in 4 months. That adds up to…let me see, 225 per year. Almost a fraction as high as your chances of being struck by lightning. (Of course, the estimate that gunsters love to cite manages to bump the decimal point over a few notches, but that’s a story for another day.)

Except that, um, not all of these incidents are exactly bona fide DGUs per se, as such, really and truly. Some mention defense against animal attacks which certainly can be self-defense but not what gunsters normally refer to as DGU; one mentions someone being shot with an arrow, and a few tell of successful defense using knives. Yep, warding off an attacker with a bow or a knife is supposed to prove that guns are necessary for self-defense. That’s only a sampling of the kind of logic that prevails on Planet Heston.

Presumably, the purpose in including those accounts is to suggest that things would have gone down more smoothly in such situations if the defender had been packing. But that’s not how the list is packaged; it’s presented as an enumeration of incidents that did entail self-defense with a gun. And padding the roster in this manner is not exactly dealing from the top of the deck.

Incidentally, if you look at these stories more closely, you see that in many cases there is a nagging doubt, to say the least, that it really was self-defense, or if it was someone being trigger-happy. In one story, a man found another man in bed with his girlfriend, and the interloper (apparently unarmed if not unclothed) allegedly “came at him” so he was shot and killed in “self-defense”. Seriously?

Supreme Arrogance

Mr. Krafft also objects to my observation that the Supreme Court essentially “rewrote” the Second Amendment with a 2008 ruling, and suggests that I only say that because I don’t like their decision. Actually, I say that because they declared that the Second Amendment says something that it just doesn’t say. If that doesn’t have the effect of rewriting it, I don’t know what does. What difference does it make whether I like it or not?

He even pontificates that:

If you don’t bother to actually read the Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller it’s easy to believe the media myth that the Court ruled 5 – 4 that the Second Amendment protects an individual right. If, however, you do read the decision (specifically Justice Stevens’ dissent, with which Justices Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer all concurred) you will discover that the “ruling” was 9 – 0 in favor of the individual rights argument.

That’s an odd decoy, constructed of something distinctly resembling dried grass. Sure, the dissenting opinion concurred that the Second Amendment applies to individuals – but within the context of a “well-regulated militia”. The real issue is whether the presumed “rights” of individuals to keep and bear arms transcend the government’s right to regulate firearms. If you do bother to read the decision, you will see that Justice Stevens says:

The opinion the Court announces today fails to identify any new evidence supporting the view that the Amendment was intended to limit the power of Congress to regulate civilian uses of weapons. [He also notes that “a review of the drafting history of the Amendment demonstrates that its Framers rejected proposals that would have broadened its coverage to include such uses.”] Unable to point to any such evidence, the Court stakes its holding on a strained and unpersuasive reading of the Amendment’s text. [Translation: they rewrote the goddamn thing.]… When each word in the text is given full effect, the Amendment is most naturally read to secure to the people a right to use and possess arms in conjunction with service in a well-regulated militia. So far as appears, no more than that was contemplated by its drafters or is encompassed within its terms. Even if the meaning of the text were genuinely susceptible to more than one interpretation, the burden would remain on those advocating a departure from the purpose identified in the preamble and from settled law to come forward with persuasive new arguments or evidence. The textual analysis offered by respondent and embraced by the Court falls far short of sustaining that heavy burden.

That last point is key. Even if there is a shadow of a doubt about the meaning of the text, the existence of that doubt means that one cannot unequivocally state that the meaning encompasses a  certain application that is in doubt. Which is precisely what the “conservative” justices did. In other words, they rewrote the goddamn thing. Call my evaluation (along with that of the four disinterested justices) subjective if you must, but to claim that it’s “false on its face” is truly false on its face.

Emulating the Duke

He also tries to divert focus to a consideration of my supposed beliefs in discussing my comments about the Nevada IHOP massacre:

John Wayne wet dream? Seriously? The Prof believes we think this way? The sad thing is that he probably does.

AHHH—CHOOO!!! Sorry, my hay fever is really acting up for some reason.

Having never met Mr. Krafft nor (to the best of my knowledge) his followers, I wouldn’t presume to know how “we think”. But I have met many other gunsters. Many, many, many,many, many. I grew up in the heart of redneck gun culture territory, so I’ve had all too much exposure to cocky lead-pumpers chomping at the bit for a chance to put their devices into action. My comments were not a reflection of what I think about how (or whether) they think, but of what they’ve said about how they think.

Naturally, it would be a mistake to conclude that all gunsters are inbred goobers with itchy fingers. But it’s equally mistaken to assume they’re all intelligent, mature and responsible. What they all are is human; and as such, they’re all different.

Since Mr. Krafft seems to bristle at my use of the expression “gun addict”, let me make it clear that I don’t apply this term to all gun owners. (But if the holster fits…) I have known some whom I never would have suspected to be gun owners, because they didn’t make an issue of it. They didn’t conspicuously flash their pieces, they didn’t display issues of Guns and Ammo  on the coffee table or NRA stickers on their pickups, they didn’t rant about their “Second Amendment rights”. They were just healthy adults who happened to own firearms.

And then there are the others. The ones who frequent gun shows and hang out every day on online gun forums. The ones who forward every anecdote that comes down the pike about a granny with a shotgun fending off a gang of rapists. The ones who foam at the mouth about the big bad guvmint wanting to take away their toys.  The ones who fawn like schoolgirls over implements of death and mayhem as if they were Faberge eggs. These are probably prime candidates for a twelve-step program.

Be that as it may, the point is that given a random gathering of, say, a hundred human beings,  you’re certain to have a wide variety of personality types. Give them all guns, and you’re certain to have a wide variety of armed personality types – and levels of shooting skill.  Introduce a sudden threat to their lives (like, say, a guy opening fire on everyone) and the odds of extensive collateral damage are high indeed- my projection of “a dozen or so bodies” might well be conservative.

Yet many gunsters are perfectly willing to assume that in such a scenario, everyone present would behave with perfect poise, restraint and efficiency – not to mention impeccable marksmanship. How naive can you get?

And the Kewpie Doll Goes to…

But of the many silly utterances in Mr. Krafft’s commentary, the silliest has to be this:

There is no such thing as “gun violence.” There are people who do violent things with guns, but they also do violent things with knives, rocks, pointy sticks and fists.

Oh. I’ll try to remember that, and I’ll also try to remember that there’s no such thing as an automobile accident; there are only accidents that happen to involve automobiles. They could instead have involved bicycles, camels or pogo sticks. The fact that they involved automobiles gives us no right to linguistically link a car with a crash. (Is this some of that “political correctness” stuff I’ve heard so much about?)

I suppose this little display of semantic chicanery is meant to foster an Orwellian disconnect between guns and gunshots, and reinforce the gun culture mantra that “guns don’t kill, people do”. But while the role that firearms might play in inciting violence is open to debate, their very presence in shootings is not. I’ve never heard even the most rabid gun fanatic argue that bullets are discharged by bare hands. (At least not yet.)

Pro but conned

Speaking of loaded language, as it were, I notice that the denizens of The Truth (sic) about Guns have a habit of referring to non-gunsters (including, it would appear, yours truly) as “antis”. Normally the prefix anti designates opposition to something, but I’m not clear just what it is that I/we are supposedly against. If anything, one might infer from reading these pages that I am in favor of certain things – e.g., stricter gun laws and a more precise reading of The Constitution.

In any case, the knee-jerk use of this label is a good indicator of how the gun culture, like the culture of right-wing extremism with which it is so closely allied, is fueled by paranoia and divisiveness. There must always be a THEM out there somewhere, intent upon taking away one’s guns and one’s freedom (which are one and the same of course), and destroying one’s country and violating one’s daughters, etc. etc. etc. etc. The gun lobby, a distinct minority that nonetheless enjoys a powerful grip on media and politics, has managed to convince its constituents that it has been brutally marginalized; and it appeals to the very type of mindset that probably shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a loaded anything.

Blossoms among the stubble

Still, I don’t mean to suggest that Mr. Krafft always has his head up his barrel. I commend him for at least recognizing that there is for most people a heavy emotional price tag attached to shooting someone, however justifiably. Many gunsters I’ve encountered seem quite clueless about this, and honestly believe they can just blow away a bad guy and then go have a beer and forget about it. The scary thing is, some of them may be right.

And I give him a standing ovation for refusing to name the shooter at Virginia Tech. I’ve always strongly suspected that if the media didn’t lavish so much attention on mass murderers, there’d be far fewer copycats.  But we’ll never know for certain, will we?

Additionally, his speculations about how crime may have been prevented by armed citizens in other mass shootings, and his follow-up post offering possible solutions to the problem of gun violence (though he denies it exists) are, though presumptuous, at least thoughtful.

On the whole, however, the website is yet another example of the very brand of fear mongering and polarization that the world doesn’t need a lot more of.

(COMING SOON: We’ll examine “gun control” and other nifty phrases, as well as gunster mantras such as “gun control doesn’t work” and “more guns, less crime“. And we’ll turn the microscope on the “statistics” about defensive gun use.)