The tragedy in Newtown, CT, where a crazy slaughtered 20 innocent children and 8 adults, shows once again that a relatively free flow of weapons in a society is a ticking time bomb. Many people will say that it’s too early to talk about gun related regulations, that we need to let the victims grieve but let me remind you that there was still a smoking pile of ruble burning in downtown Manhattan after 9/11 when the country decided to enact some very strong laws regarding terrorism.
Too many massacres
2007: Virginia Tech (VA)
2008: Covina (CA)
2009: Fort Hood (TX), & Binghamton (NY)
2012: Oikos (CA), Aurora (CO), Oak Creek (WI) & Newtown (CT)
We are reaching the point where a lone gunman comes out and shoots about 10-20 people every 3 months or so before committing suicide. And every time, the cycle is the same: the person was mentally unbalanced; videogames/movies/media coverage are to blame for this; this is a one-off incident.
Call me crazy if you want but I tend to look at patterns and what I see here is a pattern of increasing violence. The other thing I discern is that it is located primarily in the United States. Gun violence (or worse) does happen overseas but tends to be more of a rare phenomenon. I think people with a larger worldview will remember the gunman in Germany in 2005 or the one in Sweden in 2009. But those things are rare overseas.
So the question is what is different there. Do they have more restrictions on movies? What about on videogames? Is their media covering those events less? The answers to all those questions is no. The main difference is that they are substantially more stringent on gun control. They have rules that put most guns out of the hands of civilians (people are still allowed, under certain provisions, to carry rifles for hunting) and that’s the main difference. So looking at the world as a control set, it seems to me that gun restrictions work. All things being relatively equal, the places with stronger gun control rules seem to end up with less gun violence.
Kill or wound
Let’s look at guns in a dispassionate way for a second. What is their purpose? Some may say hunting; Others may say protection; But at a more fundamental level, all those things come down to a couple of items: kill or wound. When you hunt, you kill an animal (either to eat it or recreationally); when you’re using a gun for protection, you either kill or wound a person who is trying to do the same.
As a society, we have decided that killing or wounding is a necessary evil. Every developed country develops a class of people whose job involve going to that extreme in certain cases: people in the military or police forced are armed with guns, but also taught many ways in which they can try to engage before discharging their weapon. They are taught about the impact killing someone has on you and how to deal with it. When in the field, they are often witness to the horrors such weapons visit on their fellow human beings, whether it is on a crime scene or in a theater of war.
As civilians, few people are taught those things and even fewer get to witness them. This leads people to think that guns are mostly OK and that they’ll be ready when they have to use them. Talk to anyone who’s shot someone (either in the military or in the police) and you will notice that they are not terribly interested in talking about it. There is a pain that remains with them, long after they’ve had to pull the trigger.
And those people are the ones that have ready access to weapons and even have been presented with chances to use them. Surprisingly, a number of them believe in some form of gun control. The people who are opposed to gun control tend to be the ones who haven’t been placed in a position where they actually had to use a gun to hurt another human being.
Reform is needed but in the US, the gun lobby believes that any attempt to curb the right of individual to bear arms is a violation of the constitutional right enumerated in the 2nd amendment:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Gun lobbyist tend to focus on the second part of the amendment but it is important to look at the construction of the sentence. In it, a sense of responsibility is embedded: “a well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state” seems to be a pre-requisite to people having the right to bear arms.
So let’s start with the agreement that we’re not going to toss out the 2nd amendment but are, instead, going to focus on making it work for everyone.
A well regulated militia
Since the right to keep and bear arms is based on the need for a well regulated militia, let’s create a national volunteer force for policing the country. Members of that force will not receive any salary but will have to volunteer 2 hours per week for every gun they want to own. Their service will be to enhance the work done by our military and police forces, the two groups of people currently allowed to bear arms for their job. In times of conflict, those people will be among the first put on the line when going into any kind of military conflict, where they may be forced to shoot at other people and may end up being killed.
This well regulated militia will have to stay fit and be ready to act at a moment’s notice. Some may say it’s the national guard but the national guard is a paid force. In this case, this militia would be under the control of our national guard and of our military and police departments but would not get salary.
Failure to report for duty would be dealt with sharply: a person failing to report for duty would, put simply, loose the right to bear arms. An unwillingness to be part of the well-regulated militia would mean that they would not have the right to owning or using a weapon.
This model would not call for any bans on weapons beyond the existing ones so this is the last line of negotiation. The agreement with the gun lobby here is that they get no further ban of weapons but, in exchange, they agree that arm bearers must be willing to be responsibly citizens.
Some people say that it’s too early to have a discussion about guns and how to deal with them. I’d venture it’s too late. It’s too late for the victims in Newtown; it’s too late for the people in Oak Creek; it’s too late for the movie-goers in Aurora. Do we have to wait any longer or will it also be too early the next time a lone shooter kills another dozen or more people?
Guns are meant to maim or kill. Carrying guns comes with a very heavy responsibility as it comes with the right to maim or kill. They are powerful and, as is said in Spiderman, “with great power comes great responsibility.” Now is the time to set the responsibility in place: the media didn’t kill children in Newtown; videogames and movies didn’t kill children in Newtown; bullets, coming out of guns, killed children in Newtown.
The right to those bullets is embedded in the constitution and it comes with a clear responsibility to our society. So now is the time to put in place a clear policy that says that for every gun you own, you have to serve a couple of hours of community service weekly. It’s a legitimate trade-off and it’s strikes a delicate balance between the right to bear arms and the responsibility that comes with owning a tool that can kill or maim.