Today, I walked out of a morning viewing of The Hobbit and find out that a gunman killed some 26 people at an elementary school in Connecticut, 20 of the victims were students.
We have to be doing something wrong, here. Author Neal Stephenson wrote in his book Cryptonomicon a line that stuck with me. The gist of it is that guns may be all well and good for protection or self-preservation, but if the time comes where you need to use it, something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.
I fully anticipate that the gun control debate will flare in a fiery mess of facebook arguing and political soundbites shortly.
This gun was designed to be an efficient people-killer. Period. If it's a 2nd Amendment right to own a gun like this, where does the line stop? Should Charlton Heston raise an RPG above his head and yell "Not from my cold, dead hands"? Is a nuclear weapon a 2nd Amendment right? I defy you to argue that what happened in Connecticut wasn't mass destruction.
Since I'm fairly sure that everyone would agree the 2nd Amendment does not guarantee the right to own a nuclear weapon, we can't say that gun-control advocates are all about "taking away people's rights". Make sense? Since we all agree that the right to bear arms doesn't include nuclear weapons, all of us are advocates for weapons-control. The disagreement in the debate is purely a matter of scale. I would encourage ardent defenders of the 2nd Amendment to keep that in mind as they toss their two cents into facebook comments - you don't think that everyone has the right to bear all arms either.
And since we all agree that we have to have at least some control over a citizen's access to weapons, let's try to respect and encourage our lawmakers' difficult decision in finding where the proper line lies between access and control. Should everyone have the right to own a handgun? Or just the people without a felony on their record? Or the people who don't have a mental illness?
Following the shooting in Colorado at the premier of The Dark Knight Rises, a friend on facebook commented that if gun control laws were less rigid then the tragedy wouldn't have happened, that someone in the movie theater would have fired back.
Two things occurred to me when I read that comment. The first is that a statement like that is a complete assumption with no basis of fact. Let's say that someone in the theater was armed and starts firing back at the gunman. And then let's say that the person managed not to hit anyone with "friendly fire" as he tries to take down the gunman. And then let's say that everyone else in the theater understands amidst the cacophony of noise and terror that of the two gunmen only one of them is trying to kill them. Add another innocent bystander with a gun. Does the conflict become easier to understand or more difficult? The answer is that we have no fucking idea and it'd be ludicrous to assume that if there were more people with guns fewer people would have died.
The other thing that occurred to me was actually a quote from Batman Begins, ironically enough. At the end of the movie Jim Gordon is talking to Batman.
Jim: What about escalation?...We start carrying semi automatics, they buy automatics, we start wearing Kevlar, they buy armor piercing rounds...Let's say, for a moment, that the States relax their gun-control standards. Suddenly a larger portion of the population owns a gun. Let's say they loosen laws about carrying guns in public or concealment. Will that deter a person (mental problems or no) who is determined to kill a school or a shopping mall or a movie theater over a perceived slight? The idea of escalation says it won't. Not a bit.
And really, that makes sense. These tools were invented to create violence. You can't add more violence-creating tools and somehow come up with a difference. That's just simple math. If a weapon designed to kill is recognized by the symbol "x", and you add another weapon with a similar designation, the equation is x+x=2x. It's impossible for the answer to be zero.
Does that mean I'm an advocate for total gun control? Not a bit. I take our rights and freedoms as Americans very seriously, and don't want them taken away any more than I want to see people take advantage of those rights and freedoms to harm others. The difficulty that lawmakers have is finding how to guarantee the greatest number of rights and freedoms while simultaneously guaranteeing the least amount of danger to others. That's a tough problem, and the answer is not a simple "Let everyone carry a gun" any more than the answer is "Let no one carry a gun".
In the meantime, maybe we should focus quite a bit more on an American culture that somehow takes an otherwise ordinary citizen and turns them into a killer. When people finally snap, they snap hard. And unfortunately, they've been snapping with regularity.
I don't believe it's any one thing that we need to fix and suddenly everything will be fine, but a combination of things that need close and careful scrutiny. Things such as the systemic bullying culture that permeates our schools. Things such as the massive increase in prescribed behavioral drugs. Things such as the disappearance of community. And yes, things such as the ease with which citizens can purchase weapons.