After the Sandy Hook massacre, America’s best and worst minds — and all those in between — have been flailing about, attempting to address the problem of gun violence in America — in particular how access to guns facilitates mass murder.
There have been plenty of opinions, accusations and pontifications on this issue, but, so far, no realistic proposals, just the usual quixotic “quick-fixes” that would not accomplish anything except placate a distraught public’s demand that something be done.
When emotions run high, common sense typically runs low. We need clear, circumspect thinking on this issue. The first step in that process is to accept the reality of our situation.
As tragic and horrific as incidents of mass murder are, they are extraordinarily rare. In spite of President Barack Obama’s fear that such incidents have become routine, they have not. Annually, all fatalities by firearms befall less than 100th of 1 percent of the population, and only a tiny fraction of these fatalities result from incidents of mass murder. About half of firearm fatalities are suicides. While such deaths are deplorable, they are neither routine nor epidemic.
With hundreds of millions of firearms, including combat-style firearms, already in the possession of millions of Americans, any type of ban or attempt to confiscate firearms of any kind will fail to end gun violence. The horse was let out of the barn back in 1791 with the ratification of the Bill of Rights. And, let’s be clear, the right to bear arms was not included in the Constitution to accommodate sportsmen and hunters. It was included to allow people to protect themselves and to thwart any tyrannical ambitions of government — not an unfounded concern given that, throughout human history, republics and democracies have often, and relatively quickly, drifted into totalitarian police states.
Step two in the process is deciding what we want the American experiment in freedom to look like. Maybe Americans no longer want to accept the dangers of an open society inherent with so much individual freedom, and will submit to more government restrictions and surveillance as it did after the 9/11 attacks, and as have most nations throughout history. Maybe the Constitution has to be amended.
If so, the real question Americans should ask themselves is has our nation evolved to a point where the public’s right to bear arms is no longer necessary for protection or to deter tyranny? Recalling that history’s worst mass murderers have been governments, can we trust our political system and those in power to be history’s exception and not abuse that power? Knowing that a police officer is rarely there when we are confronted by thugs, burglars or homicidal psychopaths, are we safe disarming ourselves partially or entirely, and leaving only the government and outlaws with the powerful weapons?
While it is true that the American public is the most heavily armed on earth, it is also the most free on earth. Furthermore, a well-armed citizenry isn’t necessarily a precursor of epidemic gun violence. Like the United States, Switzerland has one of the most well-armed populaces on earth, but on average Switzerland, with nearly 8 million people, suffers fewer than 60 gun deaths annually. Conversely, nations with the most stringent gun regulations do not necessarily escape gun violence — e.g. Norway.
Incidents of mass murder — whether by guns, fertilizer explosions, airplanes or cars — are as predictable and preventable as tornadoes. That, however, does not preclude common-sense measures to reduce the danger. Determining those measures is step three in the process, and that step is flummoxing the nation.
If there can be anything positive coming out of the slaughter of little children it may be that some of the nation’s most ideologically petrified minds are now re-examining their positions on gun rights. If those frozen minds can be thawed on this issue, why not on all issues confronting our nation?
When people at both ends of the political seesaw stop clinging to selected facts in an attempt to validate their belief systems, and begin to consider all the empirical evidence rather than rejecting or ignoring any data that does not confirm their worldview, we will have progress toward actually resolving the gun violence problem and all of our common problems.
Maybe the legacy of Sandy Hook Elementary School will be an awakening of objective, logical thinking that rejects unquestioning belief and finds effective remedies for whatever ails our nation.
There is no expedient remedy for violence in America. What is needed is a massive cultural change that rejects violence. It begins with each individual deciding not to support the fascination with and celebration of violence that so permeates our culture. That is a tall order and something that would likely require a generation or two to accomplish. But, if that is step three in the process of eradicating gun violence, we can begin now.