Sunday, December 23, 2012

Guns are different; it's time to treat them that way

In other words, accepting the status quo isn't acceptable...

After the brief post on last Friday relating to the mass murder in the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, regular reader Thane challenged me to name some specific actions that could/should be taken, or at least discussed, in response to the horror there.

While there are cultural aspects to the issue - as a society, too often we consider violence to be an acceptable course of action, even when it isn't absolutely necessary - firearms are designed to escalate the immediacy of a violent course of action, and to heighten the lethality of such a course of action once it is undertaken. 

In short, firearms are tools designed for one purpose - to kill, and ever-improving technology increases the ability of users to kill more people with more efficiency in less time.

There are people, mostly gun fetishists/enthusiasts (pick your preferred term), who try to equate firearms with any other object ever used to end a life.  They take the position that if guns should be banned or restricted because they have been used to kill people, then so should say, hammers, because people have been killed by blows from a hammer.

The difference there is the designed purpose of the tool in question.

Can someone use a hammer to murder someone else?  Certainly.  But if one is used for the purpose for which it is designed, someone ends up with a roof over his head.

Can someone use a gun to build a house?  I suppose so, if he doesn't mind getting wet when it rains.  But if a gun is used for the purpose for which it is designed, someone, perhaps many someones, ends up dead.

Also pushed by many of the same people is the idea that the right to possess a gun trumps all other considerations, even the safety of others.  They contemptuously proclaim that people who feel threatened by others who possess guns or who engage in intimidating behavior should just buy their own guns.  Which is wonderful for the bottom lines of gun manufacturers and dealers, but not so wonderful for the rest of us.

I don't pretend to have any ideas that will be guaranteed to prevent another shooting.  In fact, human nature being what it is, I can all but guarantee that another *will* occur.

However, that isn't a reason to do *nothing*, no matter how much some postulate that if a proposed response cannot be guaranteed to prevent all further gun violence, then it shouldn't even be considered.  There are responses than can serve to reduce the number of mass shootings, and to reduce the body count when they do occur -

- Renewing the assault weapons ban won't stop people who already possess military-grade (or nearly so) firearms from misusing the ones that they have, but it will make it more difficult to gain access to more.

- Banning or restricting access to high capacity ammo magazines won't prevent mass shootings, but it will slow down any that do occur.  The people who want to wage war on student and teachers, movie-goers, churchgoers, Saturday morning shoppers, workers, etc., will have to stop and reload every so often.

- Closing the loopholes in background check laws that enable anyone to all-but-anonymously purchase firearms at gun shows and over the internet won't prevent would-be mass shooters from obtaining weapons, but it will make it a little more difficult to do so from the shadows.

However, those ideas only address the "tool" aspect of firearms.

The other main aspect of the rising rate of mass shootings is the "behavior" aspect, and that must be addressed, too, if we hope to make any inroads into this growing problem.

- Buttressing the mental health care system in the US is a must.  Alone, it won't prevent all future mass murders, because not all "bad" or violent people are mentally ill (in fact, most aren't), and not all "mentally ill" people are bad or violent people (in fact2, most aren't).  On the other hand, getting the Jared Loughners and Adam Lanzas of the world (if, in fact3, Lanza was mentally ill) help should reduce the number of "crazy" shootings.

That still leaves the "cold blooded" and "heat of the moment" shootings, where people who understand the difference between right and wrong choose to do wrong.

I don't pretend to have a cure for unrelenting avarice or hot jealousy or any of the other things that ail the human spirit, nor have I heard of anyone else having one (certain religious types claim to have such a cure, but given the number of times throughout history that religion has been cited as justification for mass murder, those folks have a bit of a credibility problem).

However, while human motivations and emotions cannot be controlled by society, human actions that threaten or actually harm members of society can be addressed by society.  To that end, some suggested adjustments to current laws and practices...

- Commit a crime with a firearm, or commit a crime while in possession of a firearm even if the firearm was not a part of the crime, get a year in prison on top of any other sentence.  In addition, that year would be served consecutive to, not concurrent with, any other punishment.

- Remove *perceived* threats as a justification for the use of deadly force.  The only legally acceptable reason for the use of deadly force should be only in response to an *actual* threat.  In addition, it should be an affirmative defense, one where it is necessary for the defense to show the use of deadly force was proper.  It would still be necessary for the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused had actually committed the violent act, but once that was accomplished, proof of justification would be burden for the defense.

- Firearms possessors and users would be absolutely responsible for the results of the discharge of their weapons.  For example, even where use of a firearm is justified, the person that fires a gun, misses his target, and strikes an innocent bystander would face charges stemming from the shooting.  The person who created the situation that warranted the use of a firearm in the first place would face charges (felony murder?), but so would the shooter, and not "slap on the wrist" charges, either.

Note to readers: Without a doubt, this post has been the toughest ever for me to put together.  I don't think it is a coincidence that I wasn't able to finish it until the last of the funerals for the victims took place.  Whenever I sat to write this, a flood of thoughts and feelings flooded in, and I had to step away to organize the thoughts.  Based on the quality of the writing here, that effort may have been less than completely successful, but it will do (one of the joys of being a blogger - no editors).

While the number of mass shootings has served to desensitize most of us (yes, even me) to the carnage, the murders of 26 small children and their teachers, 27 including Lanza's mother, in Newtown is so shocking to the national conscience that even people who are jaded by modern life have opened their eyes to what is going on in our schools and homes and churches and streets.

It has affected nearly everyone and impacted the way that they think, act, and speak about guns in our society.

Even the NRA, which in the past has enthusiastically blamed everthing and everyone except for guns and gun owners for previous mass shootings waited a full week before dancing on the graves of the victims.

While the cynic in me (and, I believe, many of us) expects that we as a society will be distracted by the never-ending stream of "news" and events fed to us by modern media, but the idealist in me (yes2, there is one here :) ) thinks and hopes that this latest horror may be the one to snap us out of our collective trance.


Steve Muratore said...

If we really want to wake up to the reality of the problem with firearms in America, perhaps we all need to take a good hard look at the crime scene photographs.

It just might be easier to get solutions enacted in short order after doing that.

And editors can be annoying sometimes.

Phoenix Justice said...

I have lost count of how many times I have started to write a post on the atrocity in Newtown and given up. I think you have summed nicely some of my basic views and the main point that just because we can't guarantee success for the implementation of new gun control policies that we shouldn't attempt them.

Thank you.

I am my own worst editor. Maybe a "real" editor would be a bit more forgiving.

Anonymous said...

Good post on the salient issues.