We’re going to talk about it because our thoughts and prayers are not enough. They were not enough after Columbine (15 dead), or the Amish schoolhouse (6 dead), or Virginia Tech (33 dead), or Tucson (6 dead), or Aurora (12 dead), or the Wisconsin Sikh temple (6 dead), and they are not enough now that another 28 once living, breathing people have been added to the tally. To offer only thoughts and prayers is to say “Well, that’s a damn shame. Sure hope it doesn’t happen again.” We have done this every time. And every time, it’s happened again. So we’re going to talk about it.
We’re going to talk about guns.
There shouldn’t be a requirement to wait a certain amount of time before we can talk about guns. The time to talk about food safety is after an e. coli outbreak; the time to talk about preparedness and global warming is after a hurricane socks New York, which is usually not socked by such things. Those are appropriate problems to talk about because they are problems right freaking then, and if the time to talk about guns isn’t after some guy uses one to kill 20 little kids, when is the time?
It isn’t disrespectful to try to learn from the deaths of those 27 innocent people, or from the 28th guilty one, who is only one of thousands of people who used a gun to kill himself this year. It would be far more insulting to look at their deaths and shrug, and hope maybe people get less unbalanced.
If Adam Lanza’s mom hadn’t owned those guns legally, Lanza would not have been able to take them into that school and massacre those children — after he killed her. The same goes for so many crimes of passion that could have been avoided if an angry person hadn’t had easy access to a killing machine. Maybe they’d find a gun anyway. But so far, they haven’t had to.
Anyway, we’ve been saying this stuff for a long time, so let’s try to figure out how anyone could possibly justify America’s gun problem. Let’s just go through one by one, starting with what’s probably the most common justification:
Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.
Sure, and Apache helicopters don’t kill people, but we cannot have those either.
It’s a true thing, sure, that “people kill people.” It is not a coincidence, however, that when people kill people, they kill them with guns. Guns are so, so good at killing people. Pretty much the only thing they’re good at, really, other than being mafia paperweights. People are always going to kill people, sure. But the system we have now is set up to let them, in the name of Freedom. We can seriously justify what happened in Newtown by saying it just comes with the territory of having a well-regulated militia?
Defenders use this line to explain that America does not have a gun problem, it has a murder problem, and they quickly break out the old canard about how guns kill people like spoons make people fat. Many of the people who say this are not, as they say, “murderers,” but just regular folks who own guns and do not use them to kill kindergartners. But these people are wrong.
Spoons are not the only way people get fat. In fact, some of the best ways to get fat (cheeseburgers and never standing up) have nothing to do with spoons.
Guns, however, are startlingly unlike spoons. Guns are not just one of many tools in a killers arsenal. Guns are more than just coincidentally AROUND when buildings full of people are killed — they are the single most determining factor in how efficiently they are killed. How many people were merely wounded in Newtown yesterday?
If you want to kill people really quickly, and with the least amount of effort, you buy a gun. Yes, you could buy a knife, or a heavy rock, but the most effective method of mass murder is available in many places from the same stores where you go for soccer balls and sweatsocks.
If someone goes on some kind of spree with a knife, like they keep doing in China, that is still bad. But when a Chinese guy uses a knife on 22 people, they all live.
Mass-shootings happen because it is easy for mentally unstable people to get guns. Shouldn’t we at least pretend to stop them? The biggest move in federal gun legislation since Columbine was that we let an assault weapons ban expire. Though Obama promised better gun laws, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence says he’s been worse than Bush. Sure, they’ve got an agenda, but the point remains: We need gun control. Lots of it. It stinks that the crazies have ruined guns for the rest of us, but they definitely have.
Yes, making it harder for the crazy folk will also make it harder for the sane folk to kill them, but that argument is wearing very, very thin, since the sane folk are not really doing a very good job at protecting people. That argument also leads nicely into the next defense of guns:
If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.
“What will we DO?” say the gun-folk. “Good people with guns defend society from bad people with guns!”
It sounds like a great argument, until you realize that the good people with guns are awful at defending society from bad people with guns. Mother Jones put together a big, terrible list of all the mass-murders of the last 30 years, and not a single one ends with, “And then a person with a concealed weapon killed the shooter before the shooter could inflict any more damage.” None. Zero. One “witness” in Miami killed a shooter back in 1982, but only as the shooter was running away.
This, of course, is not viewed by gun enthusiasts as an argument for gun control, but against it. Like this statement from Larry Pratt, executive director of the Gun Owners of America:
Gun control supporters have the blood of little children on their hands. Federal and state laws combined to insure that no teacher, no administrator, no adult had a gun at the Newtown school where the children were murdered. This tragedy underscores the urgency of getting rid of gun bans in school zones. The only thing accomplished by gun free zones is to insure that mass murderers can slay more before they are finally confronted by someone with a gun.
The best way to prevent gun violence in Newtown would have been to give teachers guns. This is not a fringe idea — the GOA boasts 300,000 members. And it might not necessarily be an incorrect idea, either: It isn’t hard to imagine a teacher stepping into the hallway during the massacre and planting a bullet between Lanza’s eyes. It feels good and just to think about. We’re conditioned to feel good thinking about it — it’s how all the good action movies end.
So yeah, maybe gun control stopped teachers from shooting Lanza. But is that really the system we want to have? An arms race with criminals and the insane on one side, and the innocent on the other? Those with a vision of guns in schools have a vision of America as a never-ending Mexican standoff. It’s a barbaric proposal unmatched anywhere else in the civilized world.
Plus, again, if guns are supposed to be protecting people, they’re doing a lousy job. Not doing any job, really. It might feel good to have a Glock on your hip and imagine all the wham-bang good stuff you could do, being a hero and whatnot if a lunatic shows up on the bus or in the deli, but the reality is that you would be the first person to do that since they replaced hitching posts with parking lots. It just doesn’t happen. The good guns aren’t doing us any good.
This, though, refers mostly to mass shootings, where the perpetrator in the vast majority of cases obtained the weapon(s) used legally, likely at least partially due to mass-shootings being a person’s first and last crime.
What about people who have guns to protect their homes, or to defend themselves from other kinds of crime? This leads us to yet another defense:
Guns prevent crime.
Maybe it’s not fair to say guns are bad because they don’t prevent all mass shootings. Maybe they’re bad at that, but really good at preventing other crimes, like robbery. If this is the case, that means more guns would mean more safety, no? The United States has 310 million guns. How many more guns do we need before all the robberies stop?
Handgun production has more than doubled since 2005 and there have been 16 mass shootings this year. This is the cost of gun freedom. How many mall shootings, and hospital shootings, and school shootings, are there going to have to be, before we decide that maybe we aren’t safer with more guns?
Speaking of crime, research from Harvard suggests the “good guys” are sometimes guilty of it too:
Criminal court judges who read the self-reported accounts of the purported self-defense gun use rated a majority as being illegal, even assuming that the respondent had a permit to own and to carry a gun, and that the respondent had described the event honestly from his own perspective…
We found that firearms are used far more often to frighten and intimidate than they are used in self-defense. All reported cases of criminal gun use, as well as many of the so-called self-defense gun uses, appear to be socially undesirable.
“Socially undesirable,” in case it wasn’t clear, means a gun use that isn’t defending yourself from a criminal. And the rest of the words there mean people who actually use guns, by and large, use them to act like dangerous, militant bullies.
It’s a good thing that many gun owners don’t have to use their guns. But if the ones that do are using them to menace neighbors and settle disputes (lookin’ at you, Jovan Belcher, you dead bastard), who is that helping?
The Belcher case, in which the Kansas City Chiefs linebacker escalated routine American domestic abuse into routine American gun violence and killed his girlfriend with his pile of guns, is another example of the dangerous situation we’ve put society in: Maybe something terrible happened to Belcher’s brain. Maybe all the football damaged the part of his head that told him not to kill people. Maybe it wasn’t all his fault. But it doesn’t matter, because he had a bunch of guns anyway. The guy could have bought any gun he wanted, and when he got mad, he used one. Just like anybody else with a few hundred bucks could.
But no matter how many horrifying scenes we’re forced to confront, and no matter how many parents are splashed on front pages crying in parking lots for their dead children, there will be another defense that absolves gun-rights advocates of guilt:
It’s my constitutional right.
“There’s nothing we can do! It’s in the Constitution.” It’s a shrewd move, because it places blame for the American gun problem on the founders, instead of on the people furthering the problem now. But that’s a broken argument too.
That something is (possibly) enshrined in the Constitution does not mean it is invincible to change. Let’s not forget that abortion is a constitutionally protected right, eh? We’re still allowed to argue about that.
The Constitution is good at stuff like this. We’ve amended the thing 27 times, to fix the issues our founding fathers, in all their 18th-century wisdom, fucked up beyond comprehension. Women couldn’t vote, black people were 3/5ths of a person (and couldn’t vote), presidents could be reelected in perpetuity. Hell, the path of presidential succession wasn’t codified until 1965, after we needed it a bunch of times. (Mostly after angry people killed our presidents… with guns.)
And when an amendment like the 18th comes along and takes away our beer, we have the power to bring along an amendment like the 21st, which gives it back. Because one thing the Constitution does get right is the opening line: “We, the People.” Like Charles Pierce wrote Friday, our commitment to each other is the driving force behind our self-government, and when self-government stands by and watches Americans shoot each other in the face, we have failed each other.
So no, the constitutional argument against gun control is not good enough. We have a commitment to society that is above blind faith in 220-year-old dogma. We took away slavery. We can regulate guns. Providing for the common defense doesn’t only apply to drone-striking terrorists, and if we can repeal the 18th Amendment, we, the people, can certainly temper the bloody effects of the Second.
Some people will die, if their guns are taken away and they can’t defend themselves. But how many people would be saved? If taking away guns from the public makes gun deaths go down overall — and it would — how would someone argue against it? That it violates an American ideal, a notion that people should have that line of personal defense? It’s not good enough, if people are dying, senselessly, every day, to preserve that right. If “making sure less people die” is not preserving the general welfare, that section of the Preamble means nothing.
We have been trying it this way — the gun way — for a long, long time. We have armed everyone equally, in the hopes that the good deeds will outweigh the evil. On days when everyone with guns behaves themselves relatively well — and there are a woefully small number of them — it’s a position that can slide. But on days when New York City has to send a portable morgue to an elementary school, why, why, why can’t we try it the other way?