Are You Willing To Stop Gun Violence?
My heart aches for those touched by the terror of shooting violence — in any of our yesterdays. I just can’t wrap my mind around WHY. Why do we, yes, You and I, accept and perhaps even encourage such horrible acts? Why is there so much gun violence, and why are we (as a society) unwilling to change it?
Are you also amused by the silly dance in our society around gun violence and gun control? It’s so silly and predictable in such a horrific way. A terrible and tragic event happens like a school shooting or mass violence that involves guns and senseless killing. Then, there is the outcry for gun control, then the rhetoric of “It’s not the guns”. There are useless accusations of government not doing their job, and the endless blame.
Meanwhile hearts break, families cry — and in the end we’re paralyzed into doing basically nothing. What’s wrong with us?
The whole dance is so stupid and heartbreaking that I must laugh or scream! How can we, as a society, act so stupidly? Why do just we sit back and wait for still more people to suffer and die?
Understanding Gun Violence
I won’t pretend to understand the above — from any side. I am an engineer, and I usually think logically and out of the box. To me, problems require solutions, and if we’re not serious about understanding the problem to take action, then it must not be a real problem.
Let me illustrate with an example that might make you angry. Drinking alcohol has been part of our society forever, and mostly it’s entertainment and harmless. However, 10,497 people died in alcohol-impaired crashes in 2016, — drunk driving. Thousands more are injured in alcohol related violence and accidents. As a society we’ve become so callused to it we almost don’t care. More than one person dies every hour, yet by our actions, we show it’s worth it so everyone else can have their little buzz (or whatever they get out of drinking).
OK, I get it. While the above is true, it’s purposely very black and white.
Unfortunately, gun violence follows the same pattern and worse. More than 30,000 americans die each year by guns. We care relatively little about the 100 daily killings, but we’re angry, perhaps scared, when acts of violence include schools, or mass shootings, or seem especially random.
Are You Part Of The Problem?
Gun violence is NOT just a matter of guns and availability. Yes, that is one of the many pieces. However, a cry for gun control or new laws (like Amnesty USA) is a reflection of a hollow mind.
When is the last time guns were YOUR entertainment? Seriously, let’s get personal.
Think about that question for a few minutes . . . . . Now think again.
Guns are cool, there’s no doubt. Holding a gun gives a reaction — of power, of fear, of respect, or of caution. Everyone has some kind of reaction around guns. In large measure we, as a society, glamorize guns in ways to say those who have them have power (artificial though it may be). Many movie heros have them and the story plays so guns are part of what makes them the heros.
When did you last see a movie or show with guns? Or gun violence? Or play a game that included shooting of some type? What about your latest novel? If you have, then you’re in the majority, AND you are part of the problem. Yes, I’ll put you, and I, right in the crosshairs. Our consumption of violence in any of its popular forms gives demand for gun violence as entertainment. The act of watching it — even though it’s just entertainment — encourages more of it. Oh, and the entertainment industry is happy to give it — more guns, and ever more explicit violence.
If we are selling and promoting gun violence as entertainment . . . If we are glamorizing guns in ways that make them attractive and desirable . . . How can we be so naive as to think it doesn’t have an effect on society?
Just like most people that consume alcohol, you are probably sane and perfectly capable of distinguishing reality from fantasy. However, your abilities to understand don’t translate to others. “Monkey see, Monkey do” is a humorous axium, yet many a truth is said in jest, and that is as true as it comes.
Are We Serious About Reducing Gun Violence?
Are we serious? As with the above example on alcohol, the answer from our society right now is a resonating NO.
The actions of our society right now say we think deaths by gun violence are OK as long as we have our “buzz” — (our movies and video games that promote violence). We want our guns and we want our hollywood glamorization of them. Why then the surprise when the same acts show up on our streets?
On the other hand, IF WE ARE SERIOUS ABOUT STOPPING GUN VIOLENCE AND MASS SHOOTINGS, we need a multilayered approach. It’s not just guns, and it’s definitely not just law. It’s not just entertainment, and it’s not just mental health. ALL of these and more. Unfortunately, real change won’t come easy and it won’t come fast. (And, that’s why most people are not willing to do it.) Are you?
Are we just looking for a quick, easy fix? Maybe if it’s not easy it’s not important. I personally think we need to take the focus off guns and gun violence — and put it on the surrounding elements. But, that is harder.
Why say such a thing? Because there are several fallacies in the dance around gun violence. Let’s think about a few.
Fallacies In The Dance Around Gun Violence
First, the obvious. While some hate hearing “guns don’t kill, people do” there is truth in it. However, it’s not as black and white as it sounds. The truth is guns do make it much easier to kill, yet they don’t point themselves or pull their own triggers.
Second, Government can’t stop gun violence. Laws can’t make guns behave, and screaming at the government to do something is not a solution. Drunk driving is illegal, but it still kills a lot of people. Saying things like “the police should take their guns” also shows ignorance.
Third, “You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold dead fingers”. Taking guns away will NOT solve gun violence. There is no way to take them all away, and there is no reason to either. “If guns are outlawed, then only criminals will have guns” is another axium with a lot of truth in it. That said, availability is an issue. If not guns, then the violent will find other tools of violence. (Bombs, cars, airplanes, knifes, etc..)
Fourth, Video games and other killing entertainment have no effect. I’ve read studies that claim there is little or no correlation, but they’re looking at the wrong things. ‘Hero worship’ happens with everyone — for good and for bad. You can’t un-see or un-think something. Every action starts with a thought, and many bad things come from planted thoughts. In some venues they call it “radicalization”. In this discussion it’s voluntary, and invited — perhaps subliminal. For those with malintent, through entertainment we give them step by step instructions and plenty of ways to practice. Those who say there is no effect are protecting their own self-interest.
Fifth, there is no test or way to judge who will and who will not use a gun for violence. All the background checks in the world won’t keep guns out of crime. The same for waiting periods. These actions ‘may’ help, but they are not the solution.
Sixth, rights of the many are more important than the rights of a few. This fallacy decries the hierarchy of rights. For example, your right to live is greater than the rights of everyone else to drive fast through the crosswalk. And yet, it is opposite for other things. Our society says your right to easy alcohol is more important than the right to life for 10,000+ people each year.
Finding Gun Violence Solutions
If by some chance we decide gun violence IS a problem worth solving, then we must make some hard decisions. It will require give and take, and it will require looking much deeper at ourselves. It will take time and common sense as we work through it. Here’s my limited view on the way to start.
Continue What We’ve Started.
Background checks, waiting periods and other deferrance methods do slow some of the access. Though quite limited in their effect, these actions do give a sense of seriousness.
Get ‘The System’ Out of the Way.
Give folks in the trenches the ability to seek help in a non-attacking and non-invasive manner. Parents would gladly seek more help if the system was not so full of permanent labels and courts and red tape. Our current system promotes hiding mental illness — especially when it pertains to only the possibilities of crime or violence. We must give ways to intervene without the baggage of going to court or having something on a record. It must be a focus on the individual rather than on mandatory reporting or court wins or money.
Change The Attitude Of Prosecution.
Right now our court system is very — maybe only — focus is on punishment and “winning”. On the periphery, I’ve seen several cases where seeking true help for the individual (perpetrator) is last. To the attorneys, it’s much more about “winning” as if people’s lives and future are a game. It makes me sick, and I can’t understand how they sleep at night. Truly, they must feed themselves all kinds of lies to avoid separating fact from fantasy — emphasis here on our prosecutors — but much of the blame rests with the Judges that allow it. We must change that attitude, and fire those who won’t put the lives of individuals first.
Yes, there is a cry for vengeance from those injured, I understand. There is also a plea for leniency from defendants. And it’s an awkward balance, but I’ve seen first hand how the “winning” persona hides behind a cloak of justice as a devil devouring its prey. It leaves scars — real ones — and we must fix it before other changes can have the desired full effect.
Get Rid of Guns in Entertainment.
Every new gun law must also address the issues of glamorizing guns in entertainment. More importantly, they must be on scale with the proposed gun restrictions. For instance, if we require licenses for guns, we must FIRST require licenses for games and movies that include guns. Taking this to an unreasonable extreme, if we abolish guns completely, we must FIRST remove every game, video game, movie, book and show that has guns or shooting in any way as entertainment. I’m not talking about putting blinders on, just taking the entertainment out of it.
Certainly the entertainment industry could do a lot to influence the perception of guns and gun violence. Movies without violence? Entertainment where conflict is resolved by higher skills — like thinking? Or reasoning? Or kindness? That’s not as easy or as shocking, so maybe the industry isn’t up to the task. Violence sells, so maybe the money is worth more than the shooting victims lives?
Address Mental Health.
We must make mental health issues easier to address, less expensive and most of all — remove the associated stigma. It’s absolutely stupid that you can easily acquire a gun without care, but you can’t access mental health without risk of permanent repercussion. As we grow and become more crowded and busy, these issues grow too, and they’re not going away. Importantly, it’s not just those with outrageous mental health concerns I’m talking about. There are always indicators of hidden emotional challenges. (See #2 above.) Parents too (and others in a close role) must have the ability to get help for those they are close to — without the red tape and potentially permanent maligning of someone who needs the help.
Create A Safe Media Environment.
There will be backlash, for sure, on this one. I am a strong supporter of freedom of speech, so it is not without reservation I propose that we examine that freedom. Just like it’s wrong to yell “FIRE” in a public venue if it’s not true, I think hate speech is wrong in a public venue — and that includes the internet. It’s like cyber-bullying, but on a larger scale. I believe those who put it up should be prosecuted (see note #2 above) for slander and other crimes against our society. I also think companies that serve such clients should also be held, in part, responsible for the content their platforms broadcast. Not limited to social media, but every public and private ISP that hosts user content. We must change the way we think about freedom of expression.
Now, how do we draw that line? In radio it was drawn at the exclusion of certain profane and offensive words. Perhaps with the internet it should be drawn more loosely — with a review of the context. This opens a wide gray area, and it will take many reasoning minds to figure it out. My biggest question: Do we have the guts, as a society, to tackle the issue?
Bring Practical Testing.
Going more extreme, I support both written and practical testing in addition to background checks for gun ownership. While it will not stop gun violence, it puts a stamp of seriousness and a practical reminder about safety, about gun laws — and about responsibility in giving others access to your gun. Yes, including a shooting test to demonstrate functional knowledge of guns, and the ability to hit a target with a minimal level of accuracy — not unlike a driving test.
Enforcement of Existing Laws.
Per the first comment below, I’ll add law enforcement. While it does smell of overtaxing our already busy police departments, Bill makes a good point that many existing laws are not well enforced. Punishment is also a big part of this. Yes, I absolutely support the concept of a fair trial, but I think we’ve forgotten the “speedy” part. AND, the punishment needs to be sufficient to deter. I guess if we can’t do these, then we are not going to make much headway on any new ideas.
Yes, some of the above are extreme. And yes, it might be infringement of privacy, intrusion (and a bunch of other undesirable attributes), but if we are serious about stopping gun violence, then we’ll have to give up some of our precious rights. The point? Re-start the conversation with a lot less emotion and a lot more care for our fellow citizens.
The Deep Questions About Gun Violence
This is not an easy problem. Not at all. And, there are some really tough questions we, as a society must answer. Here are a few:
- How can we put horrific acts of gun violence (like school shootings) in the news without promoting them in the warped minds of a few? This is a problem we must solve.
- How can we glamorize guns and give our “cool” guys and heros guns, then expect everyone — including those that are not mentally as stable — to not follow? Monkey see, Monkey do.
- What do we do when we identify a person that COULD become a perpetrator? While there are often signs before a horrific act, law currently requires that someone actually commit a crime before we intervene. BUT, they must have a record before a background check can flag them. (And by the way, “intervene” does not have to mean prosecution or other such intrusion.) How do we get out of this box in our thinking?
- How do we measure the rights of an individual against the rights of society? Society demands a right to be “safe”, but the individual has rights of privacy. Until one intrudes on the other, right now, we do nothing, and that’s how mass shootings happen. How do we balance rights?
Until we are ready to attack the several difficult aspects of gun violence, it is just like drunk driving. So they kill a few thousand people each year, whatever. We obviously don’t care enough about driving deaths to truly address the alcohol problem. Similarly, judging by our current actions, we obviously don’t care enough about shootings to truly address the contributing problems. (That sentence just sounds so incredibly cold when thinking about recent mass violence, but sadly, it’s true.)
Why the surprise when these horrific events keep happening?
What rights are you willing to give in order to spare the lives of others? I know people who want to remove all guns from society, but are they willing to remove all entertainment with guns?
Based on observation, I personally think it’s all lip service. Deep inside we are more concerned about our selfish wants than about innocent people dying. Please feel free to leave your thoughtful opinions in the comments below.
This is not an outcry against entertainment with guns, nor is it a condemnation of guns in general. If anything, it’s disgust in our society’s unwillingness to carefully think about ALL the surrounding issues. The intent is to have us all think about our role in finding solutions. I truly hope we can bring the issues up in thoughtful ways, without emotion or posturing, to find ways of reducing the violence. Please don’t read any more into it than that. Be part of the conversation. This is not about “us” and “them”; it’s about all of us. Thank you.
About the Author
I am an Engineer, a creative thinker, a gun owner, and I support the 2nd amendment. However, I do NOT support the extreme views of organizations like the NRA or Amnesty. (I’m not saying all their views are radical, but they both have them.) They are noise confusing careful thinking. (For instance, the number of bullets in a clip is superfluous to the act of killing.) I support concealed carry permits and background checks and waiting periods — though I don’t believe they have the effect desired. And, I truly wish our government officials would pull a clue and begin to think instead of posturing. I do not support gun control as in removing guns from citizens. However, I believe there are some not yet thought about ways of reducing access for those not emotionally ready for the responsibility.
In my short years, I’ve had many great experiences with guns. I’ve helped design some cool new gun components, and I support skills development and education. On the other hand, I’ve been shot at in a random drive-by (fortunately, we learned later, it was not lethal ammunition.) I’ve taken guns away from people (possibly illegally) because of threats and/or acting inappropriately with them. Unfortunately, because of legal backlash, I have not reported the incidents — knowing it would make a (hopefully, my judgement) temporary situation into a life-long black mark.
For situations like mass violence and school shootings, I share the outrage. At the same time, I feel pain for every parent with no idea their child could do such things. Our system is seriously flawed with respect to guns and mental health. I don’t know the answers, but I absolutely know we are NOT on the right path. This needs to be a conversation with thinkers — not political agendas. Feel free to share your thoughtful opinions below.
If you’re interested in the Engineer’s perspective on other social causes, try the article on Solving Disputes, or perhaps an analysis of Protest.
June 18, 2019 @ 11:20 AM
This was an interesting article. It didn’t have nearly the foolishness of most gun banning, anti-second amendment rants that I am used to seeing. I too am interested in practical ways to reduce gun violence, and having productive conversations about how that can be achieved. Having said that, I am a Life Member of the NRA, A Range Safety Officer, Rifle and Pistol Instructor, Concealed Carry Holder, and a State Licensed Armed Security Guard. I am considerably zealous for the second amendment.
Having said all that, I often wonder if there are functional ways to reduce the amount of illegal gun violence that abounds. Furthermore, how do you do that without giving up the individual rights recognized by the constitution? It isn’t easy.
There were a few points that I would like to quibble with in this article:
1. Waiting periods don’t work after the purchaser has their first gun. I am unaware of any empirical evidence that they do much on the first purchase either.
2. Permits and background checks only affect those who use them; the law-abiding. Criminals avoid both, so by inherent function, neither of these is terrible effective.
3. Why not mention STRICT, ENFORCED, PUNITIVE measures for people who break laws. If you would enforce more of the existing gun laws, they might begin to have an effect on the rate of gun violence. This takes time, and can be expensive, so no one wants to implement it. It seems that an ineffective solution today is better than an effective solution five or ten years in the making.
4. The 30,000 gun deaths number is often touted, but disingenuous. It includes suicides, which is a large problem, but not the same as violence being visited on other people. Harming one’s self should probably be addressed under the mental health side of the question, not the legal side.
I think I mostly agree with the author about violent entertainment and mental health issues. Those are big contributors, but once again, you are up against individual rights there, so it is hard to control. I am almost always on the side of individual rights. If you are more interested in collective rights, there are any number of other countries where the collective is valued more than the individual. For me, no thank you.
All in all, I enjoyed reading these thoughts. They aren’t entirely the same old clap trap that I am used to hearing from my opponents. I like the engineer’s approach to solving the problem, not politicizing it.
June 18, 2019 @ 3:10 PM
Thank you for the comments. I’ll take your quibbles. As stated, we need minds open to other ideas and ready to bend in finding an appropriate solution.
Thanks for taking time to write. I particularly like your call for Enforcement — because you’re right, there are laws — many are just as you say, “an ineffective solution today is better than an effective solution … years in the making.” That exactly nails my opinion on politicians and current law making practices. I personally think we’re a nation of wimps with enforcement and punishment. A little “time-out” and an apology works for 2-year-olds, but not so much for adults — but that’s another topic.
One thing I will point out, however, discussing “opponents” and “they” is not usually constructive when seeking solutions. Collaboration, understanding, and thoughtfulness are enhanced without divisions. That’s hard, and I often fail in the same way. Keep thinking. Keep talking. And again, Thank You.
August 13, 2019 @ 10:22 AM
A very thoughtful and an intelligent approach to talking about and offering solutions to gun violence. As a fellow engineer, I can relate to the problem solving mind better than the emotionally driven and political posture that we see today. With that said, a couple comments on my own….
I am for the 2nd amendment for the part “right to bear arms”, but I am not a fan of owning assault rifles of which have one purpose only – to kill in combat. I get it that our society is exposed to entertainment with such powerful weapons and can excite those that want to see what it would be like to fire such a weapon. However, if so, then join the military service where the training is provided and discernment is abundant. To me, a good analogy is like the airplane – the F16. We all know we can’t have one, but if one must, then either follow the path of being trained to fly one or pay money and go up with a certified pilot where you can experience the thrill. An assault rifle should be treated the same and any none military weapon with the same or near the same capability should not be available to the general public. Maybe we have specific gun ranges or a place where you can go sign out this type of weapon where it is controlled – a controlled gun range for such a powerful weapon. Another analogy is that we cannot go drive a Formula 1 car down the road. Rather, you have to train in such a car on the track and only race it on the track.
I own a shotgun for protection and my wife has a hand gun (9mm) for protection. If we were hunters, we would own guns designed specifically for what game we were hunting. I know this is small part in addressing the issue of gun violence and gun control measures, but in my opinion, not allowing the general public to obtain an assault rifle or one similar would be a small part that would help.
Also, I agree that our entertainment industry and the rights of people vs individuals must be addressed as well. These video games that cultivate the desire and almost “no-big-deal” attitude around such virtual violence can and will lead to furthering this interest and if a person has problems mentally, can lead to real acts. I believe in the law of attraction – what you put out in the world will come back to you. Also, what you spend your energy on or thoughts on is what you will think more about and have more energy towards.
Lastly, I took a class years ago in my undergraduate called correctional punishment. You hit this right on the head – we do not deter individuals from crime in general. I took this class in the late 1980’s and it is unfortunately even more true today. We have overcrowded jails, we don’t deter those that drunk drive, too much red tape, the prosecution process and self interest is corrupted, etc., etc. I cannot believe we don’t just take away licenses for good if someone seriously hurts others while DWI/DUI. If you were caught DUI in England, Germany, you WILL lose your license much much longer or for good on strike 1. And, it will be nothing like getting slapped in the wrist with just a couple thousand dollars and some silly videos you have to watch.
ThanKs for the article. Worth sharing.