Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Price of Freedom

Wayne Lapierre, speaking at CPAC, said this today:

“The elites don’t care not one whit about America’s school system and school children... Their goal is to eliminate the Second Amendment and our firearms freedoms so they can eradicate all individual freedoms.”

We've seen this film over and over: the spectacular act of violence, the shock, the grief, the calls for something to be done, the shouting down of those who make those calls, the petering out of the discussion as other important topics grab the headlines and so on, until the next mass shooting. The thoughts and prayers offered by hypocritical, NRA-funded politicians, followed by the NRA's own assertions about how we need more, not fewer guns.

Follow the Money

It's hardly an earth-shattering discovery to observe that in the modern, industrialized countries that we consider to be our peers among nations, they strictly control access to firearms and they also have low rates of gun violence, whereas in the US, we have significantly looser controls on firearm access (and vast numbers in circulation) and substantially higher rates of gun violence. Even within the US, states like Massachusetts that put strong restrictions on gun ownership have measurably lower rates of gun violence than those that don't. It's a simple, consistent and obvious correlation that gun rights advocates stubbornly refuse to concede. 

Instead, gun rights advocates love to admonish those of us who don't see it their way for "blaming the gun". Don't blame the gun, they say, blame the guy who pulled the trigger. Well, guess what? I do blame that guy. But I also blame the people making that argument for insisting on perpetuating the policies (or lack thereof) that made it possible for that guy to have that deadly tool. And I don't want to hear that if you take away that guy's gun, he'll use a knife or a club or a bottle of acid or whatever to wreak as much havoc as he can. That's just an assertion with no empirical evidence to support it that also ignores the special place guns have in our national mythology and our ideas of masculinity.

Lately the fashionable variant of the "don't blame the gun" argument is a claim that the best solution to the problem of gun violence is to improve treatment for mental health problems and keep guns away from people who have those problems. Well OK, who wouldn't want to do those things? By and large, I think it's the same people who are making that argument, because they seem to be the ones who always vote for the party whose political agenda includes cutting funding for mental health care.

Apart from that, how are we going to identify these people who are too mentally ill to possess a firearm? Are we going to subject everyone who wants to own a gun to a battery of cognitive tests, and are we going to re-test them periodically to ensure that they have not developed problems that weren't apparent the first time? Or are we going to just ask them to self-identify, knowing full well that people with mental illness generally don't recognize that they have it? It all sounds good on paper, but ultimately it's just an attempt to change the subject without addressing the fundamental problem.

I've argued these and other points with gun rights advocates. I've pointed out that I myself grew up around reasonable and responsible gun owners, and really like shooting them myself, but have long since concluded that I don't need one and don't think most other people do either. It always comes down to the same point: more guns, more gun violence. Fewer guns, less gun violence. And then they pull out the Second Amendment and beat me over the head with it. As Americans, they say, we have the right to own guns, and there should be few if any restrictions on that right. Take away my gun, you take away my freedom. It says so right here in the Constitution.

So, freedom is a room full of small children and their teachers ripped to shreds. Freedom is a concert in which dozens are killed and hundreds are wounded. Freedom is twenty-odd dead churchgoers or seventeen dead high school students. But freedom is also the steady stream of a person here or a few there killed or maimed by a guy with a gun in incidents not spectacular enough to make the national headlines, but no less terrible for the victims and their loved ones. You may not like it when your child, your spouse, your parent, your friend or other loved one, or maybe you yourself end up dead or maimed by a guy with a gun, but hey, that's just the price of freedom.

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