Another week, another shooting. I was pontificating about gun control on Twitter (which, I admit, is a contender on the list of “Absolute Worst Ways To Spend Your Free Time”) when I realized I wanted to get one thing out of my system in a more complete fashion.
When people talk about how we need to get rid of guns in America, eradicate the “gun culture” that allows mass shootings to happen, what they’re talking about isn’t something that can be achieved by policy; at least, not by any remotely feasible methods in any reasonable time frame. Granted, if you’re willing to allow for the possibility of mass-mind control by some benevolent Professor X-like figure to remove the human capacity for violence, and/or 300 years to completely change the culture, THEN you might have something there, but I’m going to assume that’s not the kind of results most people are looking for when they talk about this.
What I think many people want is a world where no guns exist, period. A world where no one has guns; not police, not ordinary citizens, and least of all violent criminals. A world where committing murder would not be unheard of, but would become more difficult due to the lack of technology. A status quo where the kind of mass murder that took place Wednesday night in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, would not be completely impossible, but sufficiently improbable that things like it would virtually never happen.
You know what? If that was an option that was on the table, I might be down for that. I can appreciate the perspectives of game hunters, target shooters and gun collectors, but I’m as fatigued of gun violence in the USA as the next person; I don’t know if the benefits offerred by these activities really amount to much in the face of situations like what just happened in Charleston. No one being shot anymore, anywhere, by anyone? Sign me up!*
Except that’s not an option that’s on the table. It doesn’t matter how much any of us may want it, it’s just plain not possible. Let’s say we somehow, magically, instituted a gun ban tomorrow: what would happen? Would the police have to repossess the hundreds of millions of guns already in circulation? Presumably, they’d have to be armed while they do that, which would kind of defeat the purpose of the whole “no guns for anyone, ever!” thing. Not to mention just how awful the process of mass gun-repossession could, and in all likelihood would, become. (You think gun violence is bad NOW? Oy). Plus, then we’d have only police officers armed in a time when people demonstrate increasing distrust, and even hatred, of police officers. That doesn’t sound like a recipe for success.
Or would the government honor some kind of grandfather-clause for guns that were lawfully purchased during the period of their legality, which would render the whole system moot, because then we’d have so many guns in circulation already that the ban would be nigh-meaningless? And how would the police, regardless of what they were now equipped with, deal with organized crime, which would be tremendously empowered by meeting the demand for illegal guns, similar to how it was during Prohibition? I don’t know how many people would get caught in the crossfire there, but surely it would be a substantial number– quite possibly far more than are killed in these mass shootings currently.
Of course, you don’t need to be in favor of something as extreme as a gun ban in order to want to try to cut down on innocent people being shot. You can talk about reforming existing gun laws, or working to make it so that existing laws are better enforced (which seems to be the elephant in the room that nobody talks about, but that’s another blog post entirely). Then you and I are on the same page, because then you’re talking about the real world, not the fantasy world you’d prefer to live in. To be completely honest, I’m not sure how much can be done to stem the tide of these awful shootings through legislation (gun laws have a terrible habit of precision-targeting the type of people who are willing to fill out forms in triplicate and keep their guns in glass display cases, rather than actual violent criminals), but at least that’s a sane, productive way of approaching the problem. Maybe we’ll even see real results that way.
But when you say “we should just BAN all guns!” or “Guns are the problem and if you don’t think so, you are complicit in this murder!” or what’s becoming my personal favorite, “we can tell gun bans work because it WORKS IN JAPAN!”…that’s where you lose me. And it’s not because I’m any less saddened and disgusted by these shootings than you are, or have any less empathy for the victims than you do. It’s because I believe really serious problems should be approached in good faith, with the attempt to make things better rather than grandstand with over-simplistic reasoning and/or magical thinking that serves only to obfuscate what real solutions look like.
–I realize there’s a lot of stuff I’m not considering here, like the fact that I imagine we’d have more deaths from wild animal maulings in this Magical World With No Guns. However, considering it’s never going to happen anyway, I’m not going to lose much sleep over it.