A Thought About Gun Control

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.

4 thoughts on “A Thought About Gun Control”

  1. Gun control is such a “fun” topic. I am the type of person who spends time thinking about things like what it would be like to have a world with no guns. We had a world like that at one point. I can read about it in history books. It sounds awful.

    Sure, Japan has a low violent crime rate. It still isn’t very high on my list of places I want to live. We have to look at society as a whole if we want to say anything meaningful about any part of it. The problem isn’t dreaming of a world with no guns, it’s ignoring all the nuances of what that actually means. I think that is more or less what you are talking about here.

    Even if we could magically uninvent guns everywhere I doubt that I would be on board. Are we getting rid of spears, knives, shields, bows and all sorts of other killing tools as well? Sure, I understand that you can’t just walk into a church with a crossbow and murder tons of people. That only applies to this moment. It affects now, in the world we currently live in. Could I build a crossbow that could do that? I bet I could. That is the real problem I see with this lets get rid of all the guns idea people are throwing around.

    Guns exist because of the human potential for invention. Taking away guns won’t change that potential. In fact, it would actually give that potential a reason to be exercised. In some ways a grandfathering system is the worst idea possible. People keep their guns and they are motivated to make new tools for killing things and protective themselves? That sounds like an awful combo for the folks who just want all the violence to go away.

    The ultimate problem is that guns are tools. People are the root of the problem, not guns. There are actually better tools for killing people that are easier to use than guns. I’m glad these assholes are still using guns and not trying their hand at gas or some other tool that could potentially do more damage than guns. Sure, gas was easy to counter in warfare, but how many people wear a gas mask to church? Terrorists in the middle east seem to be okay with using bombs to do their damage. You know why gas isn’t being used? Because the smarter criminals aren’t killing people. Conning someone with social media is far more profitable than murdering them.

    Does taking away guns even get us something of value in the long run? At all? Maybe? I realize it might do some good if we had a magical way to do it. I’m not confident it would accomplish anything positive in the long term and I am confident it would promote new inventions that cause harm.

    Large scale problems like this needs to be looked at holistically or we get nowhere good. Doing nothing is better than doing something stupid. That is the situation we are in I think.

    I do have a better magical solution at least. Take away guns and the memory of guns, change all aggressive acts in human history into sporting events from our uncultured past and make sure people all over the world live comfortable first world lives so that they never feel motivated to do something violent or aggressive ever again. Everyone gets their own magical robot that gives them the things they need to be satisfied with life. Placater bot ready to serve! That’s all it would take I think. Simple, right? >_>

  2. Yeah, when I say that what people really want is a fantasy world where no guns exist, of course it goes beyond that. Not only do they want them not to exist, they want for the very idea to not exist– perhaps, like you say, for it to have never existed in the first place– so that people don’t start building ultra-sophisticated crossbows and so on.

    Maybe it’s a bit of a cop-out to say that I might be okay with living in such a world, because like you say, there would be a LOT of downsides to such a place– unless everyone somehow became some kind of perfectly satisfied, non-violent Stepford person, which would of course be terrible for other reasons. Of course, since it’s never going to exist, whether or not I personally would approve of it is pretty unimportant:)

    It does make you wonder though; if we suddenly had much more restrictive gun laws that were somehow actually enforced (hahahahah), would people really start mass-murdering other people with poison gas and explosives? Would we have these same periodic mass-murders, only using different tools? I wonder about that. I really wonder if so-called “gun-culture” really has much to do with it at all; maybe what we really have is a “celebrity mass-murder culture,” where awful people are enticed to murder as many people as they can for their 15 minutes of fame all over TV and the internet, and the method isn’t even important?

    Of course I’m somewhat biased because, from personal experience I associate gun culture with people who make safe firearms usage a part of their lives through hunting, target shooting, etc. and are ALL ABOUT gun safety, and have no interest whatsoever in killing people– it seems like usually, these mass murderers do not come out of that gun culture, and usually aren’t even acquainted with it. Maybe…maybe there’s more than one thing “gun culture” can mean? *head asplodes*

    1. I don’t want to say the method is completely unimportant. If that is what people were saying I would probably be the guy pointing out that guns as a method is an important factor as well. If I am completely honest I have to admit that video games might even play a role. I don’t think they are responsible, but when we ask why guns instead of why murder video games do come to mind. I think they are blameless, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t a factor.

      If you want to be infamous for doing something awful and you want ensure that people will know just how awful you are it makes sense for you pick the most hated thing you can find. These shootings are premeditated. There is going to be a degree of reason behind any premeditated action. What violent things does the media tells us are bad? Guns and video games. If I wanted to become famous as a chef I would cook things I know that people want to eat. If I wanted to become famous as a writer I would write things that I know people want to read. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to expect a soon to be serial killer to think the same way.

      I also grew up knowing gun collectors. Both of my grandfathers owned more than a dozen guns at some point. One was a hunter, one was a hobbyist, both treated guns with so much respect they almost seemed like objects of worship. Gun safety was a requirement if you wanted to look at an unloaded gun. I’ve also got a man at my work place with a concealed weapon’s permit. I’m glad we have him around. The people who mindlessly want to take those guns away scare me a lot more than any gun owner I’ve ever known personally. The irrational fear some people have of all guns period is far more frightening to me than guns themselves. So I guess I have a bias as well. I like to think that people + irrational fear is always a terrifying combination.

  3. As a lifetime far-left Democrat, I’m constantly frustrated by the talks of gun control coming from the left. It reminds me of the way Republicans approach abortion – they treat it as a terminal goal to get rid of them, rather than exploring ways to actually create positive results for the people affected by the issues. With guns, as you said, no realistic policy change can actually do much – we already have literally hundreds of millions of guns out there, so any new restrictions on how guns are sold will have minimal impact. And taking away the guns that are already owned by people is simply not going to happen. So to control gun violence through controlling guns is kind of a non-starter, yet Democrats keep insisting on pushing this issue which is both politically volatile and largely ineffective. They keep appealing to “common sense reforms,” when everyone knows “common sense” in politics just means “my own preferences.” It’s maddening, especially since there’s definitely political capital and will to make changes in light of the recent shootings. It’s like being handed a superweapon to use on your enemies, and you keep just pointing it at your feet.

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