When I realized the scope of what had happened at Sandy Hook Elementary, I posted the news to my Facebook feed to get the word out and called for people to hold off on the political debate out of respect for the tragedy. That’s not what happened, and even after getting used to the fairly rapid news-cycle in the wake of the Virginia Tech and Aurora shootings, I was shocked and dismayed at how quickly the two sides squared off and began attacking each other.
It did nothing to honor the memory of the little children who lost their lives or their family and community who must now wrestle with the loss, and so I simply refused to engage. I spent nearly 48 hours without posting a single thing on Facebook.
And yet a discussion of gun control, health policy, and violence in our society is as inevitable as it is essential. We need to have the discussion, I just wish that it could be had in a context of mutual understanding and respect. Asking too much? Aiming too high? Maybe, but could we really be satisfied with settling for less?
To that end, there are two things I’d like for people to understand.
- The gun-control advocates who immediately lept on this tragedy to renew their calls for legislation–often in the context of spiteful and vitriolic attacks on those they saw as ennabling the slaughter–were acting out of earnest love and anguish. I was angry at first, but that anger has completely dissipated as I realized that passionate language as a reflection of their very sincere and very noble motivations.
- The gun community, especially those interested in self-defense as opposed to hunting, believe first and foremost in the defense of others. Most people who get concealed carry permits do so at least in part because they believe they are taking upon themselves a solemn responsibility to defend everyone around them at any time. Their motivations to help save the loss of innocent life are no less sincere or noble.
Having said that: good intentions aren’t sufficient for good policy. The point of mutual understanding is not to short circuit an argument by saying “everybody is right in their own special way”, but just to try and set the initial tone as one of unity–even if fractious unity–rather than one of us-vs-them contention. Neither the gun community nor the gun control advocates are the enemy. We have common objectives, and though one or both sides will certainly lose or gain in the coming months, it’s more important to have a society that understands our essential unity than for either faction to gain the upperhand.
In that spirit, this is the first article I want to post about this tragedy: 4 Awful Reactions to Sandy Hook School Shooting – And Thoughts on a Better Response.
For now, I just want to make this policy observation. Over the last 20 years, gun violence has dropped enormously in the United States:
In 1992, for instance, the violent crime rate per 100,000 residents was 758. In 2012, it was 386.Between 2000 and 2009 (the latest year for which I could easily find data) use of firearms in violent crime had decreased from a rate of 2.4 per 1,000 to 1.4 per 1,000.
And yet during that time, the incidence of mass shootings has increased just as dramatically:
I believe this indicates that the problem doesn’t have very much to do with gun laws. After all, we’re saying that the rate of gun violence has been cut almost in half while the laws were being liberalized nation-wide and meanwhile Connecticut has some of the strictest laws in the nation. And yet at the same time we get these terrible shootings.
My hunch, and it is only a hunch, is that the shootings have little to do with gun laws and much more to do with the way the media reacts to these killings. I happened to read the names of the Columbine shooters and it was with a jolt of shock that I realized I recognized them perfectly, all these years later. And now another young killer’s name and face have been immortalized in a veritable Hall of Fame. Immortality is a prize that many of our best artists, scientists, and philosophers can only dream of, but we’re handing it out for the low, low cost of some stolen guns, a few hundred rounds of ammunition and your soul?
I don’t mean to imply there’s a simple solution, and I’m absolutely not trying to take gun control pre-emptively off the table. My initial thought, however, is that we might be looking in the wrong place.