Seattle, Washington (TFC) – Gun manufacturers rake in profits as the media hypes perpetually impending gun prohibition and a pervasively violent society to an unsuspecting public. No single political topic is more divisive in America than the right of gun ownership. Nothing about this debate is new – the gun control argument is as old as America, literally; attempted gun control in the American colonies by the British is probably what started the Revolutionary War. America, freedom, and guns are virtually synonymous in modern culture. Along with some of the highest rates of guns per capita, the United States is infamous globally for its staggering levels of gun violence. American culture, particularly as portrayed in the media, perpetuates militarization, aggression, weaponry, and strife. There are some interurban areas in America that are more dangerous than Middle Eastern warzones. To take away the rights of law-abiding citizens to protect their families would surely put innocent people at the mercy of hapless criminals, cry gun rights advocates. Those in favor of better gun control point to the high numbers of gun-related deaths – both accidental and intentional. Owning a gun alone won’t make one into a killer, yet if one decides that killing is what they want to do, a gun makes the task exponentially easier. The gun problem in the United States is truly a paradox, and not one likely to be soon solved. The problem is bigger than guns, ultimately cultural breakdown is to blame, but the answer cannot be more guns in the hands of increasingly ignorant, desensitized, and angry people.
“When viewed from any other civilized society on earth, the primacy of guns in American life seems to be a symptom of collective psychosis,” writes author Sam Harris, in The Riddle of the Gun.
Of course, I’m a pacifist. I realize that a liberal utopia with no guns or violence sounds like a fairy tale. Studies of societies throughout history suggest that humans are aggressive and prone to violence. Even in a hypothetically egalitarian, high-functioning society, there will still inevitably be some conflict and violence. It might be human nature to defend oneself aggressively, but guns turn everyday meaningless disputes into lethal situations. Mass shootings, which are highly publicized, make up only a small percentage of the gun violence that occurs in America. For every person who dies in a media sensationalized mass shooting event, many others die in individual incidences of gun violence – shot not by strangers, but by lovers, friends, and family members. According to GunViolenceArchive.org, there were over 53,000 gun-related incidents in 2015, 13,371 deaths, and those are just the ones we know about. The discussion of gun ownership in America is a complex and highly polarized issue. No one seems to have any practical answers, and each day more people with guns kill a lot of other people. The solutions proposed by politicians are futile; a previously enacted ban on what the anti-gun camp dubs assault weapons was ineffective at lowering the rate of gun violence. Background check requirements don’t seem to effectively keep guns out of the hands of criminals and would-be mass shooters. Poverty and mental illness are the two strongest indicators linked to gun violence, yet you cannot simply deny people the right to own a weapon on the basis of their socioeconomic or mental health status. You cannot lock people up preemptively upon the belief that they might commit a crime, and according to our current interpretation of the Constitution, you cannot deny someone the right to bear arms based upon the belief that they might harm someone. You simply cannot regulate intent.
Intent is the primary reason why the discussion of gun control ends in a paradox. There is no law that can be written that will successfully distinguish between citizens who want to protect themselves and those who want to do harm to others. A criminal background check might show an old felony on the record of a single mom with a dubious past, yet cannot show her current intent of protecting her children from the pedophile who just moved in next door. A fingerprint scan might show that an ex-Marine had an impeccable service record and is well trained in weaponry, but cannot show that his cognitive functioning has been damaged by depression and post-traumatic stress disorder or that he has secret plans to take his suffering out on the federal employees at his next VA appointment. The dilemma of gun rights versus control begins and ends with intent. Short of some futuristic mind-reading device, I foresee no realistic way to determine intent in the case of lethal weapons. It is my assumption that if you own a gun, your intent is to kill something or someone at some point in the future.
With around a third of households having guns, it is neither simple nor practical to outright disarm the American public, nor is it entirely desirable. There are over 300 million guns in America, with millions more being manufactured and purchased each year. 2015 was a banner year for gun sales, and Obama’s recent announcement of executive action on gun control issues is having a similar effect already this year. Each time the NRA lobbies against tighter gun control, the gun industry profits. Every day, average citizens are rushing out to buy more guns, convinced that they will soon no longer be able to purchase them. The media has them convinced that their family is at constant risk of harm by malevolent strangers, potential terrorists, and serial killers. While this is the single most solid argument for individual gun ownership – simple physics prove that in the event of an immediate threat of violence it is unlikely that anyone you called for help would be able to respond in time – a gun in one’s home can easily be turned against them, particularly if the gun owner is not well trained in the use of weapons. Others maintain that it is a citizen’s duty to bear arms in order to defend themselves against a tyrannical government. If you think that your home arsenal is going to protect you from either terrorists or the world’s most well-funded military in the age of micro-drones and dial-down nuclear weapons, you might be a bit naïve.
“If you believe that the armed forces of the United States might one day come for you—and you think your cache of small arms will suffice to defend you if they do—I’ve got a black helicopter to sell you.” Sam Harris – atheist, author, gun owner.
What is interesting to note; however, is that while percentages of gun violence and homicides appear to have reduced significantly since a peak in the early 1990s, the perception of danger and fear is instilled in citizens everywhere. Most people believe that crime rates are up. Media fear campaigns through sensationalized round-the-clock coverage of violent episodes, compelling true-life crime dramas, and violent video games desensitize and dehumanize violence. The programmed fear and the perceived threat of disarmament have untrained and uneducated citizens running out to purchase dangerous weapons in droves. Thanks to media manipulation and political posturing, Americans are stocking up on guns like never before. Today’s population has nearly twice the guns per capita as they did twenty years ago. More weapons plus more fear equals more potentially lethal conflicts within communities and families.
This author has serious concerns around allowing ordinary citizens to walk around with lethal weapons. There are many people in this country who I wouldn’t trust with small children or animals. We live in a country where a toy cape must be equipped with a warning label or else one might use it to attempt to fly, yet average, untrained citizens are allowed to walk around with concealed and loaded lethal weapons unregulated. America has higher gun violence than any other civilized nation. And more guns. Gaining possession of objects which are created for no other reason but to kill should be at least as burdensome as legally owning a car or a house. The process of becoming a legal, licensed automobile driver and maintaining registration on a vehicle is more tedious and cumbersome than the process of getting a gun. Some jurisdictions have tighter controls on operating bicycles than on owning guns. These are lethal weapons. We should have by now developed some sort of cautionary approach, yet the weapon manufacturing industry continues to ride the coattails of the Second Amendment, uninfringed.
Our forefather’s intent behind the Second Amendment is debatable. Our world – and weaponry – is significantly different than the world in which the Constitution was written. The United States in 1789 was populated by more grizzly bears than people. Typically, the courts maintain that constitutional amendments were written to protect individual rights well into the future; however, Cornell University Law School reported that, “there is no definitive resolution by the courts of just what right the Second Amendment protects.” It could be read to pertain to the right of the state to keep the federal government in check by maintaining a militia, and not remotely having to do with the rights of an individual to bear any weapon that they see fit. As soon as you apply the Second Amendment to individual weapon rights, questions arise. Should the Second Amendment give individuals the right to, say, own a tank? Or a missile launcher? An atom bomb? What constitutes arms that a citizen should have the right to bear? Humans have created weapons that no one should rightfully possess. There is no legally defined line of what is protected by the Second Amendment. Where does the individual’s right to keep and bear arms start to infringe on another’s unenumerated right to safety and peace of mind?
Of course, the answers to these questions aren’t simple, and gun control is one of those topics that can cost you friends, but the issue is critical and needs to be addressed. Gun violence is more than just a problem of lost lives – the cost of gun-related deaths and injuries rings up to nearly half a billion dollars a year in public tax dollars. Most efforts to control gun sales or ownership have only affected law-abiding citizens and fail to affect rates of violence. Gun bans in other countries seem to have little overall outcome; unfortunately people just find another way to hurt people. Guns can be used for hunting, sport, and self-defense, which are all considered noble pursuits. How do you get weapons out of the hands of people who make poor choices? While I would totally advocate rounding up all the world’s weapons and melting them down to make jungle-gyms for poor kids or something, I think a common sense solution might start with demilitarizing police forces, having less guns in circulation, creating less new weapons, and regulating legal licensure in such a way that responsible gun owners are educated in gun safety and ethics.
Obviously, murders can and will occur in a gun-less society. A determined person with murderous intent can build a bomb or a gun from supplies found at Home Depot. It is possible to maim or kill someone with a pair of scissors, a knife, a car, a rock, a piece of wire, or even a soup spoon if you get creative; however, the only purpose guns have ever had is to kill. Even in the hands of the so-called authorities, guns are dangerous and lead to unnecessary deaths. Humans have invented non-lethal tactics with which to protect themselves from predators and enemies, let’s employ them. We have come to believe we need guns because that is part of the fear and isolation agenda. Just like you can’t bomb your way out of war, you cannot gun your way to a more peaceful society. Remember, the gun industry is profiting by keeping you afraid. The mainstream media promotes a culture of violence. Currently we have 300 million guns in the hands of mostly untrained, uneducated, and desensitized individuals. I’m not saying you should hand over your arsenal to the government, but I am thinking maybe it is time for a lot of people to turn off the television and put down the guns. In the meantime, I’ll be learning to shoot better, because my research tells me that there are a lot of loaded, loose cannons out there.