With gun-related tragedies happening at such seemingly regular intervals, it's often difficult to know when it's appropriate to have a serious conversation about gun control. The kind of gun violence that gets the most attention is the kind that happens on a large scale - mass shootings, for instance. But the truth of the matter is that people are killed or injured by guns on a daily basis, to the point where we accept it as part of our day-to-day reality. Most of us are probably not that surprised when we hear about a shooting in our local news reports, and though we may view such events with a sense of tragedy, we tend to reserve our sense of outrage solely for violence that is shocking and beyond our expectations of what we deem as "normal."
All violence is tragic, even when it's necessary, and regardless of whether or not it occurs on a small or large scale, or if it happens today or if it happened last year, the correct time to discuss it is always now.
As we try to make sense of Friday's horrific shooting in Connecticut, the comment sections of countless articles across the Internet are filling with heated arguments about our turbulent relationship with the gun. These arguments are essentially the same ones we encounter after every massacre, and they tend to follow a specific sequence of stages as they develop. First, there is the expression of shock and sadness. For a brief time, everyone is united in mutual concern for those affected by tragedy, but typically within an hour, this cohesion begins to fall apart as individuals start pointing fingers, and within two to three hours (and often much, much sooner), the conversation has transformed into a full on debate. Although there are many who feel that debate is inappropriate so soon after a tragedy, it is never too early to discuss how a problem should be solved, or at least identify what the problem is in the first place.
I was not raised with guns, and I do not ever plan on owning one. I personally view guns as an overwhelmingly negative force in society, but at the same time, I genuinely believe that people who do own guns and see them as a positive force in society are completely normal human beings who love their family, friends, and country as much as anyone else. That said, I find myself distraught over the logic that gun proponents often employ in the gun control debate. I have narrowed down the most common arguments against further gun regulation, and will address them individually.
1. The "Armed Citizen Will Save the Day" Argument
Back in August, a man named Jeffery Johnson shot and killed Steve Ercolino, a former coworker, near the Empire State Building. As Johnson attempted to flee the scene, he was intercepted by a group of police officers. As the officers approached, Johnson drew his gun, prompting the officers to fire. Johnson was killed, and nine others were injured from police gunfire. Now these were trained NYPD officers who knew how to handle a gun properly, but despite this training, they still managed to injure innocent bystanders.
Undoubtedly, many owners know how to handle their guns, and may even have a good amount of experience using them in a controlled environment such as a shooting range or in a designated hunting area. However, I doubt the majority of gun owners have experience using them in a crisis situation. In the hands of the average individual, a gun used in defense is just as dangerous as one used to attack. Is it possible that an armed citizen could save innocent lives by taking out an armed assailant? Certainly, but in the midst of chaos, it is likely that many bullets will find unintended targets.
2. The "It's the Person, Not the Tool," Argument
Indeed, a gun does not pull its own trigger. It takes an individual with intentions to do so. Gun proponents argue that since this is the case, a person inclined to inflict harm on others will do so regardless of what tools they do or do not have at their disposal, and therefore, further gun control won't put a stop to violence.
Aggression is hardwired into human nature. It's part of our survival instinct, and something we are all capable of. Most of us who live in industrialized nations are, at least on an individual level, able to keep our aggression in check due to the fact that our cultural and technological advancements have quelled our need to compete violently for resources and territory (for the time being). But when someone does become aggressive, the degree to which they can inflict damage is dependent on what weapons they can get their hands on. An aggressive person who only has his or her fists for a weapon is probably not going to cause massive casualties, but the same can't be said if they have a gun. Certainly, any object can be turned into a tool of aggression, but we are fooling ourselves if we believe that all potential tools of violence are equally dangerous.
Furthermore, guns enable individuals to act out violently, for in the mind of the disturbed, guns increase the odds that their end goal will be successful. In other words, if a person wishes to harm others on a large scale, he or she may be less likely to act upon those desires if they only have access to say, a bow and arrow, which would dramatically decrease their chances of success. Of course, people are murdered by means other than guns, but according to a murder weapon statistics report by the Department of Justice, 67 percent of 2009 murders involved guns.
3. The "Constitutional Right/Cultural Tradition" Argument.
When the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted in 1791 with the rest of the Bill of Rights, the most common handgun was the flintlock pistol. Even in the hands of an experienced soldier, the fire rate for the flintlock pistol was limited to two to three rounds per minute, and even with a target at a range of 15 feet or less, these pistols had terrible accuracy.
Today the average American can own weapons that our Founding Fathers could have only dreamed of. Would they have written the Second Amendment differently if M16s had existed in their day? It's impossible to know for certain, but the point is that the world today is vastly different from what it was in the 1700s, 1800s and even a good portion of the 1900s. So different, in fact, that it would behoove us to look at ourselves in the mirror critically and unburdened by the veil of blind patriotism, and examine whether or not certain liberties are worth their potential cost. There are many of us who would argue that such an exercise would somehow put us down the path of tyranny. This sentiment is completely justifiable. Of course we should strive to defend ourselves from foreign and domestic threats, just as all nations do. But let's be realistic - every citizen militia in the United States, should they decide to coax an uprising, would be obliterated by our military. The results would be the same against a foreign army. Red Dawn is not a documentary.
What of the relationship between gun ownership and cultural tradition? A lot of us have grown up going on hunting trips, and have fond memories of being with family and friends out in the woods on cold November days. With the exception of an ill-advised canoe trip down a raging river in Michigan when I was eight, I too have fond memories of being out in nature with my family, so I understand the nostalgia people feel regarding their hunting experiences. Now America has a long tradition of hunting for sport and sustenance. Whether or not hunting is moral or necessary is up to you (personally, I find it immoral, and, unless you live in an environment inhospitable to crops, unnecessary), but to put it crudely, is "killing things" a cultural heritage we should continue being proud of?
Again, the vast majority of gun owners are good, normal people who are no different from anyone else, and I personally do not know any gun owner who I don't like or couldn't be friends with. I understand their sense of patriotism as well as their desire to retain their liberties. That said, I have yet to hear a compelling argument against stricter gun control, and as we mourn the deaths of the innocent, now is the time to decide what kind of society we want to be.
Thoughts and prayers are wasted without action. The time to act is always now.