08 October 2009

A large wooden badger disguised as a voter

It occurred to me that I have a rather vaguely uncertain stance on guns that I should clarify for my own benefit, if not for anybody else.

It is my own opinion based on the various conflicting sources of research into guns and violence that the primary focal point of violence and murder is the people first, the culture second, and the tools last. This does not mean that the tools of violence, guns, are unimportant or cannot amplify the effect when someone acts out with violence, but I think it is foolish to pretend that the violence within American culture, which exists far in excess and out of proportion to comparable societies of affluence and education elsewhere in the world, will vanish or even marginally decrease by attempting to remove the weapons presently involved. One thing that a study of military history has shown is that people can be amazingly inventive and prodigious at killing when they set their minds to it.

That means the first line of defence against violence is to attempt to limit access to weapons from people who are determined to be of some objective threat to harm others; mental instabilities, felons, and so on. It is possible that this is a list of people that may need more observation and study to limit legal access from some violence prone populations, or even to to demonstrate some modest level of responsible use and perhaps competency (though this latter point is rather less relevant if the concern is self-defence to attempt to avert violent acts, in many cases brandishing a weapon ought to be sufficient).

The primary reason to add such a constraint would be to get people to be more conscious of the decisions involved in purchasing a particular weapon over some other. What concerns me more than this first point of the possibility of disreputable people trying to arm themselves and in fact more than the fact that some people have assault rifles is the fact that people somehow live in a modern era of civilization and feel a compelling need to arm themselves with military grade weapons for otherwise civilian purposes in the first place. A shotgun, a hunting rifle, or even a handgun ought to be sufficient if you have some compelling need for armed self-defence or hunting. But we have a percentage of the population that seems so dreadfully concerned with their marginal safety or well-being that they seem to always need more firepower than their imagined foes in an arms race of mental fiction, much less that we have a larger percentage of the population that feels a compelling need to be armed at all times. I don't understand this sentiment. It doesn't demonstrate civility and it doesn't create conditions of safety, but it exists.

So the question to me is why does it exist? I suspect much of its basis is in the fictional world of a planet overrun with insanity, violence, and crime that bears little resemblance to most of our real lives. We still get a sensational report every time there's a shooting, a kidnapping, a rape, a robbery and so on. That's not to say those are not often tragic and terrifying events for the people involved. But they're not much further up the food chain from the apartment fire or airplane crash story for me because they're disproportionate to reality. Things that happen in real life have their own sort of dreary pictures, but they're things that are systemic, difficult, sometimes intractable problems of people and their mental schema bumping up against each other. They're not generally sensational news events with bloody pictures. Important to consider: the lions share of many of these violent acts are not committed by some random stranger. Most are committed by people who we know, who we live with. It wouldn't be fun to be afraid and suspicious of our loved ones I guess, over these faceless imagined criminal masterminds. But it's pretty much the reality for the majority of crime victims. That ultimately means that the concept of some sort of "responsible use" clause might be necessary to control much of our violent crime. Domestic abuse that could end up resulting in a shooting isn't normally going to show up on a routine gun check. But over a long run time frame with domestic stalking or messy separations with restraining orders it is going to be a cause for someone to seek to arm themselves in the first place. There are basically two ways you're going to remove the possibility of violence in such a situation.
1) mutually assured destruction: people being armed
2) remove the underlying social stimulus of violent potential.
The gun is basically the reaction of people living in a situation of barbarism. It is entirely logical to prepare for war if you want peace, even if I don't understand the conditions of barbarism that exist to cause the incivility in the first place. Basically the underlying issue is that America is populated with barbarians, or people living in a mentality that they are surrounded by barbarians. There are lots of explanations blaming media for either, but I think the answer is simpler. People consume the media that affirms these fantastic worlds because they're easier than asking tough, challenging questions. Like why do people turn to crime, why are people arming, why are our justice systems always fueled and supported by people who will push the harshest response rather than the most effective ones? Why are all our social initiatives described as wars, or our foreign initiatives resolved with threats, violence, and brutality? Who let us get into a perpetual arms race toward the bottom instincts of humanity? It wasn't the media. The media isn't going to change until the people do.

What we ought start with instead of banning guns is banning the American empire and the mental framework that we've unearthed from empires long destroyed of a persecuted and targeted society with its morals in disarray engaged in a constant struggle of reaffirming without understanding the ethical framework that created that society in the first place. I'll put it this way: If you moved out the Americans and gave the guns to British, French, or Japanese citizens in their place, I don't think you're getting a perpetual motion machine of violence or fear (at least not for a good many years). There's a number of good reasons that the second amendment exists as a matter of law. But the common Americans who argue for them don't seem to know what they are anymore or how they relate to the present situation. They are divorced from that logic.

Ultimately that means there's some need to figure out what the Constitutional framework is for the control of weapons, firearms in particular, too. Because there seems to be some room for that to exist. But it doesn't seem to be helping that much to institute the bans we have already and I think that means there are underlying causes other than the arms themselves that we're sooner or later going to have to tackle and make sense of.
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