Now that the Newtown tragedy has prodded the president and a mostly reluctant Congress to bring gun control, for at least as long as it titillates the media, to the surface of current priorities, I find myself (oddly for a liberal) in basic agreement with those who argue that more stringent gun controls will do little, if anything, to stem the violence people in America perpetrate with guns.
The opportunistic rush to reinstitute the ban on assault weapons, adding to it the prohibition of ammunition magazines that allow firing of multi-rounds per second, as well as universal and more stringent background checks on gun owners are the easy pickings for politicians posturing to “do something.” However, even these obviously sensible actions may fail as they will be hotly contested by the combined efforts of the NRA, the gun manufacturers, and the demented souls who believe that guns are their protection against their government, and beyond that, their God given right, aided and abetted by a Supreme Court majority that apparently cannot understand English (comma or no comma) in their reading of the Constitution’s second amendment.
Actually, while I believe the individual citizen’s “right to keep and bear arms” as defined today (having nothing whatever to do with the intent of the founding fathers), is in no way guaranteed by the second amendment, I also believe that responsible people ought to be able to own guns for protection and for sport, neither of which would be compromised by a ban on military-style weaponry nor in-depth background checks. I also think that every weapon should be registered and their owners held responsible for their use. (As to those paramilitary kooks running around in camouflage, camping out in the woods, and mowing down their conspiracy-induced phantom Feds, let me add that I understand their paranoia that this would make it easy for the government to confiscate people’s guns, but if our democracy allows such a government to take power, we deserve enslavement and our personal arsenals will certainly not prevent it.)
Yet while I support these proposals because if nothing else they will show us as a more civilized society less committed to and governed by a gun culture, I believe they totally miss the point if the intended result is a meaningful reduction in mass murders and public gun violence in general. Unless and until we address the fact that Newtown and every other horror we’ve witnessed in recent years were acts committed by people who are insane (regardless of any legal definition to the contrary) and whose lives have offered ample evidence of their sickness which has gone unnoticed, unreported and untreated, we will not stop the next slaughter of innocents. We desperately need to find ways to effectively recognize, treat and stop such people short of their mental collapses into lethal violence.
And we need to ask why so many more people than ever seem to be driven to such levels of anti-societal desperation as to become mass murderers. I believe it goes much deeper than the fact that we — more than most other nations — worship guns and commercialize the most extreme forms of violence for the so-called entertainment of adults and children alike. I believe it goes beyond these obvious manifestations, which may be more symptomatic and less causal of what actually pushes people over the brink of derangement, opening fire on a society that has driven them mad. I believe it goes to the very soul of the disparate factions that characterize the dangerously divisible nation we have become socially, economically, politically, philosophically and psychologically.
We didn’t used to be this way. There’s something rotten in the state of America and until we understand what’s changed, and why, and how we can mitigate the problem, and in fact take action to do so, we face an existential threat as ominous as any nation or terrorist group that wants to destroy us. Unfortunately, it is an issue intellectually far beyond legislatures elected by media and money, and of no interest to those who control either, since there is no audience for sociology compared to the moronic stream of congressional and pundit blather.
In any event, whatever passes for gun control will be no answer.