Okay, let’s talk about this indeed, but be warned – this is a long post:
The first problem *is* cultural. Back in the day (yeah, I’m old) firearms were fairly common as tools, after all there were lots of WWII vets, Korean Vets, and Vietnam was in full swing, plus there were hunters and farmers who needed to deal with varmints. We were taught from a young age to respect firearms, what they could do – when it was, and was not, appropriate to use them. And get this! Our families did the teaching, our neighbors, our schools. I took my first shot at 8 years old, and killed my first varmint (a coyote) at 12, and I was a big city doctor’s brat. My family included everything from the aforementioned doctor all the way to farmers and laborers – volunteers, salerymen, and women who worked. Every one had known poverty at some point. None shunned it, and all respected the hard work to get out of it. We didn’t hide our roots, our shortcomings, or our success. We didn’t wait ’til we had ours before helping out the folks next to us. We were in the same boat, and everyone took a turn at the oars. Then something changed.
Now the only apparent avenue for education in firearms for the public at large is the news, TV shows, or video games. There isn’t real firearms education in the schools, the scouts, the Y, or most parents… No wonder most react to the mere presence of a firearm like it was a giant spider ready to eat them. The only sense of community seems to be gathering to protest to get someone else to do something that all those people marching won’t do themselves. We don’t talk to each other, we don’t look each other in the eye, we look down and talk past each other. We curse folks for cutting us off in a hot rage, never thinking about our own failure that cut someone off just the day or week before. “They’re the asshole, and we’re the saints” has become the sole substance of our political debate – screw the issues, we want to eliminate the republocrats. We settle conflicts by force, we don’t have debates – whoever can muster the most votes or money or violence gets the nod. There are no redeeming qualities to those that oppose us, it’s brook-no-quarter take-no-prisoners.
So… How do we walk this back. What do we do to move the needle towards a more civil society and solve the crisis that keeps showing up on our TV’s?
First, we have to accept that there is no zero, no absolute, never going to happen, result in any solution. It wasn’t true when I grew up, or when my parents, grandparents, or their parents grew up. There’s always some nut-job that is just not right that’s going to blow up a bunch of kids or commit some other heinous act. It’s the law of large numbers at work, at 0.005% there’s going to be trouble. The more people on the planet the bigger the number 0.005% turns out to be. That’s an irreducible minimum. Like the poor, or the infirm, they will *always* be with us. What we need is to learn to cope with tragedy. The folks that raised me sure knew how to cope, and I’m grateful they passed it on – cause there’s been a share of it in my own life. Strangely, like them, I’m actually grateful for the hardships, they helped shape me in ways comfort and ease could never do.
Second, we have to understand that guns are a symptom, not the problem itself. Really, guns can’t be eliminated. Not only is getting hold of all of them impossible, but there’s always a ready supply through diversion from law enforcement and the military to ensure that evil assholes will get guns. The objective then is to reduce the number of nearly evil assholes. Without guns, truly evil folks will make explosives, drive cars into buildings, fly planes into skyscrapers, light a refinery on fire causing a BLEVE that levels a neighborhood. It doesn’t matter, they’ll find a way. It’s what they do. Accepting that this is going to happen doesn’t mean we have to think it’s right – far from it. It does mean that we prepare to give aid and comfort to those affected in the same way we’d give aid and comfort after any other natural disaster. These events are just as unavoidable. That truckload of thoughts and prayers is nice, but the thing I’ve learned from being on the front lines is this – money helps from a distance, kindness helps up close. So if you can’t be there and you want to do something – send $5 to a local charity in the area, they’ll know what and where to spend it to really be helpful.
Understand that there are real evil people that will shoot up schools, rock concerts, and whatnot – they’re that 0.005% of humanity, and they exist in ALL societies. Call it a genetic defect, whatever, these people just ain’t built right. No amount of good parenting, or any other intervention is going to fix them. They will do something evil, hopefully we can catch them, and the best thing to do once caught is to put them down. Clean the gene pool. Yeah – I know, that’s pretty tough. But really, what are you going to do? You don’t have to kill them – you can lock them up forever on bread and water and nature will take its course (hey Charlie Manson is *finally* worm food). Laws won’t make them go away. Good laws can ensure that they probably won’t end up loose in society after they’re caught.
Next we have to deal with the other 99.995%.
Now there’s going to be a good number of them that are going to do something stupid. It keeps me in business (I’m a nurse). There’s never a shortage of it. These are the ones that accidentally shoot their friends while hunting, shoot their kid/friend/spouse while cleaning a firearm. They’re not evil, just tragically incompetent. Sometimes this is a permanent state, other times its induced by fatigue, alcohol, or just a plain split second’s carelessness. I knew a very well-trained soldier with a long service record who blew his knee apart because he tossed his holstered Glock on his couch and it went off. His regret? He thought he’d safed the weapon “Guess not eh?”. Treat these as what they are, mistakes. The world will not end though, where firearms are concerned, the results are going to be rather dramatic. It’s really not any different that driving down a road and hitting a patch of black ice and ending up in the wrong lane head-on collision with another vehicle. Shit happens. Writing laws to fix this is a waste of pen, ink and paper.
Then there’s another group that feel the best way to win an argument is to use force. These blockheads have little intellectual capacity and couldn’t find reason if it was on every surface in a square room. It’s a special breed of stupid – emotional stupidity. To them everything is personal. You know the type – just wrapped too tight. These people shouldn’t be able to have weapons of any kind, let alone firearms. Here’s the deal though – we *can* figure these people out, more on that in a bit. Laws are capable to dealing with these folks, provided that the penalty is rehabilitative. Just putting these idiots in a box with a bunch of other idiots isn’t a great idea – fools are ingenious and in large groups the stupid grows exponentially.
Then there are the amateur hero wanna-be’s. These are the ones that think that having a firearm empowers them to act at a moment’s notice. I see these all over, even in law enforcement and the military. You can spot them, they’re just a little too puffed up. They have a swagger to them. But to someone who knows, it’s an easy move to quickly steal their firearm. They are the ones that get the Glock and the expensive controlled expansion rounds and leave them loaded in their nightstand. They have loose holsters and, if they carry concealed, they print real fast to those who know what to look for. In reality their marksmanship is crap and they’re more likely to shoot themselves, an inanimate object, or an innocent bystander, than any aggressor, provided that they don’t freeze in fear. Hell the first muzzle flash will blind them. I’ve watched one tough-guy wannabe lose control of his weapon on the range – flying behind him on the first shot. Laws don’t really deal well with this sort – it takes a subtle form of education and good old fashioned humility to work with these folks, I’ll circle back to them in a moment.
Now we come to the folks that just don’t like violence. Smart folks really. While they may believe everything can be solved by diplomacy, they’re not the ones to step in the middle of a gang war. You can find them doing something sensible, like screaming, crying, or whimpering in the corner. That’s a problem cause they target themselves, but they’re not aggressors – they’re the ones we’re actually trying to protect. There’s no law that can or should be written to deal with these folks. There is, however, some basic training/education that they need to know to be safe – and we should see that they get it from an early age. They’ll be less helpless and less likely to become a part of the problem if they have some confidence and understanding. Unfortunately, we’ve chosen a path that bubble wraps these folks and they often become a bigger problem than the active shooter.
Finally there’s the trained citizen militia. Some of are soldiers mustered out, some are law enforcement, some are experienced hunters, and some have just the fortune to train with all the above. They understand firearms, how they work, what they do, they have used firearms to hunt, and many know what it feels like to draw down, and God forbid, fire a shot in anger at human being. They want to avoid that at all costs, but understand the moment when they have to ante up, point, and shoot. And yeah, that sucks. It’s all fun and games until you really have to pull that trigger to stop a desperate man from committing a desperate act.
So how do we deal sort this all out?
The text of the Second Amendment reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Well regulated doesn’t mean laws/regulations – it means training and discipline. A militiaman is a citizen soldier, able to serve when needed, but otherwise just a ‘normal’ citizen, think volunteer not conscript. The bit about necessary to the security of a free State – well we don’t feel very free or very secure right now do we? So maybe something is missing eh? The right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed means just that – but what it does NOT mean is that there is no responsibility attached to such bearage. Summed up, this is the only ‘positive’ right in the entire Constitution. There are those who will disagree, and I respect that. But I interpret this amendment as the founders did – reading the Federalist 46 and 29. The ideas below stem from my reading of these works in connection with the Second Amendment, together with an understanding of human nature, and some sense of the needs of our times. It is a starting point for serious thought.
So – we do the following:
1. Every single citizen, male/female/whatever, is taught firearms safety in school by the 5th grade. Every. Single. One. If you’re older that school age you get the information and a test as a one-time deal. Fail to turn it in and you don’t get to have a firearm. You’re just not safe. For our children this is repeated again at about grade 8/9. Every. Single. Citizen. No exceptions, no excuse. Everyone understands what these tools are and how to handle them safely. Discharge of a firearm is NOT part of this education. Recognition, safe handling, and respect is the point.
2. Every single citizen gets to experience, live not televised, the effect of a firearm at least once – up close and personal. There is always an excess of animals available to serve for demonstration. Every single person gets to see a living thing killed by a firearm. It isn’t going to be fun. THAT’S THE POINT! Every hunter remembers his/her first kill, every soldier/LEO remembers the first time they killed a combatant. It stays with you, you never forget it. Ever. Life takes a new meaning afterward. When you see it live it can’t be rationalized away – the dog was barking, now it’s dead. Just. That. Fast.
3. We debrief the event using psychological techniques, we can spot the stupid, the crazy, the wanna be with a psych profile. You have the temperament to be responsible, you can own a firearm if you choose, if you don’t you have to change until you can show you’re responsible. We don’t accept people in the military who are mentally warped, and the testing is pretty good – the rates of social killers from our military ranks is extremely low, especially since they’re already been through the most brutal testing. We need to have a level of that same thing in society as a whole. Wish for the day this isn’t needed, but today is not that day.
4. After all that you want to keep and bear arms? Great! You have to demonstrate proficiency. Again, it’s a responsibility. If you want a hunting license in any state you have to pass HSC. You want to carry concealed, you need a CCW. This is just taking it a small step further. Firearms safety, marksmanship, basic defense these can all be taught. You show proficiency you get to own a firearm.
5. As a firearm owner, you have further responsibilities. Firearms use is a semi-perishable skill. Shoot/Don’t shoot scenarios fade without reinforcement. Second target acquisition get a bit dicey. It’s easy to fall into bad habits without reinforcement. You have to keep those skills at a useable level in a civil society. So you would have to re-cert every couple years. You must maintain your arms, you must maintain your proficiency. The good part is that society now has some confidence that every gun owner is “well regulated”. That builds trust and security.
That deals with the gun problem itself. But now we deal with our community problem. We do teaching throughout school to show different methods of dealing with disagreement. We talk about jealousy, anger, and fear – not as externals but as something we will all experience. We promote failure as a teacher, valuable and not something that is “not an option”. Not everyone wins the trophy, and the ones that don’t are better off. We bring back manners – teaching these simple acts of respect and kindness: May I? Please. Thank you. Why one should respect elders, that there’s always time to think of others (don’t close the elevator door before checking if there’s one more running to get on).
Many will exclaim “What an order! There’s no way we can do all that!!” I disagree, as will most of my generation. We were brought up on it as were our parents. These lessons aren’t all pleasant, but the lack of them is now irrefutably more unpleasant.