First off, the right of the people does not depend on the homicide (or suicide) rate. As with using a seat belt or keeping fire extinguishers at hand in the home, keeping and carrying a gun for self-defense is a about being prepared, being responsible for your own security, a matter of good citizenship. Each of us is responsible for our personal defense and the defense of those that depend on us. The right to keep and bear arms is a civil right that supports the human right of self-defense. That principle does not depend on statistics or odds.
We must all recognize that it is a minority of the people who are at risk around guns, and not fall for the fallacy that “having a gun makes you less safe” applies to the general population. Then we have a chance of working together to focus our efforts on those who are at risk.
We all know that some 2/3 of “gun deaths” are suicides, and the gun control approach recommends waiting periods, but this violates the civil rights of the people and for that reason is opposed on principle. Further, “gun suicides” only account for 1/2 of all suicides. We have to find other ways to help people at risk of suicide, and encourage them to reach out. We have changed our perceptions markedly when it comes to things like PTSD and drunk driving. This type of change in public attitude and awareness can make a big difference.
I would think both sides should agree we need a better mental health care system – the left is all about health care and support, the right is strong on the right of the people – and since we can’t always identify risky people in advance, we’d have a better chance of effective intervention if we throw a wide net. We don’t know what’s going on inside these mass killers’ heads, but many of them are quite unhappy, suffering psychologically and emotionally, and if they had a way of feeling better and getting their life on a different track, that could reduce the threat such people pose to society.
As for intentional homicide, there are strong sociological factors that contribute to it that tend to dwarf comparison of averages among nations, cities, or regions. For example, according to the Justice Dept., fully 50% of all our homicides are black-on-black, even though black folks account for only 13% of the population. Now, since we’re not “racists” we know race doesn’t cause it. Rather, it is part of a sad, intractable legacy that we have yet to confront effectively, on the ground and inside the communities, with social remedies for what are after all sociological problems. The illegal drug trade dovetails deeply into this. Simply trying to choke off the flow of guns will not kill the endemic violent environment nor alter motivations driven by things like poverty, hopelessness, broken homes, broken neighborhoods and schools, and where we throw in lots of money and drugs, guns are sure to follow. Cocaine is smuggled into this country by the ton. Weapons can be smuggled in too if the demand is high enough. Nearly a quarter of a million guns are lost or stolen each year in our country. Clearly, there’s no shortage in the black market, and convicted felons, barred from gun possession but connected to the criminal underworld, would be undeterred by the law. It’s not that we shouldn’t have any “gun control” at all, but that relying on it as the prevailing paradigm is like squeezing a balloon at one end – the air just moves to the other end. And then we have good people fighting on both sides instead of working together on the underlying causes, which is wasteful and counterproductive.
Now, as for domestic violence, which we all agree is a big issue, there are almost always warning signs and escalation that lead up to a violent death, and therefore intervention – before things erupt into gunfire – would be the sensible approach. Either eliminate the violence in the home or separate those at risk. Easier said than done of course, but this is where the real opportunity lies, and besides, domestic violence that does not result in murder is also abhorrent. So it makes sense to pay attention to warning signs and take appropriate action against domestic violence in general. Slapping a “gun restraining order” on someone who is already considered to be homicidal demonstrates a failure by society to effectively intervene beforehand. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea, but just that it’s a last ditch. We’re late to the game and we’ve already missed the best opportunity to stop a murder.
We’ve made progress against drunk driving by increasing awareness as well as the penalties for getting caught. People are deterred by knowledge of the penalties, but they’re also more aware that drunk driving isn’t a funny or trivial thing, that they might end up killing someone and having to live with the thought for the rest of they’re lives. That has a deep effect on most people – we have changed their behavior and significantly reduced the incidence of drunk driving.
How can we apply this idea to guns? I’ve known people who felt they could not be safe around guns and did the right thing by not having any around. People should have a sense of whether they might pose a risk to themselves or other innocents if they choose to have a gun, the same way people should be aware of the risk they face in drinking and driving. If those at risk were more aware of what their behavior and troubles portend they might tend to choose more wisely, just as fewer people drink and drive. I spoke to a young woman not too long ago who did not have a gun, was thinking of getting one, but wondered whether she might get angry and harm someone with it. So I asked her to think of times when she was very angry, and whether if she had a gun she might have used it, and she said “No,” without hesitation. I commended her for thinking of this in advance, as everyone needs to know their limitations (as Clint Eastwood would say), and that she was wise to think it over first and then make her decision. The point is that, as with drunk driving, most people don’t want to hurt someone else or mess up their lives, and are amenable to changes in behavior and awareness that could make a significant difference in “gun deaths.”
Someone who doesn’t care whether he lives or dies, or spends the rest of his life in prison and is intent on doing harm is very difficult to stop. A good example of this is the recent massacre in Charleston. I would say anyone who guns down nine innocent people is not right in the head, but if he’s legally sane I have to wonder how, in his mind, does he figure he comes out ahead – just to get some distinction in life, however depraved? Somehow he thinks it’s worth the loss of his freedom, no more drinking and doing drugs with his friends, and it doesn’t seem to make sense. I think there’s a lot more we could learn about motivation and ideation in these cases.
So the real key to reducing gun violence is, as always, to attack the behavior and motivations of those at risk, to attack the underlying causes rather than the means. That is the most effective way to prevention. Guns do not, indeed cannot, actually cause anything to happen for good or ill. The homicide (and suicide) rate is a symptom of society’s ills, and is the responsibility of society at large – not just, or even primarily, those who support the right of the people to keep and bear arms. Putting gun control front and center is to put the cart before the horse.
Finally, there is no point regarding our fellow citizens who choose to carry a concealed handgun for lawful purposes with disdain. Most of them carry for defense against random crime that can happen at any time, and therefore carry at all times and everywhere permitted by law. Keeping it concealed from view is a big inconvenience, but they learn to adjust to it. It is a way of life, a commitment, a recognition of their responsibility to do their best in terrible circumstances should the need ever arise.
So to recap, statistics are not relevant to the right of the people to keep and bear arms. That is a civil right that supports the human right of self-defense. It is inviolate. People will abuse the right, and we can never totally eliminate that threat, but there is much we can do to try and reduce it, and we can be prepared to deal with it. Their behavior cannot be used to attack the rights of a free people. The people will not settle for dumbing everyone down to the lowest level of defenselessness and irresponsibility. That is the program of tyrants and bureaucrats. The people have the power for a reason, and they will not be fooled by efforts to attack it, weaken it, or make it vulnerable. Rather, we must rise to the level of our freedoms, not dumb ourselves down to the level of Orwellian pigs and sheep.