Friday, June 17, 2016

We Can't Change People, But We Can Control Access to Guns

Why is gun control essential?  Because people are people; many suffer and lash out, some become violent. We can't control people's psychology and what they do or say.  But we can control the availability of weapons that enable them to kill and injure.

The tragedy in Orlando raises many questions, the most basic being whether there is any end or limit to man’s inhumanity to man.  And with this term, I’m not just referring to horrific acts of mass violence such as the Orlando shootings but also the violence that occurs every day, whether randomly inflicted on strangers or directed at someone the perpetrator has a grudge against.  Based on the evidence we see or hear on almost a daily basis, one has to say, no.

Although in posts I have set forth a way to end this epidemic of inhumanity … to make people humane again … it is not a very practical expectation (see “Creating a Safer World for Our Children.”).  No, we must take it as fact that there really is no end or limit to man’s inhumanity to man.

If we can’t stop people from being inhumane, then our only option if we want to end the suffering caused by these acts of inhumanity is to control the tools they use to inflict harm.  (For the purpose of this post, I’m going to limit the discussion to acts of inhumanity that involve physical violence.  The cruel psychological violence that people inflict on each other on a daily basis is also inhumane - see the above referenced post - but that's another matter.)

When we look at the statistics, we see that in the United States guns are the weapon of choice in physically violent acts:  67.7 percent of all murders, 41.3 percent of robberies and 21.2 percent of aggravated assaults were conducted with guns.  Each year more than 30,000 people are killed by firearms in the US (about 1/3 are murders, the rest suicides), compared to less than 200 in Canada and the countries of Europe.

Without any question, if we want to end the suffering caused by all this violence we must get rid of the guns that are so readily available.  But what to do about the opposing claim of gun rights and the newly-Supreme-Court-declared 2nd Amendment individual right to bear arms?

People definitely have the right to guns used for hunting and self-defense.  Until recent times that meant a traditional rifle for hunting and some type of pistol for self-defense.  People were able to hunt very successfully with their rifles … if anything it was more of a pure sport … and people were able to defend themselves.

The newer type of automatic guns and assault weapons that are available, with large capacity clips, have added absolutely nothing to the ability to hunt or to defend oneself.  It may give a hunter a bigger charge to be handling these newer guns, but that’s no reason to make them available given the harm that they can inflict.  And automatic pistols have not been shown to be more effective for self-defense that a regular pistol.  It just gives the person a psychological feeling of greater safety.

So, I would argue that given that we cannot change man’s inhumanity to man, all automatic weapons, whether guns or rifles, should be taken off the general market.  They should only be available to the military, police, and others who need such high-powered weapons in the performance of their responsibilities.

Regular guns and rifles should continue to be available to the general public as they are now, with of course appropriate background checks, etc.  All loopholes should be closed.  No one should be able to by a firearm without the required background check.

I know that one cannot expect to stop gun violence by taking all but regular rifles and pistols off the general market, even with effective background checks.  People can still turn violent and those firearms can still be used to great effect in ways other than hunting and self-defense.  But given the place of guns in American culture … the United States is not England or other countries where gun ownership is rare and traditionally strictly controlled … that’s the most that we can expect our government and people to accommodate for the greater good.

But the fact that gun control measures will not eliminate firearm violence is no argument against taking those steps.  Fewer deaths and injuries, especially from these mass shootings, is better than things continuing unchanged.

The NRA says that guns don’t kill people, people kill people.  And while that’s undeniably true … the core problem is the inhumanity of man … it is also true that without automatic weapons fewer people would be killed or suffer grievous injury.