It’s a sad state of affairs when we can say the US has had “yet another” mass shooting. It’s also a sad state of affairs when the obligatory resulting debate about gun control — yet again — achieves absolutely nothing besides a short-term media frenzy filled with vitriol. Every time, it’s hot air about whether we should keep guns out of people’s hands, with no mention of whether we can, nor the underlying social conditions that actually cause mass murder. Enough already.
For those unfamiliar with what happened, a psychologically disturbed man dressed in tactical gear walked into a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, armed with tear gas grenades and multiple firearms. He shot 70 people at random, killing 12 of them. The tactical gear didn’t raise eyebrows at first because it was the opening night of The Dark Knight Rises, and everyone thought he was wearing a costume. This is, unfortunately, not a particularly strange thing to happen in the United States.
“Enough already” seems to be everyone’s rallying cry this time around. It was after last year’s big shooting when the headline “Mass shootings are a fact of American life” appeared. So the anti-gun crowd says, enough already, let’s pass a bunch of gun bans and put an end to these tragedies. The pro-gun crowd says, enough already, stop politicizing tragedies, and oh by the way if everyone had a gun then people could defend themselves against trigger-happy madmen.
Meanwhile, my brain overdoses on epic fail and I nearly fall into a coma.
The Right of the People to Blow Holes In Stuff for Recreational Purposes
I used to be one of the stereotypical anti-gun people, ignorantly calling for a repeal of the Second Amendment and decrying anyone who’d want a gun as a backwards barbarian. Then two things happened. First, I started dating a national champion competition target shooter. Second, I read the part of Makers where people started building AK-47s with 3D printers. These things made me realize that even though I don’t particularly want a gun, I still ought to stand up for people’s freedom to have them.
Why is the right to bear arms important? “Guns are used for hunting, for self-defense, and as a last line of defense against tyranny,” says the upper middle class white male who just drove from his well-paying job to his nice, safe neighborhood (which is located hundreds of miles from any hunting ground) in the gas-guzzling, heavy-duty pickup truck that he bought in case he ever needs to tow the boat he’ll never own.
See, most gun owners I’ve met will never, ever use their guns to go hunting, to shoot an intruder, or to violently revolt against an oppressive government. The vast majority of people have guns for the same reason many people have ridiculous trucks: because they’re fun. And believe me, having shot an absurd four-barrel magnum which produces a muzzle flash longer than the gun itself (and it can fire underwater!), I know how fun it is to make these things go bang. There is nothing wrong with fun. But because the terrified anti-gun crowd won’t accept the legitimacy of fun, law-abiding gun owners have to come up with ridiculous, flimsy justifications for why they should be allowed to have their toys.
But no, I don’t stand for the right to bear arms because of the sanctity of human fun. I stand for the right to bear arms because taking it away would be like putting a band-aid on a brain tumor.
You Wouldn’t Download an Assault Weapon
In this NPR interview about the Aurora shooting, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne had this to say:
There are some very simple things that we know through common sense would make a difference if a shooter did not have a magazine with 100 rounds in it. He’d have to reload. If assault weapons were illegal, you would at least take an event like this and make it less lethal and we ought to at least try to do that.
Yes, it’s true that the illegality of assault weapons might make it less likely for a lone disturbed gunman to acquire them. Not so much for organized criminals (which is why Mexico’s famously strict gun control doesn’t do much of anything to curb its gun violence problem), but a ban on — for example — high-capacity magazines could have saved a few lives in Aurora.
This benefit would last only so long as it’s impossible to make high-capacity magazines on your Makerbot. Any kind of weapons ban would be effective for maybe 10 or 15 years before 3D printing becomes advanced, inexpensive, and widespread enough to render it completely moot.
In the near future, it will be even easier for a lone mentally ill person to get their hands on a dangerous assault weapon. We ought to be rehearsing for that reality, not pretending that it’s never going to happen.
So How Do We Get People To Stop Shooting Each Other?
Here’s the challenge we face: how do we stop gun violence if we can’t stop people from getting guns? Our only choice is to focus on why a person might want to commit senseless mass murder.
Obviously, you’d have to be seriously mentally ill to go through with a mass shooting. Therefore, it’s no surprise that a country as mass shooting-plagued as the US also leads the developed world in untreated mental illness. If we deal with our mental illness problem, we deal with our murder problem. If we eradicate mental instability, we no longer have to worry about whom we can trust with firearms. Plain and simple.
Well, it’s simple to identify that the problem is mental illness. Actually helping mentally ill people is a much more difficult topic. It’s not as simple as throwing money at the problem in a vague attempt to “improve our healthcare system”. You have to consider which treatment options are effective. You have to consider whether treatment even is the option, as some mental illnesses may be a symptom of another societal problem; as Bruce Levine said, “just how unjust does a society have to become before helping people adjust to it with behavior modification and medication is immoral?”
And let’s not forget that those same societal injustices cause poverty, which creates fertile ground for smaller-scale, non-mass murder gun violence. Countries that ban handguns see their poverty-generated gun violence replaced by similar levels of knife violence.
Perhaps the Christopher Nolan film which best complements this mass shooting problem isn’t The Dark Knight Rises. It’s Inception: these mass shootings are caused by problems within problems within problems; gun violence caused by mental illness caused by poor healthcare caused by income inequality and political corruption and so on and so on and so on.
I wish that horrible mass shootings like these could give us an opportunity to discuss the complex problems that cause them. A nuanced discussion about mental illness, and how it can be not only treated but also prevented, is what we ought to be getting out of this tragedy. It’s not that the American people are too stupid to hear about complex problems, it’s that nobody with a microphone ever brings them up. We’re all tired of this same old, dead end debate about whether we should ban all guns or arm every man, woman and child. But the media, for whatever reason, seems to believe that the same old idiocy gets more readers and viewers, which generates more profits.
Humor us, pundits. Just try something smarter, deeper, less cynical. Give nuance a shot. Give intelligence a chance. I think you’d be surprised at how little of your audience you lose. Maybe, just maybe, a little bit of intelligence and sensibility will prepare us to prevent the next mass murder. And perhaps fix a few other things too.