in the last few days, there has been an incredible increase in the amount of discussion of gun violence. of course, that’s not particularly surprising. people in the modern world jump from one hot-topic to another more quickly than changing their underwear. seriously. every day there is extreme outrage and emotional absurdity about something and the next it has been forgotten. not that i don’t think these issues are serious. i just think they’re serious next week and that we have to solve them rather than simply throw outrage and vitriol in their directions before getting distracted. the world is on fire. extremely. and we need to put the fires out instead of just wandering around, room to room, being shocked the fires are everywhere and continually getting worse.
this week’s fire of choice, however, is gun violence, particularly gun violence in schools. uvalde, texas, a city almost nobody outside that state and probably the majority of those inside it had heard of before this week, saw a disgusting attack on children. i hear people say “innocent children” a lot lately. which is an interesting distinction to make as if a bunch of six-year-olds have the possibility of being inherently evil and we only have a responsibility to protect those who aren’t. i generally believe people aren’t good or evil, just that their actions can be and change is always possible. but when we’re talking about young children i don’t really think there’s such a thing as a bad child. you may not agree. children, however, are our responsibility to protect. as adults, we don’t have a choice. it is a huge part of our purpose for existence. even the must rudimentary of animals with the simplest brains and social structures protect their children. it’s really only humans who have given up on our offspring, leaving them to be massacred in easily-avoidable ways. even encouraging their deaths. i know we have a population problem but this can’t be anyone’s reasonable solution to it, can it?
in that tiny city, twenty-one people were killed in one of the most deadly violent crimes perpetrated by an individual in history. given how horrifically violent our society has become, that’s not particularly surprising, either. violence is getting worse with every passing week, it seems, of late. and the statistics confirm it. as does the news with protests in capitals all over the world spilling into the streets and government buildings, leaving destruction and unprovoked wars of aggression springing up in places thought stable even a decade ago.
but let’s talk about the response.
the other thing that’s happened this week is the yearly convention of the national rifle association. it’s an odd coincidence but given the frequency of shootings lately it’s not really that odd when you think about it. has there been a week when no gun violence has been in the news? sure, not quite as severe as this. but people are dying, often children, killed by guns.
and i know what people are going to say. they’re not killed by guns. they’re killed by people. and that’s a valid distinction but it doesn’t matter. here’s why.
guns kill people quickly and easily. that means a single individual can cause vastly more death and destruction more reliably with a gun than without one. could a perpetrator do something similar with a knife? a sword? a heavy piece of pipe? a hatchet, perhaps? absolutely. but (and i admit i’m no expert on killing technique but i can extrapolate from common-sense) it’s more difficult and far slower. let’s say an adult wants to kill children in a school and they don’t have a gun. they get a knife, walk into the school and force their way into a classroom where they proceed to try to stab one of the children. they might succeed but while they’re doing it they have to fight off the teacher and the mass of other students, deal with the screaming that brings other adults in the building to help and protect themself from being disarmed. they might hurt one of the children. they might even manage to kill one. but there’s very little chance it would be a larger disaster. an attack on a child is certainly unforgivable and tragic. but a potentially-fatal attack on a single child is a vast improvement on a certainly-fatal attack on dozens.
it would be wonderful if we could eliminate the desire to cause harm, cause death, perpetrate crime. but since human society began these things have existed. it is the cost of human culture – greed, hatred and violence. and we must work to erase those from our societies, most certainly. but while we wait for the impossible to happen, perhaps we can do something to prevent it. there is a sentiment about violence similar to that of racism, that we must erase it from our hearts and minds before we can erase it from our streets. and that is true. but we’re not really ever going to be able to erase violence any more than we can erase racism. a half-century after the civil-rights movement and racism is still alive and well – in many ways more prevalent than ever in the 2020s. but we fight it with legislation.
perhaps we can fight violence the same way.
we have spent a century or more taking one particular approach to violent crime – the threat of punishment. it doesn’t work. let’s look at how this is supposed to function. we pass laws that say the response to a violent crime is arrest, prosecution and incarceration in a prison. this is a deterrent for certain people but – and here’s the really important part – not the ones we need to deter. a reasonable, educated, sensible person will see the threat of prison as a huge reason not to commit a crime. they probably didn’t have much interest in the crime in the first place, though. that might be great if it’s a crime without much risk like breaking traffic laws or lying on an insurance claim document. but when it comes to a crime most people don’t want to commit in the first place like executing a classroom full of children we can’t rely on how most people hear a threat of prison. we’re talking about the tiny minority of people who actually desire to hurt kids.
or perhaps it’s not that small a minority. in fact, violent crimes are committed by vast numbers of people every year. and they’re not quite the people you’d expect. this is because our society is so fixated on self-justified violence and anger and aggression that it’s impossible to find people not impacted by it, either by being terrified or by being more angry and, as a result, more likely to be violent.
but with this rise in “acceptable anger” comes a decline in how much people care about being caught and punished. so the same argument realistically applies. the threat of punishment isn’t stopping people like it once at least somewhat did. all we end up with is more people in jail but no fewer crimes being committed – more, in fact, as time goes on and it’s more and more obvious the punishment is minimal.
so what works better than using the threat of punishment? well, as we’re talking about children, let’s think for a minute about how you stop a child from getting hurt in the home. any parent will know these basic things – or any teacher. and it sounds simple but stick with me for a minute here. we’re going somewhere important.
teaching a child to cook is an exercise in thinking about safety. take them into the kitchen and there are things they can do and things they can’t. let’s say the child is four. the first thing you’d teach an adult about cooking is probably chopping vegetables. it’s simple and quick and the result is immediately-visible. would you teach the four-year-old to pick up a sharp knife and start wailing away on some carrots and zucchinis? not likely. unless you’re a sadist, you know they’re likely to hurt themselves. the knife is dangerous. that doesn’t mean you take away their functionality in the kitchen. you just take care of them. they start by mixing ingredients for cookies, stirring, rolling out the dough for bread. they have fun, you have fun, they learn and they don’t cut off any fingers.
it’s not because the knife was evil. it’s because you’re not and you don’t want the kid to get hurt.
let’s apply that thinking to our school-shooting situation. there is only one reason to own a gun in the real world – i mean, outside target-shooting, which doesn’t happen out in the streets and could be done in a tightly-controlled environment. killing. that’s what they’re for. it’s why guns were invented. killing people or animals is their only purpose. if you bought a gun and don’t intent to kill with it, i really want to ask precisely what your purpose of it is. just threatening to kill? is that better?
i heard someone recently say “i don’t want your hunting rifles or your pistols, just your assault weapons”. no. i want your guns. all of them. would it have been a little slower to kill two-dozen children with a handgun? a little. but not much. so what difference does it make what kind of gun it was?
i’m so tired of the simple answer not being the accepted answer. i’m so tired of waking up to another story in the news about children being executed because we can’t just look at the situation and say “no, we don’t need to be armed”. in theory, we have a right to do many things that can cause harm. but we have accepted them being eliminated. there’s nothing in the constitution about taking away the right to take recreational drugs, for example. heroin, cocaine and myriad other substances are prohibited, though. and i don’t see anyone screaming on the national news about a violation of personal freedom. if you decide to take illicit substances and put them in your body, the impact is severe. and it has a knock-on result in your community. but the impact is far less immediate or deadly today than getting a gun and walking into a school.
yet we are willing to continue to sacrifice children to the notion that freedom is more important than safety, more important than lives and more important than children.
what good does it do if you’re free but your daughter was just executed?
what good is being free if you went to work this morning to take care of children and came home in a box?
yes, i want your guns. i want all of them. i want to take them away because they’re not safe.
and if you want to keep them you aren’t just part of the problem.
you are the problem.