Yet another tragedy struck the United States and the rest of the world thinks we’re simply mad. Now, statistics and patently ridiculous statements from both sides of the debate are swirling around like flurries in a snowstorm.
Pro-gun politicians say “now is not the time to talk about gun control.” ‘Don’t play politics with people’s tragedy’ they suggest, but controlling the conversation is politics and it’s been very successful. Time heals wounds and the pro-gun side simply waits out the momentary anger that might motivate change. People’s positions rarely change. (If you didn’t feel like banning guns after the Columbine shooting, the Virginia Tech shooting, the Aurora shooting, well, the Newtown shooting isn’t likely to suddenly change your mind.)
Meanwhile, the gun-control advocates have been offering some pretty damning statistics around gun violence. The viral image comparing 10,728 gun deaths a year in the United states with a measly 8 in Great Britain is certainly disturbing. It wouldn’t be as impressive if population were taken into account. In that case, U.S. rate of gun deaths is only three times the rate U.K. rate. It’s still sad and disturbing but not nearly as frightening as ten thousand times as bad.
The most popular argument from gun supporters is that outlawing guns would do nothing to stop criminals from having guns. This specious claim doesn’t survive even the lightest scrutiny with respect to these tragedies. Each of attackers were law-abiding citizens who only became criminals after they finally used the guns. Just the same, taking guns away from people has does not have as much effect as you might imagine. Australia hasn’t had a gun massacre since it dramatically curtailed gun ownership, but gun deaths in that time have actually increased slightly. Gun massacres aren’t common occurrences and so we don’t really expect to get good statistics from rare events. Either way, countries with more liberal gun polices and gun ownership don’t always have more gun related deaths than countries where firearms are illegal. America just seems to be a particularly bad case. Maybe there is some other cause.
Now may be the time to do something, but let’s face it; for good or ill, Americans aren’t going move from gun-ownership being a constitutionally granted right and freedom to a complete repeal of the second amendment. The best gun control advocates ought to hope for might be some limitations of assault rifles or similar weapons. But would that be enough to really avoid these horrifying massacres?
Wait, that’s another embarrassing pro-gun argument: you don’t need a gun to kill people. Timothy McVeigh, they suggest, did his damage with fertilizer. Falling for this ploy would be a case of letting ‘perfect’ become the enemy of ‘good’. We will not ever be able to stop every person from inflicting violence on another and even attempting to do so would likely result in a world so devoid of freedom no one would want to live in it anyway. Yet somehow, we don’t give up and we try to fashion rules that straddle rights of the individual with harmony in society. It isn’t easy, and we often fail, simply because neither side will be able make a completely compelling argument isn’t a case for doing nothing.
So fine, maybe gun rights advocates will have to budge a bit and lose their freedom to easily buy assault rifles and high capacity magazines and gun-control supporters won’t manage to keep us safe by removing all guns from the hands of law-abiding citizens. Such a comprise might be sensible, but won’t likely accomplish much.
But there is one thing that’s different about the United States and other countries with nearly as liberal gun ownership policies, and it’s likely much closer to the root cause of the problem. What do each of the assailants in these recent cases appear to have in common? They were mentally ill. We don’t know that exactly, but frankly, isn’t it a good hypothesis that a person who decides shoot up a movie theater or elementary school has at least something undesirable going on in his brain?
The real path towards a solution might have nothing to do with gun control. Instead now is the time to increase access to mental health care. To work diligently to identify people who may later be capable of these acts and to offer them help, where possible, and, even detainment if proven impossible. Few industrialized nations have so little access to health care and particularly mental health care as the United States. Regardless of how you want to create the access, it’s clearly in the best interest of everyone that people can be identified and treated before they buy or borrow a gun. Mental health is part of health and if we’re going to guarantee life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we’re going to have to help those people who otherwise will wind up slaughtering innocent citizens.
It’s true, guns don’t kill people, but mentally ill people do walk into shopping malls with guns blazing. Instead of arguing about how dangerous guns are, or suggesting armed teachers might have avoided this carnage, let’s invest time and money in changing people’s minds about mental illness, and working to identify people with those illnesses before a sick teacher brings a gun to class not for protection but to act out her own violent delusions.
The time to act is now, but please, let’s do something about the cause of these horrific acts, instead of bickering about the tools.