Archive for June, 2015

Blown Away: How American Gun Control Remains Elusive

29 Jun

So here we are again. I never thought another incident as disgusting and senseless as Sandy Hook could happen again but here we are once more. In fact, here we have been since the prominence of the 1999 Columbine shootings which has helped to spark well over 160 mass shooting incidents in the United States claiming approximately 500 lives since that time.[1] However, what really shocks the core is that while these mass shootings grab the headlines, tens of thousands of American lives have been lost over that same span in a far more understated yet more catastrophic manner. For example, according to the Atlantic which quotes a figure from the Centers for Disease Control; in 2011 alone there were 32, 251 firearms related fatalities in the United States. Process that for a second…in 2011 alone.[2] And while that astonishing figure is the last one available by the Centers for Disease Control, the current per capita death rate attributable to firearms in the U.S. is close to 4 per 100,000 Americans or as President Obama articulates it, “297x more than Japan, 49x more than France, 33x more than Israel.”[3]

It is admirable that President Obama in the wake of the recent Charleston church shootings, where nine people were brutally slaughtered in a historic house of God, would take such a visible and seemingly entrenched stance against gun violence, but after the never ending stream of these incidents and the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans in just the last sixteen years alone, to quote the President himself, “Expressions of sympathy aren’t enough. It’s time we do something about this.”[4]

Unfortunately, for whatever reason be it desensitization, the right-wing lobby, the media (both left and right), the political system in general, or just plain apathy, the incidents like those of Columbine, Sandy Hook, and now Charleston play out in a sort of depressing lifecycle. I have enumerated this lifecycle below:

Stage 1-SHOCK AND AWE: First, you have the shock of the event followed by seemingly endless coverage of the of the incident which usually dominates headlines for about two weeks or so (probably less now thanks to the 24hr news cycle).

 Stage 2-CALL TO ACTION: This period is followed by outrage, demands for reform, an examination of the statistics pertaining to firearms related deaths, and a superficial look into the causes of gun violence.

Stage 3- KILLER BIO AND MANIFESTO: While the killer is usually identified at the outset, the next period post-incident is comprised of an expanded profile on the killer, his modus operandi, and depending on his race possible motives for his crimes.

Stage 4- THE GUN LOBBY STRIKES BACK: After enough time has passed the gun lobby which include media members and politicians who share the same agenda emerge from seclusion and begin to offer up counter arguments for the incident from their toolkit which largely depend on the shooters race (i.e. white= lone shooter and/or mental illness and/or defending his country; black= no good thug and/or systemic discrimination; Muslim = terrorist) and the ability to deflect from the real issue of gun violence with dubious sidebars about the media’s role in fostering gun violence and other distractions like for example the recent focus on the type of language the President uses when describing his outrage over firearms related fatalities and racism in America instead of the actual issues that need detail examination like the number of firearms related fatalities and racism in America.

Stage 5- BACK TO BUSINESS: The incident begins to fade from prominence with time (and of course with each passing incident this time period gets shorter) and the last references to the most current incident are usually swept away by the aforementioned gun lobby with an appeal to antiquated Constitutional provisions such as the right to bear arms (On a side-note how is this even a logical argument? Is this even the same period with the same realities as colonial times? Are the firearms of today even remotely comparable to those of that historical period? To these types of arguments I would say that methods of amending the constitution were enacted deliberately and precisely for this purpose so that outdated provisions, like the universal right to bear arms, could be extricated when they no longer had any relevance in contemporary society).

Stage 6- KILLER UPDATE (OPTIONAL): In the end all that are left are periodic updates about the killer(s)’s current place in the judicial process, which is contingent of course on whether or not they are still alive.

What comes next after the latest Columbine, Sandy Hook, or Charleston? Well as ridiculous as it may sound, it is simply on to the next one. The shock and outrage? Gone and on to the next one. The calls for reform? Gone and on to the next one. Our concern for the victim’s families and our promise to do better? Gone and on to the next one.

Again, I never thought that after Sandy Hook where over two dozen people, 20 of them children, where brutally murdered in a school that there could even be a question about the need for a total overhaul of the gun control regime in America but amazingly, tragically, here we are again. Politicians, including the President, and proponents of firearms reform blame the gun lobby for the lack of reform, but that can no longer be used as any sort of excuse not to try and attempt to use logic to defeat the backwards mentality that has somehow permeated and become a fixture of right-wing gun enthusiasts; that America is somehow a safer nation with more guns in the hands of more Americans. The facts speak for themselves as currently there are 88 guns for every 100 Americans and yet America has by far the highest gun related fatality rate of any First World nation and overall one of the highest per capita firearm related fatality rates in the entire world. Yet, somehow this ridiculous argument that more guns are the answer to gun violence continues to be a fixture of the gun lobby’s position of why guns are good for America.

Of course it is not only right wing media, lobbyists, and politicians who share this distorted view as actor Vince Vaughn recently came out and shared his thoughts about why having guns is good:

“Of course. You think the politicians that run my country and your country don’t have guns in the schools their kids go to? They do….And we should be allowed the same rights. Banning guns is like banning forks in an attempt to stop making people fat.”[5]

The kind of luminary thinking possessed by Vaughn illustrates why actors should stick to acting, and Vaughn in particular should stick to making sub-par comedies. Banning guns may not solve gun violence in totality but applying this type of simplistic logic that Vaughn advocates to other world problems would result in attempting to rid the World of its environmental concerns with more pollution, or solving hunger by starving people more, or even attempting to rid crime by ensuring that more criminals are on the street, or better yet criminals with guns on the street. You get the picture.

Of course the underlying principle of what Vaugh is saying ties into what a lot of likeminded people think as well; that guns do not kill people, people kill people. While this is technically true, unfortunately how these people kill people is by using guns and so even under that bizarre rationale how can it be wise to advocate for more firearms and even more incredibly, no new restrictions on gun ownership and gun control.

However, even accepting the ludicrous premise that guns do not kill people and that more guns make you and your family safer (even though statistics clearly demonstrate that one who owns a gun is much more likely to kill a family member or someone they know then any kind of exterior threat), the problem with any sort of more guns and guns in the right hands are better for society is this; what happens in the event your gun is lost or stolen. Although the gun debate has been raging for nearly two decades, this seemingly basic fact does not appear to have made its way into the debate. Taking Sandy Hook for example, the killer was able to secure his weapon by stealing it from its “rightful” owner and then turning the weapon on dozens of innocent people. So gun lobby I ask you, what then? If the whole pro-gun inniative is premised on the idea that more guns in the right hands will prevent gun violence and guns don’t kill people, people kill people; I ask you what happens when a gun in the “right” hands falls into the wrong hands? The answer is simple, it becomes a catalyst which exacerbates the current firearms epidemic in the United States and fosters a nation that not only has to look out for the wrong guys, but the “right” guys as well. And here we are again.

As such, the aforementioned circumstance coupled with the ludicrous regulations pertaining to gun ownership currently in place and the relative ease with which one can acquire a gun particularly at trade shows and the like, makes any desire to realistically improve firearms related fatalities in the United States an absolute impossibility. So long as the issue remains deadlocked in debate premised on one side with passion over logic tragedies like Sandy Hook and Charleston are (tragically) here to stay. Of course the real tragedy is that a country as progressive and advanced as America in almost every way has chosen this issue to remain locked (and loaded) in the past. 

Although I could have ended with the preceding paragraph, just because the issue of gun control remains in gridlock does not mean there is nothing conscious members of can do. I would implore people passionate about gun reform to encourage government and gun makers for change. This change does not only have to be general in nature but can include imploring them to ban the sale of certain high caliber and/or high impact firearms. Perhaps the instillation of something as simple as a 3 or 4 digit tumbler lock on the manufacture of all new guns is something we can all hope and push for until real legislative change becomes a reality. In truth what kind of world do we live in where our telephones have greater security for the individual then our firearms? 

**As an extra final note, is there any particular reason that the media and society as a whole feel that the best course of action in the wake of one of these tragedies is to immediately put the spotlight on the shooter(s)? To me it seems obvious that these deranged individuals often commit these crimes simply for notoriety and fame due to their marginalized/outcast status. Maybe instead of focusing on them and, in a way, glorifying them we can simply identify them as “deranged male” or “deranged female” during the reporting of these incidents and put the focus on where it should be, the victims, the impact to us as a society, and firearms control. It seems strange that the same logic behind turning the camera away from morons who rush sports fields (i.e. to avoid providing them the attention they seek), is somehow absent under much more serious circumstances.   






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