Tuesday, December 18, 2012

(Gun) Freedom's Cost

As I get older, my empathy for other peoples' pain, both physical and psychic, seems to be greater. In that mode, it's awfully sad thinking about those poor little children in Newtown, Connecticut. Their school day was just beginning, and they had no reason to think that last Friday would be different from any normal day: learning, working and fun. They were too little to fight back, and the adults on their side had no reason to think they would be called on to defend lives. At any rate, they were outgunned. For the most part, all the shooter had to do was point from the range of a foot or two - and squeeze the trigger. Help arrived within a few minutes, but it was already too late. It must have been both horrific and terrifying.
I had a look at the names of the victims. It was not untypical for our country. I noticed French, Greek, Chinese, Spanish, Italian, German and Polish names. There were others I couldn't identify. The funerals have begun, and so have the questions: What could we have done? How can we stop it from happening again? Where did the guns come from, and how were they brought into the school? Could laws have prevented, or at least delayed what happened, or is it like trying to legislate the weather?
We say that such disasters must not recur, but our will is questionable. The country now has something like 300 million weapons now in private hands, with more being made every day. The restrictions on purchase and ownership of guns are shot through with loopholes and really nothing prevents the building of a private arsenal. Since the law is often not broken until the first shot is fired, and sometimes not even then, we should, I think, expect this kind of tragedy to continue, even if other types of crime are (as the F.B.I. tells us) trending downward. The armaments industry is well-represented by lobbyists, and one organization affiliated with guns has firmly attached itself to the Republican Party. They are not above propagandizing the other side to their members as wanting to take away their Constitutional right to own weapons. Today's Supreme Court agrees, ranking the right to own guns equally with the right of free speech.
But there are other ways to reduce the threat. There's the identification of those with mental disorders that make a person prone to violence. We could offer incentives to those who would choose to work in the medical specialties that would help the most. We could re-emphasize rational behavior in schools. We could urge gun owners to secure weapons and ammunition, preferably separately. We could even sponsor ways for people to expend their hostilities under controlled conditions. Many wish to bring back restrictions on certain types of weapons with little or no sporting value.
But all these suggestions are flawed, in that solutions aimed at dealing with one person at a time will always miss someone, while solutions affecting everyone will anger many and cause others to panic in ways no one can predict. Some will honestly (though wrongly) feel that they must forcefully keep government from greater power than it already has by using their own weapons. The excuses for packing guns probably run into the hundreds.
We should remember that laws are not adopted in order to make a crime impossible, but to raise the stakes of violation, thus producing a trend which leaves us better off. Don't fall into the trap of seeing a law violated and concluding that there is no value in having laws. But it looks to me as though people will have to be more patient, more wise and more empathetic to see this type of gutwrenching violence finally go away. I don't think that will be soon.         


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