How The U.S. Can Minimize Gun-Related Homicides

The following are a few points that need to be addressed to finally end this carnage that we’ve especially been prone to in the last half-decade.  I can only hope that the unimaginable and ruthless violence that occured at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut marks the point in our country’s history when we finally make the necessary changes to prevent these types of mass shootings from occurring in the future.  Apart from just these mass-shootings, gun-related homicides of all types also need to be addressed.  There is no one answer that will serve as a solution to this multifaceted problem. Because if its complexity, each and every point that is potentially relevant needs to be considered and assimilated to find the most effective solution to decay the occurance of these tragedies.

Abandon the strict constitutionalist interpretation of 2nd amendment.  Our concept of science and technology are continually being expanded upon and are in a state of constant change.  As a result, our understanding of the world and the ways we can effectively operate as a society are always growing.  I will not buy into sentiment that we should abide by a doctrine that is hundreds of years old, and follow it word for word simply because it worked well in that that period in history.  Yes, it may have been a completely rational guide of government limitations at one time in our nations history, and remains to be an incredibly effective and honorable guide to this day.  For the bulk of the constitution is comprised of great ideals and concepts for the preservation of our freedom and our Republic.  But there’s a reason that the founders made sure that the ideals in the constitution were not etched in stone, thus including in the constitution itself the process for it’s amendment.

It doesn’t make you un-American to want change as you see fit, especially when the times have outraced some of the doctrines ideals. Thomas Jefferson in a letter to John Adams said that he believed the Constitution should essentially be re-written every 19 years, being wise enough to anticipate that our cultures and societies will be continually evolving.  Though one may disagree with this Jeffersonian notion, you would be hard pressed to call him “unpatriotic”.  For even our founding fathers each had different versions of what they felt were the true compositions of freedom.

The idea that we should simply be allowed to just freely carry any weapon we choose because it’s on a document that was written over 200 years ago is absurd.  And of course there is great debate as to whether the founders intention in the second amendment was to give the right to bear arms to all citizenry (hence the “armed militia” phrase).  But assuming this was their intention, the notion of possessing firearms was very relevant at that time in our nation’s history when our police force was so small and had very little mobility.  If a citizen was presented with a conflict that threatened their life, well-being, or property, they could not rely on a quick response by law enforcement. There were no telephones, squad cars (or roads even to drive them), or effective communication lines.  As a result, this rendered effective police responses as impossible. The minute and immobile law enforcement that existed back then was certainly not expected to stop or prevent crime to the degree that it is today.  And robberies, vandalism, looting etc. were indeed common. So this at least WAS a reasonable argument for an individual to be able to freely possess a firearm – as a necessary tool to compliment the self-reliance needed to deter crime that jeopardizes your life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

The very first words of the 2nd amendment mentions a “well regulated militia”.  There was no standing army back then – the citizens were the military.  To this day, that is how Switzerland works – each citizen undergoes military training at the age of 20 and received a firearm to keep at their home.  They represent the military force as there is a very minimal standing army.  So there is another obvious and justifiable reason for the possession of a gun – for the national defense of a country when an armed militia are the appointed defenders.  But again, this does not mirror the American military culture even remotely, as we spend almost as much as the rest of the world combined to retain our standing military forces.  Militarily, what we have in the U.S is not a modest production.

One debatable justification for arming citizens with firearms is one that James Madison argued in the Federalist Papers.  It deals not with the defense of our country from other nations.  Rather it’s to defend themselves from a government that might turn tyrannical.  Even though that notion may have existed back then, I lose little sleep at night thinking that our government is in the secret process of forming a police state and will soon rule forcefully over us all and we need firearms to defend ourselves from this government takeover.  I have heard extreme radio personalities actually warn us of this.  But it’s a drastic reach and a desperate argument, yet great for ratings from a audience who sits comfortably in their unchanging ideological bubble.

What a gun physically was, what it represented, and the type of egalitarian societies and cultures in which it was used is now past history. It’s relevance back then cannot be transferred without any alterations into today’s society.

Yesterdays Pea Shooter vs. Today’s Assault Weapons. Let’s look at the firearms that were used during and after our American Revolution. http://www2.h-net.msu.edu/~ieahcweb/revtest/guns/gunindex.html

Just look at these things.  Loading these rifles was like a ten stop process that involved filling it with gunpowder, packing it, loading the bullet, filling it with more gunpowder, etc.  And if you were lucky, it would actually fire.  And it was one bullet at a time.  That is what our founding fathers considered a firearm back when the Bill Of Rights was written.  It was a time consuming task just to reload and prepare another shot. Using these relics, a mass shooting would have been impossible to pull off.

In comparison, let’s look at a weapon being used to kill today: the assault rifle – a weapons that can do massive damage in an incredibly fast rate.  One can unload a magazine of 100 in a matter of seconds, like James Holmes did in Colorado.  So the “right to bear arms” means that we have the right to be carrying around these things?  Again, an “arm” to our founding fathers in the 18th century was basically a peashooter from which the potential damage inflicted by it is not even comparable to today’s deadly semi-automatics.  I’d also like to know to what degree of “deadliness” do we draw the line?  The innovation involved in these high performance assault rifles was unknown technology to our founding fathers – and so were hand grenades, rocket launchers, nukes, etc.  Do I have a right to possess these as well? Are they not “arms”?

These assault weapons should be banned again on a federal level.  They are a complete overkill for self defense and are too dangerous to be kept legal just for the sake of a few gun enthusiasts and hobbyists.  There actually was an assault weapon ban in this country, but was allowed to expire in 2004.  Again, this is not the one solution that will end our gun violence problem, but it will minimize the destructiveness of future mass shootings.  In looking at an article in today’s Chicago Tribune, it lists a total of 16 mass shootings that have occurred here since the deaths of the college students at Virginia Tech.  Many of them used semi-automatic assault rifles.  Would these rampages still have happened if the shooters didn’t have access to semi-automatic rifles? Probably – it’s possible that they would have just used a different gun that was else less deadly. But would fewer lives had been lost with the lesser-deadly firearm?  Very likely.

Jovan Belcher and the “ease” of killing with a firearm.  Bob Costas made the point that if Belcher didn’t have a gun, then he and his girlfriend may still be alive today.  Maybe or maybe not.  The counterpoint to this that has been floating around does have a degree of validity – that Belcher could have killed his girlfriend regardless if he had a gun.  But actually murdering with a handgun is not the same as murder using other means.  Some people are not able to control heat of the moment warm blooded angry tendencies.  And I’d rather be confronted with someone without a gun in a situation like this, vs. someone armed with one.  Because it takes a very warped kind of individual to actually put a knife through someone’s flesh, or see the look in their victims eyes as they are strangling them, or to be able to feel the impact of the skull of your victims head with every swing of the bat or some other blunt object.  A lot of individuals who have actually killed with a gun are unable to kill in the manners I just described.  With a gun – you pull a trigger. That’s it.  Unfortunately it’s way too easy.  You don’t even have to make contact or be in close proximity to the victim.  A firearm makes killing all too easy and convenient.  I’m not convinced Belcher would have been able to make the kill at that moment without a firearm in his possession.

Completely lax gun control will kill more people than save.  There is a strong correlation with ease of obtaining/availability of firearms to high homicide rates as evident in our country we live in.  Of course there are other factors involved, but that doesn’t mean we can’t look at statistics and find possible correlations to the problems we are trying to deal with.  We have some of the most loosely regulated gun laws and the highest rate of gun related homicide of any of the other 22 “developed” countries.  I don’t buy the “If they only had a gun, they could have protected themselves” argument as being an one that would be beneficial for our society as a whole – as if everyone walking around “packing heat” is a good idea.  Of course, there have been many instances that a gun has deterred a break-in, robbery, violent crime, ect.  But considering the fact that a gun is often being used by the perpetrator in the act of the violent crime, robbery, etc. almost nullifies positive of a gun used to deter the act.  Does not the gun used by the perpetrator instill a degree of confidence/power and give him means to attempt to commit the act?  The intimidating act of looking down the barrel of a 9 millimeter being pointed at your head makes a convincing case that you should probably give the perpetrator what he wants.

I view it as a cost/benefit analysis.  If guns were legal and made even easier to access in every state, we’d have a lot more people with guns.  And you may have an instance here and there where an individual was able to defend him/herself because they possessed a firearm, but we’ll have many more cases of homicides and suicides that will outweigh any overall societal benefits from lax/non-existent gun laws.  If we lived in a society where everyone owned a gun, people who wished to kill would do so with more stealth, rapidity, and aggressiveness, as they know their victim is also armed and would return fire if given the chance.  In the shooting at Sandy Hook in Connecticut, even if the teacher in the classroom was armed, the shooter would have broken in and just shot her first, knowing that the teacher was the one with the firearm and the only threat to him.  And going back to Jovan Belcher – there are thousands of Belcher-type situations that unfold daily in the form of heated domestic disputes.  We also have heated arguments among strangers, road rage, drunken bar room fights etc.  These heated situations often escalate to levels where tempers cannot be tamed.  And when that tipping point is reached, a firearm possessed by one or both individuals is just asking for a chaotic resolution rather than a peaceful resolve.  In a conflict that turns violent, yet no party is in possession of a firearm, there may be some bruises, black eyes and broken bones that result. But at least neither party had a weapon that could end a life with the pull of a trigger.

Social inequality. This could be the largest contributing factor, and the most difficult problem to solve.  There have been many serious studies that suggest that deterring violent crime have little do with a large police state or incarcerations.  Instead, income inequality, community social cohesiveness, and the degree that individuals trusts another are being correlated to violent crimes.  Eradicating poverty and strengthening the “social capital” community are all factors in homicide reduction.  Here are a couple of very interesting studies:

ftp://psyftp.mcmaster.ca/dalywilson/sshrc2004/wilkinsonCrime.pdf

http://siteresources.worldbank.org/DEC/Resources/Crime%26Inequality.pdf

High levels of homicide have been linked to “social health” of the poorer societies when there is such a large gap between them and those at the top.  The level of trust people have in others has been correlated with homicides, and when the gap between us is at it’s largest, the poor communities have a lower level in trust in people overall.  This is from R. Merton in 1967 which the Wilkinson study used in their intro:

“What makes American culture relatively distinctive… is that it is a society which places a high premium on economic affluence and social ascent for all its members… This patterned expectation is regarded as appropriate for everyone, irrespective of his initial lot or station in life… This leads to the subsidiary theme that success or failure are results wholly of personal qualities, that he who fails has only himself to blame, for the corollary to the concept of the self-made man is the self-unmade man.

To the extent that this cultural definition is assimilated by those who have not made their mark, failure represents a double defeat: the manifest defeat of remaining far behind in the race for success and the implicit defeat of not having the capacities and moral stamina needed for success… It is in this cultural setting that, in a significant portion of cases, the threat of defeat motivates men to the use of those tactics, beyond the law or the mores, which promise `success’… The moral mandate to achieve success thus exerts pressure to succeed, by fair means and by foul means if necessary.”

Both of these studies are worth skimming through and at least reading their introductions and findings.  Solving these problems may prove to be the most difficult, yet may contribute the most to eliminating gun violence.  I’ve spent countless hours with facebook postings giving my opinion on how we solve this inequality problem, which is much too vast to go into now.  But if you look at “freedom-hating evil socialist” countries such as Norway, Sweden, Finland etc., you’ll find that income disparity among their population is minimal. And perhaps as a result of this, they also have the lowest levels of homicide rates and violence (as well as a very well educated and healthy society, as the government pays for education and healthcare.  Their citizens are also constantly ranked high in “happiness“ and “quality of life“ studies conducted internationally).

Specific to the Connecticut shootings.  There are two ways that I envision these murders could have been prevented in the most recent shooting in Connecticut.  The first option is an absolute ban of all firearms.  The shooter’s mother (whom he got the firearms from to commit the murders), was an avid gun collector and possessed of all of her firearms legally.  If they were made illegal, there is a good chance she would not have had any of the guns in her possession.  Her only option would to get a gun through illegal means such as through the black market.  From what we know about her thus far, she was a “law abiding citizen”.  Would her hobby as an enthused gun collector supersede her respect for the law?

However, I’m not advocating an all-out ban of guns.  I myself don’t own one and have no interest in owning or even shooting one.  But just because I have no interest in firearms dosn’t mean I’m going to advocate for an outright ban of them.  There are too many responsible owners, (many of which are also for stronger gun control laws) who have caused absolutely no problems and have enjoyed their use as a responsible hobby.  I do think that the responsible and sane individual has the right to possess a reasonable firearm for a stated and sensible purpose. But I certainly don’t want to just hope or assume that the gun owner is sane and just issue them a firearm without a series of screenings.  This leads me to the other way I think this shooter could have been stopped – mental health screenings and evaluation for those showing homicidal signs.

Mental health treatment.  There are skilled mental health experts who can see the signs of those who can potentially act in a destructive manor.  But to be very clear – this is a tough one.  Because whatever mental/behavioral problems the shooter exhibited, there‘s probably thousands of individuals who are diagnosed similarly, yet will never go and commit a murder.  And I’m certain that there has been no constant trait associated with every mass murderer whereas a psychiatrist would see it beforehand and be certain that the individual will commit a heinous act such as a shooting of this proportion.  Can they diagnose an individual with homicidal tendencies?  Of course.  But to call for the removal of an individual from society, how certain do you need to be that they will indeed act on these diagnosed tendencies?  You better be completely convinced, otherwise you’re robbing an individual of their freedom for nothing – preventing of an act that would have never taken place anyway.  It is such a fine line these mental health experts have to walk.  I’m sure we’ll get more on the mental health of the Sandy Hook school shooter as the story continues to unfold.

With all of this being said, I am a big proponent of everyone getting mental health treatment if they need it.  Us as a society has to do our best to treat and prevent these catastrophic reactions, when everything else in this individuals life has failed.  When politicians and commentators throw around the phrase “social safety net”, I don’t think that most people realize that paying for certain programs via our tax revenue indirectly keeps everyone in our society safer and promotes better overall wellness.  Some may call this idea one spoken by an “evil socialist” (refer to my “freedom-hating evil socialist“ description above). But paying for someone’s mental health is far from a new or radical idea if you can get your mind to focus outside of the confines of what you know as the American culture. I find it painfully ironic that an individual’s ability to financially provide for themselves and their family is often linked to depression – yet the very reason he/she is depression (lack of money) prevents them from getting professional treatment.  Though it is inevitable that there will be people who “slip through the cracks” of a professional diagnosis and go on to become destructive anyway, there are and will continue to be countless cases where destructive tendencies have been tamed and turned around.  There is no doubt in my mind that mental health treatment has prevented countless suicides, homicides and has been extremely beneficial for our society overall. It just needs to be accessible to more people.

Cultural influence. Switzerland and Canada have almost the same amount of gun ownership per capita as the US, but has a far lower firearm homicide rate.  How can gun ownership be so prevalent in those countries yet, gun homicide rates are just a fraction of that of the U.S?  There is no doubt that culture is a major factor. I used the example of Switzerland earlier and what a gun means to their citizens – a weapon given to them with the honor and responsibility as a protector of their country.  A gun represents to them the protection of their sovereignty and freedom on a national level, not on a personal one.  Other counties with low firearm homicide such as Israel work in the same way whereas the citizens are required to train and serve militarily.  Again, a firearm represents pride and a sense of nationalism and service to their country.  Israel also has only 500,000 firearms (illegal and legal) in a nation of 6 million.  That’s one firearm for every 5 people.

On the other hand, we have almost 1 firearm for every person here in the U.S, which equates to over 300 million firearms.  Guns here are glorified by our media via books, movies, toys, video games, music as taboo weapons which gives an individual immense power and control. Then they get connected to gangs, drug violence, the mafia etc.  The gun is not affixed with labels such as “honor”, “service” and “responsibility” like it is in other countries with much lower homicide rates. And because the intrinsic vision of what a gun represents differs between two nations such as the U.S. and Switzerland, regulation must be implemented in a different fashion. Which leads me to my next point…

Stronger gun laws/ background checks.  We must take something from other countries. Obtaining a firearm should not be easy or convenient. Take a country like Brazil – the requirements to get a handgun?  Just be 25 years old and register it. That’s it – very lax like the majority of our states here in the U.S. And maybe that’s part of the reason why Brazil and the U.S. have some of the highest gun-related homicide rates in the world.  Obtaining a firearm should not be convenient.  A background check, mental health screening, and training on proper usage should all be required.  And if you’re caught with an illegal or non-registered firearm – there should be big consequences.  And the manufactures of black market guns? – you can get the death penalty in China for distributing illegal weapons.  I’m not pushing for that degree of harshness, but stronger ramifications are needed to be implemented into our current gun laws.

Drug legalization.  What Colorado and Washington are doing goes beyond generating a lot of money via tax revenue by eventual sales and saving money by not incarcerating marijuana smokers (though, right now it’s technically still illegal on the Federal level).  But another positive effect this legislation will create is an almost certain reduction in gun violence.  As we all know far too well, there is a large problem with drug related shootings, especially in urban areas.  When the legalization of a drugs occurs, the demand for it through the black market shrinks or disappears as it‘s legitimacy as an item for sale on the legal market becomes established.  Therefore less black-market related violence.  Evidence of this can be seen during prohibition when murder rates were very high.  Once the 21st Amendment was passed repealing the 18th (ending prohibition), murder rates went down every year for ten straight years.

Firearm purchasing from civilians by our government.  Chicago has experimented with this idea but the Australian government has had success with the program.  In 1996 as an effort to stop mass-shooting occurrences in their country, they initiated a program that offered any citizen of Australia to sell their guns to the government for a very fair price.  They had 600,000 guns turned in and melted down – this was about 20% of all the firearms in the entire nation.  As a result, they had a massive reduction not only in homicides, but suicides as well.

Insurance for firearms.  Have private insurance companies provide another layer of safety.  There are a handful of states now proposing legislation of this very nature.  Gun owners must have their firearms insured.  Any kind of negligence created using the firearm is paid in part by the insurance company.  This way, an insurance company motivated by the profit motive, will be as certain as possible that their client is a sane and responsible individual before insuring them.  Otherwise, if their client comments a murder whom they insured a gun to, the insurance company will be paying for part of the monetary damage decided upon by the court.

Each and every one of the points I described are all small parts of the answer that cumulatively may foster a better society as it relates to gun-related homicide.  Again, some elements may be a more influential change than others, but something needs to be done.  What we’re seeing in this country is unprecedented by any industrialized country in modern times.  And hopefully the discussions don’t fade away, only to be regenerated again at the next national firearm-related tragedy.

 

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