(This originally appeared as an overly-long Status Update on my Facebook page. I thought it was more appropriately here, on my personal blog.)
First off, gun violence isn’t about mental health.
That’s a clever out for pretending the perpetrators of these regularly scheduled atrocities are not normal people. But they are. They’re average Americans. They’re friends, neighbors. Family. And that is fucking SCARY.
They don’t fit a profile (a discipline that is bunkum anyway). They pass as normal. Occasionally there’s a warning sign, but oft as not there’s no discernible indication that someone is about to kill an amazing number of people with the most deadly tools that one can hold in their hands.
If it were about mental health, we could screen for that and keep guns away from dangerous people. But that’s the problem: you can’t screen for normal. In America, violence and the capability to commit it is normal.
More to the point: you can’t screen for a black swan event. You can be prepared, you can take precautions, you can attempt to keep the most dangerous tools out of the hands of anyone who isn’t thoroughly vetted and licensed. Even then, violent people find a way.
As our brothers on the Right are fond of saying, “guns don’t kill people.” And they’re right. Gun violence is about violence, first and foremost. We are a violent people. Guns exacerbate this. Remove the guns, you are treating the symptom while the disease festers. The symptom being mass murder, of course, so you really do need to treat that with more than an aspirin. But the underlying disease is violence.
This is not to excuse the NRA and similar organizations. These fronts for the gun makers are interested in money, first and foremost, and do not deserve a seat at the policymaking table. The rest of us have to live with the consequences of their business model. Their active encouragement of the fetishization of violence disqualifies them from helping find a solution.
I saw an article earlier today about statistics on the effectiveness of gun control measures. The TL;DR version is that “sensible gun control” doesn’t work in the aggregate. By its very nature, it can’t catch the normal person who goes on a shooting spree; and it doesn’t work to prevent the low-level violence that costs more lives than headline-grabbing mass murders do. What isn’t clear is whether we can reduce the incidence and/or prevalence of these smaller episodes. This is something that should be studied, but there are few, if any, longitudinal studies that look at gun violence and prevention. They simply don’t get funded, and they need to be.
Which brings us to the problem of the liberal response to gun violence. We know we don’t have the votes in the state houses or the US Congress to deliver meaningful gun law reform. Even assuming, arguendo, that the restrictions we trot out every time a new shockingly large number of our fellow Americans are gunned down actually work, we know we can’t get them passed. I honestly expected a change of tactic after Newtown. Once America accepted dead toddlers as the Price of Freedom (subtype: Second Amendment), it was clear that the sort of gun control that we have attempted since 1929 had failed. Until recently, the needed new approach was unclear.
Recently, it dawned on me (and others) that we have a violence problem, not a gun problem. But how do you counter violence? How do you unlearn it as a culture? I’m of the opinion and conviction that violence is only to be overcome by compassion. Give me a generation of kids to raise learning mindfulness and meditation, I’ll give you a generation that doesn’t turn to violence. There are other approaches, too. Mindfulness is just the one with which I am most familiar.
For years I have said people don’t change. It is part of my Dr. House approach to being a lawyer: Everybody lies, nobody changes, and heroes always disappoint. That has always been just an act, and I know it.
What I’ve never said is that people can’t change; they just don’t. I now realize I need to act as though I believe people really can, and do, change. The alternative is too horrible to contemplate.