The recent shooting in California has provoked yet another discussion of gun violence in the United States. The discussion follows the typical curve of shock, outrage, calls for solutions, and then explanations from various quarters about why there are no solutions, and finally an acceptance that "nothing can be done in this political climate". Like global warming, it seems we have gone way beyond the point of no return. It seems there's no way to put that genie back in the bottle.
The problem with most of the discussion is that it is a distraction from the core problems. Everyone focuses on that shooter's manifesto and our misogynistic culture, and how - despite all the warning bells going off - he was still legally
able to buy guns in California. Arguing the problem based on anecdotal events is a loser's game, because the pro-gun advocates can match anecdote-for-anecdote those rare occasions when someone stopped a crime because they had a gun.
This is like looking at an iceberg, and piloting your ship around it based on the part that's visible above water. These splashy incidents - while horrifically deadly and random - are just the tip of an iceberg of gun death in the United States. While we focus so intently on these mass shootings, many more are dying out of sight from news media and policy discussion.
The numbers should give everyone pause. Nearly 70% of all murders in the US are done with a gun
. In 2011, there were over 32,000 gun deaths in the US
. That seems high enough to me to be considered a public health problem. Where we run into quicksand is that the focus always seems to fall on "guns" or "gun ownership", rather than "gun violence" or "gun deaths".
While it's true the U.S. is one of the most heavily armed "western" nations, they aren't keeping us safe. Other civilized countries in Europe have much lower rates of gun death. In some, guns are somewhat controlled, but they certainly aren't banned. They tend more towards hunting rifles rather than semi-automatics, but still... People there don't feel the need to carry openly (or even concealed). Guns still get used in crimes, but it's much lower than here. Why?
The problem that needs to be solved (as I see it) is that other countries don't have the same wild west outlook we do. They've suffered through major wars. They don't see guns and the violence that follows them as a solution. They don't consider gun ownership some sort of patriotic right. They've moved on. Like a bloated military, they see guns as a costly, deadly unnecessary burden. To paraphrase what President Obama said about the military - when your gun is your hammer, every problem looks like a nail. If you have a gun, you are much more likely to use it, when those without a gun would find more creative ways to resolve whatever problem rises up.
Back in the 60s and 70s, our government and the USSR had an insane foreign policy that was referred to as MAD: Mutually Assured Destruction. The idea was that as long as we were both armed to the teeth with nukes, both sides would be too scared to actually use them, because the end result would be a global genocide of the human race. The absurdity of it all was apparent enough that nuclear disarmament talks began in the late 70s, something which still continues to this day. We are still decommissing nukes, and trying to prevent other countries from getting them.
Meanwhile, the NRA and gun ownership fanatics are trying to convince us that the only way to prevent gun violence is to arm ourselves into oblivion. If everyone has a gun, then criminals will be too scared to use one, so the NRA says. It's a policy straight out of Cold War history that was found to be stupid then and is stupid now.
It may be true that trying to reduce gun ownership by making the purchase more difficult will not happen. Even legislators who favor regulations are loathe to go up against the NRA and its deep-pocketed lobbying power. No, the solution is to eliminate the desire
of gun ownership. The current culture makes gun ownership enticing. We need to change the culture and the minds of the public. The wild west mentality needs to be ridiculed and shunned back into the last century from whence it came. Owning a gun for anything other than hunting needs to be framed as stupid, wasteful, and the mark of a loser.
Sure that won't work in all cases. But as long as little Johnny grows up thinking that shooting a gun is the coolest, the problem will never go away, regardless of legislation's best intentions. Racism and homophobia are slowly fading more and more with each generation. It's time for a cultural shift on the notion of gun ownership as well. When the people turn their backs on gun ownership, the number of guns owned - and the deaths they cause - will drop.