Now that we are in the New Year, and the Fiscal Cliff silliness is behind us, we will begin to see action on gun control. Mind you I don’t want to see action on gun control, I think the laws we already have (the tens of thousands of them) are just fine and if anything could be reduced. At the very least if we do need more laws, they should be made at the state and local level. Laws are always more effective, better crafted, and more efficiently applied there than at the federal level.
In fact, I would bet anyone $10,000 that any legislation on guns passed at the federal level will be completely useless, that it would do little more than: have no effect on crime, fail to prevent mass shootings, be massively expensive, grow giant bureaucracies, cause red tape nightmares, and make the lives of law abiding gun owners miserable. That outcome is virtually guaranteed, which is why the best thing for Congress to do is nothing. Honestly, when was the last time Congress didn’t create more problems when trying to solve problems?
Given all that, and given the fact that the funding of the government is still shaky, to put it lightly, we might not see action on gun control after all. By ‘action’ I mean bills being passed back and forth between committees and debates on the floor; I am 95% confident that no gun control legislation will actually be signed into law. Mental health legislation? Maybe. Video game violence legislation? Maybe. But gun control? I highly doubt it.
Nevertheless, politicians will at least attempt gun control. Why? Because gun control is politically easy for all involved. That is more than a little contrary to everything I have just said, so allow me to explain. People in Congress all have constituencies, people they rely upon to get elected. In fewer words: voters they must pander to. And while very few voters in a constituency might have an opinion on things like farm subsidies, Keynesian Economics, the wheat futures market, Chinese currency manipulation, the Euro Crisis, or taxation mathematics, everyone has an opinion about guns, and thus they like it when they hear “My guy in Congress is taking on the NRA and trying to fight the evils of guns” or “My guy in Congress is fighting for my right to bear arms!”. Everyone knows what a gun is and it is very easy to form an opinion about them, which is why the topic of guns is a dangerous issue: any opinion easily formed is an opinion easily flawed.
Just because everyone knows what a gun is does not mean they know the facts about guns (or even basic things like the difference between semi- and fully automatic). That is why so many people’s opinions about guns are little more than over-inflated irrational phobias about guns. Unfortunately, many of our politicians and press people suffer the same condition.
So guns are a good way for politicians to look good, for now. Politicians are willing to grandstand on guns now as opposed to later or earlier because Conservatives/Libertarians always support the right to bear arms (or at least they are supposed to) while Liberals now have a massive head of steam and tremendous momentum: Obama won an electoral landslide (again) and there is a tragedy to capitalize upon. The gun argument, despite basically having been settled in 2004 (explained here) if not earlier and despite being, largely, a losing issue for Liberals, nevertheless makes for good political theater. Both sides get to champion their respective ideologies. Conservatism/Libertarians get to promote the values of personal freedom and responsibility, as well as the limits of government and the dangers of oppressive government. Liberals, on the other hand and in keeping with their ideology, think that the passage of laws is the solution and therefore think “Well if only Congress could pass some sort of law, then all the violence and murders would cease at once.”
This is why I titled this article “The Tough Answers Politicians Don’t Want to Hear”. A real solution to our problem (and guns are not the problem) would be nothing short of a massive and spontaneous change of our culture itself, something well beyond the powers of Congress, the President, or even the entire government apparatus. And politicians do not like to hear that something is beyond their power. It insults their narcissism and their intelligence (if they had any).
Here are the changes in the very cultural fabric of America that would need to happen if we wanted to prevent future Sandy Hooks from occurring:
- We must, as a society, get over our irrational fear of guns.
- We must, as a society, no longer tolerate the media coverage of events like Sandy Hook.
- We must as a society help those people who would commit atrocities like Sandy Hook.
So what do I mean by all that?
Firstly: guns. Guns are not evil, they are a tool. They are an inanimate object that is incapable of being good or evil until they are used by someone who is good or evil. Society needs to recognize this. Parents need to stop freaking out when they learn that someone owns a gun. “Oh, little Jimmy’s parents own a gun. I won’t let Jimmy play at that house, it’s dangerous.” Swimming pools and the chemicals under your sink kill more children each year than guns do. If we were to limit the gun deaths to accidental child gun deaths, then more children are killed each year by dogs than accidental gun deaths. Parents are not the only ones who need to think critically.
Society (that’s you, me, and everyone around us) needs to dispense with the idiocy that is a “gun free zone”. A gun free zone exists only so long as no one is willing to violate it. If someone wants to bring a gun into a “gun free” zone, who will be there to stop them? Gun free zones have done nothing but get people killed, and it is high time we ended it. And finally, we need to recognize as a society that most gun owners pose no threat to anyone but criminals. We need to encourage responsible gun ownership, not try to strangulate it through gun control laws. We should encourage responsible gun owners to get concealed carry permits, not make it as difficult as nailing jelly to a tree. We should encourage law abiding gun owners to open carry in public, not outlaw it.
Second: the media. Every time one of these things happen, the media sensationalizes it and they are just beside themselves with excitement. They speculate on the motive of the killer, though I have no idea why. As soon as anyone of us hears about something like Sandy Hook we immediately say to ourselves “Well a crazy person did something crazy” and we know that any talk of motive is pointless. The media interview victims and put microphones in the faces of parents who have just lost a child. It’s disgusting. The media should not produce it and we as consumers should not patronize it. If we refuse to support the media when they do stuff like this the media will stop doing it. I personally think the media and how they react to shootings like Sandy Hook have more to do with the causing of these tragedies than any other factor. Of course, the media doesn’t like to talk about that.
Don’t believe me? Watch this video. You may still disagree with me, but I think you will have to admit that the video makes an awful lot of good points.
Finally: mental health. This is push and pull. The push is on our end as citizens. If we know someone who is mentally ill like the Sandy Hook shooter was, then it is our responsibility to help them get help. How forceful we need to be varies per situation and our relationship to the patient, but we must make an effort. Of course our efforts would be very difficult and frustrating unless there is an apparatus to help those suffering mental illness. This is the one area where politicians may actually be able to do something constructive.
Even though I am a Libertarian and am very critical of most everything the government does, I do think that a key responsibility of government is to provide a “loony bin” if I may use a disparaging term. I think privately run mental healthcare will always be superior, but there needs to be at least some kind of readily accessible means of helping the mentally ill. This is the “pull” in the push-and-pull of social change. We need to push the mentally ill to a place where mental health providers can pull them in.
Personally, I think it is criminal for the US Federal Government to be spending four trillion dollars a year and not have a state of the art mental health system. I mean, really, how is it possible for our mental health system to be so utterly broken while we spend tens of billions of dollars on useless crap like (insert your own government pet peeve here).
In reality, no amount of legislation, rules, or regulations would have prevented Sandy Hook, and tragedies like it will continue into the future. That is simply the sad fact of life, something which we must as a society acknowledge. That does not mean we have to like it though. And that is something the politicians don’t want to hear.