Posts Tagged gun control

When tragedy becomes mundane

Another week, another round of disturbed people firing guns in public places.

The New York Times described Richard Shoop’s escapades in the Garden State Plaza mall as grimly familiar, and the same could be said for the shooting at LAX that left a TSA security guard dead.

These types of events have apparently become so common that–even when two of them happen in less than week–barely anyone bats an eyebrow.

Politically, the eyes of the nation are still on yesterday’s elections and the functionality of Healthcare.gov.

Sometimes, there’s concern that policymakers need to strike while anvil is hot; that public interest in an important issue will wither outside the emotional rawness of a tragedy.

Who could have predicted that would still happen, even as the nation’s mentally ill gun owners continue to supply new tragedies.

It’s hard to believe that these shootings could become mundane, but that seems to be exactly what is happening.

However, no matter how mundane they become, they won’t go away. As long as the twin factors of mental illness and firearms are allowed to interact, America will have to deal with these tragedies.

Having a discussion on gun control and the treatment of mental illnesses may be an uncomfortable  prospect for the electorate, but is it as uncomfortable as having to wonder if today’s shopping trip will end in bloodshed?

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When you’re running out of things to say about mass shootings

Sadly, the mass shooting earlier this week was not surprising. These horrific events are becoming so commonplace that even The Onion has the narrative down pat.

We’ve seen it all before: A mentally unstable individual whose behavior was just innocuous enough not to trigger alarm bells. A place no one ever expected gun violence to occur. Senseless killing.

As with Columbine, Aurora, Fort Hood, Sandy Hook, and the countless other mass killings resulting from the lethal mix of mental illness and firearms, the question is: Will we do anything about it?

At this point, I’m beginning to think the answer is “probably not.”

A mass killing usually stirs emotions on both sides of the gun control debate, leading people to pledge for stricter regulations, or have rallies at Starbucks.

With the country already preoccupied with Syria, the fifth anniversary of the Great Recession, and the impending implementation of Obamacare/goverment shutdown, the Washington Navy Yard shooting didn’t even get that much attention.

Even if it did, it would probably be stymied by a gun lobby that thinks the people it represents are the center of the universe, and an opposition all too eager to let the gun lobby turn the debate into a marathon of consolation. Then people would lose interest. Until it happened again.

When the random killing of innocent people follows a predictable narrative, what else is there to talk about?

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Macchiato with a side of birdshot

I don’t have a problem with the Second Amendment, but I do have a problem with gun owners thinking that they are the center of the universe. After reading about the following episode in my local paper, I’m pretty sure that’s the issue.

Last Friday, the Starbucks on Church Hill Road in Newtown, Connecticut closed early after gun rights advocates swarmed it. They were participating in Starbucks Appreciation Day, a nationwide pro-gun event staged to thank the coffee chain for allowing customers to carry weapons into its stores.

That may sound fair enough, but this Starbucks is located 1.5 miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School. Seeing an influx of gun advocates swarm into town less than a year after the tragic mass killing at the school, management decided to close early.

This was done “out of respect for Newtown and everything our community has been through,” a sign on the door said.

This isn’t about it being “too soon” for people to provide a counterpoint to Connecticut’s recently revamped gun laws. It’s about gun owners thinking that having a Constitutional right to own firearms means the rest of the world has to bend over backwards for them.

The Second Amendment guarantees that, “…the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Not infringing on people’s rights is very different from making their gun ownership more convenient.

Starbucks’ policy is a very nice thing for gun owners, but even if the chain didn’t allow guns in its stores, that would not be a violation of anyone’s rights. It would just be an inconvenience.

Whether your obsession is guns, or cars, or you just try to live your life as a mere human being without using one passion or hobby to define it, life is full of inconveniences. Their presence or absence has nothing to do with our greater existential struggles for liberty and dignity.

Another thing that shouldn’t be misconstrued with fundamental human rights is the importance of tact. Legally speaking, the gun advocates weren’t doing anything wrong when they rallied at the Newtown Starbucks, but perhaps they could have put things in perspective.

Allowing people to bring guns into coffee shops makes life a little more convenient, but it has no effect on the overall state of gun regulation, ostensibly the prime concern of pro-gun groups. There are also many other Starbucks stores in the area. Did they really have to go to the one within walking distance of Sandy Hook Elementary?

This is the kind of thing that cannot, and should not, be dealt with by legal action or counter-protesting, because the people who started it simply should have known better.

The gun debate would go a lot smoother, and might even be resolved, if people could just keep things in perspective. Turning Starbucks into a rallying point for a more expansive interpretation of the Second Amendment makes the gun lobby look petty. It makes it seem like gun owners only care about themselves, and not their fellow citizens. I sincerely hope that is not the case.

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Things Americans hate talking about

The death of Trayvon Martin has dredged up two things Americans hate talking about: race relations and gun control. Both played a role in the case but, unfortunately, America’s citizens may only have the power to change one of them.

It’s become clear that Florida law heavily favored George Zimmerman; he could have even avoided a trial by invoking the now-infamous “Stand Your Ground” provision, which allows defendants to ask for a pretrial hearing, potentially getting their cases dismissed without ever having to stand in front of a jury.

It may sound sensible to some, but the reality of a grown man killing an unarmed teenager and getting off Scott Free is anything but.

The issue of the shooter and victim’s racial differences has been at the center of the debate, but the sad truth is that there is no simple way to change individuals’ racial views. It may be impossible to prevent future a George Zimmerman from looking at an innocent black teenager and seeing a threat, but it is possible to curtail his use of deadly force, or at least do less to enable it.

With that in mind, I believe attention should be turned to the Florida gun laws and similar laws that exist in other states. Self defense is one thing, but people need to deal with the consequences of using a gun, whether they’re justified, or not.

This isn’t about gun control, it’s about responsibility.

Let’s picture the worst case scenario advocates of “stand your ground” laws envision. An individual is approached by a stranger and feels threatened. It turns out that they should be: the stranger demands their wallet and brandishes a weapon. In imminent danger of bodily harm, the armed individual pulls out their gun and takes a shot. They hit their attacker.

Most people envisioning this scenario are probably concerned solely with getting out alive, which is reasonable. However, there is an unfortunate moral dilemma that results from a successful act of self defense like the one described here.

Obviously, a mugger has no right to steal a person’s wallet, or injure them, but does that entitle the potential victim to injure, or possibly kill, that other person and not at least have their actions examined?

Gun owners often discuss self defense with a sort of grim eagerness but, when the time comes, how many people really think it’s alright to end someone’s life just because they wanted your loose bills?

Everyone has moments of indiscretion; stress, lack of information and existing prejudices cause them every day. Introducing a gun into these situations inexorably leads to a violent conclusion.

Like a real-life version of Chekov’s maxim regarding guns in plays, once one is introduced into a situation, the temptation to use it can become overwhelming.

That’s why, traditionally, American law has protected citizens’ right to keep and bear arms, but has not assumed that they can never make mistakes.

Gun advocates say that lawmakers should keep their distance from firearms because the majority of owners are responsible individuals. Pulling back Florida’s self defense laws would test that assumption. It would make gun users responsible for their actions.

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Drawing the line at Sandy Hook: Why America needs a frank discussion of gun control and the treatment of mental illness

There are obviously a lot of people discussing the school shooting last week in Newtown, Connecticut but, as a Connecticutter, this tragedy hit close to home and I wanted to add my voice to the conversation. It’s a conversation that needs to happen; after so many mass killings, it’s time we as a nation took a serious look at what we can do to prevent it.

We may never know what was going through Adam Lanza’s head, but we do know that he was mentally ill, and that he used guns to do what he did. Some people have tried to add other factors (media sensationalism, for example) or downplay the role of guns (if guns were unavailable, Lanza would have used another type of weapon, they say), but the simple truth is that we know that mental illness and guns were the major factors in this and nearly every other mass killing in the United States.

With that in mind, it seems logical for us to evaluate how we deal with guns and mental illness in order to prevent future tragedies. More importantly, we need to think of ways to prevent those two factors from combining to cause mass violence.

I think it’s important to make a distinction between gun control legislation and an outright ban. I think this is important because many of the people I’ve talked to don’t seem to understand the difference.

As with every other aspect of life, gun owners need to be able to compromise. They have been able to avoid a frank discussion on gun control despite numerous mass killings, using excuses like “it’s too soon, let people grieve,” or that “guns don’t kill people, people do.”

The fact is that rights come with responsibilities and, gun owners have become too cavalier. Newtown has historically been a gun-friendly community, with multiple hunting clubs and legal shooting ranges. However, a recent article in the New York Times noted that residents’ patience has already being exhausted by overly enthusiastic gun enthusiasts.

This doesn’t mean that all gun enthusiasts are irresponsible, or that overt carelessness caused the Sandy Hook tragedy. It just shows how accommodating people already are to gun owners, and how ridiculous it is that asking someone to stop shooting at night so a neighbor can sleep, let alone discussing gun control in the wake of a mass killing, is viewed as an attack on gun ownership as a whole. A minority is dictating policy to the majority.

The second factor in this and other mass killings is mental illness. An article published in Mother Jones last month notes that, in 61 mass killings studied, 38 perpetrators showed signs of mental illness beforehand. That was certainly the case in Newtown.

Like gun control, the way we deal with mental illness is a topic most people avoid. Perhaps some just don’t want to think about it, or don’t think they have to; they assume a combination of drugs, therapy, and specialized institutions has everything covered.

Unfortunately, many individuals slip through the proverbial cracks. Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter, was declared mentally ill by a judge, which should have disqualified him from gun ownership, but this information was not made available to the appropriate authorities. Steven Kazmierczak, who killed five people at Northern Illinois University, stopped taking his medication. Charles Whitman told people he didn’t feel right before shooting his way into infamy, and was later found to have a massive brain tumor.

The Sandy Hook shooting has definitely made people aware of mental illness, but the question of what to do about is a long way from being answered. Singling out the mentally ill would be just as wrong as singling out responsible gun owners.

That’s why, in addition to stricter gun control regulations and more resources for treating mental illness, we need a way to preempt incidents like the one that occurred last week.

Mental health professionals are obligated to report child abuse, so perhaps a similar system could be set up to report imminent threats of violence. As with child abuse cases, this would create a procedure for everyone involved, from school guidance counselors to therapists to the police, to follow. It would ensure that all potential threats are investigated and dealt with.

Regardless of what form the solution takes, the important thing is that we find one. It’s time to stop making excuses about why we can’t discuss ways to stop mass killings, or limiting the discussion to why any potential solution will not work. As a nation, we have a responsibility to make sure the victims of Sandy Hook, Aurora, Northern Illinois, Virginia Tech, Huntsville, and Columbine did not die in vain.

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Does anyone really care about gun control?

The death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman struck a deeply upsetting chord with most Americans. It was a senseless killing with a disturbingly racial dimension. However, it is possible to prevent incidents like this without resolving over 200 years of racial tension overnight. The answer is simple: Florida should repeal its “Stand Your Ground” law. Unfortunately, that probably won’t happen.

The anti-repeal crowd already has its troops mustered, as one would expect of people that spend their time playing with M16s and M1911s. “The media is using Martin’s death as an excuse to attack gun ownership,” they might say. Groups like the NRA exist solely to fight that threat, which enthusiastic gun owners view as an attack on their Second Amendment rights. In reality, they shouldn’t be so worried.

Gun advocates have the Republican Party on their side. Even straight-laced Mitt Romney admitted to shooting a few “critters” and “varmants.” Republicans love guns, which is odd, because they seem to hate everything else. We known Republicans don’t like taxes, abortions, gays, Muslims, Atheists, immigrants, the government, and Michael Moore. However, it’s unusual for the GOP to be candid about something its members actually like.

It also gives the Democrats a unique opportunity. If their opponents can stir up fear and vitriol about taxes and healthcare, imagine what the Dems could say about guns, which are weapons, which are designed to kill things. The Democrats will never stand up for gun regulation, though, and that’s why this whole situation is so intractable.

The Democrats are ostensibly the party of gun regulation, but unlike the Republicans they prefer pragmatism over ideology. The Republicans take absolute positions on issues; they’re right (no pun intended), and everyone else is wrong. The Democrats see things in a more nuanced way. They support gun regulation; they don’t think guns are inherently evil. Just look at gun-toting Vice President Joe Biden.

It is important to consider other people’s viewpoints, but something has to be done about the Florida law. Holding someone responsible for shooting another person is not radical or totalitarian, it’s just common sense. Repealing “Stand Your Ground” would also show that politicians really care about what happens to their constituents, and not just the ones with a massive lobbying organization supporting them.

Today, politics are extremely polarized, but I think we can all agree that if one person kills another, they should not get off scott-free. George Zimmerman will have ample opportunity to prove his innocence at trial, just like any other American citizen. Gun owners have plenty of powerful allies, but someone needs to stand up for everyone else.

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