There are several discussions that surround yesterday’s tragedy that people are consciously avoiding, or which are being consciously kept at a superficial level. One of these discussions is gun control. Yes, all major news networks are talking about the fact that this young man was able to obtain a Glock 9mm and a .22 Walther, both semi-automatic weapons with 15 and ten-round clips. The end these discussions reach is that some FBI profiler, or police correspondent suggests that it is ridiculously easy to buy such a weapon, irrespective of the buyer’s nationality. Then a short sigh emerges from the respective reporter, followed by a silence that marks the resignation with which this debate is being greeted. Nothing will come of this tragedy in terms of gun control, congress will not touch this issue and neither will presidential candidates, fearing to lose Southern votes. In fact, a Virginian pro-gun organization suggested yesterday that tragedies like this could be prevented if it were legal to carry concealed weapons on campus for purposes of self-defense. Is anyone else as ashamed as I am facing this reaction? Who are these people that seriously suggest that this could have not been prevented by gun control legislation?
Let me put this differently: several experts yesterday brought up the same point, namely that they cannot recall any other country in which school of office shootings are as frequent and as deadly as in the United States. These statements were followed by dismay at this revelation, noting that it seemed astounding and hard to explain. Let’s see what the explanations could be. The first one could be that is is the existence of guns that makes it easy for people to shoot each other. The more easily people can access guns, the more likely a shooting will be. If that is not the truth, then it must be explanation number two, which then must suggest that US Americans harbor a worldwide unique propensity for violence and willingness to kill each other, hence that the United States is the one of the most anti-social countries in the world. Let me clarify this: logically we have two options: we can blame the gun, or the person carrying it. If the gun is not the problem we must blame the carrier. Then we must assume that the problems is not a structural but a pathological one. We must conclude that there is something within Americans that, despite the fact that they consider thmselves to live in the freest, most democratic, most lovable nation in the world, makes them want to shoot each other. The fact that shootings are more frequent than in other Western countries then becomes not a structural problem connected to gun control, but a reflection on Americans who the must be thought as being more violent compared to other nations. While it will be tough to logically defend this analysis, let’s just for a second assume we in fact could defend it and begin from there a pragmatic speculation about the possibilities to solve this problem. Which problem do you think is easier to solve? Existence of guns, or the fact that Americans are crazy and violent? Even if we were indeed not sure which answer is the correct one the easiest way to find out which one is true would be to abolish guns and see if that improves something, no (easier that psychologically profiling and re-educating every single American, assuming that they are all crazy)? Doesn’t even this exaggerated thought experiment suggest how tragically ignorant the widespread attempt to logically separate the existence of guns from violent shootings is? Even if we were in fact not sure where to place the blame (guns, or Americans), the choice for a solution woudl for practical reasons be gun control.
Even if guns should not be outlawed completely (which they should be for private citizens–making it compulsory to obtain a special permit that is only granted to special people who truly need to carry a gun), how can we not loudly call at least for the re-institution of the ban on assault weapons, which was let expire? Even if we buy into the self-defense argument, these weapons make no sense. How can we not call for the re-institution of the ban on the kinds of multiple-round clips the shooter used, the clips that made it possible to fire dozens and dozens of shots in rapid succession? What is the point of these clips? Do I need 15 rounds to protect myself? To hunt (with a handgun)? How, in the light if this recent tragedy, can we justify this ignorance, this defiance of logic bordering on intentional anti-humanism and disregard for the vital importance of a vital social bond? Yes, the countries in which I have previously lived, countries in Europe, have strict gun control laws. People in these countries are subject to less shootings, less murders and less tragedies such as yesterday’s. Yet, these people do not feel unsafe in everyday life because they cannot protect themselves with guns. Who is truly stupid enough to buy such an argument anyway? I am REALLY asking this, because I can just not imagine that this can really be a logical argument upon which legislation can rest.
Yesterday’s shooting was in part due to mental problems, in part to social problems. In a letter (sources yet unconfirmed, so do not quote me on this) the shooter identified social problems and wrote “you made me do this.” We need to address both mental and social problems, the latter one being our responsibility as people sharing a community. Bush just said in his speech that “do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” He must follow this statement and make a decision regarding gun control that is based on the realization that good has always existed within society, not within the barrel of a gun. The answer hence lies within our community, making it stronger, battling alienation, isolation and caring for those of us who are troubled. If we say that there are “maniacs” in our society as other bloggers (on wordpress and other sites) suggest, we cannot solve that problem by buying guns, waiting until the “maniacs” turn violent and then shoot them. While doubtlessly more convenient, since it requires no individual concern and action, allowing us to live in isolation from the problems of our society (while in the aftermath of tragedies claiming the right to make judgments about the nonexistence of support and protection systems), thinking along such lines reveals that it would be in fact be more consequent and just as anti-social to ship the “maniacs” off to an island and to camps the way fascists used to do it. But even fascists seemed more interested in early recognition of mental problems than many of our present legislators (clearly, however, for all the wrong reasons). Isolation and alienation cannot be battled by the rhetoric and practice of self-defense, by guns, which further disrupt this troubled community, adding paranoia to the problems that already exist. The answer to social problems must be found in social action, in locating problems, examining and treating them, in finding answers for the problems of the people surrounding us, in the strengthening of the social bond–not in the violent perpetuation and further erection of walls and fragmenting systems of separation that produce and reproduce the kind of violence, resentment and frustration we are trying to fight. We cannot act as though we feel compassion for the victims of yesterday’s tragedies and the many, many friends and families affected by it while closing our eyes to the problems introduced by the lack of gun control laws that would protect our society. In doing so, in refusing to push for gun control, we tragically align ourselves not with the victims, but with the shooter.
***EDIT: here is a nice post with some statistics, as well as with responses that illustrate the sadly widespread existence of entirely unfounded and logic-defying views on the correlation between guns and violent deaths (there are many of these views out there on wordpress–see the “gun control” tag. http://scholarsandrogues.wordpress.com/2007/04/17/bad-day-at-blacksburg/
Just to make this clear: people argue that criminals will not care about gun control laws, so what’s the point? An amazingly ignorant, uneducated and uninformed view that is sadly widespread and is just one of those cliches that pop out of the heads of pro-gun people as their knee-jerk reaction to this discussion they apparently never really considered in its complexity, despite the fact that they probably own a gun and should be aware of the responsibility that should come with it. I don’t even know where to start in order to prove to these people that they are spectacularly and tragically wrong (since it is so obviously wrong that there is just a flood of evidence against their view that hardly anyone in e.g. Germany, Japan, or England would reasonably debate–what, for instance, do you make of the fact that it is not common for all policemen who patrol the streets in England to carry a gun? And you know what? Some of them are even still alive! Weird, huh?). So let me just say this: if there is some pissed off guy in, say, Germany who really feels like he wants to hurt someone, his mind will first go to getting a bat, or maybe a knife and not to getting a gun, since getting a gun is so hard that most people would not even know where to turn (and counter to the way US films portray the situation, we do not all know a dark alley in which the mob waits with a car ready to sell us a gun–and I am sure even most Americans do not know such an alley–but they, of course, do not have to, since Wal Mart does the trick). This changes the basic way people think about violence in a way that the willingess to hurt someone is not immediately attached to the idea of getting a gun, leading inevitably to less murders, shootings (especially mass-shootings) and violent crime in general. In most countries this is common sense and to many people in the US as well–what is it that makes people refuse to see the facts and cling to their dangerous and paradoxical ideology that falsely equates the existence of guns with security?***