Showing posts with label gun debate. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gun debate. Show all posts

Review: Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis

Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis by Daniel W. Webster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hand in hand with the above book is this book which was also born out of the Sandy Hook massacre. While Lysiak's book puts a face to the events and challenges around mass shootings, Webster's collection of essays by different authors approach the mass shootings from any analytical vantage point, using research and existing evidence around gun violence to determine ways and opportunities of reducing it. It offers many different approaches, none of which are monumental or unachievable and many of which do not necessarily challenge most people's thoughts around legality and appropriate level of response.

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Review: Newtown: An American Tragedy

Newtown: An American Tragedy Newtown: An American Tragedy by Matthew Lysiak
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lysiak offers an investigative look at the Sandy Hook mass shooting in December 2012. It's a powerful and intriguing book that balances the facts with the emotion. He introduces the reader to all of the major people involved, sharing their history and their potential. He does not sugarcoat things but at the same time, he proves respectful in his descriptions. It is a fascinating look at what unfolded and more importantly, a good look at the complexity of the challenges around mass shootings.

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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Recent Letter to the Editor: Fools tilting at windmills

This one was in response to Barbara Anderson's column "Overreaching government still a concern".  

To the editor:

Barbara Anderson’s selective reading of the Second Amendment and her NRA advertisement (“Overreaching government still a concern,” Jan. 3) is disappointing.

Never mind that there is no major movement or serious interest in repealing the Second Amendment — and while there are people advocating this, they are on par with those wishing to secede from the United States; fools tilting at windmills.

Follow through to read the rest.

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These Are The Gun Arguments That Are Bunk

Given the mass gun shootings of the last year and in the last decade, the discussion around guns continues to circle around without actual meaning or purpose.  Over the course of conversations with people, I find myself getting to the point where I start to roll my eyeballs when I hear certain faux-arguments.

To be clear--not just because I feel obligated to say it or else be disregarded as a "anti-gun" person and because I actually do believe it--I do believe people should have the right to reasonably arm and protect themselves including guns from realistic and recognizable threats.  I go back and forth about owning a gun myself--not because of any ethical issues about ownership or protecting myself but because that would also entail proper care of the weapon and regular practicing with it (which for those who know me, know that I already do a billion things--adding to the mix can be challenging).  That is, if I were to be a gun-owner, I would want to make sure I could be a responsible one.

However, the words "reasonably," "realistic," and "recognizable" are the key modifiers here.  That people instantly want to (or choose to) believe that a discussion about the places for guns in our society equates to wanting to take guns away from everyone seems to mean they have either drank all of the NRA's Kool-Aid or may themselves not be entirely rational (which is a relevant issue to consider down below when we talk about mental health).  

So here are the bunk arguments that I just don't want to deal with any more, largely because they are a distraction from the conversation and not a meaningful contribution.

People can still kill with "______" so are we going to outlaw "_____."

Yes, they can.  People are wonderfully creative and have ample ways of killing and doing harm.  But that's not a fair analogy on several key elements.  The first is that no one is talking about outlawing all guns.  Quit pretending there's somehow a majority of people in this country that want that to happen and you're some frightened minority.  There is a discussion about the use of guns that are capable of spraying a large amount of bullets in a short span of time.  The serious and purposeful use of a gun such as that is clear, when one contrasts what happened at Sandy Hook and what happened on the same day in China.  Of those involved in the stabbing spree, almost all have survived.  And at the end of the day, yes, other things can create massive death, but they are either highly restrictive (cars, trains, planes, etc), highly ineffective for mass murdering (knives, rocks, crossbows, etc) or complicated enough to orchestrate (e.g. ingredients for a bomb akin to what Timothy McVeigh did).  In the case of cars, trains, planes, etc, we still create numerous blockades (both legal and physical) to prevent the large scale harm by motor vehicles and the like (and in truth, it's easier to dodge a car than it is a bullet; you're likely to be able to see and avoid the car much easier).  In the complicated orchestration, there's nothing preventing people per se but it takes a significant amount of planning that is hard to pull off.  If doing things like bombing were so easy and quick to access, then why do the more fierce gun zealots have to point to McVeigh as proof of evidence that common household are just as easy to kill large amounts of people? Why do they reach back some 18 years if these things are a clear and present danger--unlike semi-automatic guns which one only needs to look back every few months.

Yes, you can kill by other means; that doesn't mean you ignore the ways in which guns are predisposed to kill many people in efficient ways.  That doesn't get the gun off the hook.

It's the 2nd Amendment; You Can't Mess With the Bill of Rights.

I hear this a lot.  Usually, it's gun-advocates yelling at who they perceive as liberals saying something along the lines of "You don't want your amendment of free speech messed with, well, I don't want my amendment of the right to bear arms messed with."  Butt there are ample restrictions on every part of the 1st Amendment.  It has been amply messed with and with good reason.

The 1st Amendment reads:  "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

It contains five specific freedoms:  religion, speech, press, assemble and petition.  There is indeed laws that do interfere and disregard religion:  laws that restrict drug usage, forbid plural marriages, and animal or human sacrifice.  There are laws restricting freedom of speech; liable and slander laws are good examples of those as well as the "Shouting fire in a crowded theater" or saying "bomb" on a plane.  The press have their limitations too about the kind of the information they can present and their sources.  The right to peaceably assemble has been disregarded innumerable times (e.g. around national conventions).  And though I don't enough about the limitations on the right to petition, it's clear that some do exist.

All this is to say that there are reasonable restrictions (ok, and some unreasonable; PATRIOT ACT anyone?) on the First Amendment.  They are there because while the founding fathers were intelligent people, they did not know everything and could not foresee all the ways society would become incomprehensibly complicated.  This is true of the Second Amendment.  In the age of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson, the gun was not a weapon of mass murder it is today.  It could take upwards of thirty seconds to a minute per shot and these were not the mass-produced weaponry of today, they were regularly problems with the aim and function.  These were the "arms" in the Second Amendments that the founding fathers were referring to.

One has to legitimately wonder if they would have worded things differently if the semi-automatic Bushmaster rifle was available in large quantities as it is today.  Along with that the introduction of mass produced guns and bullets coupled with the significant decrease in price might also have created a different outcome.  Again, in colonial times, a single gun would have costed significantly as would the bullets.  Amassing an arsenal would not have been feasible.  Finally, none of the rhetoric from the pro-gun camp seems to acknowledge that Amendment itself, in its original text, talks nothing of personal protection but solely about the "security of a free state"--not a free individual as a precursor to having a right to keep and bear arms.  That is, the right to bear arms is directly connected to the people's willingness to be part of a "well-regulated militia"  (part of an organized and controlled effort--not just lone gunmen) in protection of a free state (the state or the federal state).  That they never want to discuss what a "well-regulated" militia would look like or mean to their concepts of freedom is a clear indication of choosing to read only what they want to see.

Disarming Everyone Won't Stop Criminals

Absolutely right, but two problems with this.  1.  We don't want to disarm everyone.  2.  This conversation isn't necessarily solely about criminals.  Adam Lanza was not a "criminal."  Klebold and Harris were not "criminals."  They certainly committed illegal (i.e. "criminal") acts, but it was not in the same vein that "criminals" use such weaponry (which is to secure the property of others or protect their own--often illegally obtained--property).  The discussion as it exists right now is more interested in the issue of easy access to assault weapons to people with mental illness who when given easy access to substantive killing machinery may act on it without notice.  And before we quickly go blaming the people around that person (such as Lanza's mother), realize the prevalence of mental illness in our society (26.2% of adults; that's over 1 in 4).  This means if have 200 friends on Facebook; statistically speaking, at least 50 of them are dealing with some form of mental illness.  Since we have a poor means of talking about and dealing with mental illness, it also means we fail them and us when it comes to dealing with issues of access to such weaponry as the Bushmaster.

That's not to stigmatize mentally ill people; but so much of the discussion around guns and gun rights is focused on gun owners as perfectly rational people.  Never mind that humans are generally irrational beings; there is also a large portion of the population whose mental faculties may be inhibited with an illness.  This complicates the issues of accessibility to weaponry because when people are in highly irrational states which is often an element of many mental illnesses, there is no reasoning with them.

The argument about criminals completely (and purposefully) misses the mark because in cases like this (besides missing the mark that it's not about getting rid of all guns),  Lanza had easy access to legal semi-automatic weapons.  If he had not, either the death toll would have been less or it would not have happened at all.  It was not a perfectly conceived plan--it was the impulsive whim of someone lacking the mental faculties to do otherwise like many other mass murders.

Gun Free Zones Don't Work; They Just Make Us More Vulnerable

This one seems to be at the core of the NRA's response to the shooting;  A gun in every school for protection.  First, gun-free zones are for the same reason that speeding limits in schools are there.  By and large, some people are still going to speed or bring guns.  But in both cases, it's about the fact that the increase (of speed or presence) perpetuates an increase in chance accidents.  Nothing makes things absolutely safe, but there are ways of reducing the risks.

Much of what I'm talking about here is easily summed up in a great internet meme I've seen floating around Facebook:

Wanting Sensible Gun Laws Don't Make Me Anti-Gun Just Like How Wanting Sensible Traffic Laws Don't Make Me Anti-Car

In the end, I know tragedy can't be averted entirely, but they can be reduced in number.  Given that we are living in a world that is significantly less violent and brutal than any time in history, our concern (and sometimes obsession) with being threatened and vulnerable is a bit disconcerting, owing more to the 24 hour news cycle and the perceptions of threats as opposed to actual threats.  I would love to see a reasonable conversation about such things, dominated by the majority in the middle rather than the zealots on the extremes.

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Shootings, Troubled Boys, and System Failures

I hesitated a lot in writing this.  It leaves the door open to be directly or indirectly judged and devalued.  Some might view it as sensationalizing the tragedy for my own gain or trying to garner attention away from it.  What follows is me sharing what is extremely hard to share because there has been no space for these conversations in our culture.  I make no claims to be or to know Adam Lanza; after all, in the end I didn't do what he did.  But in my adolescence, the impulse was palpable though the opportunity wasn't.    

As early as ten years old, I experienced suicidal fantasies; that was also the year of my first attempt.  I tried to electrocute myself (in rather pathetic conditions in hindsight).  I would try two more times in the next six years; once with a knife and once with pills.  I mired in a depressive suicidal slump for seven years of my life during which nary a day would pass where I didn't think about death; mine and at times, others. 

One day, a neighborhood kid showed me his gun (by sneaking up behind me and pointing it at my head). I told him it wasn't real and that he wouldn't do it, neither of which I hoped were true.  It was a starter gun for races and I remember the disappointment.  I had shimmering hopes that I could end my life and maybe even others’ lives.  For a few days afterward, I hoped that maybe he could get me a gun.

In my teenage years, I certainly thought much about doing what Lanza actually did.  If I had access to a gun, I and maybe others wouldn't be alive today.  I thank the powers that be that my mother did not get a gun until I was into my 20s and I had gained distance from where I was in my teenage years.  But there was a time in which I wanted that “power.”    I hated myself, my family, and the world around me for making me feel the way I did; too fat, too stylistically deficient, too unmanly--just not enough of this and too much of that.  The self-loathing, teasing, and sense of displacement simmered and boiled enough so that I regularly fantasized about taking control of my life with a gun. "That would show them."  The classic line of so many people who felt wronged by the world around them.  Though I probably never spoke the lines, the words echoed in my fantasies.  

I took inspiration from another student at my school.  He was regularly harassed by the jocks and others.  He always carried large duffle bag and the rumor mill produced a story that he had been found with a "hit list" and weapons in the bag.  The myth was that he planned to attack and do serious harm to others.  As much as that gave me grounds to also harass, or at least gossip, about him (in my feeble attempts to fit in by talking about others; after all, if they were talking about him, they were not talking about me), I also took his idea to heart.  I wondered who would be on my "hit list."  Who would be my targets?  Specific people or just everyone?  Regularly, I would play these detailed scenarios out in my mind. 

This was a major feature of my adolescence.  Few would have been privy to it at the time.  If the opportunity afforded itself and I did commit some heinous crime, many would have been just as dumbstruck as people now express about Lanza.  Of course, that's not entirely true.  We often know something is up but we don't pursue it.  We say it's not our business or that we're too busy or that it's not true.  The friends, families and neighbors of most serial killers or mass murderers claim utter disbelief and that he (and we're largely talking about "he") was a good person.  We lie to ourselves.  It's easier to say, "I didn't know" than to grapple with the fact that we had some hints about it.  Because then we would have to ask ourselves, "What more could I have done?" and the answer in the wake of dead bodies is usually, "something."  

Was I mentally ill?  Probably, but I flew just below the radar.  No one saw the full picture of what was going on.  My parents got hints, friends (though at times I believed I had none) got hints, and other adults did as well.  I physically and verbally lashed out in anger at people and things and other times, I was the sweetest kid.  But nobody really put in the effort to get the full picture.  I lived in a state of hiding but showing.  This was no soduko puzzle; it was connect-the-dots.  There is a clear element in these tragedies; the signs are there if we but take the time.  Culturally speaking, we don't do mentally ill; it's too complicated; it's too gray.  It would mean not only looking at our children and our friends differently and with extreme amounts of empathy and understanding, but in the big picture, re-evaluating crime and the closely-held beliefs of freedom and self-reliance.

The structure we have created for youth grossly fails us at times.  For every Lanza who takes actions, there are many who suffer silently or inflict their wounds solely upon themselves through self-mutilation or suicide (like myself).  The industrialized education system, that is supposed to simultaneously socialize us and educate us, comes up drastically short in this.  It tries to do both but often fails; we get very intelligent people who have trouble fitting in and social butterflies who can't do the mathematics required for a checkbook.  

Though this isn't an anti-gun rant, guns do play a role in this.  I respect and appreciate the presence of guns in the world.  However, a lack of access to guns prevented me from substantively doing anything more than fantasizing.  That I would have to talk with others and track down a gun by some means was a significant deterrent for someone like me.  I can only think that is the case for a great deal of people in similar states of mind.  

All of this is in the far distance past--literally, half a lifetime ago.  In total, I have spent months of my life addressing and repairing those parts of me through a variety of methods and through a great deal of help from friends and loved ones.  All of which has moved me from a place of hopelessness to a place of hopefulness.  I'd no sooner take my life or anyone's now than I would decide to believe the world is flat; it's an utterly ludicrous idea in my head.  But it wasn't always.  In the mind of that young boy, filled with hate and self-loathing, isolated and disconnected from the world around him, wanting help but never quite capable of asking for it, it was a reality.  

The Sandy Hook shooting was but one of several tragic mass-shootings this year. It triggers a variety of responses.  Some are quick to lose faith in humanity.  Others quickly blame the guns.  Still, others point to failures to address mental illness in real ways.  Some just claim it is a "crazy person" and we can't account for such random acts.  People are wildly reactive and rightfully so, that's what happens when we are faced with trauma.  When tragedy hits, we want quick fixes and easy answers.   We regress to childhood and just want it to go away.  But as adults, we should know better.  There are no easy answers; life is a complicated mess and what happened in Newtown only emphasizes that.

I only wonder though if our failure to address the mental health and illness, the structure of adolescence, and the worship of guns in our culture don't make for the perfect formula for the repetition of these events.  When Columbine happened, like other tragedies, we said it must happen "never again."  But I knew it would.  Because in all honesty, what has actually changed since Columbine?  What can we say that has substantively addressed the issues that caused that event?  Draconian no-tolerance policies against bullying?  That's punitive but doesn't address and engage ways in which we talk about the pressure to create hierarchy in the school setting.  Little has changed because we're not having the right conversations--skip the music selection or the video game choices, those are distractions. Focus on the real issues.  Otherwise, we will continue to see more shootings like Sandy Hook, and grow increasingly fearful of one another. 

Recent Letter to the Editor: Response to violence requires honest discussion

So here's a recent letter to the editor that I fired off in response to an editorial earlier this week (Our View:  School shooting defies understanding).  I have a lot more to say about the event than what's in these 300+ words, but I'm waiting to hear back if another site or publication will be taking it up.  In the meantime, to get a sense of where I am with all this, try this one:

"To the editor:  If the Newtown shooting “defies understanding,” then you haven’t been paying attention. The motivations may never be fully realized and yet the ways in which help could have been afforded to Lanza or the signs recognized are numerous. However, in a self-reliant “we must be free at all costs” society, it’s up to you to take care of you. That doesn’t work out so well in reality; it didn’t work out for Adam Lanza and it didn’t work out for the community of Newtown. It won’t work out for future episodes of this show."

For the rest of the letter, follow on through to the Salem News.

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