Saturday, December 15, 2012

More or Less Gun Control

Predictably, after the latest school shooting tragedy, the gun control advocates, and the gun freedom advocates, are all up in arms, no pun intended. It's kind of pathetic watching it, actually. Each side thinks that more or less gun control is the solution to preventing these kinds of random acts of violence. What each conveniently ignores is that the source of such egregious acts of violence is not guns.

Then you have the mental health and anti-bullying advocates jumping into the fray. Clearly the perpetrators of these crimes are mentally disturbed, so the solution is for everyone to be more sensitive to and aware of such mental illness, to create better psychological safety nets. If only the person were more accepted by society, he wouldn't have done it. Or so it goes.

And then you have people like me who, predictably, point out the obvious. That if these folks had a correct and hearty respect for human life, they wouldn't do this, even if they did feel picked on/rejected by society, even if they had the whole of the U.S. military's weapons at their disposal.

Framing the problem around the proliferation of guns is so naively simplistic that it's amazing that otherwise intelligent people engage in it. I don't care what philosophical or ideological background you're coming from, or what terms you want to use. The undeniable fact is that having a firm moral foundation that must include respect for the first, fundamental, and most inviolable of rights--the right to and dignity of all human life--necessarily precludes such malevolent violations of that right.

The conversation we need to be having is how can we, as a society, better instill that foundation in our society. Period.

If you don't believe in God, fine. If you do, fine. We can debate that separately, but we need to agree on this fundamental right, and we need to make it a priority to instill, foster, and proliferate a healthy respect for it.  If there ever was an inconvenient truth, it's that we are miserably failing to foster such a moral foundation in our society.

More gun control does nothing towards that. Nada. Zilch. Zero. It's like someone with a runny nose stuffing more and more and more tissue up his nose. He'll still feel miserable, still be sick, and the snot will just run down his throat instead. And more counseling is like taking an antihistamine; it helps better, but it still isn't a cure (and it may lead to drowsiness). Less gun control is like saying you don't need anything to treat it at all; that it's natural and healthy for you to be snotting all over the place.

We do have gun control today, despite frenetic claims to the contrary, quite a lot of it, in fact. As a society we have an amazing, historically speaking, sensitivity to and awareness of psychological illness (some might say too much, that we're almost psychological hypochondriacs). These measures, I would say, do help some. But they only go so far, and there is a point at which they become counterproductive and even harmful. Sore throats are arguably worse than a runny nose, as is overdosing on antihistamines.

If we allow ourselves, in response to this latest tragedy, to indulge yet again in arguing about gun control or mental health, we'll miss yet another opportunity for serious, important moral introspection as a society. Facilely saying "if he didn't have a gun, it wouldn't have happened" or "if only all the teachers were packing, it wouldn't have happened (or been as bad)," are two sides to the same coin. They are both, in theory, true. And they both, in reality, miss the point.