So I guess it’s time to talk about guns.
I have remained silent over the last several years on this topic. That’s not because I don’t have opinions; I do. I’m on the uncool side of the debate. You know…the one with all the guns.
There are several reasons I have not discussed it:
- This is a large and complex issue. Surprisingly, it has almost nothing to do with guns.
- I have always thought it disrespectful to jump from tragedy to politics without even a breath between. Recent events inform me that this disrespect no longer concerns most people.
- The people who talk about solving the problem cannot even identify the problem. Hint: it isn’t handguns, Trump, the GOP, the NRA, 30 round magazines or scary black automatic weapons.
- The people who want to have a “gun control discussion” don’t seem to want a discussion. They want to shout “DO WHAT I WANT! WHY DO YOU HATE CHILDREN?? SHUT UP, RACIST!!”
- Nobody wants to be calm and rational.
- Nobody seeks root causes.
- Nobody will acknowledge that EVERY SINGLE shooting is different, EVERY SINGLE shooter is differently motivated, and in EVERY SINGLE case, the shooter broke multiple existing laws prior to executing whatever plan he created. As a result, there is no simple solution for every possible case.
The easy beginning here is to express grief and sympathy with the victims, and use that to leverage the Moral Authority Card to point at all the #UsualSuspects and shout “SHAAAAME ON YOOOUUUU!!” and then whine a bunch about doing something! ANYTHING! to get rid of the scary black guns.
Well, that’s been tried. It hasn’t worked.
And as for doing something! ANYTHING!! to get rid of guns in schools? That’s been tried, too.
The Gun Free School Zones Act of 1990 (as amended in 1997) criminalized possession of a firearm in a school zone by an unauthorized person, subject to several exceptions. In English, it means “ya can’t bring guns ta school if’n y’ain’t got permission.”
Observation tells us that hasn’t worked, either.
Let’s toss this huge rock into the pond and check out the ripples.
The American criminal justice system is imperfect. It was conceived by imperfect men, codified by imperfect men and women, and administered by imperfect men and women. As such, it will never work. Error is built into it. Error is introduced into it. Small errors become precedent. Precedent becomes policy. Policy compounds error, because it too is conceived, codified, implemented and administered by imperfect humans.
I don’t believe the gun control lobby wants to solve the problem. If they wanted to solve the problem, they would first figure out what causes the problem.
Guns are not the problem.
Take a loaded, scary, black AR-15, disengage the safety, lay it on a counter in your kitchen, and you know what will happen?
It’s a law of physics. Newton’s First Law of Motion says that an object remains at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line unless acted upon by a force.
That gun will sit there forever until something comes along and moves it. It won’t get up, bounce on over to the local K-6 center and start popping caps at the kiddies. It won’t even accidentally fall off the counter and discharge a round.
It will never do that unless acted on by a force.
It’s not the gun that shoots people.
It’s not the car that hits pedestrians.
It’s not the fork and spoon that make people fat.
The problem is not the gun. It’s the FORCE acting on the gun.
It’s a person.
Someone is firing that gun. Maybe that person is the problem.
Or maybe they’re just part of it.
Along with the imperfect folks who dreamed up and run the criminal justice system we have.
There’s more to it.
Of course there’s more to it.
I noticed that the two guys who did the shooting in Littleton, CO in 1999 killed themselves. In the aftermath, it was determined that both boys had serious problems.
Not serious enough that they were able to come back to life and execute a fatal shooting at a middle school in Deming, NM seven months later. That was another boy, a 12 year old with serious emotional problems. He was sentenced to two years in prison.
He hadn’t been sentenced yet, but he was not the 6 year old boy who shot and killed a classmate at a school in Mount Morris Township, MI in February 2000. That boy was not charged, but the 19 year old boy living in the house, who left the gun where the youngster could get at it, was sentenced to prison, as was the boy’s uncle who owned the house.
But in May of the same year, a 13 year old honor student shot and killed his favorite teacher in Lake Worth, Florida. He used a gun he had found earlier in a cookie tin at his godfather’s house and, caught in a moment of high stress and impulsive anger, ended one life and forever ruined his own.
He was not available in March 2001, when a 15 year old boy, a victim of bullying at his new high school in Santee, California, killed two students and wounded thirteen. It was later determined that he had several stressors and emotional problems.
That troubled young man had been sentenced to life in prison by September of 2003, when another 15 year old freshman shot and killed two students at a high school in Cold Spring, Minnesota. According to the shooter, one of the victims bullied him over his severe acne. The other victim was in the wrong place at the wrong time. According to Wikipedia, many psychiatrists examined this shooter. Some diagnosed him as schizophrenic, while others declared he had “depression in remission” and “an emerging personality disorder.” In other words, the boy had serious problems.
It was different 16 year old boy with serious emotional problems who murdered his grandfather and his grandfather’s girlfriend before going to his high school in Red Lake, Minnesota, where he opened fire, killing seven and wounding five others before turning the gun on himself.
In November 2005, yet another troubled 15 year old shot three men, killing one, with a gun he had brought to his high school in Jacksboro, Tennessee, hoping to trade it for OxyContin.
I can go on. Thanks to the Google Machine, I could list the circumstances behind every school shooting that has taken place since 1999, throwing in some non-school shootings for good measure as well, and you would find two things in common with each and every shooter: first, all of them were “troubled” in some way; and second, not a single one of them ever managed to do it again. The set of problems that led the boys at Columbine to that place, at that time, with those weapons are different from the set of problems leading up to every other shooting.
No two shootings are the same.
This will be true forever.
Every shooter wound up dead or in custody. My point is that there are young men out there who have problems, troubles and stresses, and up to and including the moment they first pull the trigger, they believe the best possible solution is to pick up a gun.
There may be more artful ways to say this, but none more accurate:
THAT’S FUCKED UP.
You have to wonder why these boys think a gun will solve their problem, don’t you?
To step back up the chain a bit, you also have to wonder what piece of gun control legislation Congress can pass to fix that way of thinking.
Guns are not the problem.
The thinking of the person behind the gun?
The problem is cultural. And as Andrew Breitbart pointed out, “Politics is downstream from culture.”
This is where we come to some of the really deep, barely noticeable ripples from the rock I’ve thrown in this pond.
Fifty years ago, Hollywood made movies that entertained viewers more than they preached what horrible people those viewers were.
Fifty years ago, kids who had arguments at school settled it after school by the bike rack without worry about getting suspended for a week.
Fifty years ago, boys who couldn’t behave in class got punished. My older brother had a teacher break an old-fashioned paddle over his backside when he was in fifth grade. I’m not talking about a flimsy hardware store yardstick, either, it was a pine plank with a handle and holes drilled in it for extra pleasure enhancement, nomesayin’?
Fifty years ago, people were virtuous. You could send your kids to the park to play without having to go along. You could watch them leave the house on a bike at sunrise to go knock on doors and find their friends to get a pick-up ballgame going, and know they would be home when the streetlights came on. If they brought friends home for lunch, they all got baloney sandwiches and potato chips, because their moms fed your kids yesterday.
Fifty years ago, the standard family unit was still nuclear. A father (male), a mother (female) and children.
Fifty years ago, people didn’t have personal computers and handheld devices drawing their attention out of the real world and into a virtual reality. They had friends and neighbors, whose names they knew and with whom they had conversations.
Fifty years ago, kids achieved self-esteem by earning it through trial-and-error, by failing early and learning that “Hey, you know what? You can get over it and do better next time.” Winners got trophies and everybody else griped until tomorrow.
Now, Hollywood cannot make a movie without overseers of political correctness deciding who is and is not the correct ethnicity for a role, and unleashing an Army of Wokeness on movies with a (culturally appropriate) cast of 99.8% black actors for not celebrating LGBT culture.
Yes, that happened this week.
Now, it doesn’t matter who starts a fight at school. If one student touches another, even if the non-aggressor doesn’t fight back, everybody gets suspended. That’s the common sense solution, because it doesn’t require any teachers or administrators to do anything as difficult as make a judgment call on a case-by-case basis.
Now, boys who can’t behave in class still get punished, but with Ritalin and Adderall. If they still misbehave, the parents, oops, I mean – PARENT is called. Often there is only one. And whose side does that parent take? Their child, over the adult.
Now, you can’t send kids to the park alone because of all the sexual predators on Law & Order: SVU and the serial killers on Criminal Minds. Your kid’s bike (if they even have one) has a GPS unit so you know where they are every minute of the day. They figure out lunch on their own because everybody’s at work, where you keep an eye on them with a webcam.
Now, the standard family unit is chaos. It’s a panoply of choices, but the nuclear family unit is undeniably in decline. The head of a single parent family can rarely afford to alienate a child, because there’s no good cop to encourage them after a much-deserved punishment is given.
Now, our families and friends are spread across the world in this global economy, and conversations happen across the Wi-Fi on a tiny glowing screen. Neighbors? Ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat! I’m binge-watching Stranger Things, leave me alone!
Now, kids are BORN with self esteem. Everyone is special. Nobody fails, they just succeed in a different way. And they sure don’t learn to deal with it. Every game ends in a tie, everybody gets a participation trophy, and then we’re all going for ice cream! When life doesn’t go how it’s supposed to, by God, somebody’s to blame!
And when I find out who it is, I’m going to shoot them!
Or better yet, I’ll pretend to BE them, call their local 911 and tell them I just shot my family so they send a SWAT team to their house, won’t that be hilarious?
Fifty years ago, the culture encouraged self-reliance, strong families, neighborhood connection and independence.
Now, our culture tells us that those values are warped, that violence never solves anything, that you need your village to raise your child, that no particular family structure is better than any other, that to be cool you have to own the latest tech and have a maximum attention span of thirty-four seconds, that your friends matter more for their skin color than for their character, that you are unique and special and a winner JUST LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE and somebody owes you a living just because you showed up.
This is the point where hysterics will start ticking off bullet points.
- You’re a HATER!
- Why do you hate children?
- Why are you anti-progress?
- You want to go back to slavery!
- Why do you hate women in the workforce?
- You want separate lunch counters!
- SHUT UP, RACIST!
- Why do you defend pedophiles?
- You’re anti-family!
- You LUDDITE!
Of course, none of those things are true.
I am sure that others will rapidly reach those conclusions about me, consult the playbook and respond accordingly. In a moment you will encounter a quote that explains what I think of people like that, who have no particular purpose like I do for behaving the way I do toward some people…well, just one, really…someone has to be the Accurate Reflection.
All I am saying is things used to be one way. Now, things are different. As Stephen King might like to say, “The world has moved on.” Some things are much, much better than they used to be. Other things are much, much worse.
There are unintended consequences to every social improvement.
Entertainers and journalists become politicized, and audiences become polarized.
Children are punished for acting like children, and they lose constructive and useful outlets for their God-given enthusiasms.
Entertainment shows us twenty years of sex criminals, thirteen years of serial killers, nothing but horror stories leading the local news, and people start to think there’s a criminal around every corner and one in five girls are raped at college.
Families break up. Single mothers are incentivized by government welfare systems NOT to work AND to have MORE children out of wedlock, and the family unit becomes even weaker.
We allow our kids to learn they are fine just the way they are, that there are no winners and no losers and no success and no failure, and they never become motivated to be better.
We decide that punishing children in certain forceful and immediate ways is inappropriate, and they learn there are no consequences for breaking rules.
Taken individually, each of these is a small thing. Unfortunately, we can’t take them individually. They have a collective, force-multiplying effect.
Break the bonds between people and drive them apart. Manufacture a moral basis for making one side superior to the other. Tell people they should be inordinately frightened. Emphasize conformity over excellence. Incentivize the breakup of the nuclear family, leaving emotional, hormonal teenagers without traditional support systems. Shame (and, ironically, punish) people who punish their children’s bad behavior, then wonder why you get more bad behavior and broken families.
That’s a broken culture.
There’s a science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein called Friday. It’s set in a future where space travel is the norm, the Moon is colonized, and the United States has broken up into Balkanized nation-states. The plot is unimportant to this discussion (read the book anyway, I recommend it), but there is a moment in the second half of the book where one character asks the heroine,
“What are the marks of sick culture?”
“It is a bad sign when the people of a country stop identifying themselves with the country and start identifying with a group. A racial group. Or a religion. Or a language. Anything, as long as it isn’t the whole population.”
“A very bad sign. Particularism. It was once considered a Spanish vice but any country can fall sick with it. Dominance of males over females seems to be one of the symptoms.”
“Before a revolution can take place, the population must lose faith in both the police and the courts.”
“High taxation is important and so is inflation of the currency and the ratio of the productive to those on the public payroll. But that’s old hat; everybody knows that a country is on the skids when its income and outgo get out of balance and stay that way – even though there are always endless attempts to wish it away by legislation. But I started looking for little signs and what some call silly-season symptoms.
I want to mention one of the obvious symptoms: Violence. Muggings. Sniping. Arson. Bombing. Terrorism of any sort. Riots of course – but I suspect that little incidents of violence, pecking away at people day after day, damage a culture even more than riots that flare up and then die down. Oh, conscription and slavery and arbitrary compulsion of all sorts and imprisonment without bail and without speedy trial – but those things are obvious; all the histories list them.”
“I think you have missed the most alarming symptom of all. This one I shall tell you. But go back and search for it. Examine it. Sick cultures show a complex of symptoms as you have named… But a dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot.
“This symptom is especially serious in that an individual displaying it never thinks of it as a sign of ill health but as proof of his/her strength. Look for it. Study it. It is too late to save this culture – this worldwide culture, not just the freak show here in California. Therefore we must now prepare the monasteries for the coming Dark Age. Electronic records are too fragile; we must again have books, of stable inks and resistant paper.”
That passage has stuck with me since I read the book over thirty years ago. Not all of the symptoms mentioned above are present today. Many are. In my opinion, there are enough matches to the list Heinlein outlines here to conclude that ours is a dying culture.
And, politics being downstream of it…there is no way to “wish it away by legislation.”
Imperfect systems are imperfect. Even the processes we have in place today failed to stop the latest shooting. The FBI received two separate reports about this shooter in the last six months and failed to do anything. The Broward County Sheriff’s Department was called to his house 39 times in the 7 years prior to the shooting.
Guns are not the problem.
The problem is much larger than that. The problem is much larger than I have gotten around to describing in these thirty-two hundred words. Taking away every gun from every civilian in America, and melting them into a modern art masterpiece won’t solve the problem.
In my next post on this topic, I’m going to try to cover some of the deep political obstacles that must be overcome prior to looking at solutions to whatever we want to call this problem.
Because it’s not a gun problem.