The Gun Debate
January 30, 2013
I’m gonna toss this out here with a handful of caveats…
- This post is part of an ongoing thought process, and by no means represents a comprehensive viewpoint…
- Feel free to comment, but be aware that I’ll delete anything that so much as feels like a personal attack on myself or any other participant
- Any idiot can point out the problems. Genius is in finding solutions. Do you have a solution to offer?
- By the time this conversation goes live, some of my opinions will probably have shifted. I’m not always consistent. Deal with it.
The gun rights debate is something I’ve generally avoided on this blog. I don’t have much patience for the dogmatic or the knee-jerk, and I recognize that most of the readers here are generally “pro-gun” anyway… although I also expect that the extent of the pro-gun attitudes probably varies a good bit. I also know the conversation often gets heated, and once it gets personal it stops being constructive. But with so much going on with this discussion, and because on most levels it does impact hunters and gun owners, I’d be remiss not to take a run at some thoughts.
I’ve done a lot of soul searching on the topic, by the way. I’ve spent a good bit of time (too much?) reading viewpoints and arguments from one extreme to the other, and hoping to come away with some novel idea to address the problem of gun violence and accidents. But at the end of the day, I’m just not seeing anything that really makes much sense.
Is that because there’s really not a valid solution? Is it possible that, at some point, we have to recognize the reality that guns are inherently dangerous objects, and that from time to time their use will result in accidental or intentional death and injury? Is this a reality that we just have to accept?
I doubt that perspective would get much traction on either side of the debate, but so far it’s the conclusion I’ve come to. Sure, there are more things we can do to reduce the casualties. But with over 300 million people clustered in this country, and almost as many guns (between 275 and 300 million, depending on your source), bad things are just going to happen.
Am I suggesting then, that we do nothing?
Of course not. But I can say that much is already being done, and some of it has been effective. Both the murder rate and accidental death toll have been dropping steadily over the past couple of decades. What is working? Are we putting enough focus on the success of existing measures?
Here’s the other question, though. What is it worth to us to further reduce the number of people harmed by firearms? As citizens, neighbors, and fellow human beings, what are we willing to do in an effort to help protect one another?
That’s really what this whole discussion has boiled down to, isn’t it? The gun control factions are essentially asking (or telling) the gun owners to sacrifice certain freedoms in order to “save innocent lives.”
It’s created quite an impasse, because the question has been framed in a way that’s really difficult to approach. No one wants to come right out and say, “Look. I value my personal freedom to own guns over the potential lives that these freedoms may cost.”
Of course it isn’t that simple in reality, but that is what it boils down to. The gun control advocates argue that their proposed restrictions may save many lives each year. Their opponents say that these restrictions are unproven, and may not save any lives at all, or (and here’s the kicker), not enough to make the law worthwhile.
Whoa! There it is again! It won’t save enough lives to make the law “worthwhile”.
This is where I get hung up in the debate. What is “worthwhile”?
Most arguments fall back to the numbers. It’s hard to get solid numbers related to gun violence, ownership, or use, but the CDC is a pretty reliable starting point. Based on the preliminary statistics for 2011, there were somewhere in the neighborhood of 31,000 firearms-related deaths. Almost two-thirds of those (>19,000) were suicides. Between 10,000 and 11,000 were homicides. The remainder were accidental.
One death in 10,000 seems like a pretty low ratio when you look at all the other things that kill people in this country. If you adjust that ratio to account for factors such as criminal involvement, drug and alcohol use, and geography, the reality is that the average person in the average place really doesn’t stand much risk at all. But, of course, if you or your loved one happens to draw the short straw, those statistics don’t really mean very much, do they?
So if a new law would raise those odds, just the slightest bit, is it worth it? At what cost?
What is the break-even point in potential lives saved versus additional burdens on personal liberties. If, for example, expanded background checks kept one mass-murderer from getting the weapons he needs to shoot a theater full of innocents, is it worth the inconvenience and cost of the program? If a ban on high-capacity magazines resulted in 10 less deaths per year, would that be “worth it”? Does the number have to be 20? 100?
Hard questions, huh?
They should be hard questions, and we should be willing to give serious consideration to the answers. The gun problem isn’t going to be resolved with bumper-sticker simplicity. We have to be willing and able to think things through, consider the potential outcomes of any given action, and then make a judgement call.
So what am I saying?
The truth is, I’m not completely sure at this point. I’ve struggled for several weeks to put my thoughts into a coherent form, and I feel myself failing even as I tap out these words. But I need to start somewhere.
I am a strong proponent of gun ownership by responsible, law-abiding citizens. I believe that we have an inherent right to equip ourselves for self-defense (whether against simple criminals or against a tyrannical government) that supercedes even the oft-quoted 2nd Amendment. The idea that the government will take care of us and protect us in every aspect of our daily lives is ludicrous, and entirely anathema to the ideals of self-determination, personal responsibility, and freedom.
However, I also strongly adhere to the idea that your right to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose. If my freedoms impinge on yours, or put you at unnecessary risk, then you are no longer free. And vice versa… There has to be a balance, and therein is how democracy and society work. In the context of guns, that concept has been demonstrated by prohibiting civilian ownership of certain especially powerful weapons (e.g. rocket launchers, artillery pieces, bombs, etc.).
As I mentioned previously, I think we need to take a hard look at what has worked so far, and build on that. Let’s get past the emotion and rely on logic and common sense to make decisions that will have real, positive effects.
I also think we need to take a systemic look at the problems, because I am dead certain that guns are only a small part of the bigger issue. Why is it that most gun owners never even think of picking up their guns in anger, while some do? Are inner-city gang members really losing their respect for human life? How does that happen? How do we restore that humanity?
And the one aspect of gun fatalities that doesn’t seem to get much light is suicide. While other firearms-related deaths are declining, suicide is still creeping up. What’s happening there? Maybe guns are being used (about half of suicides are committed by firearms), but guns sure don’t cause it. What is it that’s causing people to seek that final escape?
Finally though, when all the conversations are done, laws passed or dismissed, and the dust begins to settle… are we left with the simple reality that as long as there are guns, there will be gun-related fatalities?