"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Firearms Control…again

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After a horrible mass shooting in the USA, the predictable rhetoric about firearms control is in full swing. It amazes me the effort with which people on either side work to demonstrate they are occupying the moral high ground, when in reality both groups are exploiting the murder of children to forward their political objectives.

I wonder how rational people can stand up and say…an assault weapons ban is needed; magazine size limits are needed; more rigourous background checks are needed…and on the other side, it is my right to own any type of firearm I desire. Neither position seems connected with reality.

(You’ll note I avoid the word ‘gun’ which most of the media rely on. I was taught very early on with pushups that it is not a gun…as that term only applies to artillery pieces. The rest are firearms.)

I write as a retired soldier, a competitive shooter and a hunter. I support background checks before purchasing a firearm (and I’ll note the most recent shooter had attempted to buy his own rifle, but was stopped by the need for a background check, as CT has some of the more restrictive laws in the USA). I support licensing of firearms owners, and a requirement to demonstrate continued eligibility for that license. These seem to be reasonable measures that are not an undue imposition on personal freedoms in a first-world culture. I enjoy shooting assault-style firearms, because I spent 20 years of my life carrying one, and it’s a reminder of that past life. I’m not so sure that we all need 30-round magazines on an HK416, but even on that I’m uncomfortable with restrictions – if the people are properly cleared by the state, than what is the problem?

The rational angle is what seems missing, as all of the statements miss any connection back to solving the problem. How will an assault weapons ban have prevented this? How would magazine limits have prevented this? The answer, without fail, is that this is common sense. In this case, as in most cases, common sense does not reflect reality.

The problem is attempting to solve random events with legislation. How will that change in the law prevent one (usually not totally sane) individual from taking other’s lives? The story that caught my eye was of 22 school children in China injured when a knife-wielding man attacked them at their school. None died, but even a ban on firearms would not remove the threat.

The link between firearms control laws and mass shootings is not an easy one to tease out, mostly because the permissiveness of the law seems to have little influence. In this case it looks like the shooter took his mother’s firearms after killing her – and I would have more respect for the political perspective that argues for stiffer firearms control laws if they would just admit that their ultimate goal is a total ban on civilian-owned firearms of any sort. In this case, what laws would have been able to stop the chain of events that lead to so much death? I can’t think of any one, except an all-out ban on firearms (even then I’m unconvinced). A co-worker suggested to me that there was less availability of unregistered firearms in Canada because of our stiffer laws…I don’t believe that to be true. Take a look at the number of significant weapons seizures at Canadian border crossings with the US, and ask how many vehicles don’t get inspected. I also recall an acquaintance in high school once offering me a .45 with the serial number removed for $75 (I didn’t take him up on the offer) and that was more decades ago than I want to remember.

All of the debate misses the real problem that faces the first world – which I believe all comes back to a fundamental devaluing of human life. Scott Peck addressed this in his book, Denial of the Soul. When we cease to believe that humans have any transcendent existance, the cost of killing becomes much like harvesting fruit. That sounds shocking, but if you listen to the debates going on right now in the courts around the question of euthanasia, that belief is at the root. It is my life, if I chose to end it, no one has the right to argue with me. In his fictional world, Robert Heinlein imagined a place where every citizen had a suicide switch in the wall of their house, and were able to opt for death at any moment of the day by flipping the switch. That fictional place is looking more and more like our present reality.

In a world where the moral leader of the free world – the USA – uses Hellfire missiles off drones to kill their enemies from an air conditioned trailer 1000’s of miles away…along with their entire family in some cases, it starts to become clear where some of the breakdown in those values is starting. We are told to teach our children that violence does not solve anything…and when we’re old enough to watch the news we realize that in fact, violence is a pretty efficient way to solve otherwise intractable problems. The restriction against the use of deadly force by one nation against non-combatants seems to have been pushed aside for want of speed (and for the Obama fans, I’ve read that he used more drone strikes in his first term than the evil George W did in both terms). Human life, which we’re taught is sacred, is disposable. That is the key problem.

Back to the firearms question. The definitive work on the question of firearms control laws and crime is John R Lott, More Guns, Less Crime. I’ve seen his conclusions criticized, but I’ve not found anyone who successfully takes a run at his statistical analysis. You have to undertake multivariate analysis to find the trends between firearms laws and crime rates – a simple “this one goes up when this one goes up” doesn’t cut it.

Lott’s conclusions are quite startling – with a concealed carry rate of only a few percent, the violent crime rate (and particularly crimes against women) drops dramatically. The property crime rate increases slightly (meaning a break-in at your home when you’re absent). He suggests that the knowledge that citizens can be armed provides such a strong deterrent that it has an overall protective impact on the entire population. Shocking – and probably the reason I never see Lott mentioned in any of the media stories or discussions. I’m particularly shocked when you hear the rhetoric about violence against women being increased with looser firearms laws, when Lott’s work suggests that the opposite is true.

One of the things that amazes me in these debates is that no one ever mentions the abundance of first-person shooter games like Call of Duty. Those programs are highly effective at conditioning people to kill without thought – using many of the same training techniques the military uses to train soldiers including developing marksmanship skills. Dave Grossman has offered some compelling analysis on that subject (On Killing, On Combat, Stop Teaching our Children to Kill).

Why no mention of violent video games? I suspect it is counter to the social liberal mindset which says that restrictive legislation will create a utopia, if only we can find the right rules, and if only if everyone thought the same way that we do.

The real issue underlying such tragedies is not magazine capacity, or the types of firearms available, but rather a culture which refuses to deal with their fascination with violence. A lower firearms homicide rate in Canada is not due to tighter firearms laws as much as it is to a different cultural perspective (although that is changing for the worse here too).

You would like to think a few laws will solve the problem of firearms murder…but reality is much more complex. Until we learn to live out, ‘love one another, as I have loved you’ (paraphrasing John 13:33) in a real, tangible way, I suspect we will continue to hear of horrific events, and we will continue to debate how to best arrange the deck chairs as the ship slips beneath the waves. I’m infinitely hopeful, but I’m also keenly aware of the brokeness of humanity. As long as we endorse our leaders using remote control lethal force to kill our enemies, and their families and friends, I’m not sure we’ll see a much different path followed back at home.


Just noticed this news story, as the investigators delve into the life of the shooter in CT.  One of the problems with these events is the instant fame that is afforded to the criminal.  Some of these types are motivated by a desire to ‘leave a mark’ on the world.  As I’ve heard suggested it would be much better to prohibit any discussion of the person’s name after such a crime…to effectively blot them from the public record.  As opposed to the media storm that always follows such tragedies, would it not be better to make the criminal a non-person?

The news story speaks about the shooter deliberately destroying his computer hard drive, to the point that the FBI forensic specialists are having trouble reconstructing it.  That suggests a fairly high level of sophistication – most computer users would not think to pull the drive apart and disrupt the magnetic media.  There was also a note about video games (just ‘a source’ at this point, but it will not surprise me to find out the shooter was a great fan of first-person shooter games):

Two law enforcement sources said the hard drive had been removed from Lanza’s computer and broken in pieces. They said that forensic electronics experts at the FBI will examine the drive in an effort to determine with whom Lanza corresponded electronically and how he otherwise used the device.

One of the sources said that Lanza used the computer to play a violent video game in which life-like characters engage in graphic battle scenes.

As long as our culture glorifies violence, and encourages our youth to spend hours conditioning themselves with those virtual reality first-person shooter games, we should not be surprised when a troubled few decide to act out the fantasy.  All the talk about magazine capacity and bans on firearms misses the mark entirely.


Written by sameo416

December 17, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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