I, like every other American, was shocked and saddened by the tragic events that unfolded at Sandy Hook Elementary School recently. As well as thinking about the shattered hopes and dreams and painful loss of those in Newtown, my thoughts turned to my own five-year son in elementary school, thankful that such horrific events did not take place in his classroom.
The shock has not yet subsided, but already the debate about gun control has reared its head again, with both sides arguing their position. As a ex-patriot Brit, I have many thoughts on the differences of approach to this problem between my adopted country and my native land. In Britain I can only remember two mass shootings in my lifetime, one that took place at Hungerford in 1987 and one that tragically took the life of 16 little primary school children in Dunblaine, Scotland in 1996. After both incidents the public outcry against guns was such that legislation brought in heavy bans and amnesties against different types of firearms and as such it has resulted in one of the lowest gun homicide and gun crime rate per capita in the world (Although Switzerland has a very low gun crime rate I believe Britain to be lower). The amount of gun related deaths in the UK and the US isn’t even worth comparing, the US is hundreds of times higher.
The USA and Britain are very different however. Britain has never had a Second Amendment, Britain does not have the “on the Frontier” mentality, perhaps as a result, when VERY stringent gun control measures were introduced, they had almost universal backing. USA on the other hand has approx.. 270 million firearms; that is nearly one gun for every man, woman and child, that is a heck of a lot of guns. Many Americans love their guns. When anyone mentions “gun control” people hear “gun ban” and the argument of “don’t take away my guns” begins.
The arguments on both sides of the divide are reasoned for the short term. Because there are so many guns and crazy people have access to them, it makes more sense to arm the good guys so that innocent people can be protected. It is a good argument, but I want to examine some of the underpinnings to this approach and ask some questions, which need answers if we are going to come up with a comprehensive solution to this problem.
Do guns kill people or do people kill people?
The first question I think that needs analysis is this – “Do guns kill people or do people kill people?” How you answer this question displays whether your approach towards technology is instrumentalist or determinist. An instrumentalist says technology is neutral and it is the user who determines how the technology is used. The determinist says technology is not neutral, some extreme determinists (think your Grandmother) may think that technology is not just “not neutral”, but it is morally repugnant (“That internet is a ‘dark’ place that will corrupt you). Most people who argue against any type of gun control are instrumentalists. Guns are not wrong, it is the bad people who have guns.
There is however a challenge with this approach. Guns like any other piece of technology are designed for an express purpose. Invented and developed to kill efficiently. They do the job that they were designed to do and they do it well. If many people adopt a certain type of technology and use it for its express purpose (think 270 million applications) we should not be surprised if sometimes the deadly application is applied wrongly by many of the sick and mentally unstable people whom live in our midst, or even a “normal” person. I have heard in the news by gun lobbyists that guns are not the problem, but the glorified culture of violence is. I cannot help but think, that while guns are not the reason behind a culture of violence, they are certainly one of the contributing factors. If bad guys have guns, they will use them. If humanity has guns they will use them and culture will be changed as a result. Technology is not neutral and that includes gun technology. People do kill people, but people with guns kill people more efficiently.
This discussion however begs another question. If bad guys have guns, the good guys need to have guns to protect themselves. I do believe there is some truth to this argument, for instance I would be all for having armed guards outside schools, just like they are in front of government buildings and airports as a short term measure. However the question of who is a good guy and who is a bad guy is a little harder to answer. The Bible is clear that none are righteous and when you break it down, it is really hard to determine who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. The truth is we are all just broken humanity. It is interesting to me that most of the recent mass shootings in America, did not take place in the inner city by “criminals” but rather by withdrawn young guys from the burbs who had no criminal past.
What type of long-term future do we want?
This is something that needs thought. We need to think about short-term measures to try and avoid instances like the tragic events at Sandy Hook. However, do we want a long term future where every 25 year old elementary teacher needs to be “packing heat”. Do we envisage a future where guns increase (and gun crime will undoubtedly increase as a result, do not be fooled), where everyone has a firearm and everyone can shoot a potential threat to their safety. Do we want a future where a security guard is doing “pat downs” at the doors of our elementary schools? If you were to envisage a future either with very few guns or with lots and lots of guns, which do you think would be a better future? I know MANY of my friends would pick a future with the latter. I am sad, because I know this will result in untold and needless deaths, which is why I would choose the former.
What should be done?
Putting aside the long-term future and some of the more philosophical questions, there are still short term things that need to be undertaken. I propose a few short term measures that need to be considered.
1 – Increased security in certain areas – Schools, Universities, Houses of Worship etc (it pains me to write this, but I fear as a short term measure it may be prudent).
2 – Increased public awareness of how to deal with many threatening situations (active shooter etc)
3 – Review of our approach to mental health, which could be done in conjunction with –
4 – Military training and issue of firearms through military channels (along the lines of the Swiss) in such a way to put controls on the distribution of firearms.
5 – Increased controls/bans/amnesties on certain types of firearms (assault rifles etc)
We need short-term measures to tackle the evil that has befallen us, but we also need to give serious thought to the type of future we want and point in the direction of that future. I believe America is a great nation and believe addressing this problem will not in some way diminish that.