Monday, December 24, 2012

A Critical Thinker’s Perspective on Gun Control and Violence (Part 1)

The tragedy in Newtown has ignited a national debate about gun control, with calls to ban assault weapons making their way back into the headlines, and the NRAs proposal to put armed guards in schools getting widely ridiculed. Like most Americans, especially those with young children, those events of ten days ago have weighed on me heavily and prompted me to seriously think about the issues at hand. I deliberated about writing this blog entry at all (so as not to agitate my three readers) but I am tentatively doing so because I think a critical thinker’s perspective might be valuable in this emotion-filled discussion.

As background, I grew up in a rural area where hunting was popular and gun ownership was commonplace. I’ve fired guns and hunted myself a few times (although it’s been years), and I have many friends and acquaintances who own guns of all types, and who use them for sport shooting and hunting. I support citizens’ rights to own guns, and like many people I believe the gun control debate boils down to where we as a society want to draw the line between the types of arms that are reasonable for citizens to “keep and bear,” and the types of arms that are not. At one extreme are small caliber guns that hold just a few rounds and take some time to reload, and at the other extreme are weapons clearly designed for the battlefield. I actually tend to draw my line closer to the later because I think the second amendment is rooted in our Founding Father's belief that this right was needed as a check against tyranny; not as a means of ensuring people could always hunt and skeet shoot. Our British rulers attempted to disarm the colonists through various means, and these acts were viewed as an attempt to enslave the people. Although the very concept of US citizens rising up to overthrow a tyrannical government may sound absurd today, it is only because of the place and time we live in. This great American experiment is a mere 236 years old... a nanosecond in the history of humanity. Our short lives, memories, and experiences offer no help in predicting how things will be in 100 or 200 years, and history has numerous examples of democracies that have gone bad.

Now that I've made myself sound like a member of the Colorado militia, I will add that I do not own a gun and never intend to. I have not taught my two children to shoot, and I probably never will. One of my neighbors has a carry permit and holsters a handgun every waking moment, even when doing yard work, and this makes me uncomfortable. I wonder what's going on his head that makes him want to constantly protect himself in our crime-free neighborhood, and what would happen if my kids somehow crossed him when he was in bad mood? Although I think the NRA's missions of defending the second amendment and providing gun-safety training and education are reasonable, I'm annoyed by what I perceive as their overly simplistic interpretation of the constitution and black and white positions. Our right to bear arms, as with all of our other rights, is not absolute… it ends when it endangers the rights of others. I think the mantra "guns don't kill people; people kill people" is ridiculous and couldn't be retired soon enough. By this logic automobiles and opioids don't kill people either, so there is no need for speed limits or controlled substances. I'm also very troubled by the cold reality that a gun brought into a home for self-defense is twenty times more likely to be used in a suicide, accidental death, or intentional murder; almost always by a young male.

So it should be pretty clear that I'm actually quite conflicted on the subjects of gun violence and gun control, and the massacre in Connecticut initially pushed me more toward the left. Bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines seem like common sense. It just feels right. Right? Well, to a critical thinker, “common sense” is a code word for “opinion.” We all have different versions of common sense. Therefore I decided to uncover as many facts on the subject as possible, and to make as informed of a decision as possible based on the evidence. What I discovered is that this subject is as complex as they come, with endless dimensions to analyze and hard data available that can support or refute any side of any position. Some of my own opinions were supported, while others were dismantled. I’ll attempt to analyze this data and draw some conclusions in Part 2.