Monday, December 17, 2012

Sandy Hook Tragedy Aftermath: 4 Reasons Both Sides of the Gun Control Debate Aren't Making Any Sense

(photo @ abcnews.com)


On Friday, December 14, 2012, one of the most horrific tragedies imaginable happened at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut: A gunman got into the school and gunned down 20 children and 5 teachers.

As you can imagine, the idea of children between the ages of 6 and 7 getting shot and killed in their own classroom has sparked an outpouring of grief, rage, and the inevitable politicizing that always occurs immediately after a national tragedy...not that there's anything necessarily wrong with that. A horrible event like this reminds us of just how awful the "worst case scenario" really is and makes everyone to reassess their priorities.

Unfortunately, it also tends to cause folks on both sides of a debate--in this case, the issue of gun control--to make emotionally charged arguments without thinking about what today's impassioned declaration will mean for how the future will deal with reality.

While the tragedy in Newtown definitely should makes us feel angry and upset...AND make us look very closely at the gun culture in the United States...it shouldn't give pro-gun and anti-gun advocates a free pass to mindlessly spout off opinions steeped in misinformation, anger, and fear.

The following are a few points I've heard repeated by both sides that are beginning to make my head hurt. I'll address/talk down to both sides of this issue (just like I did during the great Chick-fil-A debate last summer) starting with the pro-gun group (and one of their crazier theories).



1. Pro-Gun People: Arming school teachers is a really stupid idea.

Yes, there are already lobbyists and lawmakers saying that teachers carrying guns in the classroom is a viable way to prevent another violent massacre like what happened in Newtown. The fact that I'm a teacher myself should make anyone give a serious pause to this line of reasoning, but allow me to expand on that a bit.

Even if you are not a long time reader of this site, you have probably been able to surmise that I am not an English teacher. That's because even though I have the ability to occasionally construct a funny/informative narrative, there are always typos in every article that I publish.

In fact, even after proof reading this piece myself (and asking my wife to proof-read it, too), you will still probably find a decent amount of grammatical and spelling mistakes (or instances when I just left a word out all together)....and that's writing in a language that I have been using for decades.

Operating a gun, on the other hand, isn't as simple as using your Wii-remote control while playing Call of Duty (which I also struggle mightily with, as well).

                                                      nextgn.com
"It's not my fault! I need to recalibrate AGAIN!"


It takes a decent amount of training along with a high degree of awareness and safety. Considering that there are over 7 million teachers in the United States, the odds of more than a few of us experiencing mishaps and accidents in the classroom with our firearms is more than a little daunting.

By the way, notice that I did not put the word "accidents" in quotations. That's because I've never come close to ever wanting to physically harm one of my students; even the ones that have royally ticked me off.

But I'm guessing that if you think back on all the teachers that you had from kindergarten through 12th grade, there is at least one teacher you were glad did not have a gun at his or her disposal in a room full of unruly children.

I do agree, however, that there should be a school resource officer at each school who carries a firearm and is properly trained on how to use it...but I don't think that myself and the orchestra teacher should come into school every morning packing heat.



2. Anti-Gun People: Stop pointing at other countries with anti-gun laws (and a fraction of the United States' population) as examples of why outlawing citizen ownership of firearms works. 

As a teacher in the United States, one thing I get really tired of hearing the constant cry of the media that American students are lagging way behind students from other countries.

Let's just ignore the fact that the United States has never ranked at the top of international education tests since we began comparing scores back in 1964; we're America gosh darn it, and we should be the best...right?

Never mind the fact that our population far exceeds almost all of these countries both in sheer quantity, diversity, and poverty levels. I'm sure that in India, where their students are apparently demolishing our kids on international test scores, it's taken into account that over half the of children aged 6-14 (most of them severely underprivileged) don't even go to school...

...while in the United States, nearly every child is enrolled in school and required to go, even if the individual child or their parents would rather they not be there.


                                                            whatgives.com
Hopefully you see what
I'm getting at here....


It's a comparison that makes for some great hyperbole, but not a very sound argument...and the "look at how good everyone else is" argument doesn't work well when it comes to gun control, either.

Sure, you could point to Japan and Canada's ability to almost completely eliminate gun violence in their country due to strict gun regulation (while ignoring the fact that their populations are a fraction of the United States' and culturally very different), but that wouldn't be telling the whole story.

You would also have to look at countries like Switzerland, where all able bodies male citizens are required to have a firearm, yet gun related crime is still incredibly low. Sweden and Finland also have a very high rate of gun ownership while still maintaining an impressively low level of gun-related crime, as well.

Obviously, the issue of gun violence will always be linked with a population's access to firearms, but it also involves cultural and demographic issues that make it much more complicated than simply banning firearms all together.

And as horrible as the Sandy Hook tragedy was, it is not a clear indicator that gun violence is this country spiraling out of control. Kieran Healy, a Duke sociology professor, made the following graph showing "deaths due to assault" by firearms in the United States compared to other developed countries.




As the chart makes depressingly apparent, we are the violent outlier of the world. But gun violence in the U.S. has also been greatly declining since the 1960's, while the country's population continues to grow at a very rapid pace.

What happened at Sandy Hook Elementary may have been one of the most awful and sickening things imaginable, but despite what you hear on the news, gun crime in America is not getting progressively worse.



3. Pro Gun People: The Constitution was written during a very different time...and you are not an action movie hero.

The Constitution and the Bill of Rights are the backbone of the laws that govern our great nation. They are responsible for many of the rights that our nation has fought on the fields of war and in the court of law to protect.

But sometimes, our founding fathers and early lawmakers got things wrong...and for any of you who are about to go grab your torches and pitch forks to rise up against me, ask yourselves this: Should there ever be a situation where an entire race of people is only considered to be three-fifths of a person?

                                                                        blackparenting.org
Not pictured: Three fifths of a family


While things like freedom of speech and the right to due process are universal and timeless birth rights (or should be, at least) the right to own firearms as stated in the Second Amendment was written during a time when America was under the threat of occupation (from a nation that they had just declared their independence from) and heavily based on the formation of citizen militias.

If you're going to be slavishly devoted to your right to bear arms, then you also better be heavily devoted to giving up a large portion of your personal life as a member of (or commanding) an armed group of volunteer citizens.

My guess is that for most of you who are pro-gun, the desire to raise your family (or future family) in a safe, weirdo-free environment (along with having a somewhat normal social circle) nixes that one pretty quickly. Even the most ardent of American patriots will admit that domestic militias tend to attract folks that just about everyone else (including those who serve and have served in the actual U.S. military) would rather not associate with. 

Is that a broad generalization? Yes. 

Is it correct on almost every level? Yes. And here comes another one.

Many pro-gun advocates will strongly hint or even come right out and say that they need to be armed in case the United States government fails them (or their candidate doesn't win the next election).



"This statement does not grant you the license to kill people with whom you disagree
or simply become an uninformed douche bag who constantly posts political rantings on Facebook."
-Thomas Jefferson (if he were alive today)


They will misquote or misconstrue things that our founding fathers said during a time of war (and single shot muskets) to mean that they must stand ready with the sweet gear they bought at the last gun show to go full Rambo on the government's ass if things ever get too squirrely.

But this rationale for gun ownership (especially with regards to high powered automatic and semi-automatic rifles) is complete and utter B.S.

Let's say that crazy judge in Texas was right and President Obama decides to invade the Lone Star State. You've been stockpiling weapons for years, so you're ready to defend your home with your life...

...which is exactly the price that you will pay when a barrage of hellfire missiles rains down on your property and leaves nothing behind except a smoldering crater.


                                                                air-attack.com
Hey no fair! My scope wasn't zeroed in correctly!


This isn't a staging ground for 'Red Dawn', the United States military is not completely inept, and you are not Patrick Swayze or Leah Thompson in the prime of their young careers. Your personal weapons may be a great help in defending you and your family against a home intruder or hunting animals for food and/or sport, but they will not help you against the ridiculously perceived threat of invasion from your own country's military (even if you happen to own illegal, automatic firing guns).

I fully support people being able to responsibly own and operate personal firearms, but there is no need for a private citizen to own military grade, automatic firing weapons.

Wanting to hunt animals for food and sport is perfectly acceptable. Wanting to defend your family by any means necessary is noble. Fantasizing that you may one day lead a new American revolution while starring in your own personal action movie is stupid and asinine.

Just go play paintball or something.


4. Anti-Gun People: Stop saying that the Sandy Hook tragedy wouldn't have happened if stricter gun laws were in place.

Let's set aside the fact that Connecticut already has some of the strictest gun control laws in the country. The fevered pitch of our current national discussion isn't really interested in "control", anyway; a lot of folks just think that we should ban citizen ownership of guns all together.

I hate to break this to you, but that's not going to happen. The Economist already did a much better job explaining this than I ever could, but here's what it boils down to:

1. There are too many illegal guns on the market (not to mention the fact that most criminals acquire their firearms through a friend or theft).

2. The 2nd Amendment is far too entrenched in many of this country's citizens, both for completely rational reasons as well as idiotic purposes...and especially in those squirrely militia types.


What they are not: Constitutional scholars
What they are: Incredibly stubborn and a bit scary


An absolute ban on guns may have worked for Australia (who has a much smaller population) back in 1996, but it simply will be able to happen here in the United States.

And even if it could, I must once again bring up the hated "guns don't kill people, people kill people" argument...which by itself is an incredibly stupid statement. That's like saying "Nuclear weapons don't destroy everyone; hostile countries do." Guns make killing people a MUCH easier and efficient task, which is why they need to be strictly regulated.

But the real problem still lies with the people, themselves....people like Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, who in 1995 used fertilizer and racing fuel to kill 19 children and 168 people altogether. Taking guns (and the ability to purchase personal firearms) out of the hands of law abiding citizens won't protect us from the monsters that walk among us.

And yes, I realize that the shooters from the Virginia Tech massacre and the Aurora theater shooting purchased their guns legally. But these were not crimes of passion; they were the work of calculated, sick individuals who put in a lot of time and planning. They would have found the guns (or another suitable weapon) eventually...

...which leads me to my final point.


Okay Mr. Know-it-all Moderate, what should we do about it?

I've never understood why purchasing a gun was so easy compared to other government regulated tasks...like being able to drive a car.

I know that the pro-gun folks are wary of being made to jump through needless hoops just to hold the same rights that they had before, but shouldn't owning a deadly weapon be at least as regulated for you as it is for the idiot who won't get out of the left lane on the interstate?


But still, we have to go right back to the problem of what to do about the people who use guns for violence against others. This is where the pro-gun folks are going to have to bear with me and embrace some liberal values.

Now, now...don't click off the safety on your weapon just yet. Hear me out for a second.

One thing about the conservative pro-life movement that really irks me is the fact that so many of them are against socialized medicine, public education, and government assistance to the poor. That's not being pro-life at all; that's just being pro-birth.

No additional snark needed


So if you're going to continue to repeat the "guns don't kill people, people kill people" mantra, then it's time to start being willing to do something for potentially dangerous people on a broad and drastic scale.

Mental health care in this country has to be prioritized, it has to get better, and it has to be accessible to everyone. Even if regular counseling and medical treatment can't cure a potentially violent sociopath, it can help identify them so that they are never in a position to own or operate a deadly weapon.

Right now, however, mental health care is far too expensive for many of the people who actually need it...which means it's time to stop railing against socialized medicine, cough up the extra 14 cents for your crappy Papa John's pizza, and realize that therapy and treatment for mental disorders should not just be for those with disposable income or who are institutionalized; it should be available to everyone.

By the way, this doesn't mean that you have to support Obamacare, if that makes you feel better. Without the single-payer option, the whole thing is still an absolute mess that has a lot of untangling to be done before it's going to do much good.

And yes, I'm also aware that the Sandy Hook shooter's mother was more than financially capable of providing therapy and treatment for her son. But aside from that being a very unique (and unlikely) case, the issue of providing good mental health care isn't just about money for individuals in need.

It's also about accessibility, awareness, and making sure a system exists that provides it to everyone. It's about giving school's the funding necessary to hire the staff needed to care for the multitude of troubled children coming through their doors each day. It's about a shift in this country from mental health being a subject we whisper about or push off to the side into something we all start taking very seriously.

If we're going to blame people instead of their easy access to lethal killing instruments, then it's time to start supporting a plan to make sure that people have access to the treatment and help that they need.



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