Sunday, December 16, 2012

A few more thoughts on gun-stuff, then back to your usual programming

-Many are noting, correctly, that the everyday gun violence that disproportionately impacts poor and minority communities doesn't get the same coverage as suburban rampages do. This, I would think, is both due to racism/classism, and to the difference between a massacre and not-a-massacre. (A massacre of six-year-olds in the inner-city would, I should think, make the news.) But let's say that for whichever not-entirely-reasonable reasons, the front-page news is what inspires action - is that such a disaster? Consider Theodor Herzl, getting inspiration to found Zionism (some inspiration, he was already going down that road) from the Dreyfus Affair. There were far worse things happening to Jews in places other than France - pogroms versus anti-Semitic marching-in-the-streets. But what moved him was that any of this could happen in France. Along not-so-different lines, it may move some that gun violence occurs even where you would least expect it. Which does, yes, indicate a certain fundamentally-ethically-questionable indifference to those living in places where one would expect gun violence. But if the end result is, less gun violence, maybe this is just a less-savory part of human nature inadvertently making the world a better place.

-Last time I got all worked-up about this issue (and I have, every so often, since high school) I did some Googling-type research into how to get involved. And found various orgs that are super-pragmatic to the point of being, well, tepid. The overarching message: nobody wants to take away your guns, but maybe, just maybe, we could ever-so-slightly tweak the law, or better-enforce existing laws, or close some loopholes, and reduce the rate of gun violence. What doesn't seem to exist (correct me if I'm wrong!) is any group asking for the radical reduction of/elimination of the right of private citizens to possess a gun. But, like, the Second Amendment! The pro-gun-control groups are just being reasonable! They may want no more guns, but it's not done to ask for that. My thinking, though, is that if there were some vocal contingent asking for a repeal of the Second Amendment (not an exact parallel legally, of course, but Roe v. Wade wasn't case-closed for those who believe abortion is murder), taking a really radical stance on this issue, the center might shift, or at the very least, cease to move further and further to the yay-guns side. That, and your everyday pro-gun-control folks would seem, to the pro-gun side, a bunch more moderate than they do currently.

-Yes, I repeat myself, but this remains important: I'm not persuaded that we need a National Conversation about mental illness. I mean, maybe we do, but this approach to massacres (assuming it isn't just a euphemism for 'we're not allowed to talk about guns so let's say something else instead') is almost inevitably going to lead to the stigmatization - and further isolation! - of non-conformist, awkward sorts, the vast majority of whom would not in a million years do something like this.

Now, one might say, most gun owners/most guns kill no one, and most off-seeming young men don't, either. But it's both more straightforward to turn on guns than to combat... what, exactly? It seems like there's something of a circular definition of "mental illness" (to do something like X, you certainly would need to be out of your mind), as well as a kind of fuzzy, anecdotal approach to this, where everyone's a psychiatrist, and where we're no longer looking merely for signs of things like schizophrenia, but things like introversion, awkwardness. (The bullied kid: warning signs, maybe also the bully.) It just can't be that some kid (without a criminal bone in his body) isn't into sports, likes wearing black, writes poetry not about flowers, doesn't care even a little bit about Homecoming. Maybe such an individual would get some diagnosis, maybe not. If we get to a point where every personality other than outgoing-and-delightful is a disorder, if we include depression, which likely everyone could get a diagnosis of at least at some point in their lives, under the umbrella of "mental illness"...

Where I'm going with this is, it seems we can either stigmatize guns and risk offending those who, through no fault of their own, grew up to believe private citizens owning firearms is normal, or we can ask high schools and communities to consider the weird kid a ticking time bomb.


PG said...

I'd be curious to know whether Hawaii (or other states that require people to provide medical records and a mental health affidavit before getting a permit to acquire guns) has a problem with people failing to get mental health care because they don't want it on their medical record and thereby obstructing them from buying guns. If this doesn't seem to be a problem, then I don't think it's too hard to distinguish the "just a loner" from the "among what's still a minority of Americans with a diagnosed mental health problem." Yes, some of the massacres are committed by the former, but it seems like a reasonable start to gun control to (a) provide good resources for getting diagnosed and then getting help; and (b) limit the acquisition of firearms by people who have been diagnosed and, thanks to our new enlightened mental health care system, are under the care of a clinician. Unfortunately, it may not be politically possible to get the resources we need for mental health care unless voters believe that it's a way to safeguard themselves from a mass shooting.

Britta said...

I grew up in a blue state in a non gun-owning, but lived in Australia with avid hunters who owned numerous guns, and I've been hunting and target shooting myself, so I am not someone who has never touched a gun, nor do I think hunting is terrible. I have also talked to automatic weapons activists and held an AK-47, FWIW. I respect that people like to hunt, and that there are areas where people want to own handguns for self-defense (I personally think this is problematic, but different conversation). I have never heard a convincing reason for letting average citizens own semi-automatic or fully automatic weapons. I understand these guns are expensive and collectors items, but I don't think that someone's collecting hobby outweighs the risk to society.

I agree we need to work on our mental health system, but we will never be fully able to prevent psychopaths from attempting mass murder. Many people who do stuff like this don't have obvious warning signs, and many are not even clinically mental ill (like the Aurora guy), or at least are not diagnosed until after the fact. For many reasons (ethical, moral, practical, legal) we clearly can't involuntarily commit every anti-social young white guy on the off-chance he might be the next mass murderer.

Of course background checks are important and most legal gun owners are upstanding citizens, but we also can't keep legally purchased guns out of the hands of mass killers. Most of these people are 1) from law abiding, gun owning families (Adam Lanza used his mother's guns, after he killed her), or 2) have no criminal record or mental illness history that would prevent them from buying guns. I think the guy in Aurora bought his guns and passed the background checks. The only way to prevent or minimize further killings is to make sure that when a man snaps, he doesn't have access to weapons of mass destruction.

Ironically, on the same day as this, a mentally ill Chinese man stabbed 22 children and an elderly woman outside an elementary school. None of them died. There has been a spate of mass stabbings of children in China by young mentally ill men, and every single time the perpetrator was quickly overpowered by bystanders before being able to inflict casualties, or in the worst case, before casualties could get too high. (The worst mass killing in China has killed 8 people. A tragedy certainly, but it doesn't compare to our worst school shootings.)

PG said...

Britta, were you in Australia before or after the change in gun law?

Britta said...


After the new gun law, about 5 years ago. I lived with a family who own about 6 guns, maybe more, all for hunting. While I was there, the police came by at least once that I remember to inspect the gun licenses, and the guns were kept in a locked safe, separate from the bullets (which were kept in a locked cabinet). To get a gun license, a gun safety class was required, and I think the guns were required to be stored under lock and key, but I might just be making that up.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


"For many reasons (ethical, moral, practical, legal) we clearly can't involuntarily commit every anti-social young white guy on the off-chance he might be the next mass murderer."

Exactly. What I fail to see, though, is why that's somehow considered more acceptable or practical than getting rid of all personally-owned guns.

PG said...

Who is considering such mass involuntary commitments of white males to be acceptable or practical? Unlike mass roundups of Muslim men post- 9/11, such an action would pick up the sons of the powerful, not of a marginalized group.