SOME THOUGHTS ON THE GUN CONTROL HORSE
This is a horse that has been long dead, and has been beaten so hard that it has been pounded into the ground, and will continue to do so. But I have been reading a few blogs and commenting, and it seems to me that some proclamations on gun control are pretty misguided. I know that no one can possibly say the last word on such a subject that has been paraded and trampled and swallowed and regurgitated a thousand times, but there were some observations that stuck out.
First of all, we have to face it; someone as demented beyond imagination as Cho Seung Hui could have done anything any time with any weapon, and nothing that could have been done would have predictably prevented him from doing it. But let's also face the facts; he committed his horrific deed with guns, two advanced rapid-fire automatic weapons. The fact remains that if he had been denied access to those guns, it is very likely that his actions would have been mitigated. People's standard argument is "Guns don't kill people...and he would have done it anyway". But let's think from a practical point of view. Hui could have used a knife, or explosives, or even a chainsaw. Timothy McVeigh did not use guns. But it's really much more complicated to use all these things to kill 30 people in general. Blowing up buildings needs quite sophisticated planning and execution, and knives are much weaker than guns. Sure, a demented man may take out lives in quite a bloody manner with knives, but guns are designed to do what they do; to be fast and deadly, concealed, quick, and efficient at long range. It's quite clear that if guns are around, they will be used by such a person. If they are not around, they would not be, and maybe killers might even rethink their actions because they cannot give instant vent to their impulses. As a fellow blogger said, "A gun needs little thought to discharge. It’s hard to say Cho wouldn’t have calmed down by the time he loaded his U-Haul up with fertilizer".
Guns provide very little protection for the victims because it would be a paradox; they are very much intended to kill their victims. So I believe that limiting access to guns (quite apart from how and to what extent it can be done) can surely alleviate the tragedy of such disasters, if not avoid them.
The second question is that of limiting access to the guns themselves. Proponents of guns were quick to say, "Look, this is what happens when you don't have legal access to guns for everyone on campus". But think of what the culture of a college campus would be like if you kept thinking that all your classmates and teachers are having concealed weapons on them at any given time. I personally cannot imagine such an environment subscribing to anyone's idea of how a college or university should be. Most importantly, where you had one person before who turned lethal when he lost his mind, now you potentially have a hundred persons who can turn lethal when they lose theirs. Can we say how many accidents have been averted because a person lost his mind, but did not have easy access to a gun, and that made him think and perhaps calm down? Imagine a society where everyone is armed to protect themselves from everyone else. Assuming human beings to be rational can be the biggest mistake in such thinking.
However, I think we all understand now that it gets very real and gruesome when such a person is on campus and no one has the means to protect themselves. When I was thinking about this issue, I thought that maybe there could be some compromise, maybe you could designate certain college officials and give them weapons. Maybe you could have one weapon per building, with a heirarchy of people who are allowed to use them in such an emergency.
But on second thoughts, I am not sure this will work. For one thing, only if those officials are attacked themselves are they going to use the weapons. The first reaction of any human being in such a crisis is to try to save himself, and risking becoming a martyr and sprinting to the scene of the incident to protect others, even if that venue is right next door, is just not something that even righteous people are programmed to do. Moreover, again, if these weapons fall into the wrong hands or if the concerned persons don't use them properly (after all, unlike the killer, they have not turned into cool-headed zombies and are still quite human), they can cause more harm than good.
The "solution" of giving everyone on campus a gun has always seemed to me to be one of those quintessential "solutions" that human beings are so fond of; solutions that they create because they have created the problems, and don't want to nip them in the bud, thus necessitating a new solution for every new problem ad infinitum. I don't know what the solution to the problem is, but to me, it has always seemed that some simple measures could lessen the risk of such permanently scarring incidents. These measures remind me of the nuclear treaties that have been signed in the last fifty years, which largely forged a compromise between the nuclear hawks and doves.
Limit the number and especially the kind of weapons that ordinary citizens can purchase. Like I said, it's not about "freedom", it's about proportionality. Make background checks extensive, and don't let the absence of a criminal record alone be an adequate reason for selling AK-47s to sixteen year olds. Restrict the sale of certain kinds of guns by putting a cap, say, on the number of rounds that an automatic weapon can fire continuously before it needs to be reloaded. When a gun needs to be purchased, make the approval of two adult referees necessary, and charge a reasonable fee for getting a license. Such strategies seem to have worked in New Zealand and have made both pro and anti gun camps happy, and they can work in the US if people stop having their love affair and obsession with "freedom". All this is not going to stop people like Hui from carrying out their morbid tasks, but who said a cure for such a problem was ever a realistic objective. In the case of an incident such an above, even five lives saved are more than worth it.
In light of the above thoughts, I find it a flawed argument to advocate giving guns to everyone or to the majority. This reason I have is similar to the one I have against nuclear proliferation. If everyone who had nuclear weapons was rational, then deterrence would superbly play out and I would be all for putting a few nukes into everyone's hands. But with nuclear terrorism, the equation changes, because even the rational condition of self-preservation no longer applies. Under such conditions, nuclear proliferation can only pose unnown dangers. I see an analogy between global nuclear proliferation and national gun proliferation, with inherently irrational people being the key deciding factor against proliferation. There is a compromise possible, but it's possible only if both camps stop sticking to their extreme positions. It needs moderate thinking, and unfortunately in the US, "moderation" seems to have become anathema these days.
P.S. By the way, notice how this event is rightly getting all the attention it deserves, but daily events in Iraq involving equally innocent civilians (like the 200 dead in the bombing today) are considered routine and boring.
Labels: gun control