My friend Bud at Older Eyes posted today the second part of his thoughts on gun rights and gun violence. I started to respond to his post and then realized I was basically writing a blog post in his comments section. Rather than hog that space, I’m posting my response to him here, as a broadened topic. Please read his posts, In the Crossfire and In the Crossfire, Too, so that you understand to what I am responding here.
I work in a business where statistics are used to prove success and justify rates and fees. (A lot of businesses work that way, of course.) I have often been able to easily explain away a competitor’s statistic about being more successful than my company because I know how they manipulate the data. Of course, I know how we manipulate it, too.
One of the key things about understanding that, though, is understanding that there’s more than one way to be misleading, but there’s also more than one way to be right, and nobody is lying. In my business, in the end, all that matters is which element of the stats matters most to the buyer.
That’s what’s frustrating about statistics that really matter, like those counting up deaths and injury from guns. And that’s why neither side is lying, both sides are right, and both sides are manipulating the argument.
Bud at Older Eyes uses the term “In the Crossfire” in two recent posts to convey his feelings on gun ownership: moderate. In the middle of a fight. You may think I’m not “in the crossfire” on this, given my previous posts. You may have found my post, Newtown, to be more about the heart than the head. But if we step away from the extremes of soulful emotion and cold analysis, we can find one thing that governs most of life pretty successfully: common sense.
Part of the reason the NRA pushes for zero restriction on the right to bear arms is that the founding fathers established that right in part to guard against the tyranny of government. We hear references to Hitler and other cruel government leaders who disarmed the masses before systematically executing them. While I have faith in my country and don’t believe its leaders would ever do such a thing, I understand why the right to defend against it matters so much to so many people.
As I have previously mentioned, I also understand that some people hunt for food, others hunt for sport, some feel that guns are necessary to protect themselves in their homes and others feel that no right guaranteed by the founding fathers should be taken away, and once we start limiting one, we’ll be on the road to limiting more… or taking them away completely.
Bud makes the point that we’re hearing extreme arguments on either side of the topic, and I agree with him completely. I don’t think that NRA executive vice-president Wayne LaPierre is really doing anyone any favors in his speeches since Newtown (or ever, actually). There are a lot of gun owners and gun rights advocates who do not believe he represents them well. I understand his points, but I think he could make them with much more sensitivity and much less bombastic rhetoric.
As could those who oppose guns with equal vehemence.
These, frankly, are not the people to whom we need to listen. They are simply the people to whom we are given the most access. As has so often been the case in this country, we are exposed only to the extremes and left to feel alone in the middle. The middle is not exciting. The middle is not good television.
There is the argument that mental health is the real issue. The trouble with that is that it’s not. It is an issue, surely, and it deserves attention. But (at the risk of engaging in statistical analysis) the mentally ill are much more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators thereof. Not everyone who has committed a violent crime with a gun – be it a mass shooting or a smaller scale murder – is mentally ill. There is a specific definition for mental illness, and though most of us believe one has to be “off” in some way in order to commit murder, especially on a grand scale, that doesn’t mean those people would medically qualify as mentally ill.
And there is the argument that guns are not the only issue, but seem to be the only issue on the table for a vote. That’s true. While it is not accurate or fair to say no one is proposing improvements to mental health care, access and screening before a gun purchase, it is true that guns are by far the more – dare I say targeted? – aspect of the discussion. Gun rights advocates insist that it brings into specific relief the “left-wing agenda” to take people’s guns away. That’s really not the reason. It requires only slightly deeper thought to understand the reason: we can’t legislate mental illness. We can’t legislate what people find entertaining. We can’t legislate how families do or do not function, the moral fabric of society, the lack of pride or opportunity. We have seen these problems unfold for decades and we have not been able to stop them. Knowing the numbers has not helped.
What we can do is moderate them. Work to improve access to mental health care, break down the stigma associated with mental illness. Continue to rate and enforce ratings on movies and video games. Give people an understanding of why a healthy family life is important, give communities the tools to flourish, give individuals a vision of what they could be or do or achieve if they have the right skills, opportunities and faith in themselves.
If we look at some of the fairly rational, balanced proposals on gun policy before us, we can see them as moderation, rather than aberration. They cannot accomplish any of the things I’ve mentioned above. But they can help bring down the number of gun-related injuries and deaths in this country.
Common sense would dictate that the existence of armor-piercing or exploding bullets is fundamentally unnecessary and does great disservice to those who advocate for gun rights. Common sense would dictate that the people’s right to bear arms is not infringed by disallowing certain types; after all, completely unrestricted rights to bear arms could lead to the purchase of flame-throwers and rocket-propelled grenades, but we don’t allow that. Common sense would dictate that doing absolutely nothing would be a total failure of the government to listen to the people, and a total failure of the people to do anything but shake their heads.
Common sense would also dictate that banning assault weapons and cop-killer bullets, and requiring universal background checks, and seriously cracking down on illegal guns, won’t end all crimes and killings with guns.
But, if I may be frank, we’re not really trying to end them all. We’re trying to make them harder to accomplish, and these measures are a start. And we need to start, instead of tsking our tongues and shrugging our shoulders. We can argue down emotion. We can qualify and manipulate statistics. We can make things difficult that don’t need to be difficult, as we do with the political side of this issue.
But it is hard to refute common sense.