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In the wake of the horrible tragedy at an elementary school in Connecticut, with 20 small children and seven adults shot and killed weighing heavily on the conscience of America, many will look for quick and easy measures that can prevent something like that from happening again. Stricter gun control laws seem like the easy answer, but that is not the solution.
More gun control legislation, while sensible on many levels, is akin to plugging a small hole in a dam that is already cracked and gushing. That simply will not solve the problem of gun violence in this country.
The latest in a series of mass murders involving firearms will undoubtedly reignite the debate about gun control laws. Many will validly argue that laws should be stricter and the emotions of most Americans will be with them. Unfortunately, stricter gun control laws are only a small part of the solution to preventing firearm violence, because it is too late for them to have much of an effect. Political, social and economic changes, while more difficult to pinpoint and achieve, are the only hope for ending the culture of violence that the U.S. has become known for.
Even if the U.S. banned the sale of every firearm to everyone, which is unrealistic, that would still leave millions of guns already in the hands of Americans. A 2012 report by the Congressional Research Service estimated that as of 2009, there were about 310 million nonmilitary firearms in the U.S. and firearm sales have skyrocketed since then. Banning the sale of guns, like illegal drugs, would only make matters worse by creating a truly unregulated black market for them.
Keep in mind that the weapons used in the recent Connecticut murders and the Portland mall murders were not purchased or owned by the shooters. Stricter laws regulating the purchase of firearms, therefore, would not have prevented the Connecticut school shooting because the weapons used were already out there. Potential shooters will still have relatively easy access to firearms unless every firearm is confiscated, which is even more unrealistic than banning sales of guns. Furthermore, any attempts at confiscating guns from legal owners would probably result in more gun violence than it would be intended to prevent. It may even ignite a civil war.
Many will correctly argue that the 2nd amendment right to bear arms applies to a well-armed militia to guard against tyranny, not to ordinary citizens armed to the teeth in schools, movie theatres, churches and malls. Many will argue that more guns lead to more murders, which is statistically true. Many will argue that legislation such as the Tiahrt amendments and the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act of 2005 tie the hands of researchers and law enforcement while protecting firearm manufacturers from legal repercussions – also true. While all these arguments are valid and stricter gun regulation is becoming more popular, it misses the point.
The point is that America must embark on deeper and more fundamental changes in order to end the culture of violence that has permeated American society throughout its existence. And that can only begin with a real examination of the social, political and economic circumstances that feed into the collective consciousness of American society and create the minds that pull the triggers. That will be difficult, if not impossible, but there are a few starting points.
Michael Moore, director of several documentaries including Bowling for Columbine, which examined the 1999 Columbine school shooting and its aftermath, was one of the first to take to Twitter after the Connecticut school shooting and demand stricter gun control laws. He makes a lot more sense in this video than he does with his tweets.
The points he made in the aforementioned film also go deeper than gun control legislation. Other themes in the film are the fearful heart and soul of America and the militaristic culture our leaders have sown. Ironically, Moore points out, Colorado is the home of several defense contractors, including Lockheed-Martin in Littleton that manufacture weapons of mass destruction.
President Obama’s speech in the wake of the Connecticut massacre was warm and heartfelt by a nation in mourning. Americans should be thankful for a leader that can empathize with the victims and express that side of him. But left out of the minds of many are the amounts of children that have been killed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and several other nations over the past 11 years as a result of U.S. foreign policy.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London reported that from June 2004 to mid-September 2012, drone strikes in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen killed between 3,017 and 4,517 people, of which 544 to 1,119 were civilians, including at least 247 children. And that does not include civilian deaths in the countries that the U.S. invaded.
Assault rifles were shipped to drug cartels in Mexico by the U.S. Justice Department in the “Fast and Furious” operation, and the cartel wars in Mexico have claimed up to 60,000 lives with another 10,000 missing.
Americans have been taught to ignore or become desensitized to news like that – until something like it happens here. Then most wonder why. The same media outlets that are cheerleaders for the wars and virtually ignore the deaths of children in other countries, or describe it as collateral damage, are still engaged in nonstop coverage of the tragedy in Connecticut.
The same President who alluded yesterday to taking a closer look at gun legislation when the time is right presided over the proliferation of firearms to a neighboring country involved in a shooting drug war. The same leader who wiped tears from his eyes over the deaths of American children yesterday is the same one who said, “I have two words for you: Predator drones. You’ll never see them coming.”
While there is no excuse for 20-year-old Adam Lanza’s horrific actions yesterday in Connecticut, Americans should consider the sort of subliminal message that U.S. foreign policy and behavior towards people in other nations implant in the consciousness of American society.
Violence begets violence. Peace begets peace.
Political changes overlap with social changes. There is one glaring commonality with at least 14 of the school shooters since 1999. All of them were undergoing treatment for psychological disorders and were taking psychotropic medication.
Adam Lanza was said to have had a “personality disorder” and was undergoing treatment, which usually involves medication. The Columbine shooters were known to be on anti-depressants. Cho Seung Hui, the Virginia Tech murderer, was taking anti-depressants. James Holmes, The Aurora, CO movie theatre shooter was also undergoing treatment and taking prescribed medication, in addition to being affiliated with mind control research that his father pioneered with the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA).
Virtually all massacre perpetrators are known to have been taking a psychiatric medication, usually an anti-depressant, including:
- Jared Lee Loughner, the Arizona shooter
- Kip Kinkel
- Ted Kaczinski the “Unabomber”
- Michael McDermott
- John Hinckley, Jr.
- Byran Uyesugi
- Mark David Chapman
- Charles Carl Roberts IV, the Amish school killer
Perhaps some societal changes regarding health care and treatment for mentally ill patients before they get their hands on a gun and pull the trigger are another possible solution.
Many psychiatrists and psychologists in America are too quick to hustle patients in and out of their offices with a prescription in hand because health care is a profit-driven industry. The pharmaceutical companies want it that way and therapists make more money on quantity, not quality of treatment. Real behavioral modification or the time-consuming process of working with a patient through psychotherapy or group therapy has given way to handing out pills to patients like they are Skittles.
Some social changes in terms of the health care system may be in order. Perhaps Medicaid should be expanded to cover everyone with psychological issues. Of course, that entails more government spending, but most would agree that would have been worth preventing the deaths of those 20 children.
A single payer system that cuts out the profit-driven middlemen and gives therapists an incentive to spend more time with their patients, as well as a way of controlling the profits that drug companies reap, may be a part of the solution to keeping the fingers of potential homicidal maniacs off of triggers.
The correlation between a bad economy and an increase in crime is debatable, with many studies showing that crime does not necessarily increase during tough economic times. The caveat in many studies, however, is that while violence and crime does not increase in the short term, there is little data available to examine that in the case of a prolonged recession.
Mark A.R. Kleiman, a professor of public policy at the UCLA School of Public Affairs, told the Las Vegas Sun that while “there’s simply no correlation between crime rates and economic indicators such as unemployment…there is a correlation between crime and sustained poverty.”
Most of the perpetrators in the wave of mass shootings this year were young and several, including Holmes and Lanza, were described as being highly intelligent. While these are not economically motivated crimes like burglary or robbery, it is quite possible that Americans are starting to see the effects of an economy that gives many young people little hope to improve their lives or attain the same socioeconomic status of their parents despite having the attributes to do so.
The way to move up the economic ladder for young people used to be to earn a college degree. With tuition skyrocketing, student loan debts reaching crisis levels and 53 percent of recent college graduates jobless or underemployed, that is no longer the case. It does not make sense for young people to accrue tens of thousands of dollars of debt and then be forced to work for a wage they could have attained without going to college.
Another long-term economic factor to consider is that many cities such as Detroit, Newark, and several in California have been forced to cut law enforcement budgets. If the economy does not improve, many more will follow.
We live in a culture where individual worth is defined by wealth and material possessions. One look at the mobs fighting it out for cheap Chinese-made goods on Black Friday is enough evidence of that. The link is to a video posted on You Tube, coincidentally, by a user named “funwithgunsinns.” However, one might ask, is that really a coincidence?
When some young people lose hope of attaining the sense of self-worth that is defined by our culture, they can develop a mind set that there is nothing to lose by putting a bullet in their head – or in someone else.
Even if the waves of mass shootings this year are not taken into consideration, there is no doubt that America needs economic changes. Economic changes also overlap with political and social changes.
The best steps to improving our economy are cutting spending, increasing revenue and bringing back or creating well-paying jobs. The easiest cuts can come through ending the wars and cutting defense spending. The best way to generate more revenue is to increase the amount of well-paying jobs and provide a better tax base. Tax incentives that stop outsourcing and make it more profitable for corporations to hire American workers than overseas workers, using some of the billions that are spent on wars and defense to invest in infrastructure and sustainable, clean energy may be a good start.
While none of the above provides a shred of excuse or even a good explanation for the senseless, horrible acts of mass murderers like Adam Lanza, they can contribute to a healthier social environment that reduces the propensity for gun violence. Of course, it is impossible to conclude that these measures would stop gun violence, but they would contribute to a culture that gives more young people more hope for the future.
Reasonable gun control laws are in order, but the real solution is to pursue deep, fundamental changes in American society. America needs to change more than just gun laws. It needs to change the culture of violence that leads to people using guns on their fellow citizens.
The other alternative is to pass a few more gun control laws, call it a day, waste away as a nation and witness more wasted lives, both overseas and at home.
Congressional Research Service report – Gun Control Legislation (pdf)
John Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research
Alternet – Kristen Gwynne
Citizens Commission on Human Rights International
Christian Science Monitor
Citizens Commission on Human Rights of Colorado
Las Vegas Sun
Gregory Patin writes for the Examiner where this article first appeared. Patin earned a B.A. in political science from U.W. – Madison and a M.S. in management from Colorado Technical University. He is currently a freelance writer residing in Madison, WI who considers himself politically independent.