I try to avoid politics here, but sometimes I can’t. Any mass-murder spree is horrific and tragic, and school shootings are particularly awful. We are the only nation in the developed world that regularly experiences these tragedies. Semi-automatic military-style rifles (commonly and incorrectly called ‘Assault Rifles’ in modern parlance) are used in almost half of these mass-killing sprees.
We have a problem in this country, and it’s not guns. We have created a toxic culture that spawns spree-killers. We need to address that fundamental truth. It’s not going to be easy, pleasant or fun but it has to be done or the killing will not stop. We cannot simply dismiss this as a ‘mental health’ issue; this is inaccurate and unnecessarily stigmatizes the mentally ill. Most school shooters have not been diagnosed with a mental illness. Oh, don’t get me wrong- they are not ‘right in the head.’ But generally speaking they are neither clinically nor legally insane.
No, they do not share commonalities like Satanism, Heavy Metal music, Goth Culture or violent video games. Mental-health professionals actually maintain that playing violent video games provides an outlet for aggressive impulses and may actually help prevent violent outbreaks. Nothing so simple.
I am not a mental health professional or a sociologist; but you don’t need to be a pilot to recognize that a plane has crashed. I don’t know the answers here- but I know that we need to ask the right questions before we’ll have a chance of finding out.
The simple and easy response here is to blame something, anything- to do something. Anything. In this case to ban ‘assault rifles.’ If this were possible it would prevent mass shooters from using them. It won’t stop them from killing people; the most common mass-shooting weapon is actually a handgun, so I imagine they’ll use those. They are at least as easy to get as semi-automatic rifles. Banning those is problematic; in Heller Vs. DC the Supreme Court ruled that individual Americans had the right to possess arms for ‘lawful self defense’ and that handguns could not be banned as a class because they were ’eminently suited to that purpose.’ Limit the weapons available, limit the number of bullets they can hold… the ideas go on and on. But banning tools is like slapping a band-aid on a sucking chest wound- beyond giving the illusion that you have done something it’s not going to help the root cause.
Not to mention that in places where people have trouble getting guns- or where the would be at too great a risk of being shot- people use bombs. ‘It’s a lot harder to make a bomb than it is to get an assault rifle’ is the standard argument. Hogwash. I could root through my kitchen cupboards and come up with a bomb in less than thirty minutes- and anyone with internet access could do the same. Google is a weapon of mass destruction in the wrong hands…
Did you notice that I said ‘If this were possible’ regarding banning assault rifles? Because I am not sure it can be done with any level of effectiveness. The previous ‘assault rifle ban’ had the primary effect of making these weapons more expensive. It did not take them off the streets and it didn’t keep people from obtaining them. Proponents of the ban point out the decrease in homicides, but in fact they were decreasing before, during and after the ban at about the same rate. The ban had no chance of being effective because it didn’t do what it said- it did not ban these weapons, merely made them tougher to import and more expensive to buy.
To have even a chance of being effective a ban would need to take away the guns that are already out there, and the logistics of that are nightmarish because we don’t know how many there are or who has them. At a (very) conservative estimate there are over 8,000,000 AR15-based rifles out there, then there are all the millions of AK-based rifles and other platforms that are in private hands… I’m going to go with tens of millions of guns that fit the current definition of an ‘assault rifle.’ That’s the legal ones, which are the only ones that you can get rid of by legislation. Legal property, legally purchased by American citizens. Can you spot the problem with confiscating them?
Yep. It’s unconstitutional- it violates some of those pesky civil rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights. OK, so buy them back at fair market value. Oh, and hire people to accept them and dispose of them properly- and maybe some more police to make sure they don’t just turn around and sell them on the black market. If we can spend billions to subsidize profitable businesses and military adventures overseas surely we can spend a paltry few billion to save our children. Of course there is precious little interest in saving, caring for or educating our children under the current regime… OK, that was a cheap shot. Doesn’t mean it’s not true.
OK, we have established a pool of money to buy back the guns. How do we find them, who is going to do it, and what do we do if people aren’t inclined to volunteer them? Go door to door and forcibly search houses without a warrant or probable cause? We’re going to need more police. A lot more police. Maybe we should encourage children to rat out their parents? Pay rewards for people to turn in friends and family members? Yeah, that’s totally the precedent we need in this society. That won’t piss people off enough to cause acts of violence and rebellion.
Oh, and since those police will be looking for people with assault rifles they are going to need military grade body armor, flash grenades and what? Say it with me now… assault rifles. Not a fan of ‘militarized’ police? Tough- because that’s what it will take.
‘But law abiding citizens will turn them in!’ Yep, some will- but some will consider keeping them an act of civil disobedience; we have a long and storied history of this in America. You’re going to have to track those people down, take their guns, arrest them and put them in jail. People will get shot. Some of them will be formerly law-abiding citizens responding to what they perceive as an injustice and government overreach. Some of them will be cops. Everyone that dies will be someone’s child, someone’s parent, sibling or spouse. It’s going to be a mess. But in the end we will get most of them.
Congratulations- but we’ll still be living in a toxic society that breeds spree killers- and we cannot ban household chemicals, fertilizer, fuel, laundry detergent, pressure cookers, plumbing pipe, trucks and cars, machetes (which have been used as a weapon of mass-destruction in Africa,) and all the hundreds of other items that can be used to kill a lot of people in a hurry… but we will have the militarized police to try, and we’ll have to do something with all those militarized cops…
Yeah, this will end well.
Maybe it would be simpler to find ways to keep people from wanting to kill a bunch of people in a hurry… like studying and dealing with the real causes of the problem.
Let me add this disclaimer- when it comes to this sort of rifle I can take ’em or leave ’em. I’m not a crusader for them, I don’t love them and haven’t made a hobby- let alone a lifestyle- of them. My main concern with banning them is that it will give too many people the illusion that they have done something useful to address the problem without actually accomplishing anything useful.
Michael Tinker Pearce, 19 Feb. 2018