Anger, Fear, and Guns

Once again another mass murder brings up the debate on gun control, and unproductive discussions full of straw man arguments fly.  As I write this I am sitting in Edmonton, Canada where I grew up.  As a Canadian I have a hard time understanding pro-gun arguments, and I think it’s safe to say this would be true for a lot of Canadians and people in many other western countries.  In light of all the gun related deaths and mass shootings in the U.S. it is unfathomable to a lot of us why this right to bear arms is so important compared to other things like health care or education which many people don’t see as rights.  Two things that have the ability to greatly increase your chance of survival not only individually, but collectively as a society.  Such things many people have simply turned their backs on.  Other individual freedoms like the right to privacy have been openly exposed by Edward Snowden.  The outrage minimal, and Edward Snowden is labeled a traitor.  Things like income inequality, fair and democratic voting processes are sometimes discussed but little happens.  This simply adds to why many of us from other countries are simply confounded and don’t understand.

And believe me, I am trying.  If there is one thing you have convinced me of about America, is that any sort of ban on guns will not solve any problems, at least in a major way.  In some countries this might be the case, but not in America.  As many pundits decried after Sandy Hook, if the shooting of elementary school children is not enough to convince anybody that we have a national crisis and that maybe we have to revisit the applicability of the 2nd amendment to this current day and age, nothing will.  I have rested on this conclusion for a little while now, and even wrote a blog piece before in which I ask the question about why, if we won’t give up our guns, can’t we fight for a society in which we don’t need them?  It is along those lines that I want to write about again today, but perhaps looking at it from a different tack.  Because I certainly want to talk about my views, but productively, and try to ask more questions, because I don’t know that I have a lot of answers.  I just know that I really want there to be less shootings and schools and other public venues.  More importantly I want to ask questions that perhaps change thinking and can change culture.  Because I don’t think any true progress on the gun issue can happen unless there is a change in attitude about them.

America has a lot of fear.  While I also groan somewhat at Michael Moore’s overplay to the emotional in his films, his documentary Bowling for Columbine had a central thesis, and that wasn’t about the banning of guns, but that is about us living in a culture of fear.  When you debate about guns with people that are pro-gun, overwhelmingly their best arguments boil down to protection from violent criminals, but also to protection from a tyrannical government.  The very intent, we are told, for the 2nd amendment. Fear can sometimes be a sensible state to live in, if those fears are real.  Are they in this case?  In 2009 it was discovered that of the approximately 15,000 homicides, only 1900 were committed by an actual stranger.  This tends to be true for other violent crimes as well.  It’s people you know.  It isn’t because they broke into your home.  You let them in.  The Pulse shooter was a regular and had passed through the doors many times.  They know you.  Know something about your habits.  Killers pick the time and the place, the chances of you being ready to defend yourself are small.

In terms of protection from the government, well it’s understandable this was a concern of our founding fathers given what they went through.  How applicable is that today?  We know of course many countries that have far less guns, who have less murders and their governments have not rolled over them.  For instance the Netherlands has had between 0.8-1 homicides per 100,000 people (any method) for the past decade.  This country has only 3.9 guns per 100 people.  Such restrictive gun laws have been in effect for at least 20 years and to my knowledge the government has not attacked it’s people. There are of course other similar examples of low gun numbers, low homicide rates and restrictive gun laws without having a tyrannical government.  Are those governments waiting to strike?  Why don’t those governments roll over their unarmed citizens?  Why aren’t the citizens more worried and fighting to gain more access to guns?  Are they fools?  What is different about them and us?  And if they seem content with a lot less guns even when they are unhappy with their government is that an attitude we can learn too.  In talking with a number of people who have served in the military they are rarely happy with their government, Republican or Democratic, and have said to me explicitly that if they were ever asked to turn their guns on the people by the government, they would turn their guns on the government and not the people.  The military are not mercenaries, they are made up of us.  They are trying to protect us.  Why would they aim at us?  The trust you don’t have for your government is the same mistrust the people who make up our armed forces have.  So when you say you need your guns as protection from tyranny you are really saying you don’t trust your military.  Even if these horror of a government were to convince the military to turn guns on the people, of course guns wouldn’t come into play anytime soon.  There would be bombs from planes and drones, tanks rolling through the street, and long range missiles.  Given how armed the citizens are, it seems like the most sensible strategy.  Because among all those military people with guns come people with a lot of training, and experience in strategy.  And the government knows where weapons are being stockpiled by the citizens.  They are coming to destroy your stash first.

But let’s try and go a little deeper.  It seems to me that there is a feeling among those who are pro-gun rights that there is inevitability to certain things.  Governments will eventually always turn on the people.  Criminals will always be plentiful.  I am always in danger from unknown assailants and I need my guns.  To me it is this inevitability that seems to be most damning evidence to this culture of fear.  While no society is without criminals there are societies with a lot less.  While there are no societies without homicides there are ones that have a lot less.  While there are governments that attack their people, there are others that do not.  So we have plenty of examples of how we can change for the better.  What is the attitude and culture of those countries that make them safer from their government and each other?  When you know someone who is doing things in a better way, don’t you usually try and do it that way too?  This is at the heart of what I do not understand.  Even if these fears represent a real in present danger why would we not strive for a society where we live in less fear?  It requires no change to gun laws or the 2nd amendment.  You would simply find that your gun would be sitting in a closet unused as it does in Switzerland.  The oft used example of the safe country with plenty of guns.  Those guns though come from mandatory military service, and they generally sit unloaded in closets by those men and women after they serve.  Nobody is carrying them into the Swiss version of 7/11.

How much damage can an angry person with a knife do, compared to an angry person with a gun?  I hope everybody would agree the latter will do more.  The conversation about guns often focuses on the latter.  It assumed that liberals are thinking that by removing the gun, anger goes away, and it is possible that some liberals think that.  They would of course be incorrect.  Just like there are many societies with low gun numbers, low homicides, and restrictive laws, there are also many nations with restrictive laws, high gun numbers and high homicides.  What are the factors that make those more violent societies? They also seem to have angry people, and angry people with guns.  Our initial question indicates two problems.  Angry people, and angry people with guns.  However both those problems, as you’ll not have something in common. If you could make people less angry, whether or not that person has a gun becomes irrelevant.  And so I agree with the oft used argument that guns don’t kill people, people do.  The problem is people with guns, when they get angry, can do a lot more damage.  Taking away guns won’t reduce the number of angry people just the amount of hurt they can cause.  We can’t treat the problem like it’s all or nothing, if we can reduce deaths we should be doing that shouldn’t we?  But I’m with the pro-gun people, I’d prefer not to take away people’s guns, I’d rather work on the problem of how to make less angry people.  There are solutions to this.  There are examples of societies that have less of them.  There are studies about what factors lead to more peaceful societies.  It’s a challenging road, it means making a lot of other personal changes, but if you think keeping your guns is important those are your options.  Fight for that society that gets the heart of the problem that causes people to want to kill other people.  Don’t just throw your hands up and say it can’t be done.  We know better.

Finally let’s ask an even more fundamental question.  What are the grounds in which we should end someone’s existence?  Trespassing?  Burglary? Being suspected of a crime? Acting suspiciously?  Not listening to the police?  In debates over gun control issues with people you hear a lot about people deserving today.  “He should have listened to the cops instead of running away”, “If anybody steps foot into my house in the middle of the night I’ll shoot him dead”.  In Arizona a lady shot at a car that had children in it for simply turning around in her driveway.  In a country with due process, with guns we suddenly all get to become judge, jury, and executioner all at once.  In an excellent video about how we can arrive at morality through scientific means over divine guidance, they talk about why we have gradation of punishment in society for crimes.  Why for instance do we not punish rapists (a horrible crime) with the death sentence?  I honestly never thought about it before. Rape of course is an absolutely horrific crime.  The reason is, that if you are already going to be put to death for rape, you have nothing to lose really by killing your victim.  Your punishment can’t be made worse.  Imagine if all crimes were punishable by death.  Would this lead to a more orderly society, or a more violent one?  So if, as many claim, there is nothing we can do about criminals.  If we now arm everyone to the point where criminals now feel any crime they commit is likely to lead to them being shot, what is the response of the criminal mind?  Does the criminal let fear prevent them from doing the crime, or does the criminal simply increase their own arsenal when committing crimes?  Do the criminals not become more deadly instead of committing crimes less frequently?

Given the amount of guns in the U.S., we should be the most orderly society, but we are not.  So once again, I agree that there have to be other factors that lead to a more orderly society with less violent crime.  Can we not all agree to fight for those things?  Can we listen to our sociologists, mental health experts, people who study deviant behavior? Can we all work together to de-stigmatized mental illness? Can we all fight against poverty and income inequality?  Can we demand a media that doesn’t sensationalize and misrepresent statistics to attract viewers, but actually informs and covers issues objectively and reasonably?  Can we all fight for a government that has politicians that don’t try to make you feel afraid to win your votes?  They give you things to fear, give vague solutions on how they are going to make the fear go away, but they never do.  If one side is so naïve as to removing guns from the equations is the answer, then you also have to take responsibility for suggesting that more guns is the answer either.  If you are going to say having your gun is important, and that it is your right, then ethically if you have compassion, and care about living in a society with less death and violence you must fight for all these other things.  You must research solutions to how we create a society, like many that exist currently, with less angry people (whether they have guns or not).  Your evolutionary advantage is not your ability to shoot a firearm.  It’s your brain.  If you can’t see that increasing happiness in society is a more effective means of keep you and other safer then you yourself are a victim of the same fear that ends too many lives.

17 thoughts on “Anger, Fear, and Guns

  1. EXCELLENT! And the following sums it up so well.

    In light of all the gun related deaths and mass shootings in the U.S. it is unfathomable to a lot of us why this right to bear arms is so important compared to other things like health care or education which many people don’t see as rights. Two things that have the ability to greatly increase your chance of survival not only individually, but collectively as a society.

    If only … *sigh*

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Nan! I know this is a topic you’ve discussed a lot too with many similar questions and concerns as myself. Sometimes I think are just too many people who are excited at the possibility of shooting other people.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Along with the fear is the total disrespect/disregard for human life. I really do wonder at times if people truly stop and think about what it means to end someone else’s life. Killings have become almost blasé.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This post caught me right as I was writing my post about tomorrow. You’re right that fear and hate are big motivators here. People have basically been conditioned to be for gun control or for the 2d Amendment. That’s how our journalism works, and that’s how our politics has adapted to avoid doing anything meaningful.

    It will take time, but I think it will take more organization of ordinary people to curb this trend. Millennials and other young generations are still trying to figure out the power they have. It’s going to involve calming Baby Boomers down, and being almost stoic in insisting on change.

    It’s also going to take some time. I think the process of curbing gun violence needs to start with collecting information. Right now, there’s too much we don’t know about guns in the U.S. because the CDC and ATF have been defunded from researching it. We need to know how guns get from factories to the wrong hands, we need to know how effective background checks really are, and we don’t know either of those things.

    So, reducing gun violence will actually start with money being spent on research. It isn’t sexy as a law that magically turns guns to rainbows, but it’s a start.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you SB for your comment. I agree with you. It’s going to take fighting some battles down some, as you say, less sexier avenues, and it’s going to take time. Culture doesn’t change in an instant, but I think that’s the shift that needs to happen. I hope the younger generation can make some strides in that direction.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Whoops!

        Nonetheless, this is the “shoot ’em dead!” mentality I was talking about. Unfortunately, there are other stories out there that are not fake. 😦


  3. ryan59479

    I caught myself in a Facebook debate about this very thing the other day. A very conservative friend of mine posted something about how calls for gun control after all of these shootings are an over-reaction. The reason?

    “Violent crime overall is down!”

    And therein lies the problem that I see with most pro-gun arguments: they tend to lump ALL violent crime into the same category. Since “violent crime” in general is down, there’s no need to enact any reform.

    The problem with that line of thinking, of course, is that 1) the violent crime rate could still be unacceptably high or demonstrably lower, and 2) different kinds of violent crimes have nothing to do with each other, and lumping them all together statistically is very misleading.

    Armed robbery, for example, is an event that occurs independently of mass shootings. And for different reasons. People kill out of economic desperation (or robber), or in a fit of passion. Mass shooters kill because they’re either terrorists or mentally unstable. Totally different root causes. Yet many numbers and statistics don’t take that into account.

    But pro-gun people don’t see these as different, distinct crimes or events–they see them all as the same pattern of violence even though they’re clearly not.

    Saying that because the overall violent crime rate is down therefore we don’t need gun control is like saying that because fewer people die in car accidents now than in the past, we no longer need to continue to try to make cars safer. It’s absolutely ridiculous.


    Liked by 2 people

    1. Completely agree…there are I think valid arguments to be made from the pro-gun side, but they are few. The problem is that even if they aren’t rational arguments, if everybody on that side of the debate buys them as rational it makes no difference in terms of making changes. This is why I’m at the point where I don’t think the discussion can be had, because if it can’t get rational it goes nowhere and only creates more division. Taking away the angry person from the equation is the harder and longer path, but perhaps it’s all we have left at this point.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Life After Doubt

    I couldn’t agree with you more. One thing you mentioned that has been most frustrating to me is the “all or nothing” defense. “If we cannot come up with one ideal solution that fixes everything– then who cares about saving a few more lives?” I don’t understand. It shouldn’t be this hard, and it’s the same problem we face with health care (don’t get me started on health care).

    And too much time is wasted on making imaginary arguments. Today a friend posted a meme on Facebook about all the background checks she goes through, followed by the words: “and while you are demonizing me for being a gun owner I’m asking myself…. What do I know about you?”

    What does that even mean? Does she actually believe the issue is that we are demonizing her for being a gun owner? Is she saying that more criminals should get guns so we can know more about them? Is she suggesting my not owning a gun makes me suspicious?

    We cannot have a serious discussion if this is where we are starting from. Everyone just picks their side, digs in their heels, and loses touch with reality. And then one day Donald Trump becomes our leader.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your comment. 🙂 And I agree with you completely. There is no debate to be had anymore because nobody’s position can be changed. I believe perhaps the point of the meme is that you, as a criminal, will not go through a background check because you will not obtain your gun legally, thus the true victim is the responsible gun owner. I guess. It’s just lunacy, and the path laid out before us becomes so predictable…The extremely rich vs. the establishment.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. All horribly true, and indeed it is not the banning of guns that will help at this late stage, it’s how ingrained the whole of gun culture is into the population from birth.

    Here, outside of the USA, we have a great deal of crime occurring, and I know not one person who owns a gun or wishes to. Some of the local gang members have guns, and they like to shoot each other every now and again and good to them as long as they do it over there – *points very far away into the horizon*.

    Esme cycles a great deal, and of late there have been some cases of people being attacked, thrown off their bikes and had said bikes and possessions stolen as they rode their bicycles down a designated cycle path that is away from all the main roads, and a pretty place in comarison to almost everything else you can see with your eyes open for many miles.

    Now, when I voiced my fears about cycling alone on this path I have enjoyed for so long to my American friends they all had the same reaction “Oh if only you had a gun!!” I replied that if I had a gun, then chances are the muggers would have guns too, and the chances of me coming out of the altercation dead, maimed or a murderer sddenly hits sky-high levels within seconds.

    Extraordinary way of looking at life. Or rather death.

    – esme upon the Cloud

    Liked by 3 people

    1. As a Canadian I think we have very similar mentalities about guns to the UK and other European nations. The idea that guns are the solution to anything is just something that doesn’t even register as a reasonable thing to think. Perhaps the better way to say it is, if we’ve gotten to the point where guns seem like the most reasonable solution, then we’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way. But even then it isn’t making you safer, only giving you the illusion of safety. I’d rather seek solutions that give actual safety over illusions!

      Liked by 2 people

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