No social problem was ‘solved.’ It was fought, a step at a time. Gun regulation will work — a step at a time.
There is not a single argument for or against gun regulation whose opponent does not claim: It won’t solve the problem. Really? Must a problem be “solved” before action is taken? Is not life, even ideally, only a series of steps, of improvements, of ascents?
It really is irrelevant whether raising the age for purchasing a rifle from 18 to 21 will “solve the problem” of school shootings. The relevant consideration is this: Will it help? Will a series of steps, in their aggregate, make a significant dent in the problem?
Raise the age; invest in mental health; drastically increase the criminal penalties for stealing a firearm; impose penalties for federal agencies that do not supply the required information for backgound checks; drastically increase the penalties for straw purchases (the source of the guns at Columbine); enforce the laws already on the books; legalize mental-health holds in more states — why not tackle this problem of mass murder organically, rather than pick apart individual proposals? Why not link them together? Why not think big? Why not see the whole? Why not mount an effort that is both practical and heuristic?
Why all this despair, this utopian need to “solve the problem” en toto, rather than a serious, multi-pronged, practical effort to address, reduce and diminish the problem?
Did the lend-lease act prior to the US entry into WW II “solve the problem” of Hitler? No. But it was a start. It made a difference. As did the many major steps that followed in its wake — and it took many steps.
So it is with the major struggles for justice and peace throughout history: They come in steps. So it is today. Will tighter controls on the distribution of opioids “solve the problem”? No. But it (and other steps) will make a difference.
The NRA’s opposition to raising the age of acquisition of a military-grade rifle on the grounds that it won’t “solve the problem” is a transparent diversion from the truth: It would make a difference. It would save lives. It makes sense. Whether it will “solve the problem” is irrelevant. George Washington didn’t “solve the problem” of American independence in a single battle or with a single strategy.
Heuristic. Social problems are not overcome strictly through practical efforts. There is also the sense of a campaign, a mission, a long-term goal that animates successful efforts at social change. Practical steps, even in their aggregate, end up successful when they build on a mood, a determination, a vision of justice. Individual sit-ins at lunch counters in the South in the 1960s did not “solve the problem” of segregation, but they reflected a determination to see it through. That is why the student rage and pain in Florida are so important. The students are saying: Don’t tell me that this or the other step won’t work. Tell me that the baby steps will work because we must not tolerate this anymore. We must not ignore the human suffering, and the human irrationality that causes it. We must mount a multi-pronged attack on gun violence!
It is hard to object to the sponsorship cancellations that the NRA has endured since the Florida shooting because it is hard to credit the NRA as a defender of the Second Amendment. This is because the NRA in Florida, for instance, sought to ban doctors from asking patients whether they owned a gun and from talking to patients about firearm safety. The NRA in Florida has backed laws that permit shooting ranges in backyards without, according to journalist Catherine Rampell, any restrictions on what kinds of weapons or time of day the homeowners can shoot. (A 14-year-old standing in her home was killed when she was struck by a bullet fired on a shooting range next door.) The NRA has successfully urged the passage of laws that prohibit municipalities from passing laws that regulate firearms in any way — including such measures as requiring that more information from mental-heath records be provided for background checks! Which of course shows that the NRA’s fall back position of “it’s not guns, it’s mental health” is also a transparent diversion from the truth: The NRA, if we judge by its actions, is indifferent to public safety. That is the opposite of the goal of the Second Amendment, which, in its own language, is “the security of a free State.”
In the language of the Second Amendment, the goal is not the gun. The gun is the means. The goal is “the security of a free State.” The policies of the NRA are reducing the security of this country. The NRA has lost the forest for the trees.
We hear a lot these days that school shootings only happen in “gun free zones.” Really? Parkland was not a “gun free zone.” Rather, the armed guard at the school did nothing. Either he was too frightened to act or, if we take him at his word, he thought the shooting was outside the school and followed protocol, altering dispatchers. Either way, an armed guard couldn’t cope with the reality of a mass muderer in action. An armed guard did nothing to stop the shooting.
But the argument deserves a deeper analysis. There will be cases when, during a mass shooting, someone who is armed can stop it; and other cases when someone who is armed can kill innocent people while trying to stop it. There is simply no rigorous research on which scenario would predominate — and we hope that no such research becomes possible. For the only way it could become possible is for mass shootings to increase sufficiently (i.e., a lot) to make statistically significant research possible.
But deeper still. The number of mass shootings that would be prevented by stricter guns laws can never be known. Something that doesn’t happen cannot be measured. Which means that the argument for or against gun regulation really boils down to common sense, to intuition: Under what circumstance will mass shootings be reduced? With more guns, or with less guns? To us the answer is clear: with less guns. Had the Parkland killer come with a knife, the number of deaths, if any, would not have reached 17.
As to the viewpoint that, well, the country is already flooded with millions of guns, so fewer guns due to stricter gun laws won’t make any difference, we return to the point with which we began: Start somewhere. Takes steps. Make differences. Energize a multi-pronged approach. And, heuristically, change the culture. Stop deifying the gun. Stop validating non-violent rage. Turn off, and stop buying, violent videos. Stop denying the obvious: Violent images beget violence.
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