There is only one way to stop gun violence. Take away the guns. Anything else is pure bullshit. I won’t even bother to quote all the studies that show this is right. Nor will I enumerate the outrageous statistics on the prevalence of guns in the United States. It’s a simple matter of systems dynamics, but a very complicated matter of politics. For those not acquainted with systems dynamics, it’s a method for describing the behavior of complex systems, especially ones with human actors. The most common pattern (or archetype) is fixes-that-fail. The name tells all we need to know about it. It applies to attempts to deal with symptoms of something, rather than their causes. The problems will keep recurring in one way or another.
In the case of guns, the fixes have been, in no particular order; better background checks, screening out the mentally ill, arming the security personnel at schools and other potential targets, arming the teachers, training the students to take cover and other evasive actions, prohibit assault rifles, do not prohibit assault weapons… None of these gets at the root cause: too many guns. We have been avoiding attacking the roots so long that the pattern has morphed into another archetype: shifting-the-burden. This is even more dangerous because it describes a feature of repeated impotent actions. After a while, we stop even thinking about the root causes. The NRA and the Republican Party have been very effective in the gradual move to this pattern. Even more serious is that shifting-the-burden eventually becomes addiction, another systems dynamics archetype. The only solution to the problems of guns is more guns, as in arming the teachers. And that is where we are: the only country in the world on this habit. Not the most violent on a per capita basis, but the most addicted to guns.
So what’s to stop us from truly addressing the problem? Nothing, really. I mean really. We have created the belief that owning guns is fundamental to our freedom so that we cannot do anything about it. Nonsense. The same folks that wrote the Constitution said it was all right to own certain kinds of people. We finally woke up to the moral conclusion that we had no right to own other people, and found that our individual liberty was not diminished. Collectively, freedom has greatly expanded. In a more indirect fashion, we allowed men to effectively own women, but that has gone by the boards, in theory, but judging from recent events, not in practice.
Guns are different. They do not have rights of their own. Does that mean we have to stop trying to regulate them on a moral basis? No. Are they contrary to the freedom to live without any impedimenta placed by external authority? Not any more than owning slaves was. Do they protect us from any other person encroaching on our freedom to express ourselves in any way we wish? Obviously, no, since the unconscionable killing of all the innocents caught up in the flood of mass shootings has snuffed out their freedom forever.
The barrier to addressing the problem at its roots is, in theory, very simple: an apparent conflict between the inalienable rights to life and liberty. The third fundamental right in the Declaration of Independence—to pursue happiness, originally couched as the pursuit of property—is not the same as the right to own property. Since the purpose of guns is to kill—to end life—owning them is contradictory to the right to both life and liberty. But nothing is that straightforward. Other species can pose a threat to human life, and guns are a sensible, rational means to cope with this. Humans, too, can pose threats. Organized threats against the authority, the government, that protects our freedom need to be countered, and guns are a sensible, rational means to cope with this. This, clearly, is the source of the Second Amendment. But against acts of wanton killing by guns, more guns is not a sensible, rational means for coping. The evidence is the thousands of dead and maimed bodies that guns produce in the service of private ends . Restricting guns to public purposes as the second amendment can be construed to intend and to limited private uses, is the only way to stop the torrent of killings.
The arguments I hear against this clear response hold little or no water. Bad people will continue to kill others. Yes, they will as long as any guns are available to them. But the statistics from other “civilized” states show that the numbers will be vastly reduced, especially if military weapons are banned. The second argument, based on the current ultra-libertarian notion that we have a right to do anything without any constraints, is arguable at best and obvious wrong at worst. We accept constraints on all sorts of rights, large and small: to own and use certain drugs, to drive recklessly (pose a threat to others), to steal others’ property, to keep library books beyond their due dates, and on and on. Experience in other countries, like ours, shows that it possible to regulate guns to provide certain private usages without opening Pandora’s box. It is rather ironic that the libertarians draw their philosophical justification from John Stuart Mill’s ideas of liberty, but ignore the limits he placed on it.
Let’s have it out. If we want to stop the carnage, we have to get rid of all the unregulated guns. More attempts directed at the symptoms simply are not going to work. If we continue to play political games and do nothing meaningful, then please stop the public crocodile tears and reserve them for the victims.