Saturday, February 16, 2008

Guns and Violence

I am a supporter of the US Constitution. I think it is a good set of laws and that we have managed adequately for the past two hundred or so years. I am much more fervent about the first ten Amendments and the thirteenth and fourteenth Amendments.

I think that they represent the best protection against government over reach in the world. My main beef with the Bush Administration, and also with Congress has been the erosion of our rights since 9/11. I do not think terrorism can best be fought by trying to make us more secure. Leaving aside how effective or ineffective the measures taken have been, the best way to fight terrorism is to be more free. Terrorism fights by spreading the perception of fear. Our responses so far have served to affirm that perception.

Which brings me to the Second Amendment. We saw another mass killing on a university campus this past week. The malefactor apparently had not been taking his medications and went off the rails. He legally purchased two firearms and went to the school to appease his demons. The school was a 'gun free' zone and while I am sure law enforcement responded quickly, it was not quick enough to save the lives of those who were shot. What happened was horrible. The responsibility lies with the young man who did the shooting. It lies entirely with him.

The gun control zealots are arguing that had guns been harder to obtain, fewer would have died. The gun rights advocates are arguing that had the school not been a 'gun free zone' fewer people would have died. I disagree with both.

I do not wish to scare anyone, but if I really wanted to kill, maim or injure hundreds or possibly thousands of people I could do it. I could do it without recourse to firearms and without violating any laws, other than murder. I could do it with a minimum of planning and expense. I could do it despite having no formal training in explosives. It is not that terribly hard to make bombs. And if one is not concerned with self-preservation, then murder and mayhem become much simpler. Israel has learned this, much to her sorrow. {No one should worry about this. I do not have any homicidal urges.}

My family has lost two men to 'gun violence', both in or near Charleston SC. My cousin Rob was murdered by some young men who ordered a pizza, arranged for him to deliver it to an abandoned home, and then slaughtered him for the money in his pocket. My cousin Tim killed himself in an empty condominium with a shot gun.

The responsibility for Rob's death does not lie the gun, the gun manufacturer or the gun dealer. It lies with the young men who murdered him. The responsibility for Tim's death does not lie with the shot gun, the shot gun manufacturer or the dealer who sold him the gun. It lies with Tim, and Tim alone.

Even assuming all guns had been gathered up and thrown into the ocean, both men would be dead. My cousin's murderers would have used knives or bats or some other weapon. Tim still would have killed himself. Guns have as much to do with both of their deaths as does their geographical location. That is to say, little or no relation.

So what deaths would eliminating guns prevent? Criminals are not deterred by making something illegal. In the UK, where violent crime has increased dramatically over the part two decades, gun control does not seem to be effective. Further, there is strong anecdotal evidence that the official statistics are being fudged in that regard so as to keep the public from realizing just how awful it is over there. Suicides, who constitute the bulk of gun related deaths in this country, likewise will not be deterred by any gun ban.

The answer turns out to be criminals, primarily burglars. The one crime that simply does not happen very often in the US, but is quite common in the UK is home invasion. In the US the criminal is faced with the likelihood that the occupied home has a gun or two. In the UK the criminal is faced with the certainty that they do not. In most of the states, the homeowner has an absolute right to defend their home with deadly force. The homeowner has no such right in the UK. Further, the home is where most people keep their firearms.

I target shoot. I keep firearms primarily for that activity. The ammunition I have, the sorts of firearms, and where they are kept are all shaped by that primary motivation. That such a firearm could be used to shoot at an intruder is an added benefit for me, but not the main reason I have them. My wife keeps her firearms because they were her brother's and she is sentimental. Other citizens keep them for hunting. But the average American household has at least one firearm for self defense.

The result is that while thieves may very well break into our homes and steal, they rarely do it while we are there.

So the question I will leave you with is: How can we eliminate or reduce lethal violence? And secondly, what other consequences flow from the changes you want made?

I have not been able to think of any solutions that would have saved the lives of the students in Illinois or either of my cousins.

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