Saturday, March 08, 2008

Gun Control: Misguided Idealism?

While doing routine blog maintenance (checking for broken links on the sidebar, etc.) I happened on one link under "Gun-Control/Rights websites" which I haven't visited for a long time:

Presbyterian 101 - Gun Control

This is part of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) website which explains what the church is all about. One of the social issues they discuss, and about which they define an official policy, is "gun violence".

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is firmly in favor "Support[ing] gun control at federal, state, and local levels as the most effective response to the present crisis of gun violence. . .".

While I don't agree with them on this issue, I think they made a very clear statement of position and a comprehensive but concise explanation of their reasoning.

Here, for example, is the full text of their most recent addition:
In 1998, the General Assembly added to its policy by calling on all Presbyterians to:

intentionally work toward removing handguns and assault weapons from our homes and our communities; and

seek ways to develop community strategies and create sanctuaries of safety for our children, so that all of our children may come to identify and value themselves and others as the precious children of the family of God that they are, and that they may come to learn peace for their lives and peace for this generation.
I certainly don't doubt their sincerity or their good intentions, and I absolutely applaud the last paragraph. I think this is an excellent definition of what a church should be. I recognize that they believe the action defined in the second sentence is the only reasonable solution to an intolerable situation, which they refer to as "gun violence".

That belief is, in effect, that they can impose good behavior by fiat. I don't agree that's a realistic appreciation of human nature.

It might work, if their (implied) assumption -- that people kill because they have a gun -- is valid. This is the "Day of the Evil Gun" hypothesis, which posits the influence of a firearm in the hands of reasonable people is to cause them to do evil.

The antithesis is: people do evil because they are evil, or for other more mundane reasons such as mental illness, desperation, or the encouragement of others (eg: peer pressure).

Guns are not the cause of "gun violence" any more than banks are the cause of bank robbery or women are the cause of rape. Banks are robbed out of greed, women are raped as an act of violence.

These analogies, as do all analogies, break down under close examination: banks and women are victims. Guns aren't victims, because Hey! they're inanimate objects.

That's just the point. As inanimate objects they are neither a cause or an effect of "gun violence", they are merely tools.

I suspect that those who choose to curb firearm possession as a means to curb "gun violence" will leap on the tool designation as an important justification for gun laws: "yes, they're just tools but they are more effective tools than any other. That's why people use guns to kill, the gun was designed for killing and has little (if any) useful purpose to society."

Let's ignore that last clause for the moment. Surely we're not arguing for or against 'redeeming social value' here, nor are we arguing for or against 'individual civil rights'. What we're doing is discussing whether "Gun Control" is an effective response against "gun violence".

I don't think it is. I think it is backing the wrong horse.

Here's my thesis:

Notice that I always put quotes around "gun violence". I'm not doing that to belittle the term. I quote the term because it is commonly used to designate a specific phenomenon: violence performed by the use of a gun. When you look at it, those two words are greater than the sum of their parts.

Guns can be controlled, but violence can not. Are we agreed on that?

Well, perhaps not. Guns can be controlled only imperfectly. Violence, too, can be controlled -- also, only imperfectly. Arguably, the only person who can control violence is the person who would do violence, but we'll get into that later.

It seems to me that the problem is not necessarily that "there are too many guns", but that "there is too much violence".

I suggested earlier that we aren't arguing about the redeeming social value of guns, but it's impossible to avoid recognizing that it does exist. And in America, our civil rights (by virtue of the Declaration of Independence, which legally recognizes "
that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights...") are also unassailable and are also demanding of recognition. See the Constitution (specifically the Bill of Rights) for a list of those rights.

So much for guns. They're not all bad, even if the purpose to which they are put may be bad.

Violence, on the other hand, has no friend in Civilized Society, for certain definitions of the term Civilized Society. The exception can be found in the cases of those individuals who are evil, or those who do violence for societally unacceptable reasons. (Those who do violence for socially acceptable reasons would include Law Enforcement Officers and others who defend society, and those who do 'play violence' such as some sporting activity, eg: Rugby and professional Wrestling which if they aren't really 'violent' often give the appearance of it!)

If you take away the gun, the violence remains. And the world seems so much more violent than it use to be! It's a world-wide societal ill, and focusing on firearms ownership (as do the United Nations and, yes, the Presbyterian church) does more harm than good. The effort to restrict guns to reduce violence is like the slight-of-hand tricks performed by table-top magicians. While we're watching the hand in sight, the hand out of sight is busily doing mischief.

We would be better served by applying that effort to the much more difficult task of reforming our society.

Our children are out of control. They reflect the changing values of their precedents ... their parents, their peers, and their leaders. As we become a more secular society, we lose the sense of morality and responsibility which religion once provided.

As we inch toward socialism, we see that the individual is not freed but enslaved by the cruel dual masters of governmental paternalism and a personal unearned sense of entitlement.

Parents once taught their children how to act by setting the example of their own behavior ... not by sending them to a state school where they learn there is no behavior which cannot be excused. Regrettably, our children all too often learn that same lesson at home, because we parents are just the model of irresponsibility which leads to, among other effects, gratuitous violence.

So what is the answer to "gun violence"?

Should we rely on government to enact laws forbidding it? We've already done that; it didn't work.

Should we rely on schools to teach our children civil responsibility? Can't do that, the schools aren't cooperating ... in fact, they're not doing any part of their job.

Should we rely on our churches to teach moral behavior? We've turned our back to religion, and often religion has turned its back to us.

Isn't there anything that anybody can do?

Yes, there is one person who can fix this whole incomprehensible mess we've gotten ourselves into.


You are the only person who can teach your children how to act, and you can only do so by the example of your own responsible, moral behavior.

You are the only person who can require your children's schools to give your children an education which will prepare them to become productive members of society ... and you are the only person who can require your children's schools to not teach bad behavior by bad example.

You are the only person who can find a supportive source of moral guidance, which for you may not be a religion. A religious community, though, might serve as a venue where you and your family can work with others to reinforce standards of behavior and attitude which strengthens the family rather than undermine it.

And you are the only person who can vote for leaders of the community ... local, regional, national ... who are not only industrious and concerned for the well-being of the people, but who will work to strengthen our society by word, deed and example. No, this not too much to ask. Even though politicians may be universally assumed to be scoundrels of various sorts, it's a systemic illness which can be controlled by constant vigilance and involvement.

In a healthy society, violence is an aberration. In our society, today, violence is a plague.

We don't need lawyers; we need first aid. Gun Control is a band-aid that only covers the festering ulcer of violence.

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