I originally wrote this article in response to a post on Open Salon about the shooting in Connecticut but I deleted that entry to honor my pledge not to post on OS until they get their shit together, so I am posting it here instead.
Another shooting incident - one even more heinous than the previous ones because of the ages of the victims - has once again spurred spurious outcries for increased gun control and, once again, everyone is playing out the same sad scenario, using a public tragedy to advance their personal interests.
The news media plays up these incidents with round the clock coverage to build up their ratings. It's a well-known fact that CNN's ratings shoot upward whenever one of these events occur because people have been trained to tune into CNN when major tragedies occur....and CNN is using the most recent incident to re-inflate their sagging numbers.
Cynical political figures jump on the gun control bandwagon demanding more stringent gun control laws that would ban, for example, so called assault weapons, even though they know full well that their gun control proposals aren't really addressed to real combat weapons, will never get congressional approval, nor would they pass constitutional scrutiny. Since they absolutely know that this is true from every previous incident of a similar nature, calls for increased gun control measures are really about their political ambitions. (Michael Bloomberg may be the sole exception to this rule. He doesn't appear to be running for anything any more.)
On the other side of the issue, gun owner organizations will once again ramp up their fundraising efforts to protect their vested interests in the Second Amendment by using the outcry against gun ownership to spur new enrollments in their organizations by gun owners, while raising increased donations from their existing members.
Fact: the guns used in this most recent incident were legally owned and were not military grade assault weapons. They were common, garden variety firearms, not automatic weapons. None of the weapons used would have been interdicted by any gun control measure passed or proposed in recent years.
Calls for more restrictive laws that would reduce the number of rounds in a given firearm magazine are ridiculous for any magazine-fed weapon because it takes no more than two or three seconds to insert a fresh magazine into a modern weapon. What difference does it then make if you have a ten round magazine or an 18 round magazine? All magazine-fed weapons are technically semi-automatic weapons by design and function. Calls for restrictions on semi-automatic weapons are really calls for the elimination of this class of firearm from public possession. (And, no, it isn't possible to restrict the number of magazines that a civilian could possess because there's no mechanism for tracking them.)
Even if such a ban could be enacted, this would still leave us with revolvers that can have up to ten rounds in the chambers (depending on the caliber.) Speed loaders are available for every revolver on the market that would enable a well-trained shooter to reload a revolver in the same two or three seconds it takes a less skilled shooter to reload a magazine-fed weapon.
These few facts point out the reality that the hue and cry about gun control skirts meaningful discussions about the real issue: untreated or under-treated instances of mental illness in our society....but, once again, that's a different subject.
There is no point in discussing firearms control because it is impossible to control firearms. The mechanisms for firearms control simply do not exist. You can interdict the manufacturing of firearms in the United States, but that would not prevent gun runners from importing firearms from other countries. You can shut down every gun shop in America, but that won't stop anyone from getting firearms by stealing them from the people who have them. You could even collect every firearm in the country, and that wouldn't stop clever people from manufacturing their own firearms. I could build a credible single shot pistol in a single day using only the tools in my garage, and so could millions of other people....and there is no way to interdict the tools that I would use to make that firearm because all kinds of people use them in their occupations. (I inherited mine from my father.)
People have been going on rampages like this since the beginning of time, and they will continue to go on rampages until the end of time because rampages are a basic part of human nature. The weapons aren't the problem. The problem is that we have broken people among us who are compelled to do these things by their personal psychology. The presumption that you can reduce the number or severity of rampages by controlling the distribution of firearms is based on a false assumption that, somehow, these rampages have something to do with the availability of firearms.
Before firearms were around, rampagers used bows, before bows, swords, and before we had swords, they used clubs, and before we had clubs, they used rocks. You can't ban rocks. Al Capone's favorite weapon wasn't a gun or a knife. It was a baseball bat.
There's a false presumption that firearms make people do these bad things. That's a false assumption. The only reason that rampagers use firearms instead of swords today is that firearms are more readily available....but I could go to just about any mall in America and purchase a very lethal pair of swords, and I guarantee you that I could kill just as many people with those swords as this young man did with his pistols in the same amount of time. Anyone who doesn't believe that doesn't know anything about either guns or swords.
The fact of the matter is that most unarmed citizens don't stand a chance against an armed person....and the only solution to this dilemma is to arm everyone....or accept the fact that these things will happen because it is part of human nature. (My son, who is highly trained in martial arts, probably could disarm either a gunman or a swordsman, but most people haven't had his training....and he would prefer to use a firearm in self-defense himself.)
The false belief that these attacks are rare aberrations encourages us to believe that we can prevent these things from happening, but there are ten thousand people who think about doing these things for every person who actually does them. As a matter of fact, there's some evidence in the literature that suggests the excessive coverage received by these events actually encourages other to do the same things.
You may think this is a very dark, pessimistic view of life in the 21st century, but the real problem is the belief in the fallacy of safety, which causes us to let our guard down in the false assumption that, somehow, society can protect us from ourselves and from each other.
The truth is that the police exist to enforce the law, and that means a law has to be broken before the police can enforce the law. The police powers do not extend to protecting citizens from the potential for harm because, if that were the case, we would need one police officer for each citizen, which raises the question of who protects the police officers.
If I thought for one second that passing draconian gun control laws would have the desired outcome of preventing such tragedies from happening, I would support them....but that's not the case. On the other hand, there are an unknown number of incidents each year that are prevented from happening because the intended victim was armed and able to defend himself. We don't know how many such incidents take place each year because most of them go unreported, and because it is difficult to extract the data referring to reported incidents since they aren't typically listed as self-defense shootings. If you take the lowest estimate from the published studies on the subject, it appears that firearms are used around 100,000 times a year in successful self-defense efforts.
Is that enough data to support the contention that carrying a firearm, or even keeping one in your home, is a credible means of self-defense? That depends on whether you've ever been in that situation or not. Over the past thirty years, I have been in three such incidents and never had to fire a shot, so the incidents were never reported. (Technically, I should have reported the incidents since, in most jurisdictions, you are required to report any instance in which you have "brandished" a firearm in self-defense.)
Anyone with actual field experience, however, knows that the possession of a firearm is only going to have an effect on the outcome of a criminal act in a very small percentage of cases because, in most cases, the assault is over before you knew it was about to take place. There is, therefore, no credible evidence to support the value of being in possession of a firearm in terms of the deflection of a violent crime....and some evidence that the possession of a firearm encourages people to feel secure in situations where they aren't secure at all.
The fact remains that interdiction has never had the intended effect of preventing people from obtaining proscribed substances. Prohibition resulted in an increase in both crime and alcoholism. The current drug laws are causing tremendous havoc throughout society, but they haven't done anything to reduce the instances of substance abuse. Draconian gun control laws would have the same effect, as would insane regulations against abortion or birth control: they won't work because they are all attempts to control the supply of the interdicted substance instead of addressing the underlying problem, which is the demand for the interdicted substance.
The only way to absolutely guarantee public safety is to have an absolute totalitarian state that controls every aspect of civil life and, even then, you would have no protection against the abuses of the government itself.
The traditional gun owner's defense referring to the constitutionally guaranteed right to bear arms as a necessity in a free society skirts the fact that the firearms in question, the firearms permitted by the US Code, consist of a military grade musket....not a modern weapon. The statutes have never been updated to reflect the changes in firearms technology. Technically, then, the Constitution and the US Code only protect the right to own and carry a single shot, muzzle loading rifle or musket, rather than a semi-automatic rifle with a high capacity magazine.
The bottom line on this subject is very personal. I am Jewish. I can read history. I have said this before and I will say it again now, even on this dark day: any Jew who can read history and doesn't own a firearm is a blithering idiot.
Of course, there are many Jews who - being Jews - will disagree with this assessment. Almost to a person, however, these same people will visit Israel and feel reassured when they see Jewish teenagers going out on a date, each with an Uzi hanging from his or her shoulder. Israeli parents, on the other hand, shudder at the sight.
The ultimate fallacy is the fallacy of personal security. No such thing has ever existed from the beginning of time to the present moment. Natural disasters, animal attacks, disease, personal animosities, accidents, vendettas, drought, famine, war, ecological collapse....there's an endless list of threat we have faced throughout history down to the present moment., and no one fate is any better or any worse than any other.
Every child ever born was born as a hostage to fate. We would like to think that we can protect our children but the day always comes when we realize the error in that thinking. No one can assuage the sorrow of a grieving parent. I won't even try.
The hard truth is that we live in a dream world of illusions of security within the fragile bubble of the present moment and no one, not a child in school nor the president himself, ever knows what will happen from one moment to the next.
The philosophical problem we face as human beings is the false belief - the controlling illusion - that we know what destiny, time or nature have in store for us from one moment to the next.
No one does, but we all think we do, until we find out otherwise as the course of events unwinds around us.
This analysis will provide no comfort to the bereaved families of the deceased but, then, there is no way to comfort the bereaved and anyone who thinks otherwise has never been in their situation. Some will want to address firearms as the issue. Others will point to the problem of mental illness as the cause of the problem. The fact remains that we all want to be able to assure ourselves and each other that there is some order in our world when the truth is that we live and die in chaos and the belief in order is only the delusion that makes chaos - and life - palatable.