As the aftermath of the Aurora movie theater shooting continues, we’re now seeing the start of the usual calls for more gun control. It always happens, it seems as though it’s always the same voices and the same tired appeals. I don’t think this time will be any different. Boston Mayor Tom Menino, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Brady Foundation, all have already spoken out and called for more laws. They might get them, only time will tell. (Kudos, by the way, to President Obama for not rushing in to join the crowd.)
Gun rights supporters have a term for this type of behavior: It’s called “dancing in the blood of the victims.” All that they’re doing is taking advantage of horrific events to promote a political agenda. It happened this time, it happened after Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold went on a spree, after Seung-Hui Cho went on a spree, after Jared Lee Loughner went on a spree. It may have even happened after Charles Joseph Whitman went on his spree. It will likely happen again next time, as well.
As always, we’re overlooking the true cause of acts like this, and it’s obvious even though we don’t speak of it: people who go on killing sprees have mental issues.
We’re looking for explanations to help us make sense of these actions, we’re looking for reasons. We won’t find them, because the Boomtown Rats were right when they sang “They can see no reasons ‘Cause there are no reasons What reason do you need to be shown?”
“Reason” has a double-meaning and both apply here. It means not only “motivation,” it also means “the power of comprehending, inferring, or thinking especially in orderly rational ways.” All of the shooters named above lost that power prior to setting out on the courses that brought them to become mass murderers.
To put it more clearly: Any person outside of a combat zone who wakes up in the morning thinking “Today is the day I will kill as many strangers as I can” is no longer of sound mind. Those of us who are of sound mind are wasting our time trying to understand the mental processes involved, because there literally is no reason.
(Corollary: if you think God is telling you to kill people who don’t agree with your religion…that’s not God talking. There’s the “reason” for Nidal Malik Hasan, by the way.)
After an event such as this, the public turns to its leaders for answers, but what we’re really saying is “Protect us, prevent this from happening again.” Unfortunately, the politicians have to look as though they’re doing something, and at that point they face a dilemma: they could try, but it would be really really hard.
The problem isn’t guns, the problem is that the killers are not sane. Holmes killed a dozen with a gun, but Richard Speck killed eight with his bare hands, Ted Bundy never used a gun to kill his thirty or more victims, and Andrew Kehoe conducted the biggest school killing in US history without shooting anyone.
The problem isn’t the guns, the problem is that there are a lot of mentally ill people walking the streets. They’re among us, undiagnosed and untreated, and while most will remain harmless we know all too well that every couple of years some stray too far from the thin line of sanity. The result is violence and death.
The United Kingdom is an example of what happens when weapons are blamed. Following the Dunblane massacre in 1996, the UK embarked on a course to outlaw just about all private gun ownership. Crime rates didn’t drop, they went up. As they went up, the UK responded by passing even stricter laws controlling weapons (surpassing guns, moving on to edged weapons, then even clubs and bats), but each time the result was a further increase in violent crime. The UK is now at a point where just about all individual acts of self defense are illegal. The criminals, as one might expect, don’t seem to care what the law says.
In the country that arguably trails behind only Canada as having the culture most in common with the United States, gun control has proven to be an utter failure. That should be a lesson for us in this country, but so far it hasn’t sunk in. Instead, groups in the US simply want to follow the British example.
It will fail here, too.
The real solution to this problem isn’t to eliminate the weapons because violently insane people will always find weapons. The solution is to detect the mental imbalance that leads to this type of violence, and stop it in its tracks by treating the illness. The way to stop the killing is to literally stop the insanity, and by helping the people who would be prone to commit these acts.
And therein lies the problem for the politicians: How to do that?
It would by necessity involve a screening process, and everyone would have to go through it at regularly scheduled intervals.
But that’s not enough in itself. Persons identified as having mental illnesses would have to undergo treatment, and there would have to be periodic re-evaluations to ensure that these individuals would not present dangers to themselves or to others.
The need for treatment would mean the establishment of a large infrastructure to support the mental health community, and in some cases persons would have to be held involuntarily. In other words, more mental hospitals.
The government agencies involved would have to set standards for examination, diagnosis, and treatment. Then, the agencies would have to be able to show compliance with those standards (if they can figure out how to measure the compliance).
This would be very, very, very hard and our politicians know this.
By comparison, getting another gun control law passed is easy and from the politicians point of view serves the same purpose: “See? I did something!” No matter that we’ve already seen the laws fail, the politicians know they can fool us again by just calling for another, tighter law.
We could solve the problems the right way, but it would be hard, far harder than our politicians are prepared to work.
On September 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy said
“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win”
We could choose to do the hard thing again, and we could succeed.
But we won’t.