A mad man opens fire on a crowd, killing a Federal Judge and wounding a Congresswoman. Is it a sign that we need more gun control? Can government regulation solve this problem? It is a conundrum, that while states have moved to decriminalize marijuana laws because of a failed prohibition, some look to the same prohibition to protect them from firearms.
I owned a handgun for over thirty years; I bought it because I used to carry large cash bank deposits. I was working in a high crime area and sometimes worked until after dark. When I made my purchase I was required to fill out a form and to wait for seven days. I then went down to the courthouse and obtained a permit to carry the pistol. I never fired the pistol in anger and was very happy about that. I kept the pistol in a locked cabinet in my home.
I am the norm, I treated the firearm with due respect. I have known lots of gun owners that do the same. My uncle collected hand guns, he had over two hundred in his collection, but since I was a child, I never saw even one of them. It is very similar to the arguments for tighter control of alcohol or drugs. Those who abuse them make headlines, while those who act responsibly are punished.
There is a larger question at play here, what makes Americans so violent? Why do Canadians who also own guns not use them to kill each other?
In 1999 two high school students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold went on a shooting rampage in Columbine Colorado. They killed twelve people and wounded twenty one before committing suicide. In the aftermath of the shootings, a huge range of activities were placed under scrutiny, Goth culture, bullying, video games and violent television programs. Two years before the crime, Eric Harris began a website, bragging about his mischief, giving instructions on how to make pipe bombs and issuing threats against his perceived enemies. So serious were these threats that the police became involved.
In 1998 Harris and Klebold were arrested and charged and convicted of felony theft after breaking in and stealing tools and equipment from a van. As juveniles, they were entered into a diversionary program, after several weeks they completed the program for anger management they were released early, though kept on probation. Harris bragged on his blog about feigning remorse for the crime. He began to be treated by a psychologist and when he complained of depression, anger and suicidal thoughts he was prescribed the medication Zoloft. After a few weeks he complained of restlessness and an inability to concentrate and his medication was changed to Luvox.
These two boys illegally obtained firearms and manufactured their own explosive devices. We can blame video games and television or bullying but these youths were seriously mentally ill. Their actions were extreme and over the edge. They were celebrating Adolf Hitler’s birthday and their parents had no idea. Doesn’t that imply some level of detachment on the parents’ part?
We want the quick fix in America, faster, cheaper, easier, or just take a pill. Let’s put warning labels on CDs and video games. Let’s pass more and more restrictive laws that make us feel good, but fail to address the real issue. People who open fire on crowds are mentally ill. This type of crime is very different than robbery or a crime of passion. The victims are anonymous; the shooters are attacking the idea of their own powerlessness. In 1932 Chicago mayor Anton Cermack was murdered while standing next to President elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The shooter claimed no animosity towards the President elect, but only the idea of the Presidency. In this current tragedy much has been made of Sarah Palin’s website and conservative talk radio. I’m no fan of Sarah Palin, nor do I like Conservative talk radio, but let’s try and keep this in perspective. Millions listen, but only one acted. It might seem like a great opportunity to make political hay on the backs of conservatives and Sarah Palin, but millions listen, but only one acted. The Columbine shooters didn’t listen to Rush or Glenn, the issue here is mental illness.
The son of Sam killer in New York claimed that his dog was giving him instructions to kill. The issue is mental illness, not dog control.
Forty percent of the soldiers who went ashore in France in June of 1944 never fired their weapons. Despite, intensive training, despite being shot at and being under extreme pressure they did not fire their weapons. German forces also reported large numbers of troops who refused to fire because it is difficult to shoot and kill someone. It goes against our nature; we are taught from childhood that it is wrong to kill. Some can overcome that prohibition, some cannot.
I had a friend who was a policeman involved with trying to talk out a mental patient who was holding his mother hostage with a shotgun. The patient was on the porch of his mother’s home and had started to put the gun down; he then paused for a second and then raised the gun up to fire. My friend shot and killed him, and he explained to me the pain and emotional torment that he felt over the incident years later. He had relived the experience a thousand times in his head and though there really was no other choice, he still questioned himself.
He explained that as bad as the emotional torment was from the incident itself, the treatment he received after the event, he felt was far worse. The other policeman began to call him John Wayne and Dirty Harry around the station house. Even his fellow officers failed to understand the emotional torment of killing a man.
We treat mental illness in this country only on Cadillac insurance plans. We allow those who are dangerously ill to walk the streets among us. To commit someone to an institution against their will is very difficult, even someone such as Eric Harris who had made direct death threats against fellow students. A minor who bragged of illegally owning firearms and of making pipe bombs, a mental patient who bragged of his desire to kill and cause mayhem.
We live in a very controlling and one size fits all society, our media glorifies the use of firearms. In our inner cities there exists an urban jungle that defines its residents as either predator or prey, where a gun makes the difference. Choices for the residents are very stark and rigid. Underfunded schools, poor job prospects make illegal opportunities attractive, so we have gang wars and turf wars, senseless violence. During the 1990s, a sewer contractor in East Los Angeles began hiring gang members as workers. He needed workers unafraid of the area. He reported that all the workers he hired had quit the gangs within six weeks.
It’s nice to draw a decent paycheck; it’s nice not to have to look over your shoulder. It’s hard work to work all day doing construction and then to hang out with the gang at night. These people are just people, trying to survive in the world in which they live. We could try to take away the guns just as we’ve tried to take away the drugs and prostitution. Until we try to fix the situation as a whole, we are destined to failure. Poverty breeds crime, poverty breeds violence, and a feeling in the poor that they are being alienated and oppressed by nameless, faceless society.
The recent police shooting in Detroit offers no insight. It makes no sense, except that Detroit is a city crumbling from off-shoring and foreign trade deals. It is a city that once offered decent blue collar union jobs and that now offers only despair. The difference between urban and rural cultures should not be discounted. In the suburbs, perhaps one in ten Americans might go hunting, while among the Southern, Western or rural populations it might be as high as fifty percent. The perspectives on guns and gun control become blurred and distorted.
Politicians use it as a red flag, “them liberals is out to take yer guns away!” It makes our politicians cowardly as any reform can be used to wave the flag in front of the bull. There was actually an ammunition shortage when Barack Obama was elected President. Conservatives warned, “Obama’s going to take your guns!” More accurately, the shortage had more to do with a federal law requiring the US military to buy its ammunition domestically.
Our omnipresent media offers single answers like a hamburger stand drive through window. Already, Congressmen have called for more repressive laws. Yet we fail to ask ourselves the basic question, why does this happen in the United States and not in other countries? Why does a woman fired from her job at Kraft foods walk back in with a gun and open fire on her coworkers? Could it be a sense of hopelessness? Being fired from a job and unlikely to find another? Why did a ninety year old widow in Akron shoot herself twice in the chest as marshals waited on her porch to deliver foreclosure papers?
From the CIA Fact Book – “In this market-oriented economy, private individuals and business firms make most of the decisions, and the federal and state governments buy needed goods and services predominantly in the private marketplace. US business firms enjoy greater flexibility than their counterparts in Western Europe and Japan in decisions to expand capital plant, to lay off surplus workers, and to develop new products.”
To me, at least, this statement says more than the second amendment. It is the United States government proclaiming to the world what it believes to be true, “In this market-oriented economy, private individuals and business firms make most of the decisions.”
The market says that Mental Health treatment is too expensive. The market says unions and job protection programs are too expensive. The markets say ninety year old widows don’t need protection from crooked bankers and deserve to lose their homes. The market says it’s a scary world out there because they make it a scary world out there. They lock millions out of a decent education, then force them into crumbling dilapidated ghettos. Then the market says, pull yourself up by your own boot straps! Every gun used in every crime in this country began its life as money in the till for corporate America. How can we fix that when, “In this market-oriented economy, private individuals and business firms make most of the decisions”?
There is no single solution, any more than there is a single solution for drug abuse or alcoholism. The peddlers of alcohol are just honest businessmen while the peddlers of drugs are fiends. The peddlers of motorcycles and jet ski’s are just honest businessmen as well. This is the price we pay for Capitalism; this is the world we build. The market place doesn’t care about the consequences, we declare all equal under the umbrella of personal responsibility, but not all are equal. The consequences are just another profit opportunity.
An eighteen year old doesn’t understand mortality as well as a thirty-five year old. A gun to a kid in Nebraska or Alabama means something different than it does to a kid in Compton or Harlem. Without a job or on the verge of losing your home, a gun can become something different to us all. We must do something, something radical. It will require us to turn off our TV’s and get off of our couch. It will be harder than just lobbying for tougher laws. We must begin to lobby for a fairer society–a society where losing your job does not mean the end of your life. We must build a society that offers pastures of hope rather than ghettos of despair–where we build new universities and close old prisons. We must change the message our government proclaims to, “In this market-oriented economy, private individuals and business firms and government officials make most of the decisions based on fairness, and the federal and state governments buy needed goods and services predominantly in the private marketplace. US business firms enjoy no greater flexibility than their counterparts in Western Europe and Japan in decisions to expand capital plant, to lay off surplus workers, and to develop new products.”
David Glenn Cox is a staff writer for TLR and an award winning writer and musician; he is the author of the novel, The Servants of Pilate.
The Leftist Review advocates the adoption within the United States of a Canadian-style system of firearm regulation.