Wednesday, June 11, 2014


"Do it for the children"

One of the truest sayings about politics is that crisis makes for bad law.  Like the sinisterly named Department of Homeland Security or the utterly failed "stimulus package," when a major crisis takes place, government tends to react poorly.
Decisions are made in the heat of anger or fear, legislation that ordinarily would be slowed and examined is pushed through out of the need to do something, and as a result we get bad law.  The thing is, that doesn't just apply to legislation.  We tend to make poor decisions in the heat of the moment as well.
One of the best pieces of advice I've ever heard is that when you learn of something truly heartbreaking and grieve, to make no major changes, no matter what.  Its easy to do something extreme and thoughtless when you are really hurt.  People for all history have regretted rash decisions made when a spouse dies, or they learn of some terrible sickness they are blighted with.
Each time we hear of a mass shooting, particularly one that takes place in a school, we respond at a gut level, with dismay and disgust.  Its awful to read about.  Its frightening to consider, particularly if you have children of your own.  That could happen to me, I could be shopping and some crazy opens up with a gun.  My children could have been in that school, what if it happens to them?
That's not selfish, its a reasonable human response to events.  Part of how we analyze things is by placing ourselves in that scenario in our mind, and seeing how we'd respond.  It helps us understand and work through the meaning and significance of events.  What would I do?  What would it be like?
But when an event is particularly traumatic or emotionally charged, that natural response also can tend to make us react poorly and unwisely as well.  That visceral "what if it was me/mine" analysis can make people respond emotionally and irrationally.
There's a chart going around the internet recently from Everytown for Gun Safety that shows flags all over the country looking like this:

This claims to show all the places where "gun incidents" have occurred in schools just since the Sandy Hook shooting, a total of 74*.  Seventy-Four gun incidents just since December 2012!  
Now be honest, when you saw that image, you were shocked and dismayed, right?  If you believe that the 2nd amendment protects us as a people and that the right of self defense is absolute and inalienable, you were worried that maybe we've gone too far - just a little bit, in your gut, right?  
And if you are all for more gun control or banning guns, you felt a bit of elation about how you're vindicated, and this is proof you're right, even if just a little bit.
Emotion.  Visceral response.  Now, there's nothing wrong with emotions, and they're useful to us.  But they cannot ever be the sole, or even primary source for making decisions.  They're too fluid, too irrational.  Facts and truth don't drive emotions, only subjective response.
The reason we get that response is because we want to protect schools, we're probably thinking of the Portland-area school shooting (and all that emotional baggage, particularly if you live in the area), and the image is loaded for a particular, deliberate response.  They use Sandy Hook as a reference: a horrible mass shooting of little children.  Its designed to get you to go OH NO! when you look at all those flags.
The problem is, almost none of those flags represent an actual mass school shooting like Sandy Hook.  There's been just a tiny handful of actual mass school shootings.  Now, if you're like me, you think that any number is too many, but that's a side issue: the chart is deliberately attempting to manipulate you emotionally toward a specific response.
It turns out that with closer analysis, you see that almost every one of those flags is only vaguely related to schools.  Many are suicides by schoolkids not at school.  Many are gang-related shootings, drive-bys and such that took place near a school.  Several are from robberies and drug deals near a school, and so on.  Not mass shootings at schools at all.  And that's not just kids schools, its universities and other learning institutions as well.
In other words, the chart is deliberately loaded up with false flags, literally, to prompt that visceral emotional response.  It was designed to get you to emotionally connect Sandy Hook with any gun use near a school or involving school kids.  And in this, it was deliberately false as so often this kind of attempt is.
Still, children have been shot in schools, and that should not happen. I think everyone, whatever side of the gun control issue they stand on, agrees to this.  Its a horrible, evil event that ought never take place.
We can argue about laws and rights and zones all we want but in the end we all want children protected from predators and monsters.  We all want kids to be safe and healthy and alive.  So whatever side you are on this, you need to recognize this about your opponents.  They aren't for kids being killed or murder.  They aren't in favor of gun shootings.
And I think whatever side of the issue you're on we can all agree that everyone should be able to defend themselves.  Nobody is in favor of people being helpless victims, even if they want to ban all guns everywhere forever.
So let's not get into the ridiculous modern pattern of condemning everyone who disagrees with us as monsters, morons, or lunatics.  Someone who disagrees with us politically or on an issue does not by that disagreement become evil.
The question is how and why, as always.  And if we look at this issue rationally and wisely, we can see a few basic facts that help shape what our response ought to be.

Children have been around guns for about 900 years now.  Kids used to bring a gun to school once in a while for show and tell.  In the frontier western times, kids would hang their pistol up when they came to school, sometimes on rare occasion needing to use them to defend the building from an attack.  Guns are not new and there have been guns around schools for a long, long time.  It is only recently that we've seen this upsurge in the number of mass school shootings.  In other words, its not the presence or existence of guns that's the primary, or even a significant cause here.  Something else has changed.
The UK managed to just about ban every single gun from private ownership and the result was a massive increase in murders with other weapons, primarily knives.  Suicide rates did not drop, murder rates have actually gone up (per capita).  The presence or absence of guns did not decide whether these events took place.
Every single mass shooting in a school has been illegal.  Not just killing people (yes, murder is illegal) but bringing a gun onto school grounds.  Often, they involve weapons that the killer was not legally able to purchase, such as at Columbine in Colorado.  The laws are in place to protect kids, and yet somehow that does not stop these events from taking place.  The cry "there oughta be a law" has a natural and obvious response: there is a law.
Its not video games or rock music (the two culprits blamed in Columbine, and often in later shootings).  
Its not rhetoric by one or another pundit.  Even if they get a lot of listeners (like Rush Limbaugh's millions per day), that's still going to miss nearly everyone in America by definition.  In a nation of 300+ million souls, a show with even 20 million a week is going to be missed by over 280 million listeners.  And even if they did somehow hear, the rhetoric blamed is never as inflammatory or crazy as the accusers claim.  Granted, it doesn't take much to shove a lunatic over the edge, but that's true about anything from a bird song to a message from space their dog relates.
There's a common thread linking every single one of these mass killings in schools, and its not guns.  Its insanity.  Every one of these people has been crazy.  This comes as no surprise, I suspect.  You'd have to be a lunatic to shoot a bunch of schoolkids.  But this seems to get overlooked.  Why are they doing it?  Because they're lunatics.  What's the problem here, then?  Is it guns... or insanity?
See, calling for laws to ban guns, calling for more gun control to protect kids from school shootings is like calling for a ban on air to protect people from lung cancer.  Yes, its primarily caused by airborne carcinogens but... its not the air that's the main problem.  Air is the device that the cancer reaches you, not the cause or the culprit.
We know from history and repeated example that the places with the greatest gun control and limitations are also the places with the worst gun violence.  Places like Washington DC, Baltimore, Chicago, and New York City.  Places people pass heavy gun laws to stop the violence and murder by guns are heavily plagued with gun violence and murder.
Aha!  You say.  They have these laws because of the gun violence, its a reasonable response!  
Except... the violence and murders get worse in those areas after the laws are passed. Now we can debate and speculate and pontificate all day long on why that takes place, but its an inescapable fact.  Chicago became the murder capital of the US after increasing its gun laws.  It took that unfortunate title from Washington DC, which had become that deadly after they virtually banned firearms from the city in violation of the US Constitution. I'd point out that it lost the title of murder capital after the Supreme Court struck down their gun laws, but its still virtually impossible to get a gun in DC and the murder rate is still awful.  Its just that Chicago got even worse.
So when you strip away the emotion and look at the topic objectively and rationally if you examine the facts, you find that guns aren't the problem here.
The truth is, something has changed in America other than gun ownership; America has always had guns.  What was that change?  Well here's a few things that were not the cause.
Well it wasn't the war on drugs.  Most drugs have been illegal in the United States since the 30s.  Banning cocaine, pot, heroin, and other drugs is not new.  The "War on Drugs" in 1971 under President Nixon wasn't the dividing point, that's not when drugs became illegal.  All Nixon did was start up a huge expensive federal program.  This recent increase in gun violence particularly in schools was not connected to either the banning of drugs or the war on drugs.
It wasn't the 1975 Supreme Court ruling (O'Connor vs Donaldson) that outlawed putting people in an insane asylum against their will unless they're a clear threat to society or themselves.  None of the people who have done these school shootings have been so plainly lunatic or dangerous they would have been institutionalized in the first place.  Almost all of them have been borderline odd, the kind of person that you know is off, but not so much they need a straight jacket.  Incidentally, most of them were pot smokers, but that's another topic - lets just say that schizophrenia and weed are a very bad mix.
What really changed?  What has been the real shift, the real genesis of these evil events?  Well in the last 40 years we've seen a significant change in society.  Culture in the west, particularly the US, has moved away from some basic, foundational principles and traditions that at one point governed behavior and restrained activity.
For at least two generations now, people have been raised to reject the past, reject absolutes, reject the cultural boundaries that controlled behavior and restrained some activities, and embrace selfish self interested hedonism to an extreme.  This shift has moved people away from thinking they are responsible to an external power greater than themselves.  It has moved people from believing that their actions have greater significance and enduring meaning beyond immediate gain or some vague concept of "karma" with a short-term result.
The result of all this is that people no longer are kept from certain actions by anything except immediate consequences or personal hedonistic pleasure.  If you're crazy, then not much is going to restrain you to begin with, but a culture that shuns or condemns and pressures away from certain behavior will tend to restrain most people.
And this shift has resulted in children taught by parents who were raised in this, and now we're getting to the third generation raised this way.  Less engaged, less dedicated parents in a lot of cases combine with a culture celebrating not doing right and realizing a responsibility to something greater than themselves.
The result?  Things that were once unthinkable and pressured away from by culture and family are now thinkable and unpressured.  And we're seeing things happen now that didn't happen before to this degree and frequency.
Its not that gun violence, or even school shootings, never happened in the past.  Before Columbine there were school shootings - they didn't get huge press or leftist agitprop "documentaries" made about them, but they took place.  The difference is that they're happening more often now, usually with a larger, more awful body count than in the past.
What's the solution?  That's a bit tougher to address.  We can identify people who are borderline insane without much trouble - you can sense something is wrong with them.   I've dealt closely with one such individual and while he didn't shoot up a school, he tore apart a church and went really goofy after that.
But you can't jail or disarm people on the suspicion that they might go whacky eventually.  That's punishing someone for what they may do at some point in the future which is even more vague and unjust than the pre-crimes laws in the film (and book) Minority Report.
As a society, families used to keep a closer track of their family members and people were closer to neighbors, and that would help restrain the crazy to some degree.  The courts were also a lot more willing to put someone insane into psychiatric care against their will, but that's not an option any more.  Honestly I'm not sure what to do about the really loopy borderline guys except to not inspire them.
Maybe the press doesn't need to publicize every single shooting across the entire nation so much.  Maybe if there wasn't so much emphasis, so many reports, so much discussion and debate, the crazy wouldn't think it was glorious or be inspired?  I don't know, but it probably couldn't hurt.  
The cynic in me suspects that the reason these get so very much attention is because the people behind the news business and working as journalists want more gun control and they see this as a lever, but if its encouraging lunatics to carry out more killings, they're actually creating what they want to stop.
Certainly a shift in culture where people become more aware of consequence to wrongdoing beyond simply immediate drawbacks would be good.  If you think God is always there and will judge you eternally even when nobody else knows, that has an effect on how you behave, believe me.
At the very least it would help to have a society that emphasized more than the immediate, personal, and pleasurable.  All those arguments and pressure that abandon objective, absolute right and wrong are having a clear, negative effect on our culture.  Reversing that is a big and important step.
And having teachers, parents, and neighbors be more responsible, watchful, and involved in raising children would help as well.  Move away from teaching kids that the polar bear is dying because daddy drives an SUV, and back to teaching kids to behave and learn what they need to learn.  Parents need to see kids as a responsibility and a duty, someone they are teaching and raising 24 hours a day, personally rather than someone they plunk in front of the TV so daddy can play more Call of Duty.  Neighbors need to see their neighborhood as a sort of distant extended family, and care what's going on around them.
Maybe if daddy was around when the kid is raised and families were together as a unit instead of single moms raised by government we'd see less shootings, period.  There's certainly a direct correlation between inner city violence and single moms and the decay of family and marriage.
One thing I know won't work, from inescapably obvious history is more government.  All having more government interference does is reduce personal responsibility and cost more money.  The more stuff government does, the less families and neighbors have to, and government never does it as well.
This isn't a law problem or a gun problem.  Its a soul problem.  Guns are just tools, the evil that is done with them comes from inside us.  Passing more laws does not change that evil.  Its like only giving a cancer patient aspirin for that nasty headache.  He doesn't feel the pain as much any more, but that doesn't make the tumor go away.
We can pass all the gun laws in the world we want.  We could use a magic spell to destroy all guns and make people forget how to make them but the killings wouldn't stop.  People would just use bombs and knives and clubs and acid and poison.  Its what's inside, and no amount of government or laws will make any difference to what's inside us.
We need to change individually, and as a culture.  Until that happens, nothing will make it better.
*UPDATE: Previously I had the number 79 incidents, the actual number the misleading chart uses is 74.

1 comment:

mushroom said...

Maybe the press doesn't need to publicize every single shooting across the entire nation so much. Maybe if there wasn't so much emphasis, so many reports, so much discussion and debate, the crazy wouldn't think it was glorious or be inspired? I don't know, but it probably couldn't hurt.

I think this is a big part of it. Copycat crimes do happen. It does seem to be a real phenomenon with regard to suicides among younger people.

Perhaps these crazy individuals decide that doing attention-grabbing Big Evil will somehow give a meaning to their otherwise obscure, pointless lives.

We have laws to protect the identity of rape victims. I could support a law that limits the publishing of the name of a perpetrator in certain situations -- at least for a period of time. I don't know that it would work, but I can imagine that it might blunt the demonic inspiration.