Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Root Of The Problem

"How can you possibly have any compassion for the families of the Sandy Hook victims if you are against stricter gun control legislation?"

If the families of a mass-killing spree can only find a solution to the situation surrounding that massacre by taking to the legal system (government) and outlawing the thing that was used to kill their loved ones, then I must suspend compassion for those families.  I still empathize.  I realize I can't possibly feel the enormity of their grief and that I cannot imagine what it is like to have a loved one lost in a senseless act of violence, I likewise cannot imagine why someone suffering such pain would conclude that the only way to address the problem is to outlaw (or severely restrict) the weapon used as though this is its only use.  I fear that this is only the beginning of the discussion -- there is more at stake than guns.

As I have said before I am not a big fan of guns.  I don't have a gun, and probably never will.  They are not of interest to me.  They are, however, of interest to others in various capacities.  Examples of gun-related activities are gun collecting, target practice, hunting, protection/tools (particularly in rural areas), and law enforcement/military.  There are enthusiasts who enjoy talking about the characteristics of various guns.  None of these activities appeal to me (in fact hunting is something I detest), but they exist for many people...and these people by far are law-abiding, upstanding, compassionate, responsible people.  I can assure you that gun enthusiasts are extremely saddened and shocked by the recent gun-related killing sprees that have occurred recently.

This is the reason why I am frustrated, and in many ways angered, by the response that the Sandy Hook victims' families have taken.  Instead of meeting with gun enthusiasts to look at possible solutions - solutions that may possibly involve the use of guns - they have taken to attack the very thing that gun enthusiasts are enthusiastic about.  It is no surprise that the response to such an attack is negative, and that rational discussion between gun owners and gun victims becomes impossible.  Furthermore, the legal recommendations that are being put on the table with respect to gun control make very little sense when it comes down to preventing violent outbursts.

The reason for the push-back on gun control laws is that they don't work.  For every study presented showing the decline in violent crime as a function of increased gun control, there is another study presented showing the opposite.  Addressing access to guns is not going to prevent another massacre such as what happened at Newtown, Littleton, Aurora, or any of the other shootings.  Will the next massacre after such restrictions be a shooting?  Perhaps, not.  It will just be some other, possibly more violent, possibly more gruesome, and likely a larger target.  In fact, the attention that has been given to all of these shootings will only make it more appealing to those looking to copy, and perhaps outdo, the previous massacre.  In short, a person or group set out to commit an act of violence or domestic terrorism is not going to be turned around because they can't legally get a gun or the size magazine they're looking for.  One only needs to look as far as Timothy McVeigh for an example of this.  What happens when the next malcontent puts some kind of improvised explosive device or other weapon in their locker, or somewhere else in a school?  What then?

This is where the crux of the discussion should take place:  Why are these violent acts happening?  While I don't have any clear-cut answers, I do have some suggestions for places to look.  The first place I suggest looking is within our own society.  We glamorize and sensationalize violent behavior.  In the movies we watch, in the games we play, in our sporting events, reacting violently to something we don't like or is in our way is encouraged and, sometimes, rewarded.  The world today is complex, with a lot of competition between people, always trying to one-up each other.  We're constantly bombarded with messages saying that we should never be content and always trying to get more.  What happens when you can't get more, and it appears that other people are in your way?  How have we instructed our society to react to such frustrations?  What reactions gain the most attention?  If you want to see less violence in our world, we need to show violent behavior as unacceptable.  It won't eliminate violent acts, but will make them so unconscionable that we will tend to deal swiftly and forcefully when such behavior presents itself.  It won't become a controversial talking point for months.

The other place to look is philosophical (which could also be considered societal).  While people tend to come together in times of crisis, they do very little of that in their everyday lives.  My own observation is that many people see other people as a means to an end, and act accordingly.  This dehumanizes humanity, and justifies the taking of a life as a way to make a point.  One need look no further than home improvement contractors to see how many reports of substandard work is performed because they don't see the need to take the same care for their clients that they would do for their own family or friends.  If people act with such disregard for others in the craft they are proficient in, imagine the outcome when they see people generally as being in the way of something they want.  While this isn't a widespread thought pattern, I see it is as a growing trend.  It is a dangerous trend, as well.

Solving these issues is not simple.  It is not something that will change overnight.  I'm not sure how it will change, either.  However, the best I can suggest is that the more people resist falling into the trap of these negative behavior patterns and set a positive example for others, the more likely that will become popular thought.  It won't take place by forcing it upon people by law.  The law may create a bubble of safety in the short-term, but in the long-term it just raises the bar as the behavior has not changed.  People need to see the law as guiding principles for minimum standards of behavior.  The absence of a law against an activity doesn't mean it's a good idea.  It means that one should exercise common sense.

I mentioned earlier that the tighter gun control laws are only the beginning of the issues at stake.  There have already been talks of bans against violent video games, and further tightening security at schools.  I shutter to think about what happens when the next massacre happens through the hacking of a computer system that has controls over the physical environment.  Imagine that someone uses a very powerful computer system to hack a water treatment plant system controller and intentionally programs it to release toxins that causes a large number of people to get sick and die.  What then?  Do we outlaw computers with a CPU speed greater than some arbitrary value, because "nobody should be allowed to have a computer that fast."  "Because the only thing that a computer that fast can do is be used to crack encryption codes."  "Because only the government and military should have computers that fast."  "Because we can't trust that people will use a computer that fast safely."  This may seem nonsensical, but it really isn't.  As we come to depend more and more on computer technology to manage our world it is likely that these very questions will occur and ultimately become legal questions.

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