Saturday, December 15, 2012

Had enough yet? Guns in America ...

I have always attempted to understand the human condition.  Why do we act in certain ways?  Have certain preferences?  Motivations exist for every behavior, if studied carefully enough.  I don't believe in coincidences or randomness.  All choices are driven by some catalyst -- whether we accept that reasoning is a different story.  Humans make choices based on needs and wants.   And I find myself struggling to understand what appears to be the most random of behaviors.

Yesterday, a man entered an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut with multiple guns, killing 28 people -- 20 of them children.  The scene could only be described as terrifying, and I'm certain that words aren't capable of conveying the emotions of children, all under the age of 10.  So, what made Adam Lanza, at the age of 20, commit such a horrific act?  Far too early to even guess.  I'm sure his past will be picked apart, friends and family interviewed, social media posts digested -- we will know every piece of information available about him.  But, for now, a larger question looms.  What does the United States do about the pervasiveness of guns in our society?

The Constitution is sufficiently clear (and the Supreme Court has affirmed) that American citizens have the right to keep and bear arms.  Curing society of violence by attempting to abandon the Constitution in times of distress is worse than the disease.  Eliminating guns is neither feasible nor wise.  Other nations uphold the same principle in their society, yet do not experience the widespread gun violence seen in the United States. 

Regardless of what gun advocates might tell you, now is definitely the time to discuss the issue of gun violence.  Discussion is imperative to bringing about positive change in existing governmental policy.  However, I would discourage any sweeping overhaul of legislation on the issue of firearms.  While talking about the issue now, it is never ideal to legislate solely on emotion.  So, what does America need to change? First, admit that guns are not the problem. Gun violence cannot be narrowed down to only one problem. That would be oversimplifying the situation.  

One major component of America's problem is the accessibility of guns.  Every year, thousands of gun shows are held in the United States.  Most vendors at these shows are federally licensed and required to conduct background checks on anyone purchasing a firearm.  However, unlicensed vendors are permitted to sell guns at these shows, provided it is not their primary source of income.  These sellers are not required to conduct background checks and make up approximately 25% of vendors at gun shows. 

The advent of the Internet has also allowed firearms to be purchased far more easily through legal channels and has become a powerful tool for those who seek to arrange an illegal purchase through a secondary market.  Acquiring a firearm in the United States is not difficult. 

Close the loopholes in the accessbility of guns.  Strongly consider psychological evaluations for anyone seeking to purchase a gun.  This would not eliminate all violent acts, but would be a tool for reducing shootings and saving lives.

Americans also need to be aware that while psychologists and profilers can help provide tips about who could likely be violent, we do not truly know one another.  People often toil over "missing the signs" of a violent criminal, wondering if they could have prevented a tragedy.  Adam Lanza had no criminal record. Former classmates of his described him as intelligent, nice, and a successful student academically.  Sometimes, there are no warning signs.  In certain instances, we can only see the truth about a person until after it's too late.

While warning signs may not exist, or be obvious, the nation must find a better way to keep guns out of the hands of those who are mentally ill.  Additionally, the federal and state governments need to make a concerted effort to help diminish the stigma of mental illness, so that people may safely seek out assistance.  People wrongly believe they have to "tough it out" when dealing with mental health problems.  Find a way to make meaningful therapy (and medication, when needed) available and socially acceptable.

Society should be prepared for more of these shootings unless we fundamentally change our culture.  Has any civilization ever embraced and glorified violence as much as the United States does today?  As perverse as some ancient cultures were, I'm not even sure they can compare to the way America inundates her people with depictions of violence through books, film, television, music, video games, sports, and any other form of 'entertainment' we can conjure.  Our freedom of expression permits this, but we still refuse to question the wisdom of whether we 'ought to', when, instead, we are preoccupied with 'can we.'

Until Americans become absolutely sick of violence, nothing will change.  Mass shootings and other terrible acts of violence will continue.  Columbine.  Virginia Tech.  Aurora.  Newtown.  Haven't we seen enough?  What will it take to force change?

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