Since last Friday’s slaughter in Newtown, Connecticut, I’ve been reading the back and forth of anger, sarcasm, and sanctimony about guns, gun control, gun rights, and gun violence. I have heard also the beginnings of conversation about providing help for the mentally ill and their family members trying to care for them and striving desperately to contain the worst of their acting out.
Some of the illogic is appalling. If banning guns would stop gun violence, one Facebook posting asks, why don’t we make heroin, crack cocaine, and methamphetamine illegal, too? Huh? Since when has the validity of a law been measured by its complete effectiveness in stopping people from breaking it? Speeding is illegal. Tax evasion is illegal. Shoplifting is illegal. All three are perpetrated daily, but no one is suggesting the laws against them be taken off the books for failure to be completely effective.
Equally absurd is the popular slogan, “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” True, guns don’t fire themselves without human assistance, but guns certainly make killing quicker and easier. When tempers flair, guns enable the worst response to be enacted so rapidly that there’s little time for second thoughts and little chance to prevent carnage. Guns also enable alienated and shame-ridden people to feel big and powerful, with disastrous consequences.
We live in a nation where some 300 million guns are said to be privately owned and where gun ownership has been elevated to the level of the sacred. We even have a Supreme Court justice who has suggested that under our Constitution, individual possession of a one-person rocket launcher might have to be recognized as a protected right. How can we draw back from the absurd and work together reasonably toward solutions to terrible national problems, knowing our solutions will never be 100% effective?
I grow as weary of acronyms as anybody else, but I’m wondering if we don’t need a new one: IWMD. That’s individual weapons of mass destruction. I’m thinking of the types of weapons that enable someone who isn’t even a marksman to kill dozens of people in short order, perhaps even slaughter a whole class of school children before anyone has time to intervene. IWMD would cover weapons designed for killing numerous people rapidly.
In the world of international politics, we don’t tell belligerent nations they can’t have at least the equivalent of a national guard or any weapons, but we do sit up and take notice when a belligerent nation is believed to be developing WMD, weapons of mass destruction. Can similar logic be applied to individuals within our country? Could we not ban the manufacture and sale of IWMD for private ownership? Of course, there first would need to be conversation about what constitutes IWMD and thoughtful drafting of legislation, with input from weapons experts and gun owners who aren’t ideologically rigid about the right to bear arms being all or nothing. Such legislation would require adult thought and conversation rather than the angry, empty-headed posturing we have now. We would need to grow up as a nation for the sake of protecting our children.
Would putting such a limit on the kinds of weapons available to private citizens stop all gun violence and killing? No, of course it would not. We need better mental health care, too, but that would not end all killing, either. It would be helpful to stop feeding the minds and emotional systems of alienated teens and young adults on increasingly realistic video games that glorify rapid, massive, and gory killing done without empathy or any emotion other than perverse joy and satisfaction. The reality that there will be no perfect answer, no absolute solution, must not deter us from acting together responsibly to prevent as much as possible of the carnage. We need to do what we can to restrain those who would kill and keep IWMD out of their hands, and we need also to offer better mental health care for those who might, if we do nothing, murder people they don’t even know. We cannot stop all killing, but why do we have to keep making it quicker and easier to kill large numbers of people, and why do we have to make killing large numbers of people seem thrilling and empowering to people who are mentally ill?