I remember going to school in the days and weeks immediately following Columbine. I was in high school in Beech Grove, Indiana. The shooting came as a shock, a wake up call for the nation and we thought, a way for my generation to begin to make it right.
I was on a Mayor's Youth Council back then, a short-lived foray into politics. We held vigils and roundtables, discussed mental health and bullying. For God sakes, we organized a "Violent Video Game Buyback" and yet in an utter indictment of our political system and our society, never once did we discuss guns.
We just buried 10 in Roseburg, 27 in Sandy Hook, 10 in Red Lake -- unfortunately this list goes on forever. In fact, since 1968, more Americans have died from gun violence than have died in all the wars in U.S. combined, from Lexington to Afghanistan.
We have to start asking at least at the most basic level why we think the Second Amendment protects the rights of domestic abusers, felons, stalkers and the mentally deranged to buy a gun more so than the First Amendment allows us to freely learn, worship and report without the constant fear of being gunned down?
A vocal minority has hijacked the gun issue in our country, armed with a bizarre reading of the Constitution, circular reasoning and a sense of "toughness" to elevate the absurd conclusion that more, not less guns will make us safer. So effective has this almost religious movement become, that unlike Columbine, our introspection as a society now last for hours, not even days or weeks. We have become numb and helpless.
The basis for of gun reform opponents' argument rests on a tautology. "More laws will only affect law-abiding citizens and criminals will always find a way to get guns," they say. Well, yes, guns are legal, therefore every mass shooter or shooter in general is law abiding until they break the law, at which point they become criminals, right?
It's true only criminals commit crimes because that's the definition of a criminal. This is why we need new laws to criminalize or at least make more difficult the commission of the crime of homicide, which includes mass killings, one-off shootings, and suicide.
You see, people aren't all good and all bad -- people aren't binary. Only an overly simplistic worldview would lead someone to believe that. Some people have mental disorders -- obviously anyone who shoots someone else has a mental problem, because much like the "crime is committed by criminals" thing, we use the "killing of large numbers of people" as a way to define mental illness, although, unfortunately, it is after the fact all too often.
One can't seriously think it is more realistic to identify and grade every person's mental state in America than to make obtaining a weapon slightly harder. No rather, it seems that all of these excuses and arguments against gun reform stem from a stubborn refusal to accept, or a strange fear of, change. We have done the same thing for 40 years -- a steady erosion of gun laws coupled with a significant increase in gun ownership corresponding with an increase in gun violence.
It's not rocket science, it's causal.
Simply put, guns lower the barrier to commit the crime of homicide.
All crime at some level is opportunistic. Add even a small barrier and the commission of crime dramatically drops. Rather than remake a proven argument, I point to this wonderful article by Adam Gopnick about the reduction of crime in terms of opportunity:
"What the New York Police Department found out, through empirical experience and better organization, was that making crime even a little bit harder made it much, much rarer. This is undeniably true of property crime, and common sense and evidence tells you that this is also true even of crimes committed by crazy people (to use the plain English the subject deserves). Those who hold themselves together enough to be capable of killing anyone are subject to the same rules of opportunity as sane people. Even madmen need opportunities to display their madness, and behave in different ways depending on the possibilities at hand. Demand an extraordinary degree of determination and organization from someone intent on committing a violent act, and the odds that the violent act will take place are radically reduced, in many cases to zero."
Our society does not punish thoughts, it only punishes actions. And there is certainly a sliding scale of evil thoughts that drive people to evil actions. It stands to reason then, that inhibiting the ability to turn bad thought into bad action, even slightly, can and does dramatically lower the commission of those actions.
Well, the action of killing oneself or a fellow human being is universally held to be the worst possible act and guns make the commission of that act remarkably easy. That is their purpose - the gun was developed as a tool to kill people effectively. Yes, we use guns to hunt animals too, but we domesticated livestock 12,000 years prior to the advent of the gun. The gun, especially the handgun is a highly effective instrument for killing people. So, if someone is on the edge of considering killing someone, themselves, or a large number of people, the easier it is to act on it, the higher the chance that they will.
So often, gun reform opponents say, "if not guns, killers will find ways to kill -- cars, knives, bombs, etc." Well, bombs are illegal, knives are much harder to use to kill, and none of these mass shooters or daily killers seem to have simply driven their cars through campus or the school hitting every person in their path despite the fact that that could cause so much more carnage. There is something unique and symbolic about the handgun in the commission of violence, in each of these cases, it is being used for its purpose.
But rather than a simplistic debate over more guns or less guns, let's imagine two worlds. In one world, guns are very difficult to obtain and exist only for limited purposes like hunting and sport, and where handguns are available they are licensed subject to stringent background checks with stiff penalties for black market traders. In the other world, nearly everyone carries a gun, protecting themselves with the swift and ultimate justice of mutually assured destruction. In this world we rely on the judgment of individuals like George Zimmerman or the three people in my life who have called me a "Sand Nigger" to take it upon themselves to conclude, with all of their biases and none of the training, who is bad and who is good.
In which world would you want to raise your child?
Let's have a reasonable debate about this, study the gun problem, and then come up with common sense solutions that treat guns closer to something like vehicles, as a public health issue, because right now, with only zealots framing the debate, and we are being crucified upon a cross of guns.