Shooting Blame

by brendan on 12/15/2012

There was a massacre in Newtown, CT yesterday. 27 people were shot and killed, including many young children. As in the wake of previous massacres, which happen all too frequently in this country, we’re quick to place blame on others. Would this have been prevented if the killer didn’t have such ready access to guns? Maybe if the victims had guns themselves, then they could have defended themselves? Or is this really a mental health issue? Or something we can blame on the media?

The answer is yes. To all of the above. This is a communal, society-based issue that isn’t solved by taking a side and blaming somebody else. We all deserve blame.

Gun Control
The second amendment says this:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

The Supreme Court has ruled that this right does not have to be connected to military service, and does protect home gun ownership. So yes, we civilians can have guns. But should we have guns?

Let’s step back for a second and affirm who should not have guns. Criminals and the mentally ill should not have guns. That’s an easy one that nobody disagrees with. Great, there is some common ground to start with. So who should get guns?

Sportsmen want guns with which to go hunting. They jump through legal hoops and background checks to qualify, and most of them are well trained and very responsible with their guns. So that’s okay.

Then you have the self-defense folks. She just wants a handgun because she lives alone in the city and there have been some home invasions in the area. And he just wants a handgun to keep in a small safe next to the bed in case somebody threatens his children. And they’re also willing to jump through a few hoops… maybe attend a training class or two. That certainly sounds reasonable. And responsible too, right?

Therein lies the problem. Our constitution protects the right to own guns, and it’s pretty easy to rationalize responsible use cases for gun ownership. Sure, let’s ban full auto rifles, flamethrowers, and mortars. So what does that leave? A legally protected supply of single action rifles, shotguns, and semi-automatic handguns. Good thing nobody could ever do anything bad with those, right?

The shooter in CT used legally purchased weapons that he stole from his mother, before killing her. More restrictive gun control wouldn’t have prevented this massacre, since his mother wasn’t a criminal and still would have qualified to purchase the weapons. A flat out ban on guns would have prevented the massacre, but that ban will never happen. In our society, there are just too many use cases that most people consider reasonable. I’m to blame for this, and maybe you are too. It’s not that I think anybody should have a gun, it’s that I have a hard time arguing they shouldn’t.

Mental Health
The mentally ill need to be taken care of. If they could take care of themselves, they wouldn’t be mentally ill. That often requires doctors, medicine, and institutional stays that the ill themselves aren’t capable of paying for. If they’re lucky they have family that takes care of them. If they’re not, then they bounce back and forth between no care and underfunded state care required by law because of some crime they committed.

Do you do your part to take care of the mentally ill in our society? Do you donate money to private charities that care for the mentally ill? Or write your representatives to let them know that they need to make public mental health care a priority? I don’t, as most people don’t, so we’ll continue to have this problem of ill people floating around the fringe. Ill people with guns.

The Media
Media outlets fall over themselves to cover these tragedies, since most of us drop everything to follow along. It’s a ratings boom. We want every detail… from who might have known the shooter at one time to people who can speculate on what the parents are going through, no detail is too small to cover. It becomes the only story that matters anymore. We tweet about it, blog about it, argue about it on Facebook. If that troubled kid wanted to get everybody’s attention and go out with a bang, we certainly helped him achieve that objective.

Psychiatrists like Dr. Park Dietz argue that such sensationalized coverage only makes things worse. Other troubled would-be shooters see how we all pay attention, and know that they too could similarly grab the country’s attention. So what’s the solution? Not cover these events? That will never happen. It’s just like seeing a car accident on the highway. We all hate that rubberneck slow-down effect. We curse the other drivers for having no class, and for slowing us down. Then we get up to the accident scene and can’t help but take just a little peek.

Again, I’m to blame. Sure, I managed to not watch a single second of news coverage on this tragedy. And I’m proud to not have been a part of whatever craven and hypocritical garbage the TV networks were peddling. But here I am blogging about it. A blog post that was inspired initially by a Facebook conversation.

So I place blame on myself for the Newtown massacre. Do you?

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