Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I Don't Have the Answers, But I Know This Isn't It.

I know, I know. You all thought you were off the hook once the ballot returns were in, didn't you? HAHA that's adorable. But there's too much to say right now to sit this one out, so please don't groan at me, because this is a conversation we need to have. I know everyone would rather focus on the holidays and all of the happy-festive stuff, but... this first.

I'm not going to rehash what happened last Friday. It was awful in the very worst of ways, it was tragic and disgusting and we'll never have an answer as to how or why someone could or would do such a thing. What we need to do now is remember, then move forward together with some way of keeping this from happening again.

How? Well, for starters, we need to look at the underlying problems facing society. We need to get at the heart of what's making these people snap, and fix that. We can't slap a bandage over it by passing legislation that nobody will heed, by lamenting the "what-ifs" and the "should-haves" instead of actually taking steps to 
There are three parts to this, all of which are easy to say and difficult to implement. But coming at this from an objective a standpoint as I can muster, I present to you my Three Point Plan For Fixing The World (working title).
1. I don't think we should sensationalize violence in the media. America has a weird, sick fascination with it. It's everywhere. We glorify it. In the news, in our movies, in our video games, in our music. It's really not surprising that someone with an imbalanced mentality would want to feel like a bad-ass action hero (or villain) by unleashing mayhem on innocent people. It's a quick ticket to notoriety and infamy. Everyone will remember your name.
Which is why I don't think we should give them that satisfaction. I don't think we should release their name. I don't think we should do profiles and interview everyone they know or talk about what college they almost went to or what their favorite movies were. I think we should refer to them only as "the shooter" and focus on the victims. Give the victims a proper memorial, keep their families in our thoughts. If we stop giving the killers the glory they are after, perhaps then it will be less appealing for aspiring copycats to nab their own piece of the pie.
"You want to know why. This may sound cynical, but here's why.
It's because of the way the media reports it. Flip on the news and watch how we treat the Batman theater shooter and the Oregon mall shooter like celebrities. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris are household names, but do you know the name of a single *victim* of Columbine? Disturbed people who would otherwise just off themselves in their basements see the news and want to top it by doing something worse, and going out in a memorable way. Why a grade school? Why children? Because he'll be remembered as a horrible monster, instead of a sad nobody.
CNN's article says that if the body count "holds up", this will rank as the second deadliest shooting behind Virginia Tech, as if statistics somehow make one shooting worse than another. Then they post a video interview of third-graders for all the details of what they saw and heard while the shootings were happening. Fox News has plastered the killer's face on all their reports for hours. Any articles or news stories yet that focus on the victims and ignore the killer's identity? None that I've seen yet. Because they don't sell. So congratulations, sensationalist media, you've just lit the fire for someone to top this and knock off a day care center or a maternity ward next.
You can help by forgetting you ever read this man's name, and remembering the name of at least one victim. You can help by donating to mental health research instead of pointing to gun control as the problem. You can help by turning off the news."

2. We have GOT to do something about the mental health care system in this country. This is non-negotiable. I don't even know where we start, but I feel like it's starting to sink in to the public. Nearly every single one of these killers exhibited some sort of mental/social/personality disorder. Their friends and families had to know they were disturbed. But there's a stigma around getting help. How many of these crimes could have been prevented if someone had intervened? If there had been a facility for them to seek help, seek treatment, without feeling judged or persecuted. We need to treat these people, not make them feel threatened to the point of opening fire on a crowd of people. We need to get to the heart of what's causing people to do this. That's truly going to be the only way to prevent something like this from happening again.
And, saving the most controversial for last...

3. I don't think we should ban guns (but I also don't think we should arm everyone). To hear my conservative friends tell it, I'm in the minority for being a liberal and a Democrat who isn't screaming about gun control getting rid of guns. While I don't know if that's true, I do know what I have a pretty neutral stance on the issue, and as such, I'd like to share my opinions/observations (observinions?) with you. 

I don't inherently have a problem with guns. A friend took me to a shooting range one time and I had a delightful afternoon. I shattered the hell out of some neon orange clay pigeons. (I don't know why they are called pigeons. They're round discs. Someone explain this to me if you have the answer.)

Here's the thing: outlawing something doesn't make it go away. In fact, it usually makes things worse. WE KNOW THIS. Taking something away has never been a productive option in this country. The drug "industry" is thriving. Our experiment with outlawing alcohol during Prohibition did nothing more than to bring organized crime into America. 
There's an image circulating facebook (there's always an image circulating facebook) that poses the question: "Why do conservatives seem to believe that outlawing guns won't prevent gun violence, but outlawing abortion will prevent abortion?" My initial response was: OH SNAP. Because I've said repeatedly that you can outlaw abortion but it's still going to happen, it will always still happen, so might as well keep it legal and safe and regulated. You know, kind of like keeping guns legal and (relatively) safe and regulated. HEY WAIT A MINUTE. WE ARE ALL RAGING HYPOCRITES. Because the same argument can be made in reverse. It struck me as being ironic that both ideologies have something that they're trying to outlaw that the other side wants to keep, each knowing full well that if THEIR pet cause were to be outlawed, it would still happen. In both cases, keeping [whatever it is] legal keeps some regulations in place to keep things, in theory, safer. If someone is going to do something, they're going to find a way to do it. The end.
It's naive to think that banning guns will end gun violence in this country. To quote my friend Molly: "Unfortunately, evil happens, and if someone is deranged enough to want to carry out mass murder, they'll find a way to do it... You can't out-legislate evil, you can be vigilant and hope you catch it the majority of the time."
Guns, inherently, are not the problem. Guns are a scapegoat. One of the most-mocked quotes is the NRA's position of "guns don't kill people, people kill people." Guys, they're right. The majority of gun owners are responsible people. Some people take better care of their weapons than they do their house, their car, hell, even their kids or pets. 
You can't ban something on the basis of what it COULD do. I mean, let's just ban everything. Ovens and appliances can start fires, those have got to go. People can drown in water, get rid of bathtubs and sinks... people who operate public swimming pools are MONSTERS. Next, of course, we'll have to get rid of drive-thru windows because people sometimes eat while they're driving and that's unsafe. And of course we'll have to ditch the cell phones, because texting and driving is dangerous. Hell, why stop there? LET'S BAN CARS. Cars cause lots of injury and death. 
Do you see how this line of argumentation is ridiculous? 
Honestly, the common denominator in ALL of these things is people, and judgment, and human error. LET'S BAN STUPIDITY! Until we figure that one out, though, it's probably safe to assume that it's impractical to encase everyone in a bubble and take away all the pointy objects because we can't be trusted with ourselves. 
(One caveat to all of this: I love the smoking ban that we've got in my state. Cigarettes aren't illegal; people who want to smoke, can. They just have to go outside to do it. I love being able to breathe inside of restaurants and bars. I love coming home and not having to smell stale smoke in my hair for days, no matter how much I wash it. Does the smoking ban infringe upon some rights? Maybe. But it's not outlawing the actual practice, and meanwhile, it's giving the rest of us the right to actually be able to breathe. I hate cigarettes with a firey passion (pun intended), but do I think they should be illegal? Nope.)
Despite the fact that we know this, and that we've been going around in circles on it for years and years, any time there is a bout of gun violence, everyone is up in arms (no pun intended) about "gun control." What does that even mean? Does that mean making guns illegal? Does that even seem remotely feasible to you? First of all, we do have that 2nd Amendment, and while the need for a militia seems pretty antiquated right now, you never know when we'll need it. Secondly, hunting. I'm not a hunter. But I live in an area where lots of people are... and I can always tell who isn't, because they think deer are beautiful, harmless creatures who should be saved and protected. I'll tell you something, though. Deer are bastards. Hitting a deer with your car is incredibly dangerous, not to mention incredibly expensive. PEOPLE DIE BY HITTING THEM WITH CARS. More often than you think. It's scary. Hunting them is the only way to thin down the population, and even then, I wouldn't mind seeing them allow hunters to bag more than one per season. I don't think it's cruel and maybe that makes me a heartless bitch, but I suspect a bullet is a much less painful way to go than to be hit with a car or a semi. WHO'S CRUEL NOW?
Say we make guns illegal, though. Imagine this for a second. It's a well-known fact that criminals are, by definition, not law-abiding citizens. If they want to commit whatever atrocity they've got their bleak little heart set on, they will. You can bet your ass they'll find a way to procure a gun. Leaving everyone else unarmed and defenseless probably isn't going to help. Do I think everyone should run out and get a gun? NO WAY. That's a terrible idea. Most people shouldn't be trusted within 100 feet of a firearm, but for those who can be responsible, and are well-trained on how to properly use and store their weapons, yes, they should be able to keep them. They're not for everyone. But for those who have proven themselves competent and capable, they have a right to own them. (Though I do kind of like the idea of giving teachers tasers or stun guns... it's enough of a defense that you could take down a madman, but it's not so dangerous that if it fell into the wrong hands, it could create the level of tragedy that a gun could. I know tasers have their own set of dangers and risks, but in terms of fatality, they're obviously safer.) Gun owners are licensed and have to go through a screening process. Not everyone gets to have one. Which, frankly, might not be a bad idea for motorists. The process for obtaining a driver's license is pretty damn lax. You're more likely to get into a car crash than a gunfight, yet pretty much anyone who wants a driver's license can get one. That's a different discussion, though. Mostly. I think.
"Okay," you're saying. "Obviously handguns and shotguns are okay, for sport and for hunting, but I'm talking about military-grade assault weapons. Citizens shouldn't have those." I was running along this train of thought too, except... I'm not that gun savvy, and it turns out, there really isn't such a thing as an "assault rifle." I KNOW, RIGHT? Turns out it's a generic term that is often erroneously applied to a gun based on what it looks like. I'm not a gun expert. This article was very helpful in explaining the difference (or lack thereof) of the various firearms. (It's a great article right up into the end where the author starts offering his opinions about militias, because... you can't have a "licensed" militia, because that implies that a government agency is licensing said militia, and the point of a militia is kind of to have protection against the government should it become necessary. See also: The American Revolution.) Aside from that rambling, it was incredibly informative and I will admit that I was guilty of Not Knowing and Making Assumptions Based On Inaccurate Facts. See? I'll admit it when I'm wrong. 
As the writer of that article states, why is it important to know the difference, to know the definition? "Because proper, actual, legally-defined terms are important in a discussion where rights and the law is being discussed, and emotional hyperbole and misunderstandings make bad law." WORD. This article is worth a read if you've been at all part of the gun discussion lately.
One last thought, because this post is already way too long and I'm sure most of you have stopped reading already:
"The Second Amendment states that people are allowed access to firearms... provided they do not fall into certain categories of "prohibited" owners (felons, the mentally unbalanced). The problem is, mental health records and in some cases prison records aren't shared through the instant national background check. They should be." 


To quote another of my friends: "gun violence is a symptom of a larger problem (mental health issues and the lack of support/treatment.)" 

Think about that. Just like in medicine, treating a symptom will only get you so far. It won't cure you of your ailment. You have to dig deeper and get to the root of the issue, which circles back to Point #2. We know what the problem is. It's not guns, it's not the media. It's the inability for the mentally un-right to get the help they need. That's the issue we should all be screaming about right now. That's the reform we should be fighting for. That's the thing that just might fix this broken world we're in.

ED. NOTE: I was thinking about this last night some more and it occurred to me that  I've kind of been using "gun control" and "banning guns" interchangeable which is, to say the least, ALL SORTS OF INCORRECT. I don't think we should ban guns. BUT: I strongly, strongly believe that they need to be harder to get - more intensive background checks, including comprehensive mental health records. Hell, maybe you need to pass a test before you can get one. There should be much more exhaustive training on how to properly use and store a firearm. I don't think everyone should be able to walk into Guns-R-Us and take home a shiny new toy. But for those people who are responsible and competent, absolutely, they should get to keep their guns. It's not a matter of taking things away, it's a matter of making sure that we're not just handing them over to someone who's too unstable to be trusted with one. How we achieve that, I don't know. But that's what I meant, and didn't say very well. I'm still not sure I'm saying it well.


Stephanie Fink said...

I admittedly have a super hard time thinking about this topic with a rational mind because it pulls so strongly at my heart strings. The fact that guns exist and that people so vehemently defend such a horrifyingly dangerous weapon just make me fucking sad. I had to skim this post, but maybe next week i'll be able to come back and read it more thoroughly and do my homework and try to figure out my stance.

Guns really only have one purpose: to mortally wound. That's why they are particularly terrifying. I know we can't get rid of guns by banning them, just like we couldn't get rid of alcohol during the prohibition. But i don't think that means we shouldn't even try to keep mentally unstable people from having them, or draw a line between what kind of guns are reasonable and what kinds aren't. We have a legal drinking age and all kinds of other alcohol laws, and they do have an effect even if it's a small one.

I wonder how you feel about people who commit suicide by shooting themselves. I've known so many, and i honestly think that at least one of those people i personally knew who picked up a gun would've had a much harder time of it if all they'd had access to was blades or pills or rope. I think a gun is such an easy out for some people that a single difficult night becomes the end of their life, when all they needed was someone's kind words the next day to get them through.

I wonder how you feel about people who in a heat of passion kill their spouses because the gun was there and was so easy to use, or shoot a neighbor that they mistakenly thought was up to no good, etc. etc. Using a gun is just so easy, it takes all the thought out of robbing a person of their very life.

I wonder how you feel about the fact that the shooter in Newtown had only ten minutes to work with and wouldn't have been able to kill so many people if he'd had a less powerful weapon.

And i wonder how you feel about treating the symptoms instead of preventing the disease, in the case of mental instability. Is the solution to amp up coverage & access to counseling? drugs? or do we need to take a look at our society and the bigger problems that are causing more and more people to go off kilter?

I don't give a fuck about deer, by the way. I'm all in favor of hunting. But there's no reason people couldn't hunt with bows instead of guns (and there's no reason they couldn't kill with them, either, except that it's a lot harder to mow people down with a bow than with a gun). Fucking Katniss did it. :P

Kelly L. said...

Guns shouldn't be easy. That's the problem. They shouldn't be so easy to get and when they ARE "gotten" they need to be locked up when not in use. It makes me very nervous when there are so many out there, and Groupon offers "conceal and carry" classes every other day like it's no big thing. I don't want everyone to have a gun. I don't want everyone to have access to guns. The idea of everyone carrying around a gun in their purse or leaving them in their nighstand is probably the worst idea of ever. BUT, if we outlaw or ban them, that means we have no idea (or even less of an idea) of who has them. At least when they are registered, we can trace them back.

From the articles I have read, there is no real difference between a hunting rifle and what we think of as an "assault" rifle, except cosmetics. Technically, legally, there is no such thing as an assault rifle. It's a generic term that has been applied to a certain type of gun. A citizen can't go get a machine gun or heavy artillery. But there is, apparently, no real way to differentiate between different types of rifles. Which is something I didn't know. I'm not a gun expert. They're all kind of scary to me when they're in the hands of someone who isn't a soldier or isn't a hunter or isn't a trained sport/skeet shooter.

I can tell you skimmed because I said in multiple places that we need to get at the root of the problem. Gun violence is a symptom, mental illness is the disease, and that's what we need to fix. I thought I had made my opinion on that clear, but there were a lot of other words for it to get lost in. :/

Stephanie Fink said...

What i mean to say was: i agree with you that mental illness is the root of the problem, but i think there's something even deeper than that. There's something causing mental illness in our society, and that's what needs to be fixed (as opposed to just helping individuals as they develop mental illness).

Stephanie Fink said...

...But i still may have missed something you said that was along those very lines, in which case, sorry. I shouldn't comment before i actually read a post...

Kelly L. said...

Ohhhh gotcha. In which case: yes. I think you're right. I hadn't ventured that far down the rabbit hole yet, there's an extra layer there I hadn't considered.