A thought re: gun violence

Before I begin, I will state that I manage to piss off purists on both sides of the gun control debate by being both a NRA-accredited Sharpshooter, 1st Bar (although I haven't fired a gun since HS), and in favor of fairly strict gun control.

But, when I look at all the gun violence today, it occurs today that this level of violence didn't exist in, say, the 1950s. Meanwhile, there was probably less gun control then than there is today. Clearly, the cause of violence such as we saw in VT, or in Philly, or anywhere else in the US, is not merely the easy access to guns.

It does strike me, though, that what may have resulted in a fistfight in the '50s today results in gunplay. In the past, if a two guys had an argument, it ended up w/a fistfight; today, it ends up w/one or both sides firing guns, often taking down innocent bystanders in the process.

Is society as a whole that much more violent today that people reach for a gun rather than ball up a fist? Are people that unsure of their ability to duke it out that they feel the need for a weapon instead? Let it be said that drive-by sluggings + stabbings are perilously rare.

If the problem is a society-wide one, and a deep one at that, what can be done to resolve it? You can't legislate people's levels of violence, can you? How do you lower the level of violence in a society? Fewer wars to solve problems comes to mind; the US' first option far too often has been to bomb the heck out of people, and people in society as a whole learn from that. Do you censor music, TV, movies? I sure hope not, but I'm sure people have societal violence in mind when they call for governmental regulation of the media.

Thoughts, people? If all we do after each violent episode is the equivalent of shaking our heads and saying 'tut tut,' things aren't going to change, they really aren't. People have to do more than express concern- we have to *do* something. The thing is, what do you do?

-Z

One thing to do

How do you lower the level of violence in a society?

Ubiquitous peer mediation and conflict resolution programs in our schools. It works.

Gun violence is soaring in England

"My god, we had over 40 gun related murders in the past year!In a country of 70 MILLION!"

That's what my English husband commented to me this morning as we read the newspapers. Imagine if we only had 40 gun-related deaths in our city of 1.4 million.

England has draconian hand-gun laws. There is no longer an English Olympic pistol team because hand-guns are so tightly regulated. (Sporting rifles are still okay: the English adore blasting away at flocks of little animals.)

And there is no doubt that English people still love to try to kill each other. You only need to go to a pub with rival football teams watching a game to see that; and from reading the BBC, you'd think that English husbands and wives are always brooding over doing each other in.

But the way in which the English kill is different: knives are the chief weapon, strangulation and blunt objects are also very popular, and of course there's always the Agatha Christie inspired poison. Its all very personal, but not without risk: There's a good chance that in wielding a knife, you'll end up with your own entrails on the floor. Strangulation requires overwhelming force. And poisoning: its not like you aren't living in a nation of mystery novelists!

There is very little risk in blasting away at a gun. You inspire fear. You are deadly in a terrible but affordable way. But ultimately, you are a coward because you take such little risk in doing such a horrific and final act. And at the risk of angering my in-laws, perhaps the English have realized that regulating this cowardly menace was the only way to go.

Wait, wait, wait...

You make some blanket statements that really need some back-up. Let me be clear, I am not saying your are wrong - I am not an expert or particularly well informed on the subject. I'm just saying that certain assumptions you present as fact make me want to see clarification and proof. For example:

"Meanwhile, there was probably less gun control [in the 1950s] then than there is today."
Your whole premise hinges on that fact, so we need to know: At the federal level? At the state level? In which states? What laws have been enacted strengthening gun control, and how do they weigh against laws that have reaffirmed gun rights? Or at least in general, what are the elements of gun control that are more stringent today than in, say, 1955?

"In the past, if a two guys had an argument, it ended up w/a fistfight; today, it ends up w/one or both sides firing guns."
Are there estimates of the prevalence of various factors that precipitate gun violence? (e.g., The commission of a crime, domestic disputes, interpersonal disputes among parties who do or don't know each other.) If so, how do these compare to the past?

"How do you lower the level of violence in a society? Fewer wars to solve problems comes to mind."
Is there evidence that we are exposed to more war today than in the 1950s (when there were two world wars fresh in our cultural memory)? (I'll cheat on this one and offer a statistic from this fascinating piece by Steven Pinker: "[T]he number of battle deaths in interstate wars has declined from more than 65,000 per year in the 1950s to less than 2,000 per year in this decade.")

Again, I'm not saying I personally dispute your premise that (1) we have stronger gun laws now than 50 years ago, (2) we have more gun murders now than 50 years ago, and (3) therefore we are more violent and we need to talk about other solutions rather than gun laws. I'd just like to see data to support some statements that you seem to consider absolutes.

I appreciate people offering perspectives on guns and violence, as both are obviously on everyone's mind right now.

I'm not claiming ultimate knowledge on this...

My main goal is to get people to move beyond reflexive "look- we need more gun control" vs. "look- we need more guns" talk.

Re: more gun control, it's worth noting that nothing in the shooter's record would have prevented him from purchasing a gun in *any* state, as far as I am aware. Gun control laws- even the strictest, short of banning private gun ownership- probably would not have prevented him from arming himself.

Re: wars solve problems, I'm referring more to the '80s onward US tactics of bombing the heck out of small countries as almost the first reaction to perceived threat or slights. We think Libya's funding terrorism? Bomb 'em. We think some med students in Granada might be at risk? Invade. Our former client in Panama's acting up? Invade. Iraq threatens Saudi oilfields? Bomb 'em. Iraq has the temerity to still exist 10 years later? Bomb 'em + then invade.

I think you can perceive the pattern; when in doubt, use ultra-violence to solve problems. Don't talk, don't even resort to low-level conflict first- pulverize 'em. That's what I mean when I suggest that fewer wars to solve problems wouldn't hurt to reduce the level of violence in society.

Still waiting to hear about the first drive-by noogies,
-Z

Correcting the record

I'm not ready to engage the topic yet but it is worht pointing out: the shooter in the VT killings had a mental health record, indeed he had been committed against his will. To do this, the doctors needed to complete a form that is (at least in PA) filed with the authorities (as their right to keep him is determined by a judge). So he got his gun in VA by lying about this (checked "No" on the application where it asked about involuntary commitment); and in a more progressive state, the commitment papers would have resulted in an entry in a database that would have shown up during the background check.

Bottom line in my book: In a world where mental illness exists and is underdetected and undertreated, it makes no sense to allow people who are not in law enforcement to purchase and own guns. We do not have appropriate safeguards to make this a safe policy. I am hopeful that this event will move more people in the middle closer to my extreme.

Political Doc

Got a rocket in your pocket?

Get cool, boy!!

Working directly with teenage youth from the city on a daily basis, there is a lot that can be learned. I recently began a book, "Code of the Street," by Elijah Anderson, who breaks down the role violence plays in our inner city culture. Being a boy from the 'burbs, all the things I took for granted coming up are lacking in many homes and neighborhoods. Being tough and having an image is a survival skill for many. Unfortunately, we don't live in a culture that makes such action "unfashionable" enough to be disuaded. (I hated it when my old boss used that term, but it makes sense now) For many, gang-banging, thuggery, and protecting one's trade and turf take on a much different meaning than the old "Jets and Sharks" days. Anyone who watches HBO's "The Wire" gets a first hand look at what culture is accepted and what is shunned. Working inside "the system" I see what the police and politicians see in that show. The youth I talk to validate that the street scenes are an authentic depiction of what happens.

Supporting Dwight Evans - A Safer Philadelphia - Block by Block

Perspective

This was the subject of my blog article this morning. Let's put all this in perspective. As horrible as Monday was today in Iraq was far worse. Baghdadians have been dealing with such carnage every day for four years. We can only imagine, based on our grief, what we've wrought on these people. It should put this war into persepctive.

Common sense gun safety is due. We restrict drunk drivers, toys that choke babies, and don't allow citizens to own Abrams tanks. Why assault rifles? Handguns have only one purpose.

I'm so fed up with the morons who spout the line "it isn't guns that kill people it's people." Why open your mouth and utter such nonsense and show everyone what an idiot you are? Yes, guns kill people. Statistics from countries like England and Japan prove it isn't the people emitting these bullets but guns. I've yet to see a person's body shoot a bullet.

These gun owners worship their weapons and they sacrifice our loved ones on their altars. They put their right to bear arms above our right to live. Those 32 people in Blacksburg had the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and those rights trump any right to own a handgun or assault rifle whose sole purpose is killing. You can read the entire rant on my blog.

The Pennsylvania Progressive

A different take on the state of gun control

From the Washington Post:

“But Democrats on both sides of the issue were skeptical that the 33 deaths at Virginia Tech would change a political equation that has turned in the favor of gun rights advocates. Even after Columbine, no major gun-control laws passed Congress. Since then, restrictions on guns have eased, with the 2004 expiration of President Bill Clinton's landmark assault weapons ban, passage in 2005 of legislation shielding gunmakers from lawsuits, and a 2003 measure preventing local enforcement agencies from consulting police in other states on firearms traces…Such hesitation underscored how dramatically the issue of gun control has changed since the shootings at Columbine eight years ago. They drew immediate congressional reaction: Bills were introduced to bolster background checks, force the inclusion of trigger locks with gun sales, and close legal loopholes that allowed firearms to be bought from gun shows without full background checks. But the NRA helped scuttle those measures,…In 2004, President Bush signaled that he would sign legislation extending a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines that had passed as part of Clinton's 1994 crime bill. GOP leaders allowed the law to expire without a vote. The lapsed gun law was back in focus yesterday, amid evidence that Virginia Tech shooter Cho Seung Hui used high-capacity ammunition clips that had been banned, allowing him to fire more rounds without reloading.”

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