by Greg Camp,
U.S.A. –-(Ammoland.com)- In a discussion on Twitter recently @gregcampnc, an advocate of gun control asserted that he is more compassionate toward the victims of mass shootings and their families than I am because he supports some ill-defined—but common sense, naturally—restrictions on guns. To hear him tell it, the fact that I’m unwilling to sign a blank check on the subject proves that I’m cold-hearted—I’m leaving out the effects of his sticky caps-lock key and the occasional use of more discourteous language.
Strictly speaking, my opponent is correct, at least in etymological terms. I have not experienced the pain of losing a family member to an act of violence. And I am not a mental health professional, so I’ll refrain from telling others how they ought to feel about such an outrage. But am I also disqualified from addressing policy choices in response to crimes like this?
To my knowledge, the person I was talking to does not have direct experience, either. His use of the word, compassion, thus is likely to mean the broader sense of feeling pity for the suffering of our fellow human beings. To borrow a line from Gerard Manley Hopkins, does the person I was arguing with have a better response to this particular example of the blight man was born for?
Measuring the intensity and quality of an emotion is difficult, given the subjectivity of such things. Perhaps he and I could be evaluated in an fMRI scan, but then, what would we learn from that? The strength of the feeling might be greater in one or the other of us, but would that say anything about the aptness of our responses?
Here, the chill of logic is exactly what is needed. Public policy can be motivated by our feelings, but it has to be based on facts and good reasoning. I asked my antagonist repeatedly to offer evidence that gun laws could prevent mass shootings. The worst example of that kind of crime occurred in Norway in 2011, a country with strict controls on who may own firearms and where they may be used, and many others have been in nations with similar laws.
Yes, we have had about a third of the worst mass shootings, but recall that we also have a population that is much larger than the other nations listed. And if we expand things to terrorism in general, the 2015 attack in Paris had a combined death total of 130—not including the terrorists themselves—and as the list of the twenty attacks with the highest number of people killed shows, guns are by no means required or even the most effective tools in murdering lots of innocents at once.
On the basis of the evidence, the argument that we should punish good people when a wacko goes on a killing spree fails. But logic only goes so far with a nation that is hurting, and if we want to protect gun rights, we have to do more than repeat the facts. So what can we do that both respects rights and achieves the laudable goal of reducing violence?
An interesting suggestion of an answer comes from activist journalist Greg Palast. In an interview with Jimmy Dore, Palast stated that he grew up with the Las Vegas shooter and has some sense of what was going on in the mind of the killer. Palast notes the disparity in the school that he and the shooter attended as children with those nearby in wealthier areas. The shooter was known for his skill in mathematics, but was denied the opportunity to flourish in that subject, shunted instead into a drafting class.
Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. A person who murders innocents isn’t excused by a bad personal history. And there’s nothing wrong with drafting or plumbing or other jobs in the trades. But imagine a society in which individual merit rather than choosing one’s parents well is the determining factor for how one’s life turns out. Imagine a society that doesn’t tell people that their positions on the socioeconomic ladder aren’t set before they’re born.
Education and the broader topic of social mobility are tough things to deal with, however. It’s much easier for the advocates of gun control to take the busywork solution of restricting this and banning that, since like any seductive drug, those things make them feel better right away. But solutions that work take time. As a nation, we need to go with the latter, both for the protection of rights and of innocent lives.
About Greg Camp
Greg Camp has taught English composition and literature since 1998 and is the author of six books, including a western, The Willing Spirit, and Each One, Teach One, with Ranjit Singh on gun politics in America. His books can be found on Amazon. He tweets @gregcampnc.