03 December 2015

Some Half-Informed Thoughts on Gun Control

I don't like the Republican Party (which increasingly feels like the last act of a satire staged by vicious liberals), nor do I fully understand people who collect firearms.  I'm a city-dweller, and urbanites like me tend not to really "get" guns.  For us, guns are mostly thought of as the stuff of gang wars, nasty accidents, and murder sprees.

I have friends, however, who are not urbanites, and who understand gun hobbyists.  One of the big advantages of being temporarily removed from your native environment during college is that you get to meet people who are from different parts of the country, with different cultural backgrounds and perspectives.  So, where my urban background would incline me to think of gun collectors as insane and weird, actually talking to people from rural areas about guns, who can point out that any number of ordinary recreational and practical utilities are also highly effective deadly weapons (knives, chainsaws, nail guns, household chemicals) has disabused me of the notion that guns are intrinsically evil and that people who enjoy them and enjoy the freedom to own and collect them are all militia-minded sociopath extremists who hate humanity.  They're not.

What I don't understand, despite my urban background, is the reasoning behind the regular call for increased gun control which follows any nationally reported shooting incident.  Obviously gun control isn't the solution, because most urban shootings are perpetrated by people who are (presumably) acquiring firearms and ammunition illegally.  The absence of adequately stringent gun laws isn't the cause of these shootings, nor is there any clear reason to believe that the passage of such laws will decrease the number of shootings.  If you're going to go on a homicidal (and usually suicidal) rampage, legal barriers to gun ownership probably aren't going to be much of a concern, and in the age of the internet they're probably not that difficult to circumvent.

The whole gun control thing seems to me to have become a blind prejudice or phobia among left-wing people.  Guns are killing machines, they think.  If we keep guns legal, we are keeping murder legal.  If murder is a problem (which it is!), we should outlaw the instruments of murder.  Simple enough!  But it would not be difficult to murder large numbers of people without using any guns. (And you could even maybe get away with it!) For example, by the use of poisoning, or fire, or homemade explosives.  But we never hear any outcry for the banning of the ordinary (and widely available) chemicals which could be used to wreak havoc in this way.  Why not?  Why aren't they being used?  Poison is far older and more universal an instrument of murderous vengeance than gunfire.  What is it that motivates people to carry out these mass killings, and what motivates them to use guns?

This latter question—the question about the choice of means—is one that I have never seen addressed.  It seems like a good sociological question, and a question which has more to do with themes in mass culture and developments in community life than with the existence or non-existence of gun control legislation.

So, to summarize:
1.  It seems like the widespread gun control mania in the mainstream news media is based on a narrow urban perspective and a phobia of guns.
2.  It is unclear that the imposition of gun control legislation would have any significant impact on the occurrence of murderous rampages, given the extent to which existing gun laws are already widely thwarted among gangs.
3.  It is obvious that the cause of these rampages, assuming there has been an increase in them over the past half-century, is not the absence of gun control legislation, but the emergence of some new social and cultural factors, which lead people to do these things.

This has been a half-informed reflection on guns.