Is that really the question?
I’ve thought about this issue a lot over the last decade; heck, I’ve thought about this issue since I was a freshman in high school one school district over from the first high school mass shooting I remember (1992): Lindhurst High School, where I was supposed to attend based on school zoning. Yet, with the recent shooting in Aurora, CO along with the following debates about gun ownership during a presidential re-election period, I’ve about had enough.
The Second Amendment of the US Constitution secures the right to own a gun. Or at least that is often the argument tossed about by adamant gun owners. Here’s the actual language of the Amendment:
“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.”
What often gets dropped or ignored is the first part of that Amendment. Legal scholars often differ on its interpretation, yet the punctuation, being consistent with the other amendments/articles, suggests that it is one bundle and is intended to be taken together, not in a pick-and-choose fashion.
Thus, the need of the first – a well regulated militia – is what secures the second – the right to keep and bear arms. Considering the way that the US secured its freedom from British rule, this was a very important and necessary amendment. Not only was it possible (or probable) for the US to be under siege by outside forces, it was also possible for there to be factions internally that may attempt to secure complete control and alter the processes of rule (e.g. the Civil War). But this isn’t about history, really – I’m not an expert or even close to it – this is about reality of our social times.
There are many precursors to violent behavior. People aren’t born violent, like many other behaviors, we are socialized to be accepting of violence and some may partake in violent acts. James Garbarino, an expert on youth and violence, wrote a book detailing the history, statistics, and processes of many of these contributing factors of boys becoming violent. A summary is available on PsycPage.
I read this book, Lost Boys, back in 2000 while completing an internship in clinical psychology with youth and adolescents at a community mental health facility. The complete picture with which Garbarino explained the path of (mainly) boys to violence was rare, not only in the field of psychology, but also in general. The piece that stuck the most with me was a minor, but important, point about violence and habituation.
During The Great War (WWI), the US soldiers had a very difficult time killing. As a result, the military industrial complex – in its infancy – began redesigning training exercises to get soldiers used to the idea of killing someone. Prior to this redesign, targets were much like a dart board, circles. After the redesign, they were much more similar to the human outline at some shooting ranges. Since then, the training exercises have become more and more real, to the point that soldiers will practice war games with blank ammunition in the woods/fields. Many of the computer games that are on the market are as a result of this meager beginning – how do we make people more comfortable shooting one another?
With that being said, video games, television violence, and even the over reporting of violence in the news has led us down the path as a society where we no longer think twice about the level of violence around us. We have become habituated – or used to, to the point of normalcy – to violence. Furthermore, we’re not just used to it, we crave it. We expect it in our action movies and news. We’re thrown off when we don’t get it.
So when people say that guns should be available, I somewhat agree, despite the very prescriptive writing of the amendment – even if the interpretation is controversial and varies from one legal expert to another. I also shudder at the idea that in US society – where violence is so normalized and expected, where military training video games are played on repeat in civilian homes, and where we don’t do a good job of screening gun buyers for mental illness – assault weapons can be purchased with relative ease.
Here’s what I think about these reoccurring issues of gun violence and what should be done about it:
- Guns that are suitable for hunting animal game should be available, yet highly regulated.
- NO weapons, deadly accessories, or bullets should be available on the internet. EVER.
- NO automatic or semi-automatic assault weapons should be available for purchase. (This, of course, is through legal means. We certainly need to do a better job of cracking down on the illegal means through which some purchase guns.)
- Bullets should be regulated. If guns are for hunting purposes (read: deer and the like), then you should be allotted only a certain number of bullets each year. Say, 50. If you’re allowed 3 deer, you get more than 10 bullets per attempt. If you’re not good enough of a hunter to take down Bambi with that many chances, perhaps you should rethink your hobby.
- Gun lobbying bodies and company owners should NOT be allowed to contribute to the funds of any political figure.
We also need to revise our rating systems so that violence is no longer acceptable in a PG-13 film and our media needs to do a better job of not heightening the focus on violent acts in the news.
We have a lot of work to do in the US toward reconditioning our minds so that we don’t crave violence or so that we’re not so nonchalant about it. It’s a social system of acceptance that we have cultivated over time and it’s going to take time to shift our conceptions to where human life is valued. Shooting people on a TV through a video game may not be “real”, but it is being fashioned to look and feel more real with every design iteration.
So, really, with all that our society does to normalize killing, we have no right to be dumbfounded or so surprised when it happens. We have to change our behavior and thinking to expect change. And the behavior and thinking that needs to be altered isn’t only on an individual level, it’s on a social and systemic level.