One of the most frustrating and infuriating aspects of our culture is our relentless rush to attack symptoms rather than causes. This proclivity is evident in our pill-popping for whatever ails us, and by masking the symptoms so we can keep on plowing, working or doing something other than taking care of ourselves, while ignoring the fact that we sometimes get sick and avoiding sickness is more important and effective than popping pills. But, of course, there is no money in wellness.
The strident calls for gun control, whatever that means, are simply more rants against the symptoms of a sick society, and a focus on those symptoms rather than a rational evaluation of the causes and how to change them. All I hear is the “NyQuil” approach, which won’t cure a cold, but which will numb the body and mask the symptoms. Eliminating the cough will not eliminate the cold; burdening the millions of law-abiding gun owners, hunters and others by targeting guns will not end the mass violence which prompts the discussion. It is too late for this approach; there are too many guns and it is too easy to get one on the street.
It seems to me the best evidence that many confuse the symptoms with the causes is seen looking back 25 years or so. There were just as many guns per capita then as now, but mass shootings were relatively rare, and mostly took the lives of less people. Depending upon whose figures you like, there are 200-300 million firearms in the US, and there were about that many 25 years ago. Even if there were less back then, there were also less people, so the per capita ratio was essentially the same.
Growing up in Wyoming, it was rare to see a pickup without a rifle or two in the rear window. There was also a handgun in the glove box, and perhaps another under the seat. I never saw a gun used against another human (of course there was the occasional drunk cowboy shooting,) and the most recent mass shooting occurred at Casper College in central Wyoming when a man entered and killed 2 with a bow and arrow. Wyoming appears to have more firearms per capita than other states, and less shootings, although hard numbers are hard to come by. There are two reasons for this: the first is that children are taught firearm safety at home and in some schools (I used to teach it in elementary schools,) and the second is that a gun in Wyoming is looked upon as a tool to protect livestock from predators, to take game animals, and to dispense roadside beer cans (and sometimes mail boxes.) Everything I am aware of that many Wyoming children are taught is aimed at no one getting shot, no one getting hurt, and all efforts exerted to the safe handling and use of firearms.
City kids on the other hand mostly do not get this. What they do get is superbly demonstrated in the first 15 minutes of “Born on the Fourth of July,” where the young boys are encouraged to play “war” with toy guns. They shoot at each other, play dead, play war, go home. They play paintball with guns, cops and robbers, cowboys and indians. Toy guns are everywhere. How many boys were given toy weapons this Christmas? Look around you. As we give dolls to girls so they will later handle babies, we give toy guns to boys so they will later fight our wars. Is it any wonder, then, that we have a culture of violence in which guns are misused to inflict injury and death by those who are the cause? We support and approve it in our young people, to say nothing of the violence of movies and television which surround us 24/7.
The tragic killing of Tamir Rice in Cleveland shines as an example of what we teach our children. A toy gun took a human life. It’s difficult to blame the police, although police training needs great improvement, as the toy gun this child had looked like a real one (no red tip on the barrel) and the officer had only a second or two to decide what to do. I do not judge nor blame, I just cry. A child is dead; an adult has to live the rest of his life knowing he killed a child. The child was innocent, but had a toy gun which looked real, and had it in our culture which approves giving children toy firearms and then wonders why, later on, there is real gun violence. Hear this: it was the toy gun which killed this child. Had it not been present, there would have been no shooting and no death.
I am as committed as anyone to ending gun violence. I do not want anyone to be killed, most of all family and friends. I do not want guns to be used to assault society by those who blame people they haven’t met for problems they don’t take responsibility for. But I am convinced that NyQuilling the symptoms will not produce the desired result. That will take a cultural paradigm shift, especially in the way we deal with mental health. We must remove the stigma stamped upon those who seek mental health treatment, be ready to be proactive if we see something which is worrisome in another, pay attention to those communicating in whatever way an intention to do harm to others, and act when action is warranted.
I believe in closing the gun show and informal individual transfer of firearms loop holes, and all efforts to keep firearms away from the mentally challenged. But we will do this in part, I suggest, by changing our culture of violence so that mental health is advocated, promoted and provided, rather than residing in our tunnel vision of firearms, and thinking if we control guns we control gun violence. The thing about guns is, it’s just too late. They’re there, and if not one gun was sold from today forward, there are still 300 million or so around, and all one wants available on the black market.
We need to toss the NyQuil and take care of ourselves.