The Gun Problem Needs Diagnosis

I recently read a post on social media with a quotation by Samuel L Jackson.

I don’t think it’s about more gun control. I grew up in the South with guns everywhere and we never shot anyone. This [shooting] is about people who aren’t taught the value of life.

I checked Snopes. It looks like the quotation is rightly attributed. For the record, though, Samuel Jackson denies any intention to speak in favor of guns or to weigh in on the issue. So what’s the point?

If you are still with me, I’ve got something for everyone, and I can guess that most people will not be happy with what I have to say (on both sides of the “fence”). That are sides to this issue with something like an insurmountable fence in between is what I mean to address.

So, let me begin with the quotation. For this portion of my comments, I ask that the gun law advocates stay with me for awhile. You might applaud, or at least take some consolation in what I have to say, in the end.

It doesn’t matter who said it. I have seen many other comments by people, including older friends of mine, who describe a childhood in which guns were a part of most everyone’s lives that they knew, and kids even brought guns to school for show and tell. They claim no one ever brought them to school  and shot someone.

That isn’t precisely true, of course. If you just go to Wikipedia, you will find a (long) list of school shootings with all the details going back to the beginning of our country. I wrote about it in A Brief History of Indiscriminate School Shootings in the US. But, don’t applaud just yet.

That history reveals precisely no mass school shootings until 1966. Not one. They were all targeted one or two person shootings, or shootings that erupted in the heat of a moment, until 1966. Obviously, though no one can claim with any degree of truth that shootings didn’t happen in schools in the past. Go look it up.

What didn’t happen in the past were the indiscriminate, mass school shootings. Until 1966. That was the year that the graduate student climbed a tower on the university campus in Austin, TX and started shooting anyone he could get into his sights. Several months later, a copy cat shooting occurred in New Mexico. The incidence of school shootings increased in the 1970’s and hit double digits in the 1980’s. The rest is history, as they say.

The fact is that we didn’t experience one indiscriminate, mass school shooting for nearly two centuries, but they became regular occurrences in about a 20-year span, and the last 30 years suggest  no end in sight for this uniquely American problem. During all those decades, guns were commonplace, and gun laws were nearly nonexistent during most of that time.

Yes, the kind of guns we have now are different than the guns of the past. Automatic and semi-automatic guns allow people to do greater damage in a shorter period of time than in the past. For this reason, I join with the voices of people advocating more intelligent and effective gun laws.

Sure, “guns don’t kill people”, but people with the kind of guns that are available today, kill a lot of people in a very short period of time. Lawful gun owners who don’t have any desire or temptation to kill people randomly (or otherwise) need to join the discussion and be part of the solution.  The blood is on you if you resist.

But, that doesn’t mean that some of things gun rights advocates say aren’t true. I have no idea whether Samuel L. Jackson is a gun rights advocate, but the observation that something has changed is real. Something has changed in our society over the last 50 years that has torn the lid off of Pandora’s Box.

When gun law advocates sneer at the notion that the answer is something more than guns, they are being as willfully ignorant as the gun rights advocates with the pat response that guns don’t kill people.

We have always experienced killings that are crimes of passion and killings targeted at people shooters were convinced “deserved it”. There have been serial killers, but they almost always targeted certain types of people. Not that targeting groups of people make the killings any more understandable or acceptable, but there has always been some kind of common decency and sense of the value of human life that even serial killers didn’t just randomly shoot up school playgrounds.

That all changed between 1966 and the close of the 1980’s. I am not going to try to get into my own ideas about the causes of this changes. I don’t think we can point at any one thing in particular, but I am urging that we take this societal change seriously. We can’t afford to brush it aside or to let it become a victim of our partisan posturing.

If we don’t work to figure it out, all the gun laws we could ever think to pass will be nothing but a Band-Aid on the systemic infection. The infection will come to the surface in other ways. We need to treat the infection at the same time as we treat the wounds.

One thought on “The Gun Problem Needs Diagnosis

  1. Pingback: Suicidal Nation | Perspective

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