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.

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Walk Out or Stand Up?

Depositphotos photography ID: 115252164 Copyright: icrogen

The news headlines were all about the national walk out yesterday. Students in schools cross the nation walked out of school in protest of the latest mass school shooting, urging politicians and other responsible adults to do something about the epidemic of school shootings. Judging by my Facebook feed, most adults supported and even applauded them in expressing their concern to the adults in their world.

It is our responsibility to protect our children. We need to take this seriously and do all that we can to protect them from this very modern danger. It is a modern danger by the way. Never before 1966 was there an indiscriminate mass shooting of students on a school campus in the history of the United States, and indiscriminate mass school shootings have ramped up each decade since then, shooting into the double digits in the 1980’s and beyond. (See A Brief History of Indiscriminate School Shootings in the US.)

As if this trend isn’t disturbing enough, we can see another trend in the age of the perpetrators. From the 1980’s on, the perpetrators have been predominantly teenagers and young twenty somethings. The perpetrators have been as young as middle school age, and they are almost all boys and young men. What is going on with our boys and young men is a question we need to ask and answer. (See The Lost Boys with Guns.)

Meanwhile, I add my voice to the chorus of adults applauding our youth around the country for walking out in a show of unified protest and demand for the adults to make changes that will protect them from future attacks from indiscriminate mass shootings, but it isn’t enough.

Granted, protests are a last resort for people who don’t have the power, or, perhaps, feel they don’t have the power, to effect change directly. It’s an attempt to prick the conscience of the people who do have the power to effect the change that is needed. At least that is the perception.

Go ahead and protest. It raises social consciousness. It demonstrates a necessary urgency. It forces the issue top of mind and demands that we take the issue seriously. But it isn’t enough. Young people have much more power than they might think, but it will take much more effort, sustained effort, and we, as adults, need to help them in every way we can. Their lives may depend on it!

What am I talking about?

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The Lost Boys with Guns

Depositphotos Image ID: 184293546 Copyright: belchonock

In the wake of another tragic school shooting and re-ignition of the flames of impassioned debate over guns and gun control, some people have dared to suggest we have problems other than guns. They get shot down pretty quickly now, as it seems we just can’t ignore the gun problem we have. Yes, I have been reluctant to say it… we have a gun problem.

But, we have more problems than guns. Mental health may be an issue, but statistics suggest that the United States has no greater incidence of mental health problems than the rest of the world. Maybe the incidence of mental health problems isn’t the problem. Maybe the problem is the way we treat it (or don’t treat it as the case may be).

But that isn’t the only problem either. We assume that anyone who shoots up a school playground is crazy, but that is a dangerous assumption. We think that they are “not like us”, but history suggests we might be fooling ourselves. Given the right factors, circumstances and pressures, any one of us might do things we could never imagine.

The Holocaust wasn’t just the result of a despot few. It took a nation of “regular people” to allow it to happen. If the Holocaust happened in the US today (not suggesting it will), your neighbors would be going off to work this morning to the concentration camps, gas chambers and sterile government offices that allowed genocide to become a national industry. It could very well be us, given the right mix of circumstances and pressures.

The gun problem in the United States isn’t likely the result of a single problem. Reality is more complicated than that. Rather, a confluence of factors and circumstances have come together to create this perfect storm – this phenomenon that is unique in the civilized world.

Among the factors, I speculate, is the history of gun rights that is unparalleled in any other country. Gun ownership is an individual right in the United States. It’s even built into our Constitution. No other country has that history.

But, I don’t think the availability of guns or mental health or or our history, pick your pet theory, are the only issues. School shootings are a recent phenomenon. The first school shooting took place in 1966, and the incidents of indiscriminate school shootings have risen exponentially in the last 20-30 years. Something else is going on.

We tend to let ourselves fall into the trap of false dichotomies: it’s either guns or not guns. Yes it is! Not it’s not!

Like schoolyard banter, nothing gets accomplished because each side is too busy defending their own side of the argument, and too stubborn to concede anything to the “other side”, so we don’t get anywhere. Nothing gets done. We end up with no resolve and no solutions.

I am not anti-gun, but I am here to say I am willing to listen to reasonable measures to limit gun ownership. We have to do that. It’s a numbers game. The more guns that are available for more people to get a hold of, the more likely it is that guns will end up in the hands of people who are dangerous. I am willing to listen to the people who say we have a mental health problem. I am willing to consider other issues and solutions.

But there is problem that few people are talking about it: it’s a problem with our boys. When was the last time a girl was involved in a school shooting? How about a mass shooting of any kind? Girls and women have been involved in school shootings, but school shootings are overwhelmingly committed by boys and men.

It’s past time that we started talking in earnest about what has happened to our boys!

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The 2nd Amendment, Freedom & Responsibility

Depositphotos Image ID: 173296888 Copyright: zimmytws

Is there a more potent weapon today then a gun in the hands of a person with mal-intent? Are schools no longer safe places for children? These questions are not mere speculation, but serious deadly considerations in the wake of another school shooting tragedy.

It’s clear that platitudes, like thoughts and prayers, are not enough of a response any more, as if they ever were. Not that we shouldn’t be thoughtful or prayerful, but “faith without works is dead”, as the brother of Jesus said.

“If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15-16)

Likewise, if all we do is offer condolences and our thoughts and prayers, what good is that?! Our faith, if we have any, demands action. Where is the fruit?

I get all of the arguments for the Second Amendment. I am a lawyer. Our nation was founded on the principles of an independent, free and empowered citizenry, and the right to bear arms was intended to ensure that freedom. Guns have been championed as a symbol of freedom. With freedom, though, comes responsibility (echoing the words of Eleanor Roosevelt).

I’m a Christian, but I don’t get the popular Christian response to gun laws. Where in the Bible does it tell us to defend our rights to own firearms? Jesus told Peter to put down his sword, but he’s telling us to protect our guns?

Thoughts and prayers don’t cut it when children are lying dead on the playground. Thoughts and prayers need to be followed up with love and action. We need to do something before there is another tragedy, and another one after that.

But I am not just directing my focus on Christians. I see a much more potent weapon than guns in our society today.

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