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Sunday, December 23, 2012

On guns, gun control and our culture of violence

This is going to be "it".  The one and only time I will wade into the debate about gun control and last week's horrific shooting in Connecticut.

Stepping back and looking at the big picture, this country has faces several challenges, none the least of which is that we have a culture where violence is interwoven with the fabric of our society. Note the use of the word "culture".  Professionally*, I use the word "culture" in a very purposeful means the "unwritten rules by which an organization operates" or something along those lines.  In the United States today, there is an unwritten rule that violence is okay.  In fact, it's been an unwritten rule for a very, very long time, going back to "spare the rod, spoil the child" days until now where you have life-like video game simulations of combat.  We have always tolerated more violence than just about any other western culture.

Here's the thing about culture though:  you don't change it quickly and you never change it easily.

The above statement doesn't mean that you fail to take common sense steps to make people safe.  In fact, the only way I think you CAN change culture is by taking small, incremental steps.  I firmly believe that one of the incremental steps that needs to be taken in this country is to limit access to certain kinds of guns.  So far in this country we can't seem to take even the smallest of steps towards reasonable limits to gun ownership.  Why?

When it comes to gun control, there is a very small core group of people who want to own guns not for sporting purposes, but for the simple (all be it bizarre) "fact" that they believe guns will be necessary when they need to protect themselves from an oppressive government (think Biblical stuff, number of the Beast, bad 70's devil movies, etc.).  This group, who I personally think is at the core of the National Rifle Association (NRA), will never change their opinion on gun control.  They WANT a culture of violence, as it suits their view of the world.  Read about the "ZOG"** for an idea as to what I am talking about.  For these people, a belief in guns is almost like a religious belief, which is why they can't accept reasonable restrictions on gun ownership just as we all accept reasonable restrictions on free speech.

Stripping out the "guns to protect us from the ZOG" and "Jesus wants us to be able to own machine guns" crew, I think that most NRA members actually don't want their neighbors, for example, to own assault rifles.  In fact, these people probably understand to a greater degree than most just how deadly firearms can be in the hands of the wrong people.  Most NRA members, I suspect, realize that assault rifles are designed to kill people, and nothing else.  I had someone once tell me that using an assault rifle to hunt deer would be like shooting squirrels with an .44 magnum.  Simply put there is no reason to own certain kinds of firearms.

So what should be done about all of this?  Well if our "culture of guns" is a part of our "culture of violence", then it seems to me that there are a few reasonable steps that can be taken that will, over the long term, have a positive impact on everyone's safety.  These include:

  • Banning the sale and ownership of assault rifles OR any kind of weapon that can be turned into basically a machine gun.  
  • Banning the sale of large capacity ammunition magazines.
  • Banning the sale of guns over the Internet.
  • Banning the sale of guns at gun shows where there is no ability to conduct background checks.
  • Banning the ownership of guns by people who meet certain mental health criteria.
  • Banning the sale of guns at department stores.  Nothing is more discouraging than seeing the gun racks at WallyWorld being 30 feet from the toy section.

Now contrary to what some of my more Progressive friends may think, I do not believe that this is the only solution to our culture of violence problem in the United States, but it is a common sense area where a small but meaningful impact can be made.  There are other things we can do, and while there are no easy, no simple, no "quick-fix" solutions to our violence problem, some other things I'd like to see change include:

  • Conflict Resolution Skills:  Teach conflict resolution skills in every school, in every grade.  It should be like Reading or English class.
  • Mental Health:  Devote greater resources to mental health screenings and treatment.  Make mental health as great a topic of national discussion as we do physical health. 
  • Violent Content:  Put graphic violence on par with graphic sexuality in terms of access and disclosure. Part of our culture is that a movie showing people making love gets an "R" rating, but a "shoot'em up" movie gets a PG-13.  It simply makes no sense, unless you run it though our culture of violence filter that exists in the United States.

I know there is more than can be noted and done, but it's a start.  In the end, the first step towards changing culture is a simple desire to WANT to change culture.  Maybe, hopefully, that's where we find ourselves now.

(*) I cringe when business leaders talk about changing "organizational culture", like it was swapping Coke for Pepsi in the vending machines.  Many leaders confuse "culture" with "climate", where "climate" is how you feel as a part of an organization.  Climate can often times be changed quickly (get rid of a bad leader and climate improves immediately).  Culture can not be changed quickly, ever.

(**) I am not implying that all NRA members are antisemetic, but rather that ZOG is an example of the kind of conspiracy theory thought that I believe does exist at the core of the most ardent NRA members. They really do believe that they need their guns in order to form militias.

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