Is Gun Control a Hopeless Case?

26 Jul

I thought about not posting today. Not just not writing. No guest post; no re-blog. No “I’m taking a vacation, see you next week.” Nothing. See, I spent the week wondering what I would write about the Aurora shooting. It seemed I really should write something about the Aurora shooting. It’s a tragedy and not recognizing it feels callous. Writing about funny things my kids say, weird places my dad thinks he’s been and other trivialities seemed disrespectful.

I don’t believe I’m a callous person nor disrespectful, so then why have a struggled so much to find something coherent to say about what happened on July 20?

Because I’m not surprised it happened. And I’m not surprised at the aftermath. Columbine. Virginia Tech. Northern Illinois. Strip malls. Fast food places. Someone goes crazy with guns. The media goes crazy reporting on it. Some people say we need gun control. Some other people say guns don’t kill people. It goes around and around and nothing changes except the people who die.

I tried to find a place of righteous anger. Nothing relieves a sense of helplessness better than a good head of steam. I couldn’t find a thimble full of steam, let alone a head.

I’ve been a gun-control advocate for a long, long time. When I read the Bill of Rights, I agree with the dissenters in Columbia v. Heller and don’t leave the “well-regulated militia” part out of the Second Amendment. I have no problem requiring guns to be registered. I register my kids for school every year, filling out the same stupid information on the same freaking forms even though none of it has changed from the year prior. Though I firmly believe my children are shortening my life, kids aren’t generally considered lethal weapons. Surely someone wishing to own a gun can endure the inconvenience of registering it.

I have supported handgun bans, too, and certainly got in line to ban assault weapons. Someone wants to rape me or take my purse, they don’t need to shove a machine gun at me or hold a pistol to my head. They’d convince me with a knife. Hell, I’m so small, I could easily be overpowered by just about any determined criminal.

As with all issues that interest me, I researched gun control before forming my opinions. So, when the same old “no guns, yes guns” points and counterpoints got trotted out over the bodies of the Aurora shooting victims, I revisited gun control issues.

And now I feel helpless. We can ban gun sales. We can stop manufacturing guns. We can make it illegal to own guns. (Oh, shut up! Yes, you can keep your rifle for hunting and shooting the heads off home intruders. Tuck it under your bed with your slippers.) We can do all of these things and we will still have too many guns.

We like to say things that will always be with us are like cockroaches. But cockroaches are biodegradable. Guns aren’t. Guns are like pennies. There are billions of pennies floating around the world and unless someone gathers them all up and melts them down, they will continue to float around. Same with guns.

I’ve heard a joke about lawyers that goes something like this: if you took all the lawyers in the world and put them at the bottom of the ocean, what would you have? A good start. If we took all of the guns in America and put them at the bottom of the ocean, I think we’d have a good start, especially if we start with the assault weapons.

But we will never get all of the guns to the bottom of the ocean. We will never even agree that a good number of guns should be at the bottom of the ocean. Until we have the economic, political and civic will to understand that guns and their proliferation are a problem for those who want to own them and those who don’t want anyone to own them, we will be awash in guns and the concomitant violence.

What makes me feel even more hopeless in considering the Aurora shootings is that we need terrible tragedies to force us to consider the consequences of being the most heavily armed society in the world. And such tragedies have little to do with the true costs of having so many weapons so readily available. Someone as clearly unstable as James Holmes would definitely have found a way to make a murderous spectacle of himself whether he did it with guns or machetes.

The highest cost to us of gun violence takes place all day, every day. Caring for a single gun shot survivor—from the time he hits the ER to the day he dies—can cost more than $600,000, not including lost wages and other indirect costs. Gun violence doesn’t just cost us in health care, but in costs for increased security, such as metal detectors; costs to prosecute, defend and incarcerate offenders; and in the emotional and psychic costs of raising children in a violent, unpredictable world.

There is no way to make sense of a heavily armed man walking into a movie theater and shooting as many people as he can. We can spew our entrenched beliefs about guns and gun violence at each other all day, every day and it won’t begin to prevent another James Holmes. In fact, choosing to discuss gun violence only when it is demonstrated in its most spectacular form disrespects all victims, whether they were shot in a movie theater or an alley.

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21 Responses to “Is Gun Control a Hopeless Case?”

  1. Karin Evans July 26, 2012 at 1:44 pm #

    I appreciate the folks who are trying to steer us towards addressing this problem from a public health perspective. Kristof (NYT) has a good piece on this today. I also saw a good piece that drew attention to all the co-factors associated with the rage and violence of gun crimes – poverty, unemployment, lack of access to mental health services, etc. – this also points to a “public health” mindset in a larger way.

  2. Jim Parks July 26, 2012 at 2:39 pm #

    Good column, Janice. I feel hopeless, too, because 1) weapons are so entrenched in our culture, 2) so many seem so unwilling to see the real costs that you point out and 3) those folks have such a powerful lobby that prevents any progress. Thanks.

    • jmlindy422 July 26, 2012 at 4:13 pm #

      Well, thank you both for reading. Yup, it’s a fairly depressing time.

  3. nevercontrary July 26, 2012 at 7:47 pm #

    I like to think of it as simply something that the country is not ready to face today. But tomorrow is a whole new day and I have not lost hope. If my morman in laws can go from wanting to kill gays to thinking that I am the better of their daughter in laws and not eating chick- fil- a, then there is hope for everything to change.
    I know that sounds silly, but so much has changed for the better throughout history. Lots for the worse too, but I chose to focus on the changes that everyone said would never happen and did. And I know deep down, that one day we will as a country become less violent, and less gun dependent. Even if it has to be one person at a time.

    • jmlindy422 July 26, 2012 at 8:26 pm #

      I may feel less discouraged another day, but right now, I’ll let you carry the optimism for me. Thanks for checking in.

      • nevercontrary July 29, 2012 at 7:22 pm #

        Ok if you promise to carry the optimism on a day when I cannot.

      • jmlindy422 July 30, 2012 at 8:14 am #

        Deal

  4. philosophermouseofthehedge July 26, 2012 at 8:37 pm #

    Thanks for the thoughtful and respectful post. I’ve pondered on the write or not write also. Basically just avoided the topic all together for several reasons – and decided this joker doesn’t deserve any more attention.

    • jmlindy422 July 26, 2012 at 10:14 pm #

      Thanks. I considered writing something about responses to my now-defunct newspaper column, but it didn’t feel like it was time to be funny. And I didn’t like the idea of not writing anything especially since I had a guest blog last week.

    • Mary Rayis July 27, 2012 at 10:19 am #

      I think characterizing James Holmes as a joker (notwithstanding his choice of costume) is minimizing the fact that a heretofore unremarkable, nonviolent young man suddenly lost it and shot up a movie theater full of people. Young adulthood is a common time for people to have a psychotic break, and it is a tragedy, not just for the victims, but for the family of James Holmes and indeed the perpetrator himself. In 2012, we still don’t understand mental illness well enough. Until we do, we will continue to experience incidents such as this and the Virginia Tech shootings.

      • jmlindy422 July 27, 2012 at 11:27 am #

        I’m not sure a better understanding of mental illness would explain James Holmes’ actions. So much mental illness is the mundane variety–such as my own–that is far more harmful to those who have it than those we live with, including the larger society. If people would understand that Holmes’ behavior is so far out of the norm of what it typical of those with mental illness, then I’d be more comfortable, but my experience is that people think anyone who is “crazy” is ultimately capable of shooting up an entire theater of people.

        An aside…my son’s school had a scare of the Columbine variety. A young man my son knows texted a few people at the school that he was going to shoot the place up. Because of Columbine, we are taking these things seriously, including the kids. They reported the texts. The school was locked down and the young man taken into custody. So, I think the best we can hope for is for people to pay attention to warning signs and take them seriously.

      • philosophermouseofthehedge July 27, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

        Very true. Experience with late on-set schizophrenia with a family member. Familiar with the difficulties and tragedy for person, family and anyone close.
        That’s why maybe it’s better to limit media exposure – out of respect.
        Does anyone really need to know “all the latest news” about the individual, the family, or the victims?
        He characterizes himself as the “joker” – who knows why.
        Facts will come out eventually – whether he is a sociopath or has a mental issue (they are not the same).
        Meanwhile perhaps best deny him the “reward” of attention?
        Hopefully someday we will understand how the brain/mind works – and mental illness will be better treated.

      • Mary Rayis July 27, 2012 at 12:08 pm #

        I agree that giving too much publicity to killers is not a good thing. Families of the victims have asked that the media focus on them and not the killer. I’m also not sure how I feel about cameras in the courtroom. It feeds into our voyeuristic society.

      • philosophermouseofthehedge July 27, 2012 at 1:18 pm #

        You are so right.
        Shortly after the event, one family asked everyone not to say/use the man’s name.
        It’s hard to stay quiet – with all the horror, but I think they are right.

      • twistingthreads July 28, 2012 at 4:15 am #

        Most of the mentally ill population would never commit such an act. They suffer internally, and their distress can impact their loved ones considerably, but most are not violent and dangerous, and generally when they are, they are dangerous to themselves.

        Schizophrenics get a terrible rap, but most of them are harmless, loving people would never (knowingly) harm another, and few ever do. I’ve known a few, and while they are certainly interesting, they’ve all been nice people. They’d be more likely to report a would-be shooter than to be the shooter themselves. Of those on powerful neuroleptics with rampant side-effects, I’d be surprised if most of them could summon the energy and cognition to go on a mass shooting spree.

        However, about six/seven years ago, another school shooting occurred. I got the spontaneous urge to write a novel (which I discarded in distaste for the subject matter and other potential issues), started doing research, and found that the vast majority of school shooters actually HAD some sort of mental health intervention before the event. They were on medication, generally SSRI’s, which as you may know carry black-box warnings now, listing a potentially heightened risk of suicidal ideation (and attempts), as well as anger, aggression, and violent tendencies in some individuals. Most people on these medications wouldn’t react that way, but a select few just might pass over the edge, and maybe they weren’t being properly monitored. Doctors hand prescriptions for this stuff out like candy everyday, often without any extensive knowledge of psychiatric issues or the monitoring that should be required. It’s a small percentage of the population that reacts that badly, but there are a lot of prescriptions running around. I took those medications as a teenager, and I’ll spare you the truly hideous details, but all consuming (and insane) rage with creepy violent fantasies can definitely be considered a side effect. Luckily, I KNEW that wasn’t okay, and I never acted on it, but it took everything I had to tamp those urges down. I even told my psychiatrist (guess who looked the other way and told me that “it’s a sign you’re getting better?). I was depressed before the meds, but I never felt anything that extreme until shortly after taking the meds. I’m not saying the medications are to blame, but honestly, if a society is going to pass out chemicals that mess with brain chemistry, they better be paying attention to the patients they give them to. Growths, brain damage, and chemical changes have all been linked to sudden behavioral and personality changes, and we don’t know enough about what we’re giving people to be assured of every individual’s reaction.

      • Mary Rayis July 28, 2012 at 7:23 am #

        You make some excellent points. Thanks for the information on the side effects of these medications. It underscores my belief that we still don’t know enough about mental illness.

  5. Brother Jon July 26, 2012 at 10:37 pm #

    Wow, I wish I would have read this before I put up my post. Very good.

    • jmlindy422 July 26, 2012 at 11:36 pm #

      Thanks, Brother Jon. Yours was pretty good, too. I enjoy hearing from gun owners who aren’t raving lunatics (and gun control proponents who are willing to be reasonable). Dialogue is essential, I think, and all too rare.

  6. The Waiting July 27, 2012 at 9:00 pm #

    I know how you feel. Between the shootings, all this chick-fil-a garbage, and people hating on Sally Ride for coming out in her obit, I’m more than a little disenchanted with America right now.

    • jmlindy422 July 27, 2012 at 10:19 pm #

      Yes, Emily, disenchanted is a good word. I’m gearing up to write Part 2 of my multi-part series on my country. Thanks for reading.

  7. djmatticus December 4, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

    From a health care perspective… What are the comparative costs for caring for smokers, for caring for the victims of alchohol, from car accidents due to negligent or assualtive driving…? I have no problem with registration. And people who abuse these privelages to the detriment of others should be punished harshly (more harsh than we currently do), but… we can’t regulate everything, we can’t protect ourselves from ourselves entirely or we will miss out on life entirely.

    I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t want to see these trajedies. And it’s a worrying trend that they seem to be occuring more frequently. At the same time, I don’t want to take away the rights and privelages of people who won’t abuse them.

    Does that make sense?

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