Gun Violence in America: A Small Town Lawyer’s Thoughts
A GREAT CHALLENGE FOR AMERICA: VIOLENCE
- Where do we start? With our animal nature? Our tribal past? Our “Colt and Winchester” frontier myths? Our warlike natures? Our vicious propensity for war? Our distrust of anyone who is different? Our belief in myths as fact? The exploding “Age of Information”? Racial and gender-based hatred?
- I will assume “all of the above” and proceed accordingly.
- I think having a historical and anthropological perspective is essential to thinking of this challenge clearly. It can dispel the belief that we are somehow special, touched by God, with a pre-determined future. Realizing that we are “simply” an advanced ape-mammal is essential. If we insist we are different, special, created by God in his form, we keep looking for a supernatural “savior” when there is none. The only “salvation” is within us, what we are, and what we may become.
- I also think that a view toward the future, a grounding in science and technology, and an appreciation of the remarkable explosion of progress we’ve had (starting with seeds before the Age of Enlightenment), and an appreciation of “accelerating change”, are essential.
- We know that people have been fantasizing and dreaming for over 30,000 years as evidenced by the French cave paintings and the pregnant fertility doll from Germany. What a coincidence that those are the things that interest me. One of our best dreams can be a safe America, with the lowest gun violence in the world.
- I have a “liberal education”, a good science and math foundation from high school, a misapplication of my energy in college but still lots of reading, three years of learning the structure and philosophy of the law, and 46 years of representing individuals in all manner of conflict. I have supplemented my adult personal and professional experiences with reading that tends to be heavy on “information”, including science for the educated lay reader.
- I grew up next to a farm, worked there for six summers, had a bolt action .22 rifle, five years of military prep school, and “marksmanship” training, and four years as a USAF JAG. I am not against private gun ownership. I am a lifetime Republican who is done with the Republican Party. I am a generalist!
- But, think of the specialists, the people who understand the inner workings of the atom, the scientists who have cracked the secret of the genome, the brilliant economists and “big data” psychologists who are analyzing the behavior of millions of people and billions of transactions, and the mathematicians and physicists who understand “relativity”, black holes, the expanding universe, deep matter, deep energy, and “The Big Bang”.
- I am glad to know that such puzzles exist but am not bright or specialized enough to figure it all out.
- There are a tiny few “polymaths” who somehow seem to have synthesized a great deal of it. I guess I might aspire to be a “mini-poly”, just smart enough to get a glimpse into the infinite and to articulate some practical suggestions. As meager as my accomplishment are, I am sad that a large portion of our citizens are swimming and breathing in waters they do not even know exist. They won’t read this or agree if they do.
- I strongly encourage anyone who aspires to an understanding of our most puzzling country to read “Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: a 500 Year History” by Kurt Andersen. https://tinyurl.com/y98wtddf It gave me insights that reading a dozen books on related topics the last few years has not.
- The short summary is that this country of immigrants has its own peculiar ability to have dreams, goals, and myths that are not grounded in fact. We “baby boomers” include a disturbing percentage of members who somehow have grown into adulthood believing we can stay “young at heart”, or childlike, our whole lives. Many of us dress like kids and gorge on porn, video games, and fantasy (e.g. sports leagues) and “holy roller” churches
- A startling number of people, devout and not devout, believe in a God that interacts and monitors people, punishes them, rewards them, and acts out in petulance. And there are thousands, no millions, who pander to these beliefs and profit from them. These beliefs are false and destructive to our adaptation to the modern world.
I have written my first page without addressing the question, “How do we reduce gun violence in America?” It is a subject akin to arguing about religion. The more we argue, it seems the more entrenched we become. But here, as Fareed Zakaria says, “Is my take”.
The Nature of Gun Violence
- Gun violence is a symptom like fever, pain, or that itching rash. We of course want to alleviate symptoms, but that will not cure the underlying disease. We must address the disease and the side effects of any treatment. While treating to control the sneeze and wheeze, we still want to solve the riddle of cancer and heart disease. Violence, oppression, greed, and hatred are the diseases. Bump stocks and semi-automatic rifles are also symptoms.
- If you want a peek at the foundation upon which these comments stand, here are a few ideas, articles I have written, on related subjects and suggested sources:
Why Gun Violence is the Symptom?
- Mass killings seem to feed off “The Information Age”. They follow a pattern as if the perpetrators have read the same “How To” manual. In a way they have. Each tragedy plays out the same on the news. What happened? How many dead? Who were the heroes? Who was the perpetrator? Why did no one stop him? Were there warning signs? Who were the victims? What were their stories? Who are the scapegoats? Who can we blame it on? How quickly can one side of the gun violence issue accuse the other one of politicizing it?
- I can hear regret in the reporters’ voices as they inevitably help to make the shooter famous. And, somewhere, another warped and broken person is thinking, “Wow, look at how important that shooter is. I can do that.”
- So, gun violence is a symptom of our troubled age and our difficulties in adjusting to accelerating change. 150 years ago, a death was tragic, but everyone in America did not get to share it in real time.
And, vicious ideas could and did spread, but at the speed or a horse or boat or train. Now it is the speed of light.
- In the Wikipedia Age, the experts are hard to spot. Twenty years ago, we could trust The Encyclopedia Britannica to find to best scholars in their field and put one curated version on the page. Libraries were organized by The Dewey Decimal System.
- Now, people compete to fit the truth into Wikipedia. Much seems to be accurate, but it is a different world. As divorce rates skyrocket, marriage rates drop, parents lose the ability to be gatekeepers of their children’s information, and the problems grow. So, a key to my proposed solutions is a “Manhattan Project” or “Man on the Moon” effort to teach our people, adults and children, how to curate and evaluate the flood of “The Information Age”. If we fail, America, even if it survives, is facing chaos.
What Kinds of Law?
- We’ve heard it all. “It’s not the gun; it’s the person holding the gun.” “It’s a mental health issue.” “The only way to deal with a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” “They want to take our guns”. “Secure the schools.” “Harden the targets.” The problem is the men; get rid of men.” Really?
- From the NRA is mostly silence. They don’t even make the argument that I would make for them. They have abandoned their original purpose, to support the sportsman, the hunters and hobbyists, to promote gun safety, and to train gun users in the safe and responsible use of these inherently dangerous tools, tools designed expressly to kill and maim.
- Gun manufacturers and The NRA are willing to say or do anything to keep gun sales going. Their reason to exist is selling guns.
- Do we restrict gun sales? Register every gun? Limit magazine sizes? Restrict military style semi-automatic weapons? The type of ammunition? Require mental health screening? Limit “conceal and carry”? Place age limits on the purchase of firearms? Some of these subjects are toxic, but I say, “Let’s consider everything and attack from many sides.” This giant problem needs a multifaceted solution, not piecemeal band-aids.
Here are some ideas I posted this morning, Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018.
1. Personally, i think NPR is nuts to be interviewing someone about repealing the 2nd amendment. Perhaps the idea is to scare people into voting for regulations. My long article is almost done, but it is clear to me that we need to train those who wish to own a gun with the kinds of precision and ethical framework, be it hunting, self-protection, or sports, that reflects the dangerousness of the instrumentality. I’d say at least twice what driving a car requires. Compare The Skip Barber Racing School to your high school driving instructor.
2. I would have limits by age. I would have strict rules, age and qualifications, surrounding concealed and open carry. I would consider what to do about volunteer security personnel in schools but require at least the training in shooting that a state trooper gets.
3. Yes to universal background checks. All weapons, even my Grandpa’s 100 plus year old single shot .22. Should be registered. No special privileges for gun shows. Big penalties for illegal weapon sales. Liability to gun manufacturers for people illegally killed with their inherently dangerous product. Once registered, I would have a computer chip in every gun. I would track every transfer. Punishment would not be big for people with clean records; say relinquishment of the gun, a fine or short jail sentence, or community service. Prison reform. Revision of our drug laws. Complete review of our mental and cognitive illness medical system.
4. Outlaw gerrymandering and pass comprehensive campaign reform? Outlaw military style weapons unless a person meets very strict criteria.
5. Bump stocks? Of course; even the president likes that one. That would be a start.
How Does This Relate to Accelerating Change?
By now you should have seen it. The line graph, low on the left, rising to the right, and zooming nearly vertical on the right side. This line chart mimics “accelerating change” towards what one authority calls “The Singularity”. “The Singularity is Near: When Humans Transend Biology”, Ray Kurzweil, 2006.
America the Fantasyland
I am 60% through a book called “Fantasyland – How America Went Haywire: A 500 Year History”. I am going to try to finish it before posting this. I commend it to everyone. It reminds us that we once used words like “hokum”, “malarkey”, “con man”, “scam,” “balderdash,” “hogwash”, “confidence game”, “poppycock”, and “Buncombe”, words used to reject a flamboyant but bygone era and welcome the modern world to America. The evidence is that we are falling back into a new “dark age”. I hope I am wrong. The evidence says that the purveyors of myth, fantasy, and falsehood have a powerful new weapon that we have not learned to deal with. It began with t.v. but morphed and metastasized with the Internet.
Fantasyland also began because America went through at least a couple hundred years of idiocy, dreams of streets paved in gold, “end of the world”, magic elixirs, medicine shows, carnivals, Mesmerism, Phrenology, homeopathic medicine, Mormonism, Scientology, conspiracy theories, and so much more. It is a multilayered book, but it reminds us that since the ‘60’s, in America, people can pretty much believe anything they want, that the earth formed 4000 years ago, that people can rise from the dead, that flying saucers exist, that Princess Diana both planned her own death and died of a murder conspiracy, or that Elvis was just seen, alive and well, or a man can live in the belly of a whale for two days.
Donald Trump is the epitome of the “huckster”, the “Carney”, the “over-promiser”, the liar, or as Fareed Zakaria properly quoted of him, “The Bullshit Artist”.
But, how does an angry, maladjusted, mentally ill, evil, or “misled” individual come to believe that killing a bunch of people, mostly strangers, will solve anything? Those are complex questions. But, first I think we must focus on how to stop them.
- I delete 50 extraneous e-mails each morning. I ignore the clamor of half a dozen news feeds. I decline a dozen books a day but still order three times what I can read. While I drive, I listen to audiobooks, podcasts, and Sirius XM. I still take a few magazines, Wired, Archeology Today, Road and Track, Car and Driver, and professional magazines.
- I send the e-mail I find useful to Evernote and the task list Wunderlist for future review and read the ones I “can’t help” finding interesting. I scan paper documents, tag or archive, and hope I can find them when I need them. I try more than most, but information overload is real.
Loss of Ethical and Moral Compass.
- When our top political and religious leaders have learned that lying is better than telling the truth, to accomplish their venal goals, America is in trouble. Rush Limbaugh got it started Congress repealed “the fairness doctrine” and “opinion news” entertainment was permitted. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/tavissmiley/uncategorized/are-we-better-off-without-the-fairness-doctrine/
- When our U.S. President is the best liar in the country, willing to say simply anything, and to contradict himself constantly, and we can’t find a proper balance or bar to that, we are in trouble.
The Problem of Religion.
- I was raised to believe that the truth is important and that lying, and liars, are bad. Now lying is not such a big deal.
- Americans, perhaps 25% of us, have reverted to a perverse, medieval, form of religion. The more fundamental for these groups the better.
- Each must have a supernatural leader, God, Savior, Prophet, Dictator, or Supreme Leader. Each totem performed supernatural miracles.
- Each claims a divine source for his teachings.
- The war of knowledge was fought, and science and rationality won, we thought? But new evangelical and Pentecostal views and “new age relativity” and their teachers have returned to feed into the myth of the American Frontier, our rural heritage, our Southern supremacy, and our freedom to believe anything regardless of its factual basis.
- It is a backlash to progress, but it is real. Sorry, no room to explain this, but part of it grew out of the mythical “lost cause” of the post-Civil War South.
- Yesterday the pastor who led the prayer at the NASCAR race spoke to “The Lord” as if he were a favorite uncle asking him to return America to be “a Christian Nation” with every single citizen saved, and presumably, reborn in “the blood of Jesus Christ”.
- Yuck. Before 1960, hardly anyone was “reborn”. That’s pretty much the end of me and NASCAR. Maybe I’m just hearing “same’ol” for the first time, but it made me mildly ill. It is a sports event, NOT church!
The Problem of Science.
- Science is a system for seeking objective truth. It requires experimentation, control of variables, patience, and a rigorous refusal to follow “wishful thinking”. It is rational and empirical. It is technically amoral, but to me must be just as rigorously ethical.
- But, Nazi’s and even people in America came up with theories of dealing with racial minorities, inferiors, and defectives. Detractors of science decry objectivity, empirical thinking, and the rejection of intuition. They insist that if they FEEL strongly enough about something, we should concede its validity.
- People who believe in “Natural Law” reasonably ask, “Where is the concept of right and wrong in science.” I struggle with that question, and I have accepted what former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. called “can’t helps”.
- These are core values of empathy, honesty, non-violence, compassion, equity, and fairness that my upbringing tells me are good for most people, in the sense that they can flourish and survive better if these values become the norm. I may be wrong but “can’t help” feeling I am on to something.
- The history of crime and punishment in England holds many lessons. Credit Dickens with casting light on the plight of the poorest classes, a failed criminal system, and the “bleakness” of pollution filled cities.
- More recently, wholesale incarceration escalated in America during the Clinton era. It was well-intentioned, designed to deal the drug crisis. But, with the highest percentage of incarcerations in the world, and 25 times (2500% of) the gun violence per capita in America than in other developed country, we have created a crime manufacturing industry.
- In theory, we control these prisoners. In practice, we do not.
- Do we make sure they read Aristotle, Spinoza, Edward O Wilson, Einstein, Darwin, Shakespeare, Martin Luther King, or Gandhi? Do we make sure they learn to read, write effectively, to calculate, to think critically, and to have a moral compass, to care for others? We do not!
- We allow them to collect into racial groups and cliques, to operate as gangs behind the bars, use television as a drug, and allow them to organize for future criminal activity. Any dramatic decrease in gun violence will require a massive effort to reform our prisons.
Our society teaches we must have more, we must have fun, we must be stimulated, we must be entertained, we must feel happy, and we must CONSUME. We are, after all, FANTASYLAND, where all views have equal weight, where criticism of anyone’s faith is “fightin’ words”, and where getting high is no longer wrong.
Our medical treatment system is broken. The power of drug companies, insurance companies, the corruption of our political system conspire so that it costs too much and does too little. Add to that a food industry that puts processed foods into our children, at school and at home, and the fact our diseases, to a large extent, are self-inflicted. That may not obviously connect to gun violence but obesity, lack of universal health care, and exorbitant costs constitute a huge challenge to America’s social and medical health.
Healing Racial Divisions
“Fantasyland” helped me to understand the phenomena of police violence, racial conflict, the burning resentment of white working-class America, and the “southern mentality” Confederate Flags and the myth of the noble south.
Our Problems with Sex and Gender
The success of birth control, break-down of morals, the progress the gay and transgender community have made, gay marriage, and the rest, have caused America to bonkers over sex. That leads to anger and conflict and creates one more impediment towards solving our problems, including gun violence
God Gave Us A Tool We Cannot Handle or Even Fathom
The power of instant communication and computers in our hand beyond anything we imagined even twenty years ago have created a problem we are only now beginning to appreciate. It will take some of our best thinking to figure out who we can turn that tool away from porn and games and gambling to something positive.
Training Our Youth
We are not training our youth with the tools of our time. Smart devices, computers, and everything related to that is powerful. No one should be handling them without training, especially with the ethical foundation that makes their use positive and acceptable. We don’t let :12 year olds” drive, and we don’t let “15 year olds” drive without an adult, and “16 years olds” without a license.
The Role of Regulation in America
- The evil nature of government regulations and rules is a myth. An orderly society must protect the young, the weak, the vulnerable, the poor, and promote an upward path for those who can achieve it while not letting wealth and power accumulate into the hands of a tiny view.
- Our government must be powerful enough to control organized crime, terrorists, and the politically corrupt.
- A young person should be learning core values and ethics from the playpen on. If parents aren’t doing it, we must train the parents and the children.
- Cars aren’t designed to kill, but they can kill, and we regulate them. We regulate roads. We regulate industries, chemicals, zoning, sewage removal, water systems, housing, and drug production and sales. Look what happens when the regulation fails. You get the opioid and heroin crises!
- The 2nd Amendment was an afterthought, part of the bill of rights, something that almost didn’t make it into the US. Constitution. It is ambiguous, and it implies the right to bear arms is so we can form militias if we are threatened from the outside.
- I concede that hunting, properly regulated, needs to remain in America. For sport? Food? Competition? Recreation? It is legal. And our society is not ready to say goodbye to it. Killing for trophies? Disgusting. Diminishing species to extinction? A profound crime.
- There are two devastating developments in medical treatment in my lifetime. The Opioid crisis, of course, was created by the push of the drugs industry to be unfettered in its prescription of addictive, powerful, pain medications FOR PROFIT. The other was the closing of our mental hospitals and the belief that the severely mentally ill could simply be turned lose and maintained by outpatient treatment.
- I recently learned that “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, directed by Milos’ Foreman, written by Ken Kesey, and starring Jack Nicholson, was part of a major campaign to reject the concept of mental illness and promote the idea that any belief, strongly held, had some validity. The result of that revolution, during the Kennedy years, was the an avalanche of homeless people and lost humanity.
- If a doctor notices his patient is no longer capable of driving safely, it his his/her obligation to notify the Dept of Motor Vehicles. If a psychiatrist or psychologist notices his patient lacks stability to operate a firearm safely, he should take similar action. How do they do that and maintain proper rapport and respect confidentiality with their patient? I am not sure, but some people, who are mentally ill, are dangerous, to themselves and sometimes to others.
- America believe everyone is entitled to believe whatever they want. Bullshit! That’s a shame. If you believe that Jesus could fly without an airplane or Mohamed talked to God, or bushes burned without being consumed, you should be declared crazy and locked up. It is crazy. It is nuts. It is not true.
- If you think that Buddha got in right in how to meditate, sacrifice and show empathy for the poor, great. If you think Jesus’ teachings of poverty, charity, non-violence, compassion, tolerance, and the rest, are superior, fine. If you think black people and white people shoudn’t hang out together, that’s your view, but we probably should keep working on core ideas, honesty, compassion, sharing, cleanliness, conservation, responsibility to other life forms, preservation of our environment, tolerance and respect for others, WITHOUT claiming it comes from a supernatural honcho that only you and your little group are tuned into.
- I believe we can require extensive training to operate such dangerous tools. I think fitness matters, sight matters, training matters, a stable mentality matters. Yes, I think each person should pass a mental and physical examination before getting a license.
- I think we should monitor the Internet and use big data of spot the whackos.
- I think we should train everyone in Internet ethics and etiquette.
- I don’t think young males should spend endless hours on games and porn; how to deal with that. I don’t know. But they are subject to adult discipline and rules. Somehow, there need to be “rewards” for pursuing a positive and constructive course on the Internet. And, heaven forbid, forms of censorship, child porn, porn, age appropriate, violence, racism, and hate speech, may not be the worst thing.
- I think every parent should be certified in Internet safety and trained in how to protect their children. No certificate of completion, and our kids can’t have a cell phone at school.
- I think it is time for a strong “surge” into the future, with less myth, superstition, hatred, and tribalism.
This post was written by Burton Hunter