People have all kinds of ideologies and reasons for opposing or supporting gun control. There are dozens of stock reasons and most of them are easily pigeon-holed into labels like liberal, conservative or libertarian. Our discussions or arguments or whatever—we rarely actually talk TO each other—are generally menu items that were introduced to us by like-minded individuals.
We are not stupid or lazy in doing this. We are merely human. As humans, we spend much of our lives living by routine. Our days have routines from the moment we awaken. The hard part of each day is the part that we requires us to go beyond our routines. Thinking and planning and improvising and creating is wonderful but hard. We can’t and won’t do too much of it. It’s exhausting.
We aren’t built for it.
So, we take shortcuts. We latch onto a reasonable sounding idea. We may think hard about it—once—and thereafter draw upon our shortcut rationalizations which we’ve decided on earlier.
None of this is stupid, lazy or evil. Nor does is necessarily make us wrong. But it does make us error-prone and stubborn. This is where we are in our attitudes towards guns and gun control. This is where we are on almost every issue we face.
Here I am going to share my thinking on gun control. I won’t review the laundry list of arguments on both sides, Nor will I try to persuade.
[People] are capable of horrible and wonderful things—all within the same person. Look at Werner von Braun. Look at Oppenheimer. On a smaller stage, look at yourself.
I hope you will come away not with a new opinion about gun control, but with a different and more compassionate view of other human beings. Gun control—done properly—can, I believe, save many lives. It’s important to me. But my purpose here goes beyond that.
People are people. Everyone does both harmful and helpful things. We have a wide variety of possible behaviors, each of us. The harmful things we do rarely includes killing. It’s hard to know exactly why, but I’m grateful for that.
Still, all of us get angry—really angry—at least once in our lives and this happens to most of us multiple times. Millions of us get drunk and do stupid things. At some stage of life, nearly all of us get very, very sad. We experience moments of hopelessness and despair.
Throughout our lifetimes, even with all these emotional strains, most of us never kill. It’s true that people do too much killing, but most negative emotions we experience never result in violence, much less killing. We talk about how we have a culture of violence, and perhaps we do. But if we always acted on our emotions, half of all adolescents, in a dark moment, would probably kill themselves. Growing up is hard. We know this.
Most of us get through those moments of despair, physically unscathed.
This view of human nature is, I think, different from most stock ideological positions. I don’t see people as either good or evil. In my view, they—we—are variable and complex. We are capable of horrible and wonderful things—all within the same person. Look at Werner von Braun. Look at Oppenheimer. On a smaller stage, look at yourself.
Where does this leave us on guns?
Well, for a start, we need to dispense with the notion of good people with guns versus bad people with guns. They are just people with guns. It’s the emotional state of the person that influences behavior.
And the person who is sad, angry, depressed, drunk, high or hopped up on ideology is the one who is most likely to fire the gun in his possession. He is most likely to shoot himself because depression and despair are the most common powerful negative emotions. That’s why most gun deaths are suicide.
Events like rejections or job loss—common events—can trigger violence. So can ideas in our heads—ideologies that justify or even promote violence. This is not the place to get on a high horse about the evils of the left or the right—there are extremes on every side that cna be used to justify violence.
So we all have—at some time in our lives, and usually multiple times—a motivation to kill. But, without a gun, killing is hard. We can do it with a car or a knife, but these methods are relatively hard, and in most cases much harder than using a gun.
Guns are very, very easy tools for suicide or murder. Semi-automatic weapons make it simple for even an unskilled person to kill many people. And too many people do exactly that. Again and again. Predictably. This is one area where both sides on gun control agree: mass murder is unsurprising. Expected.
We tend to label people with opposing views as stupid or evil.
We, of course, vilify the killer. I, too, get angry at the killer. And the killer has done a terrible thing. But we don’t really know about him. We retroactively explain him from his evil act. We firmly believe he is different from us.
But sometimes, maybe most times, we are wrong. What I believe makes him different from us is that he acted on his anger, an anger we all feel sooner or later. Only this person acted on it when he had a gun, or he got a gun (easily) when he felt the anger and then acted on it. Without the gun, for this person—and for most of us—this would pass as just another bad moment in life, a life filled with all kinds of moments. Murder with a gun isn’t an act committed by a distinctive group of evil or crazy people. Opportunity plays an essential role, in fact, THE essential role.
Yes, some people are clearly insane or prone to violence. But many are simply going through a bad time, a time that without a gun would pass and be forgotten. That’s what happens in countries with strict gun control. Angry and sad and drunk and high moments pass without any permanent injury or death. Americans are just like other people; everywhere, people are the same. When you add guns, you add lots of death.
This brings me to a bigger point. What about our attitudes towards each other? Towards our ideological opponents? What’s going on inside of us? And them?
We tend to label people with opposing views as stupid or evil. We get angry and frustrated with them. We try like hell to persuade them, and then give up in disgust. We get angry at those who make excuses for murder or we get angry at gun grabbers who threaten our rights. If we get really, really angry and have a gun, sometimes we do something deadly.
Feel free to disagree with me. I may be wrong. I certainly sometimes say things that I regret. I believe that both my allies and opponents, on this and every issue, are just people with potentially the same variety of emotions, tendencies and behaviors as myself. I assume that they are just as rational and irrational as I am. I may disagree with their views and perhaps even work to change policies or attitudes that I see as destructive. I would expect the same from others.
I very much want a society where we can disagree and oppose each others’ views and act (nonviolently) on that opposition but still recognize and respect the humanity of each other. And—I fervently hope—not shoot.