Serious Problem : Laughable Solutions

Another beautiful day in the United States where we wonder just what the Hell happened yesterday to cause someone to shoot a whole bunch of other people. We’ve apparently now had more mass shootings than days this year and – as usual – nothing is being done to address to problem with anything other than platitudes. The problem seems obvious: there’s been a serious upturn in mass shootings and it’s likely to get worse before it gets better. But let’s take a look at some proposed solutions:

  • The NRA staunchly defends its policy of solving gun problems with more guns.
  • Politicians vacillate between offering prayer and good thoughts and saying we need tougher gun control laws.

Guess what? None of that will do a damned thing to stem the flow of blood. The NRA’s policy of more guns – the idea that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun – is laughable. We have more guns than people in this country and so far those guns have done fuck all to stop the bad guys with guns. Tougher gun control laws won’t work either. We already have pretty tough gun control laws and they apparently aren’t doing a damned thing or are being actively ignored. You could try to go full Australia and outlaw guns but Australia and America are two very different places: they had a few million guns, we have a few hundred million guns. Our gun culture is much more entrenched than Australia’s, too.

Good thoughts and prayer? Well, that’s all fine and good. Praying for someone or sending them good thoughts is a wonderful way to make yourself feel better without any of the messiness of actually effecting any change. You don’t have to get your hands dirty to pray. All you have to do is wish for something to happen and then wait patiently for it to happen. Good thoughts are even more disingenuous. “Gosh, I hope everything works out” is not a viable solution.

So then, what’s the solution? Well, to get to that it might help if we really understood the problem. Are the guns themselves really the problem? Is the relatively easy access to firearms really the problem? I don’t think it is. There are millions of registered gun owners out there happily spending their days not shooting people. A gun is a tool; nothing more, nothing less. To find out why a tool is doing something, you really need to look to the user.

Now, the first thing to get through your head is this: the problem is not going to go away overnight.

Repeat that. The problem is not going to disappear overnight.

Keep repeating that until it sticks. As soon as you wrap your head around that idea, you can start looking for some valid solutions. The problem with mass shootings is a complicated one and it’s going to require more than happy thoughts and tough laws to take care of it. We need to start thinking outside the box on this one and it’s going to require a lot of buy-in from a lot of people, even when they really don’t want to cooperate.

The NRA needs to modify its stance. It’s no longer valid to just say “More guns more guns more guns more guns”. Like ’em or don’t, the NRA is the voice of a lot of gun owners in this country and their message isn’t helping anything. How about something more along the lines of doing what they were founded to do and teaching people about firearms, about how to handle them safely, how to keep them out of the hands of dangerous people, how to be responsible gun owners. If I were the NRA I’d be less concerned about someone’s right to carry an assault rifle in a Target than about the massive than I am about the fact that I could wind up legislated out of existence. Modulate the message: it should be less about catering to the extremists and more about a kind of moderation. The next time someone demands the ability to carry an assault rifle in store (or to a Presidential address) the NRA’s response should be “Really? That’s what you’re worried about? Why do you even need to carry your gun all the time, anyway?”

Gun owners, especially those people that think they need to carry their assault rifle while they pick out tonight’s desert need to think long and hard about the message they’re sending. I get it; you like your gun. I like guns, too. We should party. But do you really need to have it with you all the time when the chances of you and your trusty rifle saving the day are about a trillion to one? And what happens when it gets stolen because you weren’t treating that gun as a weapon that needs a little respect? Congrats, you just put another gun on the streets. I’m not averse to open carry laws, I’m not even really averse to someone carrying an assault rifle around in public, but it just seems contrary to the whole “handle guns with safety and respect” message that I was brought up with.

Forget about outlawing guns; it’s simply not going to happen. There are too many guns out there and they’re far too easy to come by for “outlaw all guns” to be anywhere near a valid solution. The simple logistics of removing 300 million guns from the hands of people who don’t want to give them up is staggering. Brush it off the table and stop using it as a crutch.

Take a good hard look at the current legislation on the books. I know politicians have knee jerk reactions to situations just like the rest of us, but adding more laws to the books – especially when no one is willing to enforce those laws – isn’t helping. As a corollary to this you have to realize that mass shooting are happening with previously legally purchased firearms. Laws will likely only impact sales of new guns and those usually aren’t the problem. It’s existing guns, things that have already been out there for a while, that are the real problem. You can ban sales of guns to everyone except former Marines who served as Embassy Guards in Tokyo and you’ll still have 300 million guns out there.

New legislation is a waste of time – it’s only marginally better than prayer and happy thoughts.

So that leaves us with what? Pretty much no solutions. The NRA needs to modulate its message and responsible gun owners need to be acting responsibly. Yay. Both of those together won’t solve the problem, but they’re a start.

What will solve the problem is this: we need to recognize that the person that pulls the trigger is the one responsible for doing the shooting. It’s not the guns, it’s not the NRA, it’s not the yahoo in Target with an AK slung over his back. It’s the lone wolf out there. The solitary person with an axe to grind. All the legislation in the world isn’t going to stop that person because they’re already armed and ready to go.

We all, as Americans, need to modulate our messages, too. We have a tendency to believe just because we think something it must be a) true and b) important. I’m sorry to say, but it’s really not true in a lot of cases or all that important. We need to do a better job with understanding that. Just because you think something doesn’t mean anyone else has to care about it. It doesn’t mean it holds any inherent value. You, just like me, are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. If someone disagrees with you about something it’s not the end of the world; it just means you disagreed. If you don’t approve of someone’s religion, get over it. If you disapprove of the way people live their lives, get over it. Move on. Bullied at school? Either learn to fight back or learn to ignore it. None of what’s happening to you right now is going to last forever. It’s like the old saying, “There will always be tough times, what makes it through are tough people.”

But if you shoot someone, no matter what they’ve done to you, that will last forever.

Look at the source of the problem – the person squeezing the trigger – and the solution becomes much more apparent. But it’s not an easy solution to implement; realizing that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few is a hard pill to swallow you’re one of the few.

And, for fuck’s sake, if you’re mowing down a Planned Parenthood because you think God wants you to, you need to realize something: if God is omnipotent and omniscient, He doesn’t need you to do His dirty work.

You want to see an end to mass shootings? It’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of effort and just enacting a bunch of new laws or praying that it all goes away won’t stop a damned thing. We, as a country, need to stop going back to the old solutions – the ones we’ve proven time and time again don’t work – and start looking for new solutions no matter how uncomfortable they make us. It’s going to require a societal shift and no amount of laws or prayer is going to cause that to happen. What will cause it to happen is realizing what we want isn’t always the best for everyone. We have to start seeing each other as fellow humans instead of competitors. We have to modulate our messages, tell the extremists to shut the hell up, put aside our differences, and see where we can go.

Here’s an interesting article that links mass shootings with a kind of mob mentality. This is the kind of cultural shift I’m referring to. At some point, someone decided it was okay to shoot up a school. Subsequent shooters can then assume it’s been done so it takes less mental effort for them to come to grips with perpetrating their own shootings.


My dad was a font of wisdom.  He had a way of casually tossing advice and snarky comments and all manner of fatherly things at the drop of a hat, usually when I least expected it.  Since my folks were divorced and I only saw him every six months of so, I think he may have thought these things up, saved them, and then had them ready when we met.  For instance:

I was visiting him in Phoenix (his home) on spring break from college (Portales, NM) and we were in a McDonald’s somewhere near ASU.  We were chatting about school and work and generally eating some of the worst burgers the world has ever tasted when a young woman walks in.  My dad, never one to turn down the chance to ogle young women, watched her walk by, turned to me and said, “You should ask her out.”

I tried to explain to him that I lived in New Mexico and she lived in Arizona and I was going back in a couple days anyway.  His response: “You’re thinking buy.  You need to think rent.”

Probably my dad's ideal woman.

Probably my dad’s ideal woman.

And so it goes and so it goes.  He also bought me my first car, a 1965 VW Beetle and warned me to not get anyone pregnant in the back seat.  The back seats in VW Beetles are about the size of a postage stamp and this one was missing most of cover and some of the padding.

I assured him I wouldn’t get anyone pregnant in the back seat.

He was a big guy who loved motorcycles, Pepsi, and guns.  He absolutely adored guns.  To the best of my knowledge he never shot anyone, never got into a gun fight, and never had to defend himself with a gun.  He had scads of them, though, from tiny .22 pistols to full-auto submachine guns, to large bore rifles and shotguns.  When he was alive and I visited him, we would go out in the desert and blow holy hell out of targets.

It was a blast.

I grew up shooting and learning about guns and generally getting exposed to them.  I’ve fired all manner of fun stuff and loved every minute of it.  Contrary to what a lot of people say, holding a gun didn’t make me feel tough or superior.  Shooting was just fun.  Now that I’m older, I have guns of my own (inherited from my dad).  The last time I shot was about a decade ago.  I really need to go again.  If you’ve never been shooting, you should try it sometime.  It really is fun.


Note: I have never been in a firefight at a Chinese tea house dedicated to bird lovers.  Also, that’s Chow Yun Fat, not me.

But, and here’s a thing, I grew up being taught to respect firearms.  My dad was of the mindset that guns had a bad reputation and needed to be kept safe and secure.  I remember one time, I was with him and his buddies eating breakfast at some place in Phoenix and one of the guys had just gotten a new gun.  He brought it into the restaurant, snuggled securely in a locked box with foam padding, to show it off.  They all huddled around it, using their bodies to keep anyone else from seeing a gun in a family joint and getting worried.  Breakfast, they reckoned, was sacred and didn’t need to be disturbed by the big guys with a gun on the table.  When they were done, the gun case was locked up and stowed on the booth seat and everyone ate pancakes.

That’s just the way it was with him.  Loved guns; didn’t feel the need to flash his piece everywhere.  He also once told me if I was going to kill someone to use a bow and arrow.  By his reckoning guns had a bad enough reputation and didn’t need any further problems.

So, there you go.  I was taught from a very young age (fired my first gun when I was four) about guns and how to deal with them and what to do and not to do.  It’s not really rocket surgery; guns aren’t toys, treat them with respect and realize accidents can be fatal.

Unfortunately, this simple lesson seems to be lost on some people.  I’m reading more and more stories about toddler accidentally shoots parents, or so and so got shot doing something stupid.  Like the couple who got in an accident because she was waving the gun around the cabin of the car; boyfriend ducks, rear-ends someone.  During the crash she shoots herself in the head.  The Aristocrats!

Is it any wonder people get nervous when folks are stalking around Target with Kalashnikovs and shotguns?  It’s not the responsible gun owners we’re worried about; it’s the irresponsible people we’re worried about and, alas, it’s sometimes difficult to discern the two groups.  So, while these people look like paranoid idiots, I’m not overly concerned about them.  What I am concerned about is how anyone can get hold of a gun with zero training and zero respect for the weapons.

Actually a pretty remarkable piece of machinery.  Simple and effective.

Actually a pretty remarkable piece of machinery. Simple and effective.  And perfectly legal.

What would really be nice is for responsible gun owners to start acting like responsible gun owners.  Showing up to a Presidential speech with a rifle slung over your back is not sending the message that you believe in open carry laws, it just makes you look dangerous and strange.  Wandering around the toy aisle at Target with your gun is downright bizarre.  I get it, you’re trying to teach people that guns aren’t scary or illegal and Lord knows I agree with you, but you need to moderate the message and the medium.

One of the best displays of gun awareness I’ve seen was at an outdoor expo in Albuquerque last summer.  Anyone could go out to the shooting range and try shooting.  Before you went out, however, someone explained the rules.  Again, the rules aren’t complicated.  Treat a gun with respect and realize it is a weapon.  Point it down range.  Not a toy.  Accidents can be fatal.

I firmly believe in the right to keep and bear arms, it’s enshrined in the Constitution and I think it’s a good and just law.  But I’d love to see more gun owners doing a better job to educate and train people.  I’d love to see gun shops (note: not the government, the shops themselves) requiring people to take a short class before they can buy their first gun.  A little respect and a little education can go a long way.

Right now you can get a concealed carry permit; it takes a background check, some money, and some training.  You have to prove that you understand your weapon.  Why can’t regular gun sales be like that?  Why aren’t we teaching people about guns rather than just carrying them in Chipotle with steely glints in our eyes?

Side story: when NM was considering concealed carry laws one of my programming students was adamantly against them.  In her eyes, she was worried about going to the theater and having someone with a gun sitting next to her.  I had to explain to her that situation has probably already happened and the people who are going to get concealed carry permits aren’t the folks you need to worry about anyway.

When you get right down to it, gun control needs to be a bit more than just being able to hit your target and it’s going to be up to regular, responsible gun owners to get that message out.  That’s how you moderate the message: it’s not us vs. them.  It’s not “you can have my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.”  The message should be “we know what we’re doing and we want to help others learn it, too.”  That way you can overcome the fear and distrust rather than making things worse.

It’s not a message you can create and send by wandering around Target with an assault rifle; that’s a perceived threat, whether it’s intentional or not.  The message should be more along the lines of come on out and try.  Provide a safe and sane environment and let people make up their minds on their own.  There will still be some people who will balk at private gun ownership, and that’s fine, perhaps at least some of the rest can be brought around.

Because, hey, shooting’s pretty fun.