OPINION: Coming to terms with gun violence in AmericaWe own an estimated 300 million guns, enough killing machines to arm everyone in the country, including more than a few psychopaths.
By: Rick Snedeker , Guest columnist
It seems nearly impossible to be optimistic about controlling gun violence in America. Our culture is soaked in real and virtual violence, and we own an estimated 300 million guns, enough killing machines to arm everyone in the country, including more than a few psychopaths.
Add to this a zealously guarded belief among many that the Constitution’s second amendment mandates a nearly absolute right for citizens to arm themselves into perpetuity, and you would seem to have a recipe not for greater safety in our lives, as the National Rifle Association insists, but for far greater risk.
Then, there is this oft-stated idea that the vast majority of gun owners are “responsible” with their weapons. When they’re sober and calm, maybe. But does this responsibility hold after, say, a six pack downed to cope with a demeaning incident at work; or a violent argument with an enraged spouse or belligerent child; or a confrontation with that neighbor whose barking dog has disturbed everyone’s sleep for weeks, if not months, despite calls to the cops? I worry that in the right situations, precious few of us are ever “responsible” enough, and if a gun with ammo is close, stuff can happen in a deadly flash. Statistically, homicide and suicide are several times more likely in homes with guns than without.
So, while we honor the right to protect oneself and loved ones, I wonder if it’s wishful thinking that having more guns will really make our society safer. I used to have a gun, bought to do battle with home-invading squirrels in the country, but when we moved to town that purpose became moot. We found we didn’t like having a firearm in the house that a kid might find and explore, balanced against the statistically rare chance that we would need a weapon to fight human invaders. Armed intruders certainly visit American homes routinely but nowhere near as frequently as fictional movies and TV shows would lead us to believe, or the news media, which necessarily amplifies criminality and social violence (while unhelpfully distorting the reality by not revealing the gore).
Even the Constitutional argument is thin. The Supreme Court itself is not fully convinced that this amendment grants the general right for Americans to arm themselves. Despite recently affirming that right based on its interpretation of the amendment, the court’s ruling in the case was 5-4, hardly unanimous. The dissenting justices pointedly argued that the amendment clearly hinges the right to bear arms on the need for a strong militia — a relic of the past now but viewed as a necessity when the amendment was penned in the late 18th century. In other words, the amendment is functionally obsolete.
Then, there is the inner goodness of our society, which, with kind intent tries to shield victims, and, in effect, all of us, from the gruesome images of our tragedies, particularly the wages of rage and homicidal insanity. Think about it: Who besides law enforcement, medical professionals and survivors has ever really seen the raw aftermath of a mass or even single-victim killing up-close before it is sanitized for public viewing? So, there always seems to be an opaque veil over the real consequences of murderous intent in our society, to the point that most of us have only an extremely vague idea of what the resulting violence actually produces. How can we craft appropriate, effective solutions if we can only imagine the horror of the carnage?
That said, I hope I never see images of what really happened in those classrooms in Newtown, Conn. But if I did, I’m sure a gun in my hand wouldn’t feel like the solution.
A retired writer and editor, Snedeker lives in Alexandria.