A Child Armed Himself

So there’s this, and it broke my heart. Good job, America. You’ve convinced eleven year-olds that they need to be armed and dangerous. And what happens when we arm children? They don’t know how to use a gun responsibly, so they wave it at people, and we have one more data point in the set that says guns don’t make you safer. At least it was unloaded.

Elsewhere in that article, after the tragedy of a child thinking he needed a firearm to be safe because we can’t get our violence under control, and we have gun nuts telling us the solution is more guns (conveniently forgetting Fort Hood, and all of the highly-trained people armed with guns there), we have an Attorney General-elect declaring fortifying schools is one possibility.

Ah, smell that Second Amendment freedom! We are free to live as if we are living in a war zone, because we’re not responsible enough to take the high-capacity clips and assault weapons away while we begin the long work of addressing the myriad factors that go into making this a culture where people with guns kill lots and lots of people.

“Well Regulated.” Image courtesy Rick Cooper (RickC) on Flickr.

I am disgusted beyond words with my country right now.

The NRA released a rehash of the same statement they make every time some dude with an anger management problem and too many guns shoots up a public space: “Sorry and all that, but now’s not the time for policy and politics. Oh, and by the time we may pretend to concede that it is, there’ll be another mass shooting so we can repeat these words and kick the discussion down the road.” I paraphrase, of course, but I believe this to be an accurate representation of their words.

I am tired of people telling us we should postpone this conversation. I’m tired of people screaming “Freedom! Security! If I don’t have guns, tyranny!!eleventy!!1!”

What Mythbri said is better than my immediate response of “fuck you, dumbshit” and gets the same point across: “What is the minimum amount of children required to die in a single shooting before everyone can agree to at least talk about gun control? Because I have already surpassed my limit.”

I will ask the same thing of the Obama administration, and I will not limit myself to just a bunch of American kids. If we’re going to cry over our own children, we need to stop killing other countries’ children. The government can’t go on killing kids in distant places and claiming a moral high ground here. We can’t ask our own citizens to be more human and humane and justify murdering wedding parties by calling it “mowing the lawn.” When we dehumanize others, when we use that language of other human beings, when we are that dispassionate about killing, what are we telling the young folk we’re supposedly so concerned about? We’re telling them it’s okay to kill if you come up with a reason why your opponent is not human. I do not deny that this is a world in which human beings sometimes need to be killed in order to protect other human beings. But we must remember, as we are killing them, that we are killing human beings. Not blades of grass. Not bugs. People.

When I was studying forensic psychology for the book I was writing many years ago, something stood out to me: victims of serial killers who survived did so because they’d persuaded their potential murderers to see them as human beings. Even serial killers have a hard time killing people they’ve come to recognize as human beings. Think about that.

We have a lot of work to do. Part of that work begins with ourselves. We need to stop dehumanizing people we don’t like or are uncomfortable with the idea of killing. This includes the people we attack in other countries. This includes the people we kill because we thought they might be suspicious but turned out to be wrong. This includes the people inside our borders who kill other people. And this includes the people we don’t like. We need to be careful, while calling a douchebag a douchebag, to recognize that there is a human being behind that label, and their life also has a value.

This is why I changed my mind on the death penalty. It may act as a specific deterrent, as John Douglas said, but it doesn’t act as a general deterrent, and it puts vengeance ahead of justice. This is in addition to its many other problematic aspects. We may have a complex and nuanced discussion about this later, but for now, I just want to point out that societies that are more humane and more lock their murderers up instead of engaging in a morbid quid-pro-quo. And I think that tells a country’s citizens to pause and consider the value of a life, even an abhorrent life, one we’re not tempted to see as human. We may not want to see murderers as human, but they are. We need to face that. And we can do so without excusing what they have done in the least.

In the meantime, since it will take a long time to bend that arc toward justice, since it will take a long and sustained effort with few immediate payoffs to fix the things that need fixing to ensure that fewer people kill other people, let’s cut back on the easy access to the means of destruction.

Does gun control work? Ask Australia, for one. Yes, it does. It is one means a society can use to protect its citizens. It is one means a society can use to make it less likely that eleven year-olds will feel it necessary to arm themselves.

And I love this idea from Amanda Marcotte: go after the ads. I’d had the same thought the other day, looking at the ads Mother Jones collected. We don’t let cigarette manufacturers advertise. Why not the same restriction on gun ads? There’s a thought. Again, not the solution, but a piece of it. It’s something to add to our list.

Many of you started a good conversation here. Let’s keep that discussion going. Ideas, people. Let’s have them.

Let’s ensure Sandy Hook is the watershed moment.

Let’s ensure children don’t have to go armed into fortified compounds for their education.