I’ve only fired a gun once or twice in my life. I don’t really know if that’s more or less than most. In my family, all of the males, and a few females learned to hunt at an early age. I’m hazy on the temporal details, but it must have been around middle school. At that time, my brother and similarly aged immediate cousins were formally introduced to hunting as a thing to do. I was the only one that was unable to comprehend why it would feel good to kill an animal. At that point, I had no ethical issues with it, or anything like that – I just didn’t want to kill anything. I’ve generally understood on an intellectual level, but I can’t fathom feeling it.
My grandpa, a hard man who looked down on soft city living of which I was accustomed to, took me and others to a shooting area. I was given the gun, and a few instructions. I have no idea if I shot anywhere near the target. All I remember is the gun smashing into my face, and the subsequent pain and embarrassment. I was told I needed to hold the gun tighter, something that should have been self-evident. I can’t remember if I took a second shot.
At my house, we have no weapons, unless you count a cracked wooden baseball bat that I’ve somewhat inexplicably kept through the years. Up until recently I counted it as a viable weapon. That is, until I took a swing and instantly realized that I would only get the one, which would almost certainly break it. There’s also the fact that I don’t think there’s enough open space that have enough room for a hard swing. So the vague plan is to use a fire extinguisher, which I think could double as a weapon in self-defense.
For myself and family, I’m not convinced that having a gun would actually increase my safety. This is grounded in a fear of weapons and distrust in my abilities to use them adequately when the time comes. It’s not just guns. I’m deeply uncomfortable with sharp objects and fire. I can be clumsy and am prone to dropping things. In the event that a weapon may be necessary, I have a hard time believing I could use it effectively.
However, there is a part of me that DOES want a gun. The alluring narrative of guns providing a sense of safety is apparently seared into my brain but is contrasted with my unease at having that kind of destructive power. Nonetheless, if I wanted to, I could very easily get a gun now and in the future – even in the event that gun laws are strengthened.
What we are doing (or not doing) is not making things better in terms of gun-related violence. There are two general, opposing sentiments voiced on either side of the divide in terms of increased regulations:
- If someone wants to commit violence with a gun, they will get one no matter what. People have a right to defend themselves and should be able to do so without, or with very little governmental restrictions.
- Increased restrictions will increase the difficulty in procuring guns. These difficulties will curb violence since it could lead to a “cooling off” period or altogether prevent those whom would enact violence from having guns in the first place.
These are inherently simplistic characterizations, and neither should be seen as completely true or completely false. If there are X amount of incidents of gun violence, it stands to reason that there are Y amount that may not have occurred due to the inability to procure weaponry. How large of a proportion that is is impossible to say. So it appears that certain regulations, such as policies preventing children from gaining access to guns and bans on assault rifles, might be warranted – after all, the status quo is not working.
But does it necessarily follow that any kind of change would be beneficial? We don’t really have enough data to say one way or the other. A new report by the RAND corporation summarizes the state of the research. Via NPR’s synopsis:
They found, for example, no clear evidence regarding the effects of any gun policies on hunting and recreational gun use, or on officer-involved shootings, or on mass shootings or on the defensive use of guns by civilians.
There were some categories with better data, however, Morral says. There is relatively strong evidence, for example, that policies meant to prevent children from getting access to firearms — such as laws that require guns to be stored unloaded, or in locked containers — reduce both suicide and unintentional injury and death.
Previous work has also found that places that require a permit (issued by law enforcement) for the purchase [of] a firearm do reduce violent crime.
There is also some evidence that prohibitions against purchase by people who have been diagnosed with mental illness reduce violent crime, and that “stand your ground” laws, which allow citizens who feel threatened in public to use lethal force without retreating first, lead to an increase in violent crime.
In general, however, good studies were few and far between, the RAND researchers say.
[T]hose surveyed varied widely in their predictions about how different policies would affect each outcome.
“Where they disagree is on which laws will achieve those those objectives. So this is a disagreement about facts,” says Morral. “And the facts are sparse.”
I understand the sentiment that change is needed, but this should give one pause before accepting as fact that increased legislation is the ultimate panacea.
Unexamined by RAND are the effects of gun policies on marginalized communities, whom are disproportionately more likely to experience violence and may wish to arm themselves for protection. How would stronger gun laws affect them? Alex Gourevitch, professor of political science at Brown University stresses that
[H]ow our society polices depends not on the laws themselves but on how the police – and prosecutors and courts – decide to enforce the law. Especially given how many guns there are in the U.S., gun law enforcement will be selective. That is to say, they will be unfairly enforced, only deepening the injustices daily committed against poor minorities in the name of law and order.”
This is further explicated by Natasha Lennerd at The Intercept, who bluntly (and rightly in my opinion) states that
there’s no reason to think new legislation and bolstered government profiling in the name of gun control would suddenly take aim at dangerous white supremacists, instead of continuing to criminalize people of color.
Given the history of policing in America, this should be intuitive. One only needs to consider law enforcement’s racist beginnings, and then compare the State’s treatment of the Black Panthers to Cliven Bundy’s gaggle of dipshits. Even today, the FBI is apparently more concerned with “Black Identity Extremists” than white nationalists, despite the glaringly obvious fact of which is responsible for higher body counts.
From what I can tell, the above isn’t much considered by those calling for more gun control. The totality of the carceral state has been and will continue to be a categorical failure that is unequipped and unable to address the underlying structural problems brought about by capitalism and institutionalized racism. That its traditional victims would likely be subject to even more adversarial involvement with the authorities as a result of increased gun laws is worthy of intense scrutiny.
On the other hand, there are portions of the dominant class that are unable to leverage their privileges to achieve what they are led to believe they deserve, and scapegoats are needed. This can be due to personal failures, trauma, or, more likely, some mixture of both. Such damaged persons exist in an increasingly atomized, alienating and hyper-competitive social structure that can be a breeding ground for latent fury when desires – valid or invalid (such as access to women’s bodies, the denial of which can lead to violent responses) – are thwarted. However, in contrast to this widespread atomization/alienation, the ubiquity of social media has made it much easier for the angry and violent to locate and feed off of each others’ heretofore impotent rage against society at large.
The problems that emerge from the foundational issues described above are as numerous as they are varied. We graft solutions onto them while neglecting the rot festering beneath the surface. But if those issues are unlikely to be meaningfully addressed, much less solved, in the foreseeable future, what can be done in the meantime? For solving the gun crisis, any kind of reform is likely to be akin to a band aid on a gaping wound.
(None of this should not be seen as a negation of the admirable Parkland students and the awesome things they’re doing. Likewise, none of this negates the utter contempt and scorn that should be directed at the NRA and their gun fetish cult at every opportunity.)
I don’t presume to know what state and federal governments should do with regards to guns. I’m not very knowledgeable in this area and I can’t say I’m too confident in anything I’ve written other than my anecdotes and quotations of those who know much more than I. I do think I should be able to get a gun if I want. I’m lucky enough that stricter laws would not exclude me, and I wouldn’t have to worry about increased scrutiny from the authorities.
One of the more interesting findings from RAND is on the banning of assault rifles and high capacity magazines: it’s inconclusive if it actually curbs mass shootings and violent crime. It’s hard to say, in light of the above hypotheses that increased regulations would disproportionately affect marginalized populations, if this would be beneficial – especially in light of the dearth of research that answers authoritatively in the affirmative. But I can’t help but think that would at least be worth a shot, as is restricting the access of children, for which there is some evidence for its efficacy. Both seem like common sense measures that should be adopted.
When they’re not busy securing money and power, and bickering along party lines, politicians throw shit against the wall to see what sticks. If/when they decide to throw more restrictive gun laws against the wall, who can say whether they will stick or not (stick being synonymous with “work” in this tortuous metaphor)? Maybe gun violence will decline, but if history is any indication it will fucking stink for many.
Or maybe we can just stay with the tried-and-true blueprint of the last decade or so: thoughts and prayers from the ignorant and spineless, and their subsequent, righteous flagellation by those whom are sick of insipid thoughts and prayers by duplicitous cowards.