After events like the shooting in Arizona on Jan. 8, the topic of guns and gun ownership becomes a heated discussion. There is no doubt that shooting innocent people is a horrible act, but there are two points that I would like to address: that there is nothing about the inherent existence of guns that makes them dangerous, and that mass murder would not be any less horrible when committed with any other weapon.
Guns are like eye glasses in the sense that a specific set of conditions has to be met to put these tools into use. I own a few sets of glasses. There is nothing about owning glasses that improves my vision. Just holding them in my hand does not let me see any better. Even if I hold them in front of my face or put them on my head, glasses will not correct my vision. Only when the lenses are directly in front of my eyes and at the correct distance will my glasses do any good; only when used correctly will glasses prove an effective tool.
On the same note, I will not dispute that what guns do is destructive -- but the existence of a gun is not what makes it dangerous. Neither are guns automatically sinister. As with glasses, a very specific set of conditions has to be met for a gun to be an effective tool rather than a very expensive paperweight.
According to Justfacts.com, in 2010, there were roughly 300 million guns owned by civilians in the United States. But 2010 did not see 300 million shootings.
The correct caliber must be loaded into the weapon for it to function properly. In the case of a semiautomatic pistol, rounds must be placed in a magazine, and the magazine must be inserted correctly and the chamber loaded. Many pistols have internal safety devices that prevent the gun from firing if dropped. The bottom line is that, while not complicated, the act of placing a weapon into working order is a deliberate act.
While the potential for violence is present with firearms, it is no less present in cases without guns. Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, did not need a gun to kill three people and injure 23 during a period of 20 years. Ted Bundy bludgeoned and strangled the 30 women he admitted to murdering. Timothy McVeigh did not use a gun to commit the deadliest act of terrorism prior to Sept. 11, killing 168 and injuring 450 in 1995.
None of these acts was any less deadly or less tragic because a gun was not involved. Intentionally taking the life of an innocent person is a horrible act and one that cannot be taken lightly. According to the book "On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society," by retired Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, the killing of a member of one's own species is something very rare in nature. Among humans, taking the life of another person is very difficult; it is something few are able to do naturally and that many have to be conditioned to do.
Grossman states that only about 2 percent of the population, the sociopaths, can kill easily. Everyone else -- even members of the military -- has to be conditioned to kill another person. It is only due to modern training techniques that more than 25 percent of soldiers would actually pull the trigger in war given the opportunity. Only sociopaths can kill with no hesitation.
Even sociopaths have to make the choice to kill. That choice does not exist because of guns. Guns do not make people kill; people must make choices to kill, or not to kill.
Every time there is a tragic event with a gun involved, the debate of gun ownership comes up. Guns, even toys, become sinister symbols of mass destruction. Part of this reaction comes with the community trying to understand how someone could commit such a terrible act as the Arizona shooting. Sense cannot be made of such action. That is why they are called senseless acts of violence -- and violent acts can come without guns.
Guns Don't Kill People
The title of this post is the title of an opinion piece in, of all things, the University of Washington student newspaper. (The piece is two years old, but timely considering the renewal of the gun control debate).
The most dreadful murderers in our history did not use guns -- Osama, McVeigh, John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, Ted Kaczynski, Jeffrey Dahmer, the "BTK killer" (Dennis Rader) -- I could name quite a few more.
I have made this point before, but this seems an apt time, in a horrible way, to re-emphasize it, in light of today's bombing murders at the Boston Marathon.
Controlling guns may well, to some extent, be part of the answer. But we are simply deluding ourselves if we think the main answer is anything other than controlling criminals. If we fail, through hand-wringing, diversionary thinking, political agendas, delusional self-blame, or any other excuse, we will continue to invite what we saw this afternoon.
UPDATE: Having been informed that the link doesn't work, I have copied the piece and have put it after the break.