“There’s been another mass shooting in America.”
Putting it this way sounds awfully offhand, and borderline flippant, but they are the exact words used by US President Barack Obama after the October 2015 shooting in Oregon. The way he uses this is rather “matter of fact” and “day to day” and I think thats sort of the point. It is becoming normal.
The way he delivers this speech is one I’m familiar with. It’s the parent disappointed with the child they thought had learned their lesson. It’s the headteacher giving the school assembly after its students got a bad reputation. It’s the boss, whether in an all-staff briefing or a one-to-one meeting, telling their staff that the current situation is not good enough.
Whether on the receiving end or as just an observer, I’ve seen all of these first hand before and this is exactly how President Obama comes across.
He’s tired, disappointed and verging on angry. As “The Man In Charge” it is his role to makes statements at times like these and, in a way, to accept the responsibility of “his people” for their actions.
Time after time, he’s had to stand up after one of these incidents and offer condolences. In other types of tragedy, the leader of their country will also be saying how they are going to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again. Yet, when it comes to gun crime his hands are tied. He wants to make a change but, instead, ends up having to be the public face of when it all goes wrong.
The guy looks tired.
“But we are not the only country on Earth that has people who have mental illnesses, or want to do harm to other people.”
This is probably the most serious and least discriminatory statement I’ve ever some across when talking about a link between mental illness and acts of violence. It doesn’t establish a causal link and it doesn’t assume that all mentally ill people are potentially violent, or that all potentially violent people are mentally ill.
It does, however, suggest that the problem lies with the intersection of the two.
It also goes on to outright state that other countries have people who fall into one, either, or both of these categories and yet do not have the same frequency of mass shootings. They tend not to have as relaxed gun laws, either.
Part of the complexity of the issue in America, though, is the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. It protects the right of the people to bear arms. It also states that these rights should not be infringed. And this makes it messy. “This is a right that should not be compromised” is a difficult thing to regulate.
The thing is, though, that the world is a very different place now. I don’t even mean politically, I mean technologically. The Second Amendment was ratified in 1791. At the time, the majority of firearms were flintlock-based single-shot models. This is a far cry from clip-fed semi-automatic and automatic firearms available today.
Were weapons with that level of power something that they had in mind when creating the Bill of Rights?
The obvious and fair answer is “nobody knows”. It is something that ought to be taken into account, though. The world, the politics and the technology were very different back then. Many laws have changed, especially in terms of protecting people from others. Look at the age of consent, for one thing.
Times change. Societies change. Laws change. Except, it seems, this one.
As someone from the UK, I can only provide an outside perspective. Here’s the thing, though, the outside perspective is how each country is seen by others. The combination of easier access to guns and a much higher rate of gun fatalities doesn’t really paint the US in a very good light at times. And it’s a shame. Many Americans get tarred with the same brush as the few who spoil it for everyone else. I’ll also extend it to say that many gun owners get tarred by that same brush.
Seriously, if all gun owners were dangerous individuals then America probably wouldn’t exist in its current form anymore. The fact that the country hasn’t managed to wipe itself out in a hail of bullets tells me that the majority of gun owners can be and are are safe and responsible.
It’s just that there’s the occasional dickhead who spoils it for everyone else, usually at the cost of dozens of lives at the same time.
My own personal view, even as a Brit, is that I’m not totally anti-gun. We have very heavy restrictions on all kinds of weapons over here. That doesn’t always make me feel very safe as, yes, it does mean that criminals still have guns. Or knives. Or whatever. Only the “bad guys” are armed. I don’t like this.
Oh, and the police. But even if they do shoot a suspect, if they have to make a snap decision and get it wrong (in either direction) they get raked over the coals.
That doesn’t mean I’m a fan of unrestricted gun ownership, though. In fact, if the UK ever did ever make it legal to bear arms then I’d hope it was bloody well regulated. And licensed, kind of like cars.
The Car Analogy
Think about it. Certainly here in the UK you have to have a license to drive. This requires reaching a minimum age and going through a testing procedure. Owning a car also has its own requirements. You have to license the car against its registered owner, or have it registered as off-road. You need insurance. A car has to be regularly serviced and pass its MOT to prove that it is roadworthy. Your driving license will cover you for specific categories of vehicle, and you can get additional categories through appropriate training.
If you are careful and responsible, you will be able to drive as long as you have a valid license. And it will be likely that you will stay licensed.
If you’re a dick, you lose your license. Here in the UK it is points-based, so some driving offences are less severe than others but either way if you rack up past a certain amount then that’s it.
I don’t see why guns should be any different.
The other thing about how driving is regulated in the UK, at least, is that things like old age and certain medical conditions don’t always necessarily mean you’re automatically excluded from driving. They do, however, require additional and more frequent reapplications for your license. A similar regulation on guns would make sense, including mental health conditions.
As someone who struggles with depression and anxiety, and who knows people with varying levels of mental illness, I obviously don’t subscribe to the idea that all mentally ill people are dangerous. I do, however, think that it would be sensible if mental health issues were among conditions that required more frequent license application, or restricted from certain categories of firearm.
In my case, I do not think that I am likely to become a crazed killer the moment I got my hands on a gun. I would, however, say that when my anxiety gets particularly high it can impair my judgment and I get very twitchy. If that meant that, in a world where the UK allowed more open gun ownership, I had to reapply more frequently for a license, had restrictions on what categories of firearms I could use or it put me into a higher insurance bracket then so be it. Yes, it would be annoying but it would also mean I would have to think a little bit harder as to if I really wanted or needed a gun.
I just feel, as an outside observer, that the current state of things is likely to lead to further tragedy and that, in response, one day there will be a knee-jerk reaction leading to a widespread ban on firearms. And I don’t think that would really work too well. Going straight from allowing something to complete prohibition is rarely a good solution.
Some level of regulation is needed, though. The statistics speak for themselves. Some things require proof of capability, responsibility and ownership. Driving is one of those things. I don’t see why guns shouldn’t be another.