What is to be done?

My daughter is playing Mario Kart. My son just went downstairs to use the computer, probably to look at YouTube videos of elevators or garbage trucks. I had the idea that I would simply collect them and give them a long, multi-hour hug, but neither of them were onboard for that. So now I have retreated to my bedroom with my iPad, watching the news and the Twitter feeds.

I am trying to see the road forward from here and I am getting nowhere.

I don’t see how wholesale gun control is possible, given the existence of the 2nd amendment. You can say “repeal the 2nd amendment!” and I would sympathize with your fury, but even a glance at the math reveals this course to be impossible. Even if today’s spectacle ignited such disgust that sweeping gun control was the result, the upshot of that would be a WHOLE lot more people in prison — and my guess is most of them would be young, black men, just like with the drug war.

(Also, I have a difficult time believing, seeing as these crimes were committed in New Jersey and Connecticut, that no gun laws were broken before the actual murders occurred. So I wonder what additional laws might have curtailed this.)

Even to ban particular kinds of guns gets us nowhere, I am sorry to say, for one simple reason: Technology. At some point in the near future — sooner than I have the stomach to imagine — any fool will be able to create a powerful weapon in his own home, with the help of a 3D printer and plans downloaded from the Internet. You can make that act illegal if you like. We probably will. I have a hard time seeing how that would help.

I’m not saying there is nothing to be done on the gun control front. I’ve read in a few places today about closing the “gun show” loophole — the laws are laxer, evidently, if you buy a gun in a convention center instead of in a store. Fine, let’s fix that — that sounds pretty serious. But would that have stopped today’s horrors? We don’t yet know. I halfway hope so. I hope this twit bought his guns at a gun show, thus providing us with a course of action, lit up like an airplane runway at night. I doubt it will prove to be that simple.

Holy God, I feel helpless. Worse, I feel like a jerk, sitting here saying why we CAN’T do this or do that, how our rage and passion will lead nowhere, how nothing can be done. I’m not doing it to be contrarian. I’m doing it because that’s what I see from here, and I’d like whatever solutions we come up with to work.

What about the mental health angle? I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb to assume that the murderer was not sane. Could we have done something about it earlier? Again, it’s too soon to say for sure. Let’s say he’d been making people nervous for a while, but he hadn’t yet done anything wrong, so there was nothing we could do. So again, let’s pass some new laws. At what point do the authorities swoop in and pick people up, preventatively? And what would they do with such people? I don’t know the answers to those questions.

Even if those questions have good answers — answers that don’t lead to innocent people being put away for the Greater Good — what if today’s killer passed for perfectly normal?

Maybe the answer lies at the intersection of gun control and mental health. I’m not sure what that answer is (and I think we have established that by now). Perhaps it could simply be a reference system: If you want to buy a certain class of guns, you have to provide the names of three references. The point of this is not necessarily that these references could stop you from buying the gun, but simply that multiple somebodies should know you bought such a thing.

Of course, hot on the heels of that half-assed idea comes a hundred ways of defeating it. So again. I don’t know.

I’d make a terrible pundit. All these talking heads and spokespeople out there, so sure of what we should do now. How do they do it?

In the end, we demand Change because we want to believe that if we make the right move, say the right words, set up a meeting with the right committee members and have them write up the right bill, that we can seal off any possibility of something like this happening again. Alas, alas, I don’t see how that can be true. Perhaps we can change the culture, slowly and painfully, so that we are more like Japan or even Canada, where gun violence is rare. But to pass a law and make it all go away? That is a wish on a star.

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  1. Eric L
    Posted December 14, 2012 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been struggling with this very problem today as well.

    “Wholesale gun control” can’t work. With nearly as many guns in the hands of American citizens as there are American citizens, it’s far too late to try to close that barn door.

    Increasing penalties on gun crimes isn’t a solution, either. In this case, as with many other mass shootings, the killer takes his or her own life at the end. In all likelihood, they’ve already decided this ultimate course of action before the attack, so the threat of punishment is immaterial.

    You’re not a jerk for playing devil’s advocate and reasoning why this solution or that solution can’t work. We’re puzzle solvers by nature, and it’s frustrating to be presented with a problem where reason and logic can’t be applied.

    We are compelled to want to do SOMETHING to fix this, because the other alternative is to be forced to accept that this type of tragedy will continue to repeat over and over throughout the country, and that’s something none of us are willing to accept. Unfortunately, if there’s a workable solution to bring about change, I have no idea what it is.


  2. Foggy Brume
    Posted December 14, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    This is an answer, but I was realizing earlier that in this story, and many others like it, is that guns are the how. What we need to know is the why. The why in Aurora, the why in Tucson.


  3. MIchael B SMith
    Posted December 14, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for writing. I think we need to change the game. Require gun owners and gun sellers to carry insurance fro what happens with their guns. Make any death require a payout of some number ($100,000?) We would get manufactures and sellers to limit who gets guns (bullets, too maybe) Accidental shootings have an automatic payout too to make gun safety classes a sure thing. Today, there is no consequence. This does not limit gun ownership as a right. Think of automobiles and homes that require coverage and you can see some ramifications. Insurance companies would provide the coverage and would do so in a way to make money so our Capitalist would be happy, too. Make the law have real penalties for not having insurance. A license would be required for all guns and a license would require insurance. The entry barrier would be economic, but we do this for other services.


  4. Posted December 14, 2012 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

    There isn’t a magic-button solution, but this country’s inability to even discuss the problem is terrifying. Saying “gun control won’t work because the Bad Guys will always get guns” is a weak argument — by that logic, why have any laws at all, if some people will break them? (Further, the argument is analogous to sticking your head in the sand. “Oh, noes, bad guys will find a way so there’s nothing we can do!”

    Controlling — not eliminating, not banning — guns is part of the solution. It has to be. And if you’re not willing to even discuss that you don’t deserve a seat at the table. (“You’re” in the generic sense.)

    Dealing with mental health issues is also part of the solution. Changing the American gun culture is part of it. There are probably more.

    I’m tired of the people saying, “Guns aren’t the problem! And even if they are, we can’t do anything!” It’s absolute nonsense.

    Imagine an highway overpass that’s full of rocks. Every few weeks, someone stands on it and throws some of those rocks at the cars passing below, causing accidents and death. Isn’t it obvious that part of the solution is to remove the rocks from the overpass?

    If someone said, “They’ll just get the rocks from someplace else. If they want to throw rocks at cars, they’ll find them somewhere” you would think he was an idiot. Because, while that’s true, it’s pretty obvious that you ought to at least make it not quite so easy to do it.

    Yes, there are other issues besides the rocks — what kind of nut does that? But it’s clear that having so many rocks in such easy throwing distance is part of the problem.


  5. Eric Berlin
    Posted December 15, 2012 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    I think that’s a good analogy, Drew. The more I think about it, the more I think our energies should be spent on the “guns that shoot more than X number of bullets per second” category. As somebody else pointed out, fully automatic machine guns are already illegal. So there are guns that we have deemed lie outside the circle of 2nd amendment rights. The debate now is what other such weapons should be outside that circle. That’s how I would frame this national discussion going forward, if it were up to me.


  6. Eric L
    Posted December 15, 2012 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

    This would be a good idea, if only we had politicians who were willing to stand up to the gun lobbyists. But all one needs to do is look at the budget negotiations in Washington since the election, and you’ll understand why I’m pessimistic that anything will be done.

    They’re already working on their 2014 reelection campaigns, and they’re so afraid of alienating the people they REALLY work for (i.e., the big-money contributors) that even the collective outrage of millions of us is unlikely to sway them.


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