richardf8: (Ensign_Katz)
[personal profile] richardf8
With an inevitability that is not unlike clockwork, in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, I have received petitions calling for the reversal of the second amendment.  I have not yet seen, mostly because I have not looked for the inevitable assertion that this would not have happened in an armed society. 

Gun control advocates hold that stronger gun control laws would have prevented the shooter from obtaining the gun.  Well, we have pretty strong drug control laws.  Banning guns would make them about as hard to obtain as pot.  There is no reason to believe that a shooter who is planning something like this would hesitate to buy a gun illegally, and no evidence that we could make them any more difficult to obtain than drugs.  All we would do is reify what I think of as Edelman's* Law: outlaw guns and only outlaws will have guns.

Gun access advocates hold that "an armed society is a polite society,"* because the prospect that anyone you might seek to harm has the power to kill you will serve as a deterrent.  The problem with this ideal in our context is that it presupposes that the shooter values his life, when in fact many shooters are playing out a narrative that culminates in their death.  It is part of the plan that they will be shot or shoot themselves.  An armed society cannot deter against someone who is determined to die.  Can an armed society mitigate the damage that a shooter can cause?  Maybe, but this risks to such a defender would be enormous.  If he succeeds he will be hailed as a hero  and tried for murder.  He will most likely be acquitted of the murder charges, but the civil wrongful death suit brought by the shooter's family will be a bit more of a crap shoot.  In the event that such a defender should harm a bystander . . .  well what seemed morally clear when the defender pulled his gun, becomes a lot less morally clear then.

To a certain degree I have been wasting my time talking about gun control to make a simple point.   This is an easy debate to have.  The gun control advocate can say his piece, the gun access advocate can say his piece, and none of it really matters.

There is another conversation that arises too when these occur, and that is access to mental healthcare.  It's a good discussion to have, because it has power to help people in a general sort of way, people who can identify that they have a problem and find the humility to seek help for it, assuming they have the resources.  But perhaps not our shooter.

 We build civilizations in order to mitigate risk.  But the reality that none of us want to live with is that however much we mitigate risk, and by whatever means we do so, it is beyond our power to eliminate it entirely.  What ultimately makes an event like this so tragic is that the event that is unforeseen, and therefore unpreventable.  We might rush to condemn ourselves for our failure of imagination, for not banning guns, for not arming school adminisrators, for not getting this guy the mental help he needed, but these are all ways of imagining that we are in control of things that are beyond control, and while that does not let us off the hook for preventing the preventable, it also places limits on our culpability for the actions of actors beyond our control.


*Edelman's Sporting Goods bumper sticker

** Heinlein, Robert A. Time Enough For Love.
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