Well, after all of my writings about the hurtful nature of stereotypes and why people use them, I suppose I had to come to this topic eventually. Recently, an individual went to a screening of the new Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, and shot dead a number of people. Terrible title aside, I do not know what could have possibly motivated this act. I could sit here and make jokes about how Christopher Nolan‘s godawful photographic style (shaking the camera about like an epileptic on meth, to quote Chris Bauer) being the cause, but that would be wrong and in poor taste.
Not that being wrong or in poor taste ever stops some people. I will not get into the reams and reams of words being printed by the mainstream media about how the perpetrator was apparently “mentally ill” (by their definition) or a *gasp* “outsider”. Such bigotry, mainstream media, the refusal to go into the animal crimes of the norms whilst making front-page news of every infraction by someone who might be different to the expected norm, regardless of how minor, is why you are losing a lot of people to the siren song of the Internet. But let us put that aside for a moment and focus instead on some sick normalists’ attempts to twist the event to their own political purposes.
I am not even going to bother trying to be nice about this. The gun lobby has, in their infinite wisdom, decided that this terrible tragedy is something to twist to their benefit. That is what I will be focusing upon today. Not because I have anything to contribute to the response to the shootings, but because I have grown flat-out sick of people repeating flat-out bullshit and expecting it to be taken as fact.
This image is a classic example thereof. Apart from the neurobigotry on display, every element of this image is entirely wrong. First off of the rank is the fact that nothing in this image has anything to do with the Second Amendment of America’s constitution. A more in-depth dissection of what the Second Amendment means and why the gun lobby has abandoned fighting the issue in the legal system can be found here. But the nutshell is that the Supreme Court, which is basically America’s final say-so in terms of how the constitution is interpreted, has ruled time and time again that the Second Amendment does not grant the right to keep weaponry to individuals, but rather to the “well-regulated militias” mentioned in its first part. The exact wording is as follows:
A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
Of course, with a clause as non-specific as this, people with agendas are free to go to courts and make all kinds of outrageous claims concerning its proper meaning. The funny thing about it is that when certain kinds of people do make arguments concerning what legal snippets like this one mean, their argument is invariably that it means precisely what they want it to mean.
The biggest reason why the gun lobbyists have abandoned the legal system and are trying to wage their campaign in the court of popular opinion is because, after around a century of legal challenges, they have encountered a perfect track record of defeat in the matter. The Supreme Court has opined time after time, in spite of massive shifts both in composition and of the society they adjudicate, that the authors of the constitution intended this clause to mean that the states have a right to keep their own armed services for defense on a state by state basis. The individual’s right does not enter into it at all. There are a number of reasons for this, the most important of which I will address shortly. But clearly, whomever designed the above graphic cares very little for the specifics of logic, law, or even reason.
Individuals with impaired senses of reason also like to proclaim that the possession of a firearm, or having one in their home, makes them safer. The reality is the exact opposite. As this article points out, scientific studies not only fail to show any protective benefit of having a firearm in one’s home, one such study even shows that your risk of being murdered increases by 2.7 times if you have a firearm in your home. That is 270% for those who are inclined towards percentages.
But how can that be, I hear all gun lobbyists not asking. Well, put quite simply, show me a Human being that does not experience an urge to murder another Human being at least once every so often, and I will show you a saint. Even children old enough to know some society with others occasionally have an altercation with another that will make them think they wish to murder that other.
Firearms make it far easier to murder other people. As the article I have linked states, this can be seen by analysing statistics concerning people committing suicide. Killing a Human being, including oneself, is a task with a level of difficulty that often surprises those attempting it. This means that weapons or tools that make the attempt easier will have a higher success rate. Self-inflicted lacerations account for fifteen percent of suicide attempts in America, but only one percent of all successful attempts. Non-fatal, self-inflicted gunshot wounds are a rarity, but sixty percent of all successful suicides in America involve firearms.
Feasibility is a big factor in murder. If I were to suddenly decide, just for example, that I wanted to kill comedic martial arts legend Jackie Chan, I would have to have something very powerful at my disposal to make it feasible. I will concrete this with a very hypothetic example based on an interview with a martial arts performer I read years ago. In the martial arts world, there are many idiots who would like to be able to claim that they punched out Jackie Chan (or Jet Li, or…). So Chan is known to surround himself with some men who can best be described as rather hard. But with an assault rifle and sufficient ammunition, not only can I strike from a great distance, I can also strike many times in rapid succession without it taking too great a physical toll on me.
Hence, when a person insists on keeping a gun in their household, rather than giving them the ability to shoot dead mysterious intruders, it generally means that normal arguments between family members may turn deadly.
The same applies out in public. The reason why people who decide they want to become police officers or security guards are subject to rigorous background checks is because when you are entrusted to use lethal force to protect the lives and wealth of others, people generally want you to have some control of your temper (hence the point above).
Of course, gun lobbyists will also make such ridiculous claims as that gun control was heavily enacted in Nazi Germany or the like. This is the opposite of what really happened. The Weimar republic had some of the heaviest gun control not only from within but also from without. In the aftermath of World War I, Germany was expected to bend over in so many directions in order to satisfy obligations set down in the Treaty Of Versailles. One such obligation was severe limitations upon its ability to wage war, which meant massive limitations on the size and modernisation of the German army. Which meant limitations upon the availability of firearms not just to the public, but also to all forms of militia. One of the first things that the Nazi regime was concerned with when getting started was removing all of the severe limitations upon its military readiness that foreign powers had put in place.
Other common arguments from the nutty gun lobby proclaim that greater gun control goes hand in hand with greater incidences of rape, theft, assault, and so on and so forth. This is essentially an extension of the claim by Robert Heinlein (among others) that “an armed society is a polite society”. Do not get me wrong. I love Heinlein‘s work in fiction, but this statement is just flat-out fantasy. As is the peculiar belief that being armed will somehow make others afraid to attack you. As statistics on murder and suicide reveal, all that possession of a firearm adds to the equation is the ability of the firearm owner to use lethal force in either their attack or response to the attack. As a deterrent, it flat-out sucks. Statistics concerning the circumstances in which people were murdered in the year 1993 have it that slightly more than thirty percent of all murders in the United States were motivated by “arguments”. This includes arguments concerning money, property, “romantic triangles” (basically, who is putting what in where). Statistics for the same year state that of all the methods used to murder, guns of all kinds accounted for slightly less than seventy percent. And handguns alone accounted for slightly less than fifty-seven percent. This does not paint a very good picture of the whole gun-defense culture in America, to be brutually honest. The peculiar American fantasy that some fine upstanding citizen is going to see one of their fellows being shot, pull out a gun, and shoot the shooter, is the biggest load of bollocks that Americans tell themselves. The majority of people who work in some capacity in law enforcement are already painfully aware of this. When everyone in a society has a firearm, the slightest argument over who cut off whom in traffic has a very real chance to turn deadly.
The rhetoric on the part of the gun lobby that societies where guns are banned or heavily restricted are somehow more violent is also highly disingenuous on the part of the gun lobby. A good look at the societies and places in question reveals the exact opposite to be the case. This is partly why the gun lobby has to resort to distorted historical examples such as a fictional construct of Nazi Germany. The only society I have ever heard named where gun ownership is universal and yet the murder rate is generally lower than in America is Israel. This is because with the numerous enemies of the state of Israel around its borders, the desire to kill things becomes very externalised. And that is partly the problem in places like America.
As I have stated elsewhere, America has a problem with income inequality that can rightly be compared to societies that are facing far harder struggles, such as the former Soviet Union or most of Africa. This has a dramatic effect upon the level of violence in America. When a substantial portion of the populace cannot afford the basics of living, and can see others living well off the sweat of others, violence will ensue. You can see this in societies like Australia. When one is told the places to avoid or be very careful in around Sydney, for example, the areas with the highest rates of unemployment or social malady (aka the landlords having free run to bend residents over a barrel) and the places with the highest levels of crime tend to overlap. Places with high levels of poverty tend to be more violent than their better-off neighbours, irrespective of how readily guns are available in that place.
So the lesson to be learned here is not only that gun lobbyists are idiots, but they are also idiots of the worst kind. Leaving aside their bigotry (as demonstrated in cases like Trayvon Martin‘s slaying) or neurobigotry, the simple fact remains that their acquaintance with facts is, to say the least, very loose.
My heart goes out to the people who were shot at in Aurora, Colorado. To those who died, to their families, and to those who are now dealing with having witnessed the event, I wish to convey my sympathy. But to those who are using this event in this or that manner for their own distorted political ends such as pro-gun rhetoric, or something that I will get to shortly, shame on you.
The insistence that, if only some of the other moviegoers had been armed, they could’ve stopped the rampage is especially unrealistic in this case, because this shooter, James Holmes, was wearing body armor. AND it was dark, AND he used tear gas to give himself cover.
I think it’s primarily a comforting fantasy, that people think, Hey, if I’d been there, I could’ve stopped him. You can tell yourself you’re safe, that you wouldn’t have died even if you’d been there. It helps take the sting out of the randomness of it all, the fact that another person really can end your life before you’ve even noticed that they’re there.
That insistence also ignores one of the central tenets of game theory. An attacker has the initiative, and thus the advantage. Holmes’ use of body armour and tear gas is very much an expression of that. All he had to do is choose one line of attack and plan out how he was going to execute it. People in a defensive position have to plan a defense against every possible kind of attack, often based on information about the attacker that might not be wholly reflected by reality, and thus generally do not defend well.
I also do not believe that the gun lobby make a good case with the whole “I could have stopped him” bit. Because in a society where nobody has a gun unless they are in protective services, a person wishing to attack another person has to rely much more on their own resources. Having to overcome someone who is physically stronger, has more martial prowess, or even both, is a far greater deterrent to attack plans than a gun ever will be.
Of course, one also has to ask the question of how all of this crap about what might have been does the victims or their families the slightest bit of good…
Yeah, that’s the other obnoxious thing about this fantasy. It comes off as nothing if not victim-blaming. You’ve just lost someone you loved, or you narrowly survived yourself, and some jerk starts implying that, if only you (or your loved one) had had more gumption, more presence of mind, more whatever, they could’ve averted their fate. So their being dead, or wounded, or having lost someone, can be attributed to some failing in them as opposed to their having been in the presence of a mass murderer.
It’s still a self-protective talisman for the speaker of such obscenities — it can’t happen to me, because I’m awesome — but it functions as such at the expense of everyone else.
Indeed. It is self-aggrandisement on the part of the speaker, and it is so callously disregarding of the feelings of anyone involved. But such is the mentality of people who want to believe that they are right all of the time, irrespective of how anyone else might be affected. The whole purpose of a gun in the first place is to enable people who are weaker, smaller, or otherwise less physically able to kill or maim people who are bigger and stronger.
Usually, when people start telling everyone around them that “it can’t happen here”, that is the first sign that not only can it happen here, it will happen here. It is just a matter of time.
And, on a more personal note:
Don’t know if I have told you this already, but one of the less-fun things I’ve got going on with my brain is serious depression coupled to a kind of OCD that only involves obsessions. Want to guess what the obsession is? If you guessed suicide, give yourself a gold star.
Seriously, when this stuff first hit (about halfway through my second year in college), I would have these hyper-realistic visions (not thoughts, visions — “thoughts” is too abstract a word for them) of killing myself in whatever ways my environment suggested to me. In a dorm room, they involved climbing out a window onto a ledge and swan-diving onto the pavement; out by the fountain, they involved lying down in the fountain and drowning myself … you get the idea. What was actually going on around me would fade, and I would actually live the vision instead. With the ledge-jumping one, I could feel the wind, and the cold, and the gritty texture of the concrete the ledges were made from, and the vertigo — all while sitting inside, in a warm room. It wasn’t even always that I wanted to die — or that an “I” even existed at that point — death just takes on a certain gravitational pull in those moments. (See here for a really well-written post by someone else who has experienced this.)
There are two reasons I never acted on these nigh-irresistible compulsions: one, inertia is in the nature of depression, which is why so many depressed people kill themselves as they’re starting to recover — they finally have the energy and will to act on their suicidal urges; and two, I always knew just how hard it was to kill yourself using the means available to me. While people have died at my college from falls as short as from a third story, I knew there would always be a chance that I’d survive even a fall from a dormitory rooftop. (Especially because I had such poor coordination that I had a low opinion of my ability to keep my head pointing downwards.) And I was pretty sure I didn’t have the strength of will to drown myself in a foot of water: drowning hurts, and I knew I would instinctively break the water’s surface as soon as I started to run out of air. Same with cutting myself: even if I cut deep, I would probably not die, and would almost certainly be found and hospitalized.
But if I had had a gun, or known someone who did? I would have been ALL OVER THAT SHIT. I would have thought nothing of stealing a friend’s gun to do the deed — like I said above, when one of these episodes was happening, there wasn’t hardly anything animating me except the wish to die.
Even now, when I haven’t had one of these visions for years, I know the temptation would be strong if I knew anyone around me had a gun. The knowledge that death would be quick, and nearly foolproof, would make it way harder to resist than those earlier plans I formed, which would’ve been hard to carry out, painful, take a long time to kill me (except for the jumping-off-the-roof plan), and have an unacceptably high probability that I’d survive.
But anyway, here’s my point: I am recovered. I haven’t even cried for no reason in forever. I certainly have no desire to die anywhere in my conscious mind. Even with all that, I STILL imagine I would be powerless to resist shooting myself if a gun were put within my reach.
The roots go deep.
I remember having a conversation with a psychiatrist in which they stated that it was common for persons who have been living with a long-undiscovered neurological disorder of any sort to have accompanying suicidal feelings. That really is a no-brainer to me. I mean, one goes from place to place in search of help, gets flipped off with wrong diagnoses or flat out refusals to do anything, often for years on end, and they wonder why we are not shitting smiles when we do get a vaguely correct diagnostic label?
Suicidal actions are almost always impulsive. That is why the first protocol of people employed to talk others down from ledges is basically “keep them talking”. I remember one scene in Identity where John Cusack‘s character tells a story about how he was trying to talk a pregnant girl who had AIDS down from a ledge. When he tells her the usual things like she has things to live for and so on, he gets asked what. And he says that they trained him to say all sorts of things in response, but in light of the girl’s situation, he hesitated because he could not think of a single thing. Seeing this, she jumps. It is a split-second decision, basically.
That is one reason why the overwhelming majority of successful suicides involve guns or jumping. Both are highly impulse-indulgent things that give no time to step back from. Most suicides fail because the individual thinks about what they are doing or feeling during the attempt and start to have doubts. In fact, this goes right back to that thing I have been saying about attackers having all of the initiative. When Hitler conquered much of Europe, what stopped him from taking other places was that he lost confidence in the advice of his Generals, thinking himself invincible and thus dismissing tactical concerns, and trusted in himself more and more to make all of the decisions. And the ones he did end up making were often driven by impulses that were directed by personal feelings of offense or hurt, and thus were very frequently mistakes. Even then, it took years of not returning the favours to turn the tide back simply because he had the initiative.
Suicides are basically the same most of the time. The more they are thought about or through, the less successful they tend to be. Success favours speed, and all that.
Now, having said all of that, one of the reasons this is the case is because the Human brain is designed in such a manner that our intellect serves our emotions, not the other way around. Hence, we have heads of state who fire their Generals for wounding their egos, and people who shoot themselves in order to make this or that sensation stop. It is also quite revealing that rather than attempt to vilify the people who commit suicide by firearm or spout “if I had been there” type fantasies, the gun lobby is very oddly silent about how well-represented firearms are in successful suicides.
Ugh, I am rambling pointlessly again. I will, of course, continue to try and write more pointless things. But for now… Um… yeah… I am tired.
Darn, I forgot the link to the other person’s post.
*looks and reads*
I think I am going to have to go over that a couple of times in order to really digest it. But it looks interesting.
Loss of life because some mutant decided he wanted to wipe put some people and armed himself to do just that.
Easy access to weapons and even armor and smoke granades so he could do as much damage as possible before being stopped.
N.R.A. is obviously part of this problem fighting every attempt at banning assault weapons and other cannon like rifles that can hit a plane from a mile away.
No citizen needs this kind of weapon.
You will need to pardon me for being so slow to respond. It has taken me a lot of time to think about how best to do that. What I find horrifying about the whole “if I had a gun” fantasy is that I have since read about how prepared the gunman was, how thought-out the whole affair was. Honestly, if we want a society where every citizen is expected to be armed to the teeth and decked out in armour, we may as well go back to the Middle Ages.