It seems that frequently after a gun related tragedy garners national attention, there is a tepid attempt to discuss what, if anything, we can do to address gun related violence in the United States. It’s a hard question to answer and one I have not fully formed an opinion about. Part of the difficulty is that often pro-gun rhetoric has stunted the ability to discuss how guns affect our society by denying that guns affect our society.
Please note that I am not saying the pro-gun movement is wrong on the issue of gun control, I am merely saying that the way they present the issue often prevents a more fruitful discussion regarding the role of firearms in our country. The crux of the problem is that we have become so focused on discussing what we do with guns, that we have almost completely overlooked what guns may do to us.
Guns, as a creation, fundamentally change certain dynamics of violence. For example, they allow the weaker individual to fight the stronger, they allow violence to be committed from a distance, they allow it to be instant, and they, in many similarly subtle ways, change how we view things like power and violence. It is these changing dynamics that too often go unobserved in the discussion of a tragedy. Either we mistakenly presume the gun is fully responsible for the violence, or more often, fully innocent. We can see the problem a bit better by looking at two recent gun related tragedies.
In an editorial about the Jovan Belcher tragedy, in which a former NFL linebacker for the Chiefs shot his wife and then himself in a murder/suicide, Fox Sports writer Jason Whitlock wrote, “What I believe is, if he didn’t possess/own a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.” The idea that merely having a gun is all that contributed to this tragedy is certainly an oversimplification, however, it also most certainly is a factor.
Another tragedy occurred recently in Florida that can help us analyze this idea. On November 23 Michael Dunn got into a dispute with a group of teens in a car with loud music. During the dispute the man felt threatened and fired his gun at the car, killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis. No one in the vehicle had been armed. Now what I believe is that if Michael Dunn didn’t possess/own a gun, Jordan Davis would be alive today.
We hear too often: “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Fair enough. But guns change how people kill people, and they change how people view killing. When someone has a gun the question of how they respond to a situation changes, for better or worse, because they have an option that they didn’t have before. These changes are what we need to be discussing if we want to be able to advocate effectively for or against gun control. We need to ask ourselves questions like whether guns make individuals more or less inclined towards confrontation.
I don’t know or believe that gun control would have prevented these tragedies, but I do believe that a fear of gun control will prevent us from understanding them. Gun ownership is a cultural thing, and discussing whether gun control is right or wrong requires us to acknowledge this. We have to first be able to admit that gun ownership changes a person. Once we are able to do this we will be able to discuss how it changes a person, and whether this change is bad or good. It is only after this debate has become the focus of our discourse that a dialogue about the pros and cons of gun control can finally find its place in the public deliberation.