In the wake of the Newtown shootings, the usual voices on the Left have resumed their call for the nation to “do something” about guns. In a longish post, here are some contrarian opinions from around the blogosphere, and a few observations of my own.
First, here’s a penetrating essay by Charles Cooke, who is wiser than his years:
On Newtown and Gun Control: The Difficult Response
After a man walked into a British elementary school in 1996 and killed 17 people, the British government summarily banned handguns. After yesterday’s massacre at Newtown, some in America would that Congress did the same here. The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik wrote yesterday afternoon that “gun massacres, most often of children, happen with hideous regularity, and they happen with hideous regularity because guns are hideously and regularly available.” He concluded with a general call for something to be done and the execrable charge that those who oppose “gun control” were complicit in the crime. This, sadly, is a predictable response.
Arguments over the merits of gun control are made all the more difficult to navigate by the Left’s stubborn denial that we are already having a debate on the issue. Gun control propositions are by no means new, and nor is there a lack of a “national conversation on the subject.” Instead, the national conversation is ongoing, and the Left is losing it badly. Gun control advocates may talk of national soul searching and dialogue, but in truth that already exists; what they mean is that they’d like to win for a change.
The Gopniks of the world don’t tend to win, however, because their arguments are weak and because their thinking is shallow. It is quite literally unfathomable to almost every human being that a man could shoot his mother dead. It is perhaps doubly unfathomable that someone could shoot a group of little children. To have done both on the same day is nothing short of astonishing. Herein lies the essential problem for those who would radically change our constitutional order: Americans know that they could never do such things whether they had no guns or two hundred guns at their disposal. The mind of a man so ill or depraved that he is capable of an atrocity such as we saw at Newtown is not one that can be constrained by law. Nobody refrains from shooting up a school because it is illegal.
There are at least two hundred million privately owned guns in America, and Connecticut regulates access to them more strictly than most. To believe that yesterday’s crime could have been prevented, you have to presume either that a man willing to go to such grievous lengths could have been deterred from doing so by stronger laws, or that those stronger laws could rid America of privately available guns completely — thus making the killer’s task an impossible one. I believe neither thing. To pass a law is not to achieve its aims, and one suspects that any attempt at gun control in America — which outlaws and the deranged will naturally ignore — would be destined to be filed next to Prohibition and the War on Drugs in the annals of man’s folly.
American liberties, including the Second Amendment and the 40-plus state-level guarantees of the right to bear arms, pre-exist the federal government, and are defined and protected in the same document from which the state derives its authority and its structure. In a free republic, the people cannot be disarmed by the government, for they are it’s employers, and they did not give up their individual rights when they consented to its creation. There is no clause in our charters of liberty that allows for the people to be deprived of their freedom if and when a few individuals abuse theirs. Moreover, contrary to the rhetoric of many, America is not in the middle of a crime epidemic. As laws have been liberalized over the last forty years, crime has dropped significantly. The partial incorporation of the Second Amendment by the Supreme Court, along with the decline in public support for gun control and the passage of state-level concealed carry laws has done nothing to check this trend.
Contrarily, school shootings, such as the nauseating and heartbreaking spectacle we saw yesterday, are seemingly on the rise — as are other mass shootings, such as that which afflicted Aurora, Colo. earlier in the year. As Ezra Klein has observed, “of the 12 deadliest shootings in U.S. history, six have taken place since 2007.” This is a separate problem. What is causing this is not yet known and probably underinvestigated, but it is certainly not guns. The American republic stood for almost two hundred years before the first school shooting occurred. Something is awry, to be sure; to blame guns is a mistake.
It is often glibly asserted that mine is the “easy” response. On the contrary, it is the difficult response. To shout “do something” or “ban guns” is the facile suggestion, and nonchalantly to content oneself that laws passed in a faraway city will fix society’s problems is the comforting conviction. My judgment, by contrast, is the terrifying one: To realize that there is very little than one could have done to stop yesterday’s abomination is to understand that we are sometimes powerless in the face of evil, however much we shout about it.
Mr Cooke is right: the issue here is not guns; it’s culture. For instance: on a per-capita basis, Switzerland is ranked third in the world for private firearms possession, but its per-capita firearm homicide is only a quarter of the U.S. rate. Brazil, on the other hand, has a rate of firearms possession that is only one-eleventh of America’s, but its rate of gun homicide is six times higher.
Only a tiny proportion of homicides are mass murders caused by what John Brunner called “muckers” — but as Brunner predicted in his gloomy masterpiece Stand on Zanzibar, they are becoming more common, all over the world. The people who study these things know this, and appear to be baffled as to the cause.
Here’s the abstract from a paper titled The Nature of Mass Murder and Autogenic Massacre, published in the Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology:
Incidents of mass murder have gained considerable media attention, but are not well understood in behavioral sciences. Current definitions are weak, and may include politically or ideological motivated phenomenon. Our current understanding of the phenomenon indicates these incidents are not peculiar to only western cultures, and appear to be increasing. Methods most prominently used include firearms by males who have experienced challenging setbacks in important social, familial and vocational domains. There often appears to be important autogenic components (Mullen Behavioral Sciences and the Law (22)3, 2004), including dysthymic reactions and similar antecedents. There have been observations of possible seasonal variations in mass murders, but research to date is inadequate to establish this relationship. It is recommended behavioral sciences and mental health researchers increase research efforts on understanding mass killings, as the current socioeconomic climate may increase vulnerability to this phenomenon, and the incidents are not well understood despite their notoriety.
Again: the causal factor here is not guns. Guns have been almost completely unregulated throughout most of US history, but mass shootings at American schools began only in the 1960s, with the Whitman shootings at the University of Texas. The pace has been accelerating since then. Anyway, Connecticut already has restrictive gun laws; the guns used in the Newtown shooting were legally owned by the shooter’s mother. Even more stringent background checks for mental illness would have done nothing to prevent this assault.
Lawrence Auster, writing at VFR, makes this point and more:
A conservative friend said to me that she’s starting to think that something has to be done about guns. But I heard a few minutes ago on Fox that the three guns the killer used were all owned legally by his mother. Which made my point for me: the only type of gun control that could have stopped such a crime would be the outlawing and confiscation of every privately owned gun in America.
Meanwhile, the entire country takes for granted demonically evil and violent entertainment. It takes for granted — when it’s not applauding — movie stars who declare on national television that they enjoyed killing white people in their latest movie. At the same time, people assume that their lives in America is middle-class, normal, and safe. The disconnect is radical, apparently incurable. We have a society in which there are no moral norms (except for the tyrannical and inverted “norms” of politically correctness), yet we are always shocked when someone puts into practice the idea that there are no norms.
Laura Wood also points to cultural causes that nobody on the Left would be inclined to discuss:
A Feminized Culture is a Violent Culture
ONE OF the fundamental pretenses of liberalism is that it stands on the side of non-violence. A liberal is tolerant, accepting, open and, above all, a pacifist. Feminism, in particular, has always held that if more women were in power, society would become more peaceful because women are less prone to aggression.
However, if we look closely at the kind of society feminism creates, we see that the opposite is true. A feminist society is not a peaceful one. Feminism encourages violence. It is no surprise that mass shootings have become increasingly common in the last fifty years.
Feminism encourages violence by creating homes without fathers.
Feminism encourages violence by leaving women too overburdened or emotionally unstable to provide maternal love.
Feminism encourages violence by depriving children of siblings and extended family, who may ease their alienation and force them to learn restraint.
Feminism encourages violence by leaving children under the supervision of popular culture, which exalts and glorifies violence and death.
Feminism encourages violence by making government-run, atheistic schools, which alienate boys with their feminized regimentation, the center of community life.
Feminism encourages violence by creating hordes of female psychologists who understand little about aggression and hatred and are powerless to restrain it, and yet who create the illusion of control.
Feminism encourages violence by weakening communities, so that fewer people recognize when someone is dangerously mentally ill and families are left alone with those who are unstable.
Feminism encourages violence by disenfranchising men, whose relative powerlessness creates rage and resentment.
Feminism encourages violence by feminizing God and denying sin.
The cries of outrage, and the demands that the President, or Congress, must do something, are understandable enough; above all in 21st-century America, people want to be safe. But implicit in these calls for decisive “action” are some questionable assumptions: not only that tighter gun laws will in fact make people safer (which appears to be contrary to empirical results), but also that protection from all risk is society’s highest possible aim, and that it is therefore in a free people’s best interests to surrender these fundamental rights and liberties to the Federal sovereign in exchange for the hope of improved security.
Here are some of my own thoughts from 2007, written just after the Virginia Tech shootings:
When this sort of thing happens, the natural reaction here in the U.S., where we are able to live our lives at a level of safety and comfort that is unparalleled in the history of the world, is to ask how we can prevent it from happening again. This isn’t some horrid Third World backwater, after all, where life is cheap; this is America, and if something is broken, we want the government to fix it. But underlying this attitude is the assumption that everything can be fixed; that we have an inalienable right to live tranquil and sheltered lives, and that what we get for living here and not, say, Darfur, or East Timor, or Baghdad, is that our children will be safe. And the amazing fact is that generally, they are.
But we should take a step back from our indignation to realize that we live brief and precarious lives on a tiny speck of dust in a vast and indifferent Cosmos, and that despite our very best efforts (and by all means, let us see what we can do, not with a hysterical backlash, but by a reasoned examination of our options and priorities as a society), the chaos, the blackness, the uncaring and infinite Wild that we so effectively manage to keep just beyond the gates is going to creep in now and then, and pick some of us off. We live in a firelit glade in the forest, and sometimes we forget how recently the ground was cleared, and how small a place we occupy in the wilderness all around us.
The madness that took those infinitely precious young lives was not a localized instance, nor is it “fixable” by legislature. It was an eruption of a molten pool that lies beneath us all, and while our species passes through its awkward and painful adolescence — as the world is compressed ever more tightly, and as more and more of us are brought, willy-nilly, into random and kinetic interaction with one another — that heat and pressure will find its way to the surface again and again, until we transform not our governments, not our laws, but ourselves.
Although I am not a religious believer myself, I’ll conclude by mentioning something that comes up often when I discuss the “problem of evil” with theologically literate Christians. The question is: how can a benevolent and all-powerful God allow the terrible evil that men do?
The answer usually given is that in order to create Man in His own image — that is, in order for Man to have the potential to approach most closely to God Himself — it was absolutely necessary that Man should instantiate that most precious of God’s own attributes: the freedom of choice that allows him to elect his own destiny. This bears the awful consequence, however, that man, if free, must be free to choose evil. But in that freedom, and in that alone, lies Man’s only claim to real dignity, and his only chance at self-perfection. More importantly, it is the only way that he may claim his self-perfection, his movement toward the ultimate Good, as his own.
This means that as long as men are free, and are still imperfect, there will always be evil in this world — but we do not move Man toward perfection, and toward the Good, by diminishing his liberty. We must treat the disease, not the symptoms.