The world is going yet again through a period in which recent mass violence events place gun ownership and gun control issues on the priority list of both governments and concerned citizens and thousands of heated official and informal debates occur as a result.
This is the first time I decide to share my view on the subject, since it seems to me that we’re looking at the wrong problem, just to serve political and individual interests.
I don’t want this blog post to be yet another data-filled article supporting one of the views or an emotion-based material presenting individual stories in the hopes to get readers to sympathize and agree to a certain point of view. What I want to list in this post is an alternative, high-level view about what I consider to be the actual problem we need to address if we want to obtain different social results when it comes to violence-related events.
I’m a humanist with an active interest to promote assertiveness and apply critical thinking skills to analyze both micro- and macro-contexts. This is what mainly guides the view presented in this article. I am neither a firearm, nor a political expert. I’d just like to live in a less violent world that allows both individuals and society to thrive and focus on development and growth.
I will not discuss state-specific laws – no US’ 2nd Amendment, no Australia’s 13 to 0 mass shootings reports or similar subjects or arguments. Gun ownership and gun control will only be analyzed in the context of human, individual rights and assertive principles.
The first part of the article will address the bigger picture and the second one will include my personal views on gun ownership and gun control, should anyone be interested in that as well.
I do not want to imply, through any of the arguments presented in this article, that this view (i.e. my view) is the correct or the only way in which this subject can be addressed, but I think that the key in solving complex issues that influence all of us is to work together, share our views, select the helpful perspectives from all of them and act in a way that shapes our internal and external environments into those that we need and desire. Please feel free to share your perspective as well, in the comment section.
Why I think we’re looking at the wrong problem:
- Gun ownership is not a cause. It’s an effect. Thinking that by taking away someone’s guns, or specific type of guns (fully automated, semi-automated, etc), you will eliminate the ultimate effect of mass killings it’s, in my opinion, a truly simplistic way of seeing things. People have different reasons behind gun ownership and the subsequent use of that weapon can be inferred from this initial reason. Those who genuinely buy guns for protection are not likely to end up using them in massive killings.
- Gun laws, tight or not, cannot and will not fully eradicate violent behavior. Laws, in general, can only be expected to do two things: limit behaviors (discouragement) and punish specific behaviors. And when it comes to behavior limitation, they only work for one category of individuals: those willing to obey them. The downside of punishment is that it can only occur after the fact. So the tragic effects come first, punishment comes after the individual already acted on his/her violent intentions. Obviously, discouragement for these individuals failed to work. And they are the ones who actually cause getting the topic of gun control front and center for the public to debate.
- Gun use is a mean, a convenience, not a stand-alone feature of inner violent dynamic. This means that those who want to injure themselves or others may choose guns to do so, but not having access to guns does not necessarily mean they will give up that goal, since means can always be reconsidered and replaced. Firearm use is a preference, not the sole way in which a violent plan can be carried out.
- Gun invention is a done thing. Nothing will reverse the world’s knowledge of the various weapon types. Okay, mass extinction and several types of astronomic events would, but what I mean is that as long as the specific knowledge exists, there will always be access to all these types of objects that can be used to harm living beings. And those who are strongly motivated to harm may accept the challenge and try to figure out a way to gain access to the desired weapon. Buy it, steal it, build it. Therefore, gun violence cannot be fully eliminated.
- Firearms are not the main cause of mortality. Not even in the USA, where gun violence is reaching the highest levels. According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, poisoning and motor vehicle traffic are causing more injuries than firearms. So why not proceed to regulate substances and motor vehicles with the same determination displayed by gun control proponents? Firearms are, however, the main modality used in suicides. But high suicide rates by firearms did not trigger the gun control debate.
What I think the actual problem is:
Formulating the problem is a critical step in solving an issue. Fight the wrong factors and you won’t get the expected results. State wrong cause for a given effect and your actions can become useless.
At this point, the problem seems to be formulated as “owning guns” or “owning specific type of guns” (with certain features). And I don’t think that’s accurate. Those guns don’t just start shooting people – except of course, accidental injuries caused by mechanical aspects. This is not an AI testing gone bad. Weapons need to be wielded by someone in order to harm. They need to point at a target in order to injure it. So in the end, it’s about the hand wielding the weapon. And that hand is controlled by a mind that wants and/or decides to harm. No matter whether that mind is affected by mental illness or not.
Guns don’t kill people. People do. So I think people killing people is the actual problem that we need to deal with. It’s not even about classic weapons. Almost anything can be turned into a weapon if one decides to harm.
We all have knives. Not every household witnesses a stabbing.
Most people have cars. Not all drivers plow into crowds and run over pedestrians.
Many people are plane pilots. Not all of them flew their planes into buildings.
We’re all innately aggressive. Not all of us engage in extremely violent behaviors.
So, to think that access to a weapon or weapon-like object is the cause of the extreme violence we witness nowadays worldwide, is unreasonable, to say the least.
Throughout the history of mankind, massively violent periods have been generated by extremely violent individuals.
And one of the things about massively violent contexts is that they do not need to involve the majority of individuals of a population. A minority of individuals with extreme proneness to violence can define entire episodes of history with their actions.
And there are many reasons behind anti-social behavior. Without using professional terms and without doing an in-depth analysis regarding the known factors involved in anti-social behaviors, I will only say here that the main thing that I think we should consider when considering this type of behaviors, is the presence of psychotic manifestations. People who present psychotic symptoms or have been diagnosed with disorders in the schizophrenia spectrum or other psychotic disorders should be protected by existing laws. These laws should prevent them from having direct access to contexts and objects that they could use to harm themselves or others. Guns included.
Leaving the psychotic disorder cause aside, most individuals displaying extreme anti-social behaviors do not suffer from mental illnesses that can be considered the root of their behavior. This means that they most likely are capable of analyzing, planning and choosing their actions. Laws don’t do much for these individuals. If they decide to act in an extended aggressive manner, they will find a way to either use the laws to their advantage – as we’ve seen in the Las Vegas shooting, or completely ignore the existing laws and do what they want. Many of them consider that going through with the violent actions they’ve planned is more important than the potential punishment that they can get after the fact.
Laws don’t work as discouragement for people who don’t value laws. And that is the case with many people who display extreme anti-social behavior.
Extremely violent events are caused by extremely anti-social individuals. Whatever causes the increased anti-social traits is what causes the extreme tragic events that we now observe and try to diminish.
America’s problem is not guns, not cars, not planes. It’s antisocial behavior on the rise.
More and more individuals choose violent acts as valid problem solvers. They cannot critically analyze and find reasonable solutions for their problems. More and more individuals do not know how to deal with their own emotional content and end up releasing that tension in violent acts toward those they think that did them wrong. They cannot communicate and regulate their emotions effectively. More and more individuals seek power and control and choose violent acts to achieve these unreasonable goals. They’ve been taught that they don’t count and this is how they make themselves seen, heard and taken seriously.
Not to forget, more and more people cannot tolerate diversity and choose violent acts to shape the world according to their (biased) beliefs and views. They’ve been taught to hate.
These are the things that mainly make up our problem. Not guns.
What can we do?
Antisocial behavior is a nature plus nurture type of product. We do not (yet) know how to fully eliminate its extreme manifestations. Aggressiveness is an innate part of us and even if we would find a way to suppress it, I don’t think we should do that, since aggressiveness also fuels our survival instinct and associated behaviors. So, cutting down anti-social behavior to zero is an unrealistic goal, but drastically diminishing extreme violent behaviors is a goal that I think we can set for ourselves as a society and succeed in achieving it.
A guide on “How To Raise Children Who Are Antisocial-Behavior-Risk-Free” is not the aim of this blog post, nor do I know if we can actually create such strategy, but I think that the main things that we should focus on can be formulated in a rather simple way:
- Promote and practice consideration and respect toward yourself and other individuals (Activate Assertiveness).
- Achieve and promote a mindset that is as free from cognitive bias as possible (Activate Critical Thinking).
- Promote personal responsibility as personal and social value.
The first step will ensure that each individual has the opportunity to see value in themselves and others. The second produces an environment in which decision-making processes can work as smoothly as possible. The third makes everything come together.
Like all complex things, this is easier said than done. It takes a lot of preparation and we would have to overcome so many individual and social obstacles to achieve this result. But things seem less complicated to me when we talk about diminishing the use of guns in violent events. Here’s why.
Okay. So, many individuals will choose guns as their preferred weapon because the gun provides them with the best chances to accomplish their goal. But there are also individuals who use guns because they’ve been taught that guns are the way to go in certain situations. And the actual society has the main role in that.
We’ve made guns and drugs look cool. We’ve made them social symbols that go with social labels. And people who get the label end up using the symbols. I’ll explain.
- Society glamorized gun use. Most Hollywood heroes rule by gun. It became a sign of authority, being cool and even justice. If you’re the bad guy, you have a gun. If you want to make people pay attention to you, you have a gun. Want to enforce justice? You’d better have a gun. From movies, to music, to fashion, to computer games, weapons are used as symbols of power and means of control. (And no, I don’t believe that media products are to blame for one’s anti-social behavior, but it became an important factor in the belief system creation process and I think we should pay close attention to this social mirror.)
- Media turned mass and serial killers into rock stars. News reports and TV shows will tell you more about mass and serial killers than about Nobel prize winners. That’s a social flaw.
- Interdiction creates interest and needs. When you place more emphasis on what should not be done than on what a desired outcome of a situation looks like, you’re basically guiding one’s attention to that thing and place significance on it. “Don’t smoke”, “Don’t have sex” and “That’s for grownups” work as a charm in the teenagers’ world. Parents and educators do more harm than good by simply formulating interdiction and not explaining contexts or presenting options and desired outcomes. If it needs so much guarding and prevention, then this must be something significant and worth pursuing.
- Labels trigger linked behaviors. I mentioned earlier how guns became media symbols for authority, being cool and even a symbol for justice. Now whoever wants to be associated with these values can use guns in an attempt to achieve that. Same goes for drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol. Link them to an image or a value someone wants to attain and they might try to use them in order to achieve that image. It’s a principle highly used in advertising. After all, I don’t think that many people would’ve started smoking in the ’90s if that Marlboro guy wouldn’t have looked so damn cool on his horse, smoking his cigarette. People wanted to be that cool, confident, free-spirited, cigarette smoking guy. It takes intentional effort not to let yourself manipulated by pretty images selling you pretty stories.
Some individuals are more responsible for these social effects than others, but I did not see a mass critical reaction to stop these things from being perpetuated from generation to generation. I think we should be more careful about our legacy.
When you give too much attention to something, you make it important and you give it power regarding your life. Sure, mass violent events are important and require our full attention in order to deal with them, but too much attention can do more harm than good. You can lose focus about what you actually need to achieve, because you’re too caught up into what others are destroying.
Also, too much exposure to violent content will desensitize populations regarding the specific content. Therefore, the level of violence needed to get the viewers’ attention next time will be higher. You basically start a contest among anti-socials. The next mass shooter in the USA will have to make more victims than the one in Las Vegas to get the “Deadliest mass shooting in the history of USA” badge.
We have to decide what we want our world to be about. And I think we need to reconsider our priorities.
My View on Gun Ownership and Gun Control
Although I believe this is not the main problem we have to deal with, but a secondary issue that stems from more complex causes, I decided to also share my view on the specific topics of gun ownership and gun control. Just to have a full disclosure situation going on, since I would not want readers to have to speculate about my position on this matter.
So here’s in short, my opinion:
- People should be allowed to own guns. I think access to the results of human knowledge and development is a human right and no one should try to infringe it.
- It’s not about owning a gun. It’s about what you do with the gun. I did mention earlier that the reasons behind gun ownership vary a lot. In the end, it’s about intent and personal decisions.
- Gun ownership and use permits should be carefully regulated. It shouldn’t be easy to get a gun and you shouldn’t be able to get any gun. Weapon registration, psychological testing and the proof that one can safely handle the specific type of weapon they request a permit for, should be part of the regulation process.
- Guns are part of the best security measures one can get. After all, that is why people in charge with security in public places carry them as well, right? So why not give civilians the same chances of protection in their own home? Especially since not all threats are visible, predictable or even preventable by classic measures. If you’re thinking that if individuals would not be allowed to own guns then you wouldn’t have to protect yourself from an armed individual and any of the other assault methods would offer you better chances to save yourself, think again. Think about individuals not obeying the law getting a hold of a gun and attacking you. What chances do you have now in front of an intruder or attacker who holds a firearm? About the same chances we all have in front of armies – which make governments so powerful by the way.
- Personal accountability goes with gun ownership and gun use. You should be responsible for anything that happens with a firearm you own. And what happens to a gun you own should be monitored (theft, occasional use, accidents, etc).
I wish we wouldn’t have to think about protecting ourselves. With/from guns or with/from anything else. I dream of and try to do my part in building a world where armies are not needed. Where people do not have to protect themselves from other people. But that result is either too far away, or pure utopia. I cannot tell. But I think that we should work on it nonetheless.