Guns And Violence

It appears that in the fight against insane violence in this country V.P. Joe Biden will not even attempt to suggest the restriction of the sale of so-called assault weapons even though, according to HuffPost, “The president has been clear that Congress should reinstate the assault weapons ban and that avoiding this issue just because it’s been politically difficult in the past is not an option.” The results of Biden’s discussions with various groups interested in promoting or defeating tighter gun legislation will lack that one rather important item as the following news item attests:

Vice President Joe Biden announced Thursday that he will recommend new gun control measures to President Barack Obama, which include more comprehensive background checks on gun buyers and limits on the sizes of ammunition magazines. The proposal could lead to the most significant move on guns in 20 years, but one regulation highly coveted by gun control advocates was notably missing: a ban on assault weapons.

Apparently Biden and his group have decided that such an attempt would be an exercise in futility. The sale of such weapons has grown exponentially since the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut and the Vice President seems to be retreating from one rather important feature of any viable gun control legislation because it would simply mean spitting into the wind. Coincidentally, or not so coincidentally, the NRA announced recently that their membership has grown by 100,000 members since the Newtown shootings. As a result the NRA has been flexing its considerable muscle — and has apparently done so effectively.

So unless the president effectively intervenes, the final results of these recommendations by Joe Biden’s group, assuming that there will be some sort of legislation forthcoming, will not really move this country in the direction of sanity; we will remain an armed camp waiting for the slightest excuse to pull the trigger and take out someone we regard as particularly nasty. This does not bode well. We might do well to reflect on the nature of violence.

I can think of no one better to think with on this topic than Hannah Arendt who wrote a book on the subject in the late 60s because she saw that this country was headed in the direction of increasing violence and she sought to understand why and whether or not something could be done to prevent it. She concluded that, contrary to widespread opinion at the time, violence is the result of a sense of powerlessness. When a person or a group begins to feel it is losing power it resorts to violence. The solution, as she saw it, is for groups to take action, to become more involved. This is an interesting notion and one worth pondering.

It is decidedly the case that an increasing number of people in this country feel this sense of powerlessness and disinterest. As the country grows more populous, problems loom larger and solutions farther away, debt becomes an increasing fact of life, and the government depressingly inept, the citizens of this country do indeed have grounds for feeling powerless: what is a person to do? How do we get out of the bind we are in? These questions start to press in on every side. Couple this with the fact that we see violence all around us and the message we get from TV and the movies is that the way to solve problems is to pull out a gun and shoot someone and it would seem probable that violence is a likely alternative for a growing numbers of people.

Thus, it would seem, this nation is increasingly becoming an armed camp that finds violence an acceptable alternative. The government might choose to increase citizen involvement in governance and deal directly with the problems that face the majority of people on Main Street in order to reduce the sense of powerlessness. This would accord with Arendt’s suggestion. But that seems unlikely. We can expect, then, that violence will increase rather than decrease — especially in light of the fact that whatever laws might result from this government’s feeble attempts to halt the sales of violent weapons will fall far short of where any sane person would want them to fall.

At a time when we should be thinking of the sternest possible steps to curb violence it seems we are to be handed a band-aid. Unless the president can persuade a reluctant Congress to do the right thing we are in for more rough times. Hold on to your hats!.

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Gun Crazy

A recent story is worthy of reflection:

ORTERVILLE, Calif. (AP) — The church bell that rings out to announce the deaths of tribal members on the Tule River Indian Reservation tolled repeatedly after a man went on a shooting rampage that left a daughter, his mother and her two brothers dead. The suspect also died in a shootout with police.

The story is doubly disturbing because the man is a member of a native tribe that has been relegated to the wasteland of this country — like so many Native Americans who were chased from their lands. Typically they end up in trailers in the middle of nowhere dependent on gambling casinos to keep body and soul together. And we wonder why they have drinking and drug problems!

But this man shot members of his family for reasons unknown. And this will go down as simply another mindless shooting that might have been prevented if we had tougher gun laws. I say “might have been.” As critics point out, even with tougher gun laws anyone who really wants one could buy it. “It’s not guns that kill people, it’s people who kill people.” Yadda, Yadda. We’ve heard it all before and it is still nonsense. Guns make it a heck of a lot easier. With tougher gun laws it might be more difficult to purchase them in the first place, and this would be a step in the right direction.

It was reported recently that seven team members of the Kansas City Chiefs voluntarily turned in their guns after the murder/suicide by Jovan Belcher.  Defenders of the second amendment — which protects our right to bear arms only because there was not supposed to be a standing army — insist that this is “not a gun issue.” They say it is a “mental health issue,” or a “domestic violence” issue. Whatever. It does get tiresome. One of the seven Chiefs players turned in eight guns! Tony Dungy said in response to the report on “Football Night In America” that he once asked a room filled with his players how many of them had guns and 75% of the hands in the room went up. Carrying guns is becoming the norm, apparently, and states like Minnesota where I live now have laws allowing people to carry loaded weapons on their person wherever they go. The rationale is “self-defense,” but the notion that more people carrying loaded guns will lower the likelihood of violence is counter-intuitive.

Hannah Arendt told us years ago that violence is largely a result of frustration. The man in the story above must have been under a mountain of frustration. And it is a growing phenomenon in a country with a rising population where resources and money are becoming scarce — and where we have been told since early childhood that we can do anything we want to do and have anything we want to have. If we combine growing frustration with the ready availability of guns the formula is one for what we loosely call “tragedy.” We can expect more of the same until or unless the Congress has courage enough to take on the N.R.A. and pass tougher gun laws. If you believe that will happen I have some farmland in the Everglades I would like to sell you.