America’s gun problem is not fixable through legislative means. We need to change the way the country thinks, first.
Folks, I have some bad news and a real-talk observation to lay on you. We’re not going to solve the gun problem. We’re not. That horse has not only left the barn, the barn caught fire, the ammo stockpiled in the hayloft cooked off, the earth beneath it was salted, and a rifle range was built on top of the ruins.
The gun problem in the United States has progressed beyond simple answers and is steeped in our culture so deeply that a significant number of Americans equate their right to bear arms with being a free citizen under legitimate governance, not a slave subject to tyranny.
Hear me out.
It’s impossible to know precisely how many guns are in private hands in the United States. Every gun made by a licensed U.S. manufacturer leaves a paper trail, of course. However, many of those are exported, more are imported, others are manufactured under informal circumstances, a few rust or break, some are passed from generation to generation, and not every gun is registered, anyway. Senior defense analyst Brynn Tannehill claims that there are more than 400 million unregistered guns in circulation, 20 million of which are AR-15s. There are more privately owned guns out there than the total number possessed by the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, and all police departments, combined. Any widespread attempt to register or confiscate them would not go well. Closets and crawlspaces across the country have long been stocked with ammo by people waiting and dreaming of the day someone tries to do so.
The gun problem won’t be solved by new large scale legislation, either. Even if your ideal solution manages to make it through Congress by the skin of its teeth and is signed into law by the President, it would still be struck down by a monumentally pro-gun Supreme Court. Even if Clarence Thomas steps down in light of his recent scandals and Biden’s would-be nominee clears the Senate, the balance is still tilted toward the conservative majority and likely will be for the generation to come.
State level legislation isn’t completely beyond imagination (witness recent gun laws signed by Michigan’s Governor Whitmer), but they’re not going to sweep the country, either. Red states have been so gerrymandered as to largely prevent legislative action that goes contrary to the conservative agenda, and indeed, many states have worked toward canceling their gun restrictions. For example, Florida recently became the 26th state to allow adults to carry concealed handguns without a permit or even any mandated training.
Where strong gun control laws exist, they are often weaponized against society’s most marginalized groups. Second Amendment advocates argue that gun rights are crucial to maintaining civil rights, but they often prefer that the sentiment, however correct, only be applied to the people they like. For the most part, American liberals have gone along with it. A noteworthy Salon piece cited then-California Governor Ronald Reagan’s heavily racist gun control laws, passed as a reaction to the Black Panther’s armed protest at the State Capitol in 1967, as having saved “thousands of lives.” The liberal tendency to perceive that Black, poor, LGBTQ+ and marginalized lives are threatened daily by police and other haters while simultaneously preferring only cops and the wealthy to be armed is a major policy conflict and source of enmity between liberals and leftists.
We’re not going to solve the gun problem no matter how many opinion polls show a popular preference for tougher gun laws. However, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do.
Even such staunch liberal outlets as Mother Jones and NPR admitted recently that Washington is uninterested in fixing the gun problem and it’s time to take other defensive actions, such as hardening the schools. Liberals have a history of resenting common sense measures such as lockdown drills for students, although they generally approve of other public safety measures, such as wearing masks and social distancing during a pandemic. There are also other ways to improve physical security at schools, such as fenced perimeters, limited points of entry, parking lot cameras, monitored outside doors and layers of inner security doors. These buy time, delaying persons of ill intent before they can do serious damage, until emergency help arrives. It can be done without giving schools militarized makeovers, too; high-end hotels have implemented measures like these without looking at all like prisons.
Rather than focusing on the gun problem we can’t solve, it’s time to focus instead on the people who can be helped, or at least stopped. Striking commonalities exist among mass shooters, and a targeted, data-based approach could spot them before they decide to pull the trigger. Childhood trauma such as intense bullying, domestic violence, and sexual abuse lays a foundation that grows into self-loathing, isolation, hopelessness, and social rejection. Often there are suicide attempts, episodes of animal abuse or family and partner violence, and previous attempts to get help. They turn their hate outward, focusing on marginalized groups, other religious faiths, or women. These are signs that would be noticed if our society were more connected, rather than highly individualistic, and people knew how to spot troubling behavior and what to do when their colleague, family member or classmate is moving toward the abyss.
The way we think must also change. We need to encourage a culture of gun safety, similar to the practices advocated by the National Rifle Association when it was still an organization for sportsmen and hunters, chartered by Congress to promote safe and proficient firearm use by all Americans. NRA gun safety rules include classics like “always assume a firearm is loaded,” “always point a firearm in a safe direction,” “know your target and what is beyond your target,” and “store guns so they are not accessible to unauthorized persons.” Reclaiming respectful and safe gun culture is miles away from politicized gun yahoo nonsense, and we need to get back to it. Make guns tools again; stop giving them such tremendous social power, whether as invincible freedom dick sticks of badassery or as fear and evil incarnate.
It wouldn’t hurt, either, if liberals took up safe and proficient gun handling, even if only to have the knowledge needed to make competent attempts at introducing gun-related policy instead of simply sounding like a conservative trying to legislate female reproductive matters.
Guns are an entrenched part of the culture of the United States. We need to learn to live with them as safely as possible. We are not going to fix the gun problem through legislation, but all of us have a part to play in promoting infrastructure and changing American culture in ways that de-escalate the danger and improve our social cohesiveness. If we don’t, we’re looking at a future where gratuitous gun violence increases as social and material conditions become more desperate.