by S. Abbas Raza
Like many if not most of you, I'm sure, I spent much of the weekend reading various articles about gun control and signing various petitions about it. By Sunday night I just became depressed: while it is clear to me that the existence and easy availability of hundreds of millions of guns to the citizens of America is responsible for tens of thousands of preventable deaths each year, it is also seems that there is very little hope of passing any meaningful gun control legislation in this country. So what to do? In my confusion I put up the following on Facebook last night where it generated quite a few comments, so I am now throwing it up here too (it is not a well thought-out essay, just a goad to discussion):
Friends, help me think this out, will you? I am a little confused by everything I have been reading about gun-control in the last couple of days. I'll appreciate your thoughts and comments but, because this is an extremely emotional issue and all of us are rightly outraged by the Newtown shooting, I will be grateful if the tone of all comments can be kept respectful of other points of view.
Here is some of what I have gathered:
1) There is a very large number of people in America who are very attached to the idea of gun ownership. To dismiss these people with condescension is at worst irresponsible and undemocratic and, at best, just silly in pragmatic terms. No drastic measure such as a repeal of the 2nd amendment or some other sort of ban or severe restriction on gun ownership is going to happen for decades in this country no matter how devoutly I or my lefty friends wish it. Even laws limiting purchase of guns to one a month are impossible to get enacted, given the current state of electoral politics!
2) There is an extremely large number of guns out there in America already and it would not be an easy thing to get people to turn them in even if one could pass legislation limiting new gun purchases in a meaningful way, which one probably can't. (For many different sorts of reasons.)
3) No legislation that could realistically pass at this point would have kept Adam Lanza from having access to the guns he had access to. This is not to say that such legislation would not prevent other tragedies from occuring, just that it would not have prevented this one.
4) The NRA spends over ten times the amount on keeping guns unrestricted as all forces calling for restrictions on guns combined.
5) Unlimited access to guns has become a signature emotional issue for the beleaguered right in America and this is not going to go away. Guns are a part of American culture in a way that they are not part of Japanese or English culture. And though I am convinced that the existence of a huge number of guns in private hands in America (close to 300 million by some estimates) is responsible for the disgraceful fact that that while a handful of people die by gun-shot every year in countries like Japan and the UK, in America that number is in the tens of thousands, I don't see any way of changing this anytime soon.
So what I am left thinking is this: maybe the support for access to guns is a symptom as well as a result of the same few basic things in American society today which are the root cause of so many of our problems:
1) A ludicrously unjust distribution of wealth and income.
2) A political process supremely corrupted by big money.
3) A diminishing set of opportunities for class mobility or even education.
4) A lack of decent healthcare for all and an insanely large prison population and industry.
And so maybe we need to just focus on fixing the big problems and if we succeed there, these other things will take care of themselves? I am not, by the way, implying that the “root causes of many of our problems” that I listed directly apply to the Newtown shooting or the killer himself. I am only asking if these things have created the twisted political atmosphere in which it is impossible to legislate rationally and also result in things like untreated mental illness. In other words, should we really be asking politicians like Barack Obama to spend huge amounts of precious political capital on things like very small and incremental restrictions in the gun laws (like limiting gun purchases to one a month, as Nicholas Kristof suggests in his NY Times column today) or should we just say to ourselves that nothing effective can be done about the gun problem until the big problems are addressed, and then do everything we can to address those? Are we wasting our own and other people's time by asking them to sign all those petitions?
Hey, I am just ASKING! I already admitted to being confused. So what do you think?