Horrible tragedy has struck Colorado. We still don’t understand what caused this man to do this. This is also the second piece on mass killings and guns that I’ve written in the past year, the Norway tragedy was only a year ago. There was some discussion after that about the ease of access of weapons in the US, but with the alleged gunman in Colorado using an AR-15 there most certainly will be discussions of re-instating the assault rifle ban that lapsed early in the Obama administration.
Let’s first take a look at some of the history of the US before moving onto anything else. The Right to Bear Arms comes from the bill of rights amended to the constitution of the United States. The reason the founding fathers created these rights stems from the injustices the colonies experienced under British rule. Preventing gun ownership caused hardships for the colonists as they were fighting with the Indians, protecting their live stock and hunting for food. Distances were much greater at the time, so you needed to be able to fend for yourselves. The founding fathers also were revolutionaries, obviously, as they had just overthrown Britain. Jefferson, in particular felt that the citizens had the right to overthrow their own government. The ability to overthrow the government is predicated on the ability to fight against the government. The right to bear arms is paramount to this capability, hence it is an essential right in our Constitution.
A lot has changed in the past 200+ years. Weapons technology is at a level that our founding fathers never imagined. Our explosives are smaller and more powerful than theirs. The sheer number of people would be mind boogling to them, as we have stadiums that can hold more people than all the population of Philly in 1776 and Houston has nearly as many people in the city as all of the 13 colonies did in 1776. The amount of damage we can inflict and the number of people that can be impacted as exponentially increased.
What has not kept up with our ability to kill and our population are our institutions. Organizations like the NRA push for looser and looser gun laws as they feel that is an unalienable right. However, they do not take on issues that lead to increases in gun violence such as prohibition of drugs (increases violence) or mental health concerns. In the United States we look at mental health issues as something to be kept quiet and to have a mental disease is to be stigmatized. These prevent people that require help from seeking the help that they need. Plus, the cost of mental health care is extremely expensive. In many cases insurance companies don’t want to pay for the cost of seeing a psychiatrist or will limit the amount of treatment a person can receive. Addressing the actual problem will do more for protecting gun ownership rights than any glib quote such as “You can take my gun from my cold dead hands” we need to understand the underlying root cause of the massacre and fix that.
The other concern that we should all have in regard to controlling weaponry is the importance of having access to weapons when overthrowing a dictator. In the past 2 years we’ve seen many types of revolutions. Ranging from the completely peaceful to the extremely violent in Libya and Syria. In each country access to foreign weapons are making the difference for the rebels, but for the rebels to even reach the point where the international community stepped in to help them, required weapons to start the civil war. Whether we like it or not, that is the reason why the founders included the right to bear arms in our constitution.
What we need to do as a society is to look at where our values stand. Do we feel that we should treat addiction like a crime, or like a mental health epidemic? The need for gun ownership can drop once drug issues can be dealt within our legal system instead of requiring extralegal remedies, such as killing the person that is taking your turf. Looking at how we deal with bullying and other mental health issues can prevent another Columbine or Aurora from happening again. I’m going to close this post with an interview with Marilyn Manson in Bowling for Columbine. Regardless of what you think about the man himself, or his shock rock, he is an extremely articulate speaker and asks us to look in the mirror when these tragedies happen. Our society causes them, our society can fix them.