Colorado, guns and society

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.


Climate change more than melting ice caps

Yesterday I heard a report on NPR about how climate change is interacting with natural wild fires. I found an article about the paper, which was published originally in Ecosphere, which discusses some of the long term impacts of the climate change on wild fires. To do this, the group used 16 different climate models which ranged from very favorable emission numbers to catastrophic emissions numbers. This allowed for a wide range of different types of human activities and reflective climate changes in the area to be tested. This is important as it gives the article much more validity than if they had simply decided to use the worst case, or best case. Of course, there will be people that will argue that man has nothing to do with the climate and we aren’t impacting it. However, that’s sticking your head in the sand. We know we have impacted the climate in the past (hello Acid Rain) and have actually fixed it though changing our behavior (Acid Rain again).

Just using the climate models isn’t enough to really predict how and where wildfires will occur in the future. The wild fire itself had to be modeled as something where the conditions it could exist in can be tested. The group decided to model wild fire in the same way that movement of animals are modeled. Under certain circumstances it’s likely that an animal group will move into a specific type of environment. This is based on the amount of water, the amount of vegetation and the temperature. Wildfires need the exact same resources to exist. However instead of being lush and moist, the area needs to be dry, but with enough water to have had plant growth to a certain size.

By combing the two techniques the team was able to show that the West is going to be burning a lot more frequently than they are not. This of course creates a serious problem. People like to live in those areas. People don’t like to leave their houses when there are disasters, which means that we’re going to have more people burning, like the one in Colorado.

The authors, in the NPR interview, argued that this means we need to learn how to live with wildfire in the same way that we’ve learned how to live with floods and earthquakes. How can we do that though? It is likely to be more difficult than flooding because you can’t just build a mound of dirt as a ridge to prevent fire from moving further. With water you can do this with varying success. With fire, that mound of dirt will eventually grow grass on the mound and would just as easily catch fire. Even stone walls would be passable as a strong wind could blow embers over the wall or heat the wall to the point of material catching on the other side.

These are issues that we will have to resolve in the next 10-30 years. This seems like a long way off, but time has a habit of sneaking up on you and before you know it we’ll be having wildfires like we had in Texas last year and are having in Colorado and New Mexico now. I’m glad we’re aware of the extent of the risk now though.