Let it be known that I applaud President Obama's recent effort to establish a legacy for gun control, but I fear it is futile. Facing what he refers to as a "gun violence epidemic," the President recommends four approaches to the problem.
First, he would require all gun sellers both online and at gun shows to be licensed and perform background checks. Further, he calls for an overhaul of the current background check system by the FBI.
Next, he calls for ways to improve existing gun laws and to add additional manpower to the ATF.
To address the mental health problem, he would remove laws that inhibit states' sharing of information about those who have been deemed unfit for ownership. He would, in addition, spend $500 million to increase access to mental health care.
Finally, he calls for gun safety technology for so-called smart guns that can only be fired by authorized users.
I would like to take each of these proffered solutions to the problem of gun violence and show how ineffective they are or would be. Then, I would like to offer the only realistic (but at the same time implausible) solution, at least for the foreseeable future.
As to background checks by the vendor, both online and in gun shows, it is hard for me to understand what that may imply other than a Google search, provided it were available for a particular individual. My limited knowledge of the technology needed could prove me wrong, but the time and expense to the vendor could be prohibitive. Add to this, even if it is possible, the inevitable and intrusive invasion of privacy.
It is equally hard for me to understand how an improvement to the use of existing gun laws, (which I assume refers to enforcement) is realistic, unless the ratio of enforcers to criminals unreasonably increased. In a country of more than 300,000,000 with an equal number of guns, is it credible to suppose that the addition of 200 new agents to the ATF could make an appreciable difference?
There is no question but that the so-called smart gun may help prevent child accidents, teenage suicides, and homicides. They would make it harder for stolen guns to be used by criminals or against law enforcement officers in a struggle, but in the event that the smart gun failed, as we know can happen, the officer's life is at risk Is it really realistic to suppose that replacing a meaningful portion of the existing 300,000,000 guns currently in the hands of Americans with smart ones is possible? A "buy back" of weapons, as has been suggested, would mean, of course, that only a law abiding citizen would consider such an absurd idea. For a criminal to give up the tools of his existence for any plausible amount would be beyond any expectation.
Let me be clear that I am as keenly concerned as President Obama about the fact that America is the only advanced nation in which the mass indiscriminate killing of innocent citizens occurs in such frightful numbers. I wept with him as he told of the first graders at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. I wept with his frustration and futility, particularly in light of the most ridiculous solution offered by the NRA that the arming of school teachers and security personnel, if not all citizens, would deter gun violence. I've even heard reference to the U.S/Soviet detente in support of this insane idea. Could this be a call for a return to the Old West, where the only law was the gun, and violence settled all disputes? There might, of course, be some benefits. Think of what it would do, not only for the weapons industry, but for the fashion industry with bejeweled holsters or cleverly designed suits and dresses for concealment and easy access with no unsightly bulges.
I fear that there is only one realistic solution to gun violence. One phrase that I have heard may seem strange for me to endorse. It is the phrase, "Guns don't kill; people do." I find this concept to be all too true. That being the case, the only answer is not to be found in the elimination of guns, which in my estimation is impossible, but in the elimination of the motivations for people to kill. We must ask ourselves what makes people kill. To kill is inhuman, and people who kill are inhuman. Killing is counter to human nature, just as competition is counter to human nature.
And herein lies the real problem and any hope for a solution. Our society is built on an economic competition called Capitalism. Each man is pitted against his fellow man in an insatiable drive for material wealth that turns simple need into greed. It is, I contend, a neurosis that afflicts our society as a whole. The destructive nature of this disease will drive otherwise empathic human beings to behave, ironically, in the most extreme and anti-social manner, a manner that is contrary to the survival of the race. First, we have a loss of truth. Have we not noticed? This has to be followed by an undeniable lack of trust, and a lack of trust must, of course, curtail our ability to need or to love for any reason other than dependency. Sad to say, we have an indifferent society in which the antiquated virtues of truth, trust and love are viewed as weaknesses rather than strengths. They have been replaced with the vices of greed, stress and lust, making violence a virtue.
I fear that so long as this capitalistic society condones the murder of millions as a means of obtaining political and monetary gain by way of illegal wars, so long as it sanctions capital punishment as a means of deterring crime, and so long as its citizens support and are complicit in these criminal acts, it seems a bit hypocritical to show such obsessive concern for the relatively few victims of occasional shootings by crazed victims of a crazed society. No, my friends, the solution, if it should come, will be found in a renewal of the lost cause of true brotherhood instead of an "every man for himself" existence. Only truth, trust and love can overcome our materialistic greed and man's inhumanity to man. Lacking this paradigm shift, there will be no solution to gun violence or the many other vices this society and mankind confront. It's not that history hasn't provided us with the answer. From Confucius to Socrates, from John Donne to Earnest Hemingway, the message of brotherhood has been passed. We are our brother's keepers. Guns don't kill. A sick society does.
As a beginning, let me be so bold as to suggest my own four approaches to the problem, without which, I believe, there is no solution.