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Society Is Sick. Gun Violence Is A Symptom

More Montana households have guns than don’t.

This sounds about right because I can think of only one person I know on a personal level who doesn’t have guns.

I don’t know anyone who has shot another person. But I do know of someone who shot himself.

Every time there is a mass shooting, or two, we start talking about what or what not to do about guns. Protests assemble, social media justice warriors put on the armor of their refined ability for internet oratory and go to town, and national columnists preach their sermons.

The lines are drawn and the camps assemble on opposite fields. On one side, you have those who insist the answer to mass shootings is rules, or better versions of current rules. The new laws would make it harder for psychopaths to get lethal weapons, advocates say. On the other side, there are those who maintain that guns are inanimate objects. They don’t fire themselves, so why don’t we address what’s causing so many mass murderers to pull the trigger?

I realize the previous two paragraphs are generalizations. As a believer in nuance, I know there are many people who believe some added regulation wouldn’t hurt, and it wouldn’t really violate legal gun owners’ rights either. Supposedly, more Americans than not think gun laws should be more strict.

Last week, I was watching the Democratic presidential debates and I remember an instance involving Marianne Williamson, the self-help guru who is friends with Oprah. When talking about health care, she strayed from the script and said something different, yet so obviously true. She said that we should not only have a society in which everyone has health care, but we should address the causes of disease to prevent the symptoms. Sadly, the moment was barely acknowledged by the moderators.

What is causing people to get sick in the first place? Williamson suggested we ponder.

This is not a revolutionary question. It’s pretty self-evident, actually. Eat healthy, get off the couch, take a walk, rest well, have friends, and, voila, watch your doctor visits dramatically lower and health care cost along with it. There is much evidence showing Americans have unhealthy lifestyles that cause illnesses.

There is also much evidence showing some Americans are severely mentally ill and are shooting people.

What’s the best way to address the problem created by such a small number of psychopaths whose actions rattle the entire country?

Rules could be one answer.

While the argument that bad guys will always find a way to get a weapon is probably very legitimate, especially since you basically have to avoid tripping on a gun in America and gun buybacks have proved to be a joke, one can’t help but think that it would work, at least a little. Having a solid door makes it harder for even the most dedicated burglar to break in, whereas a screen door is pretty much an invitation.  The more shady characters a potential shooter would have to meet with and the more money they would have to pay for an illegal weapon, the more difficult it would be to get a high-capacity “assault” rifle. (Last time I checked, any firearm can be used in an assault.)

But one problem with this is that it’s based on the assumption that shooters always use those mean-looking AR-15s and AK-47s, which of course isn’t true, and probably would be less so if they were banned again.

Handguns are the most often used weapon in mass shootings, by far. But high-capacity rifles are statistically associated with the highest casualty rates in a shooting.

So if banning ARs doesn’t work, we’d have to ban other firearms, which is what other countries have done, which ends up playing into the slippery slope argument that makes it so hard to implement any bans in the first place.

There are, of course, also the suggestions that some potential rules wouldn’t be bans as much as they would be tighter controls of who gets to have any firearms. Using the example of just about every other country in the world, advocates suggest this is the way to go.

However, the idea of implementing more laws is also based on the false assumption that psychopaths intent on murderous, often suicidal, rampages, obey laws. Everytown For Gun Safety reports that, “In at least one-third of mass shootings … the shooter was legally prohibited from possessing firearms at the time of the shooting.” To be fair, Everytown advocates for restrictions on high-capacity magazines and restrictions on unlicensed sellers, suggesting it would indeed curb gun violence.

Many law-abiding gun owners hate the blanket ban approach, or even more rules, because it gets tiring having to defend millions of armed citizens because of the handful who have no respect for human life. And it gets tiring having to make an argument for why anyone needs a certain type of firearm. The answer is, it doesn’t matter why.

Law-abiding gun owners also get tired of pundits or politicians who pose in front of cameras with an AR-15 but without the slightest clue about the difference between a semi-automatic and an automatic weapon. Many of those same pundits and politicians don’t have a clue that, pending special clearance, automatic weapons are illegal.

But there is a problem. Apparently not doing anything is not working. For those who’ve lost sons, daughters, wives, husbands or parents, arguments about the Second Amendment ring hollow. What good is it having rights if your child is massacred while learning algebra or your mom killed while shopping for night slippers? some argue.

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But is the killing of a few people here and there really so bad, considering there are billions of other people in the world?

This is obviously a very crass question, but why do we wait until some sociopath walks into a shopping center and murders 20 people to become outraged at the apparent lack of respect for human life?

And there, perhaps, is not our symptom, but the cause of our disease. Perhaps our problem is not guns. As a country, guns were more common decades ago, more people had them, yet we didn’t have mass shootings like we do now. Obviously, something else is the problem.

Maybe what’s changed is our respect for human lives.

For years, we’ve been vilifying and devaluing each other in all sorts of ways.

Our political leaders and president don’t even pretend to like each other anymore. When one group’s ideals are constantly ruining your life, you start to dehumanize everyone in that other group. They become a scourge on society rather than a human being.

So many people with microphones and audiences, including some of our elected officials, constantly demonize Western culture. You start to forget that for more than 200 years people of all races have been risking their lives to flock to this place for opportunities no other country in the world provides. Now, apparently, the only people who can be patriots are those who are part of countries with untarnished pasts.

Our culture often prioritizes animals over people, dubbing humans a ruinous swarm of locusts. Over my years as a reporter, I’ve seen instances where outrage over animals being hurt or killed was far more ardent than that of people being hurt. We’ve put animal poachers in jail, yet we’ve let drug pushers who ruin countless lives off with probation.

Another popular thing in culture, and politics especially, is telling people that their hardships and problems are someone else’s fault. If you have no control over your life, then how much hope can you have? It’s not people full of hope and optimism who kill.

Culture bundles us into identity groups, making it easier for us to dehumanize and demonize each other. We’re no longer individuals with non-binary thoughts and ideas, now we’re Democrats or Republicans; pro-lifers or pro-choicers; minorities or white people; pro-gunners or anti-gunners; capitalists or socialists.

Our president has unilaterally labeled entire groups of people according to the worst of them.

And, of course, we can’t forget the most trendy of demonizations: racism.

It used to be that racists actually committed racist acts — segregation, race beatings, using racial slurs, touting racial supremacy, job discrimination, slavery. Now we can barely disagree with someone of another ethnicity or criticize the effectiveness of certain government programs without fear that we’ll be labeled racist. After Donald Trump’s election, some pundits became so unhinged that all they could talk about was that racism led to Trump’s election, even though numerous counties in states that flipped had voted for Barack Obama the previous election.

This year, a Native American woman suggested one reason a certain prominent individual hasn’t been caught for alleged illegal behavior is because we — the media — are afraid that we’ll be labeled racists. She was frustrated about how freely such a serious label is being used now.

For the record, that is not true of the Herald or my former employer, Havre Daily News.

Culture went from largely believing that we are the crown of creation made in the image of a specific Creator who intentionally knows us to believing in either no creator or some ambiguous force that, somehow, just happens to be whatever we’d like it to be.

Are we more likely to realize our value as humans if we believe a personal God made us or if we think we are the result of some off-chance chemical reaction? How meaningful is life if it’s all chance and we are just another molecular blob in the chaotic mix?

We have dehumanized each other. We have pumped more and more hate into the veins of society. We have devalued the uniqueness of humanity. This has led to unconscionable acts. And the more chaotic society is, the more rules we’ll need. We can no longer be trusted to abide by the universal rules of human decency.

But no matter what we believe, the truth is humans are valuable and we are unique.

Our value comes from Someone bigger than our culture, or our parents, or our friends. We are humans, God’s intentional masterpieces. We’ve built civilizations and written sonatas and poetry deep enough to make Rambo cry. We have unique dishes and dances and traditions. We invented languages and we built on each generation’s achievements. We wanted to fly like birds, so we made airplanes. Then we wanted to go higher, so we built rockets. Now we’re working on how to build cities in space. We harnessed light in the darkness and created medicine. When floods and fires hit our homes, we rush to the rescue, not stopping to check for political ideology or race.

We are humans. And right now, too many of us believe lies about what that means.

Paul Dragu is the editor of The Havre Herald.

Email Paul at (406) 262-7778
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