A few days ago, I posted a link to a petition that urges the White House to start a debate about gun control on my Facebook because of the Sandy Hook shooting. Thankfully, it seems as though the White House is finally on the road to enacting gun control reforms, after years of infuriating inaction. To my surprise, however, the first comment under my post was a criticism of my logic, in which the author inserted a link to this Christian Post article and argued the following:
I think the problem is how mental illness is addressed in this nation, and NOT guns. The assault weapons ban expired years ago, and nothing changed; to put another ban in place without addressing other problems in our society will only make people feel good. It’s funny that bibles are allowed to be read in prisons, but not in our public schools. Too bad that a mentally sick person has to commit a serious crime before he gets off the street and into an institution where help is rendered…just saying.
The person who posted this is a member of my family, whom I get along with and love deeply. Additionally, I agree with him to a slight extent, in that I think mental illness is an important factor in mass shootings and gun regulation (but my agreements end there). Because of all this, I found it very difficult to react to his views in my typical fashion — that is, with rage and a righteous affirmation that “he’s an ignorant, Bible thumping conservative who just doesn’t get it.” While part of me still thinks this about people who claim “guns aren’t the problem,” having a close family member voice this opinion gave me pause, because I care for and respect him. Ultimately, I decided to respond to him, and I have copied my rebuttal to his comment here.
Before going straight to my rebuttal though, I should say the following: I wrote it after having come to the conclusion that I need to have a clear understanding of why gun control is necessary if I am to advocate such an opinion, as opposed to taking it for granted that the “educated” will understand my stance, while the “ignorant” are doomed to believing guns aren’t the problem. This is because I know this family member, and while we disagree on a lot of things I still believe he has the ability to listen to and consider my side of the issue. While this may be completely naive, I am hopeful that others who share his opinion can listen to “the other side” when a loved one explains it to them.
With those thoughts in mind, I did some research, laid out my arguments, and came up with the following rebuttal. I’ll admit that it was somewhat of a cathartic experience, and I wish hadn’t gotten as personal / emotional as I occasionally did. I also acknowledge that I didn’t delve into the many debates surrounding mass shootings (such as disability representation) as I would have liked, but I figured that my rebuke is long enough as it is. So, for those who firmly believe in gun control but aren’t always sure how to argue for it, I hope this piece helps give you a more grounded understanding of the importance of gun control, and some tools to support your opinion. And for those who don’t believe in gun control, I hope this piece helps convince you of the opposite view in some small way.
Uncle ___ ,
With all due respect, I believe you are looking at the issue of gun violence in an incorrect (and very dangerous) way. Before engaging in this debate though, I should just say that this is a very potent topic for me and many of my peers, given that we go to school a mere 30 minutes away from where all those children were slaughtered. So my apology for rambling on, but this is an important issue to us (and to the nation), and I think your comments deserve some scrutiny.
First of all, lets consider the statistics: the US has more gun-related killings than all other developed nations COMBINED – and we beat all of them by the thousands. Is that because Americans are naturally more murderous than citizens of other nations? Or could it possibly be because just about ever developed country imposes strict weapons bans, which drastically reduces the number of gun owners, which also greatly reduces the number of gun-related casualties? I think it’s mostly the latter, because if it’s the former, then we have a serious issue with our nation’s psyche. In my opinion, the US does have a serious problem with how we accept violence as given, but that’s a moral / philosophical issue that is far to large to address here. However, I will say this: all other developed nations don’t teach the Bible in their schools, but they do impose gun restriction laws, and the number of gun-related killings are exponentially lower there than in the US. That leads me to believe that the number of gun killings isn’t correlated with the amount of Bible readings in schools, but with the amount of restrictions placed on gun purchases. (Also, I’m not going to delve into our Constitutional responsibility to separate Church and State here, because I’m assuming you are aware of the illegality of forcing children to read the Bible in public schools…)
Yes, of course, there is the fact that mental illness care in the US is horrendous, and that plays into mass shootings in a very significant way. I am in total agreement with you on this point. However, the notion that mental illness is the only reason why such shootings happen and the only part of this tragedy that needs changing, is shortsighted. We are the country with the highest amount of gun ownership – you think that is completely unrelated to the amount of deaths-by-guns that happen here? Most people who shoot and kill others are not mentally unstable in the same way Adam Lanza seems to have been. In reality, most gun related deaths happen in non-mass-school-shootings, such as gang violence, robberies, etc. But the school shootings like those at Sandy Hook, which often involve a mentally unstable person, get the most press. This makes it easy for pro-gun advocates to say: “look! It’s the people, not the guns!” The fact of the matter is, assault weapons and most other guns that people carry on their person change everything when someone (either mentally stable or unstable) decides that they are going to use a weapon for self defense or for the sake of inflicting pain on another. As many pro-gun (yes, pro-gun) senators have already stated, there is absolutely no reason for someone to have a gun that is of the caliber that Adam Lanza (and his mother) had, either for hunting or self-defense. They are machines meant to kill, and to kill in the way that the children at Sandy Hook died – slaughtered with multiple gun wounds.
Now, lets put the mentally unstable argument back into the mix – compare the Newtown shooting to the mass-killing attempt in China (a country with very strict gun laws), where a madman went into a school with a knife and critically wounded 22 children. You’re right, the problem here is in large part the person himself – he was crazy, and he wanted to kill; there is little to be done to stop that, other than reforming mental illness care (which I STRONGLY advocate). But you know what? All 22 of those Chinese children are alive today, because a knife wound wasn’t enough to kill them. In Newtown, however, all 20 of the children who were in Adam Lanza’s path are dead. You really want to argue that the gun (and the ease with which Adam and his mother procured it) has nothing to do with the scale of murder that happened in Connecticut – or in Colorado, or in Wisconsin, or any other place that has witnessed mass shootings? Adam went to Sandy Hook with a gun that could shoot children multiple times within seconds – that made all the difference in how many children would go home to their families that night. While the person wielding a weapon obviously plays a huge role in violence, the weapon determines the outcome more than anything else when someone is set on committing violence…
Lastly: you hint that more Bible teachings would reduce the amount of gun violence. As I mentioned before, no other developed country teaches the Bible in their schools, and they do far better than us at preventing gun violence than we do. And I ask you to consider this: what kind of a God would allow for the massacre of children to happen in a school that supposedly doesn’t teach the Bible, but would protect those in a Christian school? If this is truly the God America believes in, than I fear we have lost track of what Christianity truly stands for…
One last (really, the last) point: ever since the assault weapons ban was lifted in 2004, the number of mass shootings and people shot per year has doubled in the US. We jumped from 16 mass shooting during the ban’s period (1995-2004) to 27 mass shootings since 2005; we jumped from about 21 people shot per year in mass shootings from 1995-2004 to about 55 since the ban was lifted in 2005. That is over a 100% increase in people shot per year in mass shootings since the ban was lifted. By any stretch of the imagination, that proves the ban was in some way effective in preventing such violence. Your linked article, on the other hand, implies that the ban was ineffective — that claim is blatantly wrong, based not on fact but on political motivations. This type of thinking – where you can negate facts in order to further a political ideology – is unbelievably dangerous.
Gun control reform and mental health care reform must go hand in hand, because one without the other won’t do us much good… I really hope this response has given you a more nuanced view of the debate, and a better understanding of why I (and many others) firmly believe in both types of reform. Indeed, many people (Congressmen, the President, regular citizens, and yes, even the NRA) have offered to open up the debate, and are prepared to give up some of our so-called liberties in order to ensure that future kindergarteners can return to their families for Christmas in years to come. I hope you can follow suit…