Unintended Consequences

Saturday, December 15, 2012
Like most people, I'm appalled by the events of yesterday. I can't even imagine what those families must be going through...or maybe I can, and that's why I'm so appalled.

But I'm not shocked by yesterday's events. Such destruction happens far too often for me to be surprised by the ways in which humans can hurt one another, or by the ways in which people refuse to take any kind of responsibility for the unintended consequences of their political will.

A lot has been written about it, but I think my friend Eric's essay The Guns of December most closely explains my own thoughts on the matter as it relates to gun control:
I want to hear from the other side.  I want to hear someone--preferably a card-carrying member of the National Rifle Association--tell me, preferably to my face, not that they want dead children (because that would be a bit much and we all know that isn't true), but they're okay with them.  That they understand that's the price of their convenient access to easy, deregulated weaponry and they're willing to keep paying it.  Keep in mind: I already know this to be true, I just want to fucking hear them telling me the fucking truth for a change.  I want to hear the words slip softly over their lips that they know what they're paying and they're settled with that, their souls rest easy in the hollow basins in their skulls.  That they sleep at night with this because they can.
When we make decisions on policy, there are consequences to that policy. And only those who are unserious about their franchise pretend like they bear no personal responsibility for those consequences. Because no matter how you slice it, when you choose an action - or in this case, choosing an inaction - you also choose the consequences of that action or inaction. Which in this case, means lots more dead Judges, moviegoers, and children.

Let's take the legalization of marijuana as a personal example. I voted to legalize marijuana in this state. I believed that using marijuana in moderation was no worse than using alcohol in moderation, and as a general rule, I tend to favor more freedom to act rather than less. But that doesn't mean I didn't consider the unintended consequences. It's entirely possible that Colorado will end up with an entire cadre of stoners who, as a result of this law, choose to use marijuana in ways that are not moderate, and in fact could only be considered extreme, i.e., smoking pot several times a day, every day, resulting in long-term cognitive impairment. That's absolutely possible. But the outcome of such extremity lies almost solely with the stoners. No one ever went into a school and beat some poor child to death with a baggie full of buds, so this risk is acceptable to me.

I don't think anyone can make a case that American's lack of gun control carries a similar level of acceptable risk, because the consequences of extreme behavior are so very, very severe.

Yes, yes, people kill people, blah, blah, blah. The fact of the matter is that when you're dealing with events like these, people kill people with guns. And the scope of their destruction is increased exponentially by their access to firearms. There are other issues at play here, of course - the lack of mental health services, for example. But the bottom line is that a major contributing factor in these cases is America's lack of vision in this area. Do I believe the ownership of firearms should be illegal? No, I don't. But I think our culture's fetishization of guns has entirely too high a price in the area of  unintended consequences. And what really shocks me is that there are so many people who sincerely, honestly believe that those consequences are entirely acceptable.

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ETA: If we are to have an honest, fact based discussion about the proper way in which to modify gun control in this country (seriously - I'm not holding my breath), then let us begin with facts, those pesky things. I myself am particularly interested in numbers 1 and 9.

5 comments:

CorvusCorax12 said...

As an outsider (living in Canada) I don't understand the need to own assault Rifles and ammunition that does that kind of damage with that kind of speed. I don't get it and never will.My heart breaks for the Families.

Dale Kroll said...

As with many freedoms that American’s enjoy, there will always be those that under appreciate their value. Owning a gun means you take responsibility for that freedom. Those that abuse the responsibility usually end up hurting someone. Instead of debating what type of guns should be available, the argument should be about who should own guns. This is where the problem lies. How can anyone be 100% sure that a given individual will be responsible owning a fire arm? There is no litmus test, no identifying marker.

My thoughts on limiting gun related incidents, all Americans should be taught gun responsibility whether they plan to own a gun or not. After the populous is given knowledge, a decision to own a gun will be an informed one. In America today, the people that oppose guns are usually, but not always, those that don’t understand what it means to be a gun owner. Their fear is based on TV shows and the talking heads of media. They have no experience of being a gun owner. Again, I would like to state that gun ownership means an owner has responsibilities. What I mean by this is an owner must ensure the gun is safe from those that do not have the knowledge, understanding or skill to operate it.

Removing guns is not the answer. Teaching gun safety and responsibility would be a better direction.

Janiece said...

Dale, I'm not pretending to know the answer, but I am sick to death of the issue being "off the table" for discussion in a legislative sense. Doing nothing, which is what we've done for decades, has led to multiple mass shootings each year, with the blood of innocents literally running in the streets.

I guess my question is, why is the idea of gun control reform such an anathema to the NRA and its ilk? I think we both know the answer, because it's always the answer when "why" questions are asked in politics - money.

If doing nothing is the preferred course of (in)action - and let's make no mistake, that exactly the case, since I believe liberals have lost the argument at least in our generation - then I want those who prefer inaction to own up to the consequences of that inaction and quit tsk-tsking in shock every time this inevitably happens again.

Dale Kroll said...

Janiece, I do agree that the current inaction is a contributor to our nations’ gun shootings. I have taken gun safety courses sponsored by the NRA and there is one underlining rule that all gun owners must abide by, your gun is your responsibility. With any organization, there are always factions. The NRA is not the problem. It is the pro-gun extremists that are the ilk. If you take a NRA sponsored class, which I highly recommend even if you don’t own a gun, the main focus of basic gun courses is responsibility. A quote from spiderman comic sums it up “With great power comes great responsibility”. The NRA is about promoting gun awareness/safety. The nut jobs using the NRA as a shield, when spouting extreme pro-gun views, only do a disservice to the NRA.

The shooting in Connecticut could have been averted if the gun owner had practiced gun safety. Keep the gun locked and secured when not in use. If the gun was stored in a gun safe and out of reach, the perpetrator could not have used the gun. This fundamental teaching is in every NRA class. Instead of vilifying the NRA, the gun owner should be vilified for not following basic gun safety. I’m not trying to downplay the shooting or the loss of life, just point out that if a gun owner does not understand the responsibility of ownership they should not be an owner.

This gets back to my original post, teaching gun safety and responsibility is the way both sides could come together. Not the stance of “don’t take my guns” or “no guns”.

Janiece said...

Dale, I apologize for not being precise in my comments IRT the NRA.

My issue with the NRA is that their political lobbying does not accurately reflect the feelings and opinions of their membership or the country as a whole. Seth described this very well over at The Handsome Camel in his essay The Reasonable Person's Rifle Association. I'm glad that the NRA provides the educational opportunities you suggest, I just think they're off the mark politically. Gun safety and personal responsibility should be emphasized, no doubt, and I am in no way suggesting that the nutbag in question (and his mother) are not directly and indirectly responsible for Friday's events.

What I am suggesting is that the zealots ON BOTH SIDES need to step back, stop their kowtowing to the gun lobby, and come up with a comprehensive plan to manage this problem effectively. I suspect such a plan would absolutely include the educational requirement you advocate, but that's simply not enough.