Question of Sanity

An evolving hobby of mine, rooted in a belief that large governments make a mockery of my cherished conception of efficiency, is to poke at liberals.

I acknowledge anyone can be exposed as a hypocrite on some level, but it seems the louder the liberal, the less deep you have to dig to find that level. Plus they’re just so annoying that even when I agree with them, I fight the urge to pretend otherwise.

Gun control is an exception. It pokes at the liberal in me and stirs somewhat of a visceral reaction. I’m not sure why. No one I know has been shot. Just about any other political issue has a more tangible effect on my day-to-day life.

Yet I kind of lose my mind over gun control. Liberals aren’t even liberal enough for me. The other day I concluded women should be the only ones allowed to buy guns. This might be radically discriminatory and quixotic, but it makes some hypothetical sense.

No living creature on Earth threatens our survival on any meaningful scale except men. Dinosaurs aren’t coming back. If they do, we have Chris Pratt and some of them are friendly if not downright endearing anyway.

It would appear the primary function of guns in 2017 America is to make little boys feel like men. You have this huge set of people who are fit to own guns and do so without consequence or real necessity. You have this huge set of people who are fit to own guns but choose not to. And you have this minuscule set of people who are little boys in some fundamental way and not man enough to navigate life’s challenges without pulling a trigger senselessly.

If my assessment is overly simplistic or unfair, don’t let it obfuscate the equilibrium state of guns in this country. People die on a small scale every day and on a large scale on really bad days.

I say people die nonchalantly, but if you really ruminate about just one human being dying, taking away the rest of someone’s time so artificially and arbitrarily, and the finality of it — the reality is just crazy.

I guess what makes me crazy is this is literally crazy. Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. In pursuit of knowledge and better outcomes, we tweak variables and evaluate. We cannot possibly figure this out without trying.

There are lots of variables in the equation that determines the rate of gun violence. Thoughts and prayers are not among them. I won’t presume to tell you whether there is or is not a god, but if there is, empirical evidence at this point in human history would strongly suggest God lacks some combination of the desire, ability or jurisdiction to protect the innocent.

So we have to look out for each other. Laws can help. They don’t have to be perfect to be productive.

This doesn’t need to turn into an emotional argument. The simple, rational question to ask is whether we can decrease the current level of gun violence with legislation.

Actually that’s not right, I’ll concede. The question is whether we can be better off overall. There is an opportunity cost to everything. Even if gun control reduces shootings, it will make some people feel less free and safe. Civilian guns save more lives than publicized, as protection and deterrents. Hunting for sport is great too, if you peaked socially or athletically in fifth grade.

Our goal should be to determine the balance that maximizes total utility. But we can’t muster a logical conversation about it without leapfrogging into bombastic debates about liberty and desperate attempts to retrofit “well-regulated militia” into any useful direction (because clearly the most sensible way to manage weapons eclipsing those of 18th-century warfare by orders of magnitude is to examine vague sentences written by a slaveowner who also used his eternally omniscient legal mind to come up with the solution of counting black people as three-fifths human which shows an uncanny grasp of what the world would look like two centuries later).

Again, let’s take the emotion out of it and think in terms of cost-benefit and common sense. This is the point where I lose my facility for argument and am reduced to blabbering exasperated rhetorical questions in no particular order:

  • Are you really worried about the United States government scheming to take your guns so it can impose tyranny? If so, do you think you can hold off the greatest military in the history of the world with a rifle and bump stock? Aren’t you more worried about paranoid schizophrenics among the general public of 300 million like… you?

  • Why is it so objectionable to stringently evaluate those who seek to purchase something designed to take away life?

  • Why do you ever need more than one gun, or so many bullets for one? Is it because you have nightmares about being mugged, and the assailant happens to be Predator?

  • Is it such an absurd hypothesis that less guns will lead to less shootings?

  • Is it such a plausible hypothesis that without civilian guns, people would be robbed and raped and bludgeoned left and right?

  • Do you think the reason why I feel safe walking down the street in America is because of the possibility of an armed civilian nearby? Do you think I would feel safer if all civilians carried guns? Is it reasonable to expect soccer moms to pack heat every time they drive the carpool to practice?

  • Based on volatile tempers, impulses, lapses in judgment and interpersonal friction common to the human condition, do you suppose tossing more guns into that emotional powder keg sets us up for success?

  • What does “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” even mean? I am fully aware firearms are inanimate objects even though you name them like your children, but do you see why we’re trying to take away nuclear weapons from North Korea even though the buttons won’t press themselves? Do you see how laws can standardize common sense to protect people from themselves and each other? Do you honestly think the same logic would dictate we ban cars because of hit-and-runs? That makes sense to you? Did you hear Obama’s masterful parallel about how traffic deaths were much more common earlier in his life, but laws were enacted and the roads got dramatically safer? Why can we have stop signs and speed limits and manufacturer restrictions for cars, an engine of commerce and social interaction, but not the same for guns, an engine of nothing?

  • How is it even halfway coherent to say gun control laws won’t help because bad guys will break them anyway? Shall we go ahead and remove all laws then? Can you try to look beyond the letter of the law and see the spirit of it, the cumulative effect a legal framework has on social climate? Even though laws on drunk driving, opioids, sexual harassment are broken, do you think relaxing them would help or hurt those issues?

  • Aren’t you tired of hearing about Australia after every mass shooting? Without getting bogged down in case studies and statistics, would you agree the rest of the developed world has provided enough of a sample size to indicate more gun control might be worth exploring?

I’ll check myself here, as none of these questions do much in the way of actionable insights or policy recommendations. I am too biased on this one to offer policy. It’s not very ruggedly-individualistic-American of me to say, but if I could wave a magic wand and make all civilian guns illegal, I would.

I guess these questions are more introspective as to why I care. The way we handle guns in America breaks my logical framework and hurts my brain.

Gun deaths happen at a certain rate. We should be able to affect that rate with some experimentation and maybe small personal sacrifices for the greater good. Whatever utility a bump stock brings to daily life, it cannot possibly be worth 58 bodies at a country concert.

Everything really boils down to the question of whether we can do better, which I refuse to pose as a question and will rearrange as a statement:

It doesn’t have to be like this.



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