The debate over gun control has come to the fore again after the Florida school shooting, where seventeen students and school staff members were killed.
Demands have been made that the government “do something” about gun violence in our country. Everything from banning assault weapons to putting armed retired veterans and police officers in our schools has been proposed.
I am one who believes in sensible gun legislation (registration, background checks, waiting periods, no one needs a bazooka, etc…). I am also one who believes that mass killings with guns are more a reflection of our culture than of inadequate gun legislation. There is a debate about whether or not mass killings (defined as four or more victims) is on the increase or not. Both sides have their statistics to trot out to prove their point.
This post isn’t intended to support one side or the other. Rather, I hope to contribute to a sane, balanced approach to the matter. In that vein, here are some links that I think offer sensible words:
The first, in The Atlantic, was published five years ago under the title “Gun Violence in America: The 13 Key Questions (With 13 Concise Answers). Yes, in our current day of 24 hour media, that may seem like an eon ago, but it’s not, and I think the situation is such that the article still applies. What is most striking about the article is that it offers sound reporting on what measures for reducing gun violence actually work and what measures don’t.
The Atlantic article begins by acknowledging that it’s difficult to assess what works to reduce gun violence and what doesn’t, because rates of violent crime go up and down for a whole variety of reasons.
But, given the best data we have, the following measures don’t seem very effective:
- Stiffer prison sentences for gun crimes.
- Gun buy-backs: In a country with one gun per person, getting a few thousand guns off the street in each city may not mean very much.
- Safe storage laws and public safety campaigns.
These measures lack enough good evidence to determine their effectiveness:
- Background checks, such as the Brady Act requires.
- Bans on specific weapons types, such as the expired 1994 assault weapons ban or the handgun bans in various cities.
While these measures do seem to be effective or somewhat effective:
- More intensive probation strategies: increased contact with police, probation officers and social workers.
- Changes in policing strategies, such increased patrols in hot spots.
- Programs featuring cooperation between law enforcement, community leaders, and researchers, such as Project Safe Neighborhoods.
What strikes me about this information is that those measures which seem to be effective, or at least somewhat effective, are measures that can be adopted on the local level, with no intervention on the part of the federal or state governments. Those measures that require passing laws at the federal or state level don’t seem to be effective, or there’s not enough evidence to prove their effectiveness.
So, it seems that, if a people in any given community want less gun violence, then the people they ought to be talking to are their local police departments, and not protesting in front of the White House or State Capital. This is good news! Because it means that we can do something today about reducing gun violence in our communities without having to wade through the slow and arduous process of passing laws that have proven not very effective in the first place.
Another article brings the matter even closer to home. Rob Myers, in this article entitled, “There’s a Way to Stop Mass Shootings, and You Won’t Like It,” puts the onus on us. We need to make a point to reach out to people who feel estranged from those around them. We need to make a point to connect with people who feel disconnected. This is a role that parents, teachers, police, and older kids need to take to heart. All or most of those who have engaged in mass shootings are people who have felt left out, rejected, or otherwise isolated from the mainstream of society. We need to pull these people in. We need to make sure they have a way to connect with others. Doing so not only makes an impact on them on any given day, but may help prevent the development of thought processes that allow them to consider such horrible acts.
These are just some of my thoughts on the debate, and I hope they make a positive contribution. I would love to hear from you what you think might work.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.