It has now been one month since an evil man forced his way into an elementary school and murdered 20 helpless first-graders and any faculty that dared get in his way. I have debated as to whether or not to say anything about it on this blog. Since you are reading this, I must have decided to do so. I don’t really have any interest in being yelled at by people who really had no interest in reading this, so I’m going to close comments, and I’m not posting this on Facebook. This got pretty long, and believe it or not I have edited it down. With that said, I’ll divide this into three parts. Let’s begin.
Before I get to real guns, let’s talk about pretend guns. As someone who plays a lot of video games, this is of particular interest to me. It may surprise most of you to hear that I would agree that the medium has gotten a little too violent. But that is largely because it means there are very few games I can play with my kids in the room. I would stop short of saying that games are causing mass shootings like the one in Newtown, and I would stop short of saying that the answer is government involvement. I don’t reject outright the possibility that there is a link, but you’re going to have to show me the science. The government has tried to find a link between violent media and real violence at least seven times since the Columbine massacre, and has been unsuccessful. The most that has been shown is that games can make people more aggressive for 3-4 hours after playing them. I suspect you could find the same thing happens when you watch a close basketball game or argue with your sister-in-law about whether or not you said a forbidden word in a game of Taboo. The Supreme Court has ruled that video games are a protected form of speech, just like books and movies. For any censorship of games to be allowed by the courts, they would need to re-interpret the first amendment, or there would need to be some compelling evidence that playing a violent video game is comparable to shouting “fire” in a crowded theater. That evidence is lacking.
There is the argument that video games are different from books or movies because they are an interactive medium. Again, I’m open to the idea but show me some science. Until then, here’s what I see: Predator drone pilots sit in a trailer in Arizona or somewhere and push buttons to fire on targets halfway around the world. You couldn’t think of anything more like a video game. Here’s the thing: some of these pilots get PTSD. They know that they are killing real human beings. It affects them the same way it would if they were shooting someone standing right in front of them. As far as I know, no one has ever gotten PTSD from playing Call of Duty, or from shooting at people in a paintball game. Regardless of how good the simulation gets, there is a difference between killing real people and pretending to kill people. Some (not all!) of the killers in these shooting sprees play violent video games. I wonder if they are turning to games because they are looking for, and failing to find, the kind of thrill that they would get from actually killing people?
On another note: if people want violence in media to be toned down a bit, there is a more direct way than government censorship. The ESRB, which rates video games, and the MPAA, which rates movies, both seek to give ratings as a guide for what parents think is appropriate for children. Their standards evolve over time: the MPAA now considers cigarette usage something that will raise the rating of a movie, and consequently you don’t see too many people smoking in PG-13 movies any more. Both agencies have a highest rating that is almost never used—AO for video games and NC-17 for movies. Technically, anyone is free to create something with these ratings (or without a rating at all). But in reality, no one does this because most theaters and stores will not carry the film/game, and therefore it will not make any money. Usually, the game/movie is edited enough to get a lower rating. (This system is a bit controversial, with some saying it creates de-facto infringement of free speech. That’s a different conversation.) Currently, it takes an awful lot of violence to get AO or NC-17 rating; mainly, these ratings are reserved for graphic sexual content. But enough angry letters could probably change that.
Having said quite a bit about pretend guns, let me switch over to real guns. The people calling for strong gun control need to stop pretending that it is a panacea. Even if we restricted gun ownership to muskets, you could still have another DC Sniper. And even if you could magically make every gun in the universe turn to dust, someone could go on a stabbing spree or make an Oklahoma City style bomb. You could even outlaw murder (I understand they’ve tried this in a few European nations), but people will still find ways to do it. The President says we can’t accept these events as normal, but we have to be realistic and accept that we are never going to be able to completely eliminate them either.
That having been said, I think the science pretty much confirms the common sense idea that the more guns people have, the more people are going to be killed by guns. Or as Christ put it, those who draw the sword will die by the sword. Guns make it fast and easy to kill things, and guns that can unload thirty rounds in five seconds without reloading make it really fast and easy to kill things. I honestly don’t understand why anyone would think we need people walking around the streets with assault rifles. I know, this opinion associates me with left-wing unpatriotic America-hating communists like four-star general Stanley McChrystal, but that’s what I think.
The NRA says the answer to Newtown is to put armed guards in every school in the country. OK, I will grant you this: with armed guards, shooters will be able to kill fewer people before getting killed. But schools aren’t the only place these things happen. Do I need an armed guard when I take my kids to the playground? At my daughter’s preschool? When I go to church? When I go to the mall? Eventually, we get to the point where everyone needs to have an armed guards surrounding them at all times. Which is probably what they’re really after anyway.
The Second Amendment
Any gun control is limited by the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the second amendment. Now, let’s be honest about the second amendment. It wasn’t designed to give people the right to defend their homes against criminals. It wasn’t designed to give people the right to hunt. It was designed to give people the right to have weapons so that they could do exactly what the founding fathers did: form a militia to start a civil war if the government became tyrannical. Thomas Jefferson said that bloodshed from civil wars would be the “natural manure” of liberty. Here’s my controversial take on this: I think they kind of got it wrong. I think they vastly underestimated the extent to which the free and open exchange of ideas in a nation of democratically elected officials would become a check on the government. Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of press. The first amendment has been so good at preserving liberty that the second amendment hasn’t been a factor. Not that it matters; there would need to be a dozen Sandy Hooks this year for there to even be a hint of a chance of anything happening to the second amendment. I think there are still a bunch of common sense things that can be done without changing the constitution. It’s all a matter of where we draw the line between arms that individuals can keep and bear, and arms that only the military can possess. Currently we draw the line somewhere between an AK-47 and an M1-Abrams.