Prayer vs. Gun Laws

The New York Daily News is renowned for attention-grabbing headlines.  “Anything to sell a paper” could be their motto (and some say it is).  Today, they’ll be printing “God Isn’t Fixing This” on the front page as a slap at the Republican presidential candidates.

Early release copies read: “As the latest batch of innocent Americans are left lying in pools of blood, cowards who could truly end the gun scourge cower behind empty platitudes.”  They also show copies of tweets made by four candidates that offer sympathy and prayers for the victims and families.

I’m not going after the Daily News for being tasteless; that’s not news.  They’ve always been tasteless.  The headlines are designed to sell papers, and they will; that’s their business model, and I’m no more angry about that than I am about a seagull stealing my sandwich or a cockroach my last Cheeto.  It’s what they do.  I’d gladly step on them, but I’m not mad.

And they’re not entirely wrong.  Prayer is a powerful thing, but we, the citizens of America — we need to take action.

The trouble is, there’s a real problem here, and rags like the Daily News aren’t helping.  The American people are divided to the point of violence — riots in Baltimore, mass protests in Chicago, a long-term sit-in on Wall Street not long ago; are these ringing any bells?  The Republican Party was too reasonable, too moderate for enough of their members that they formed a sub-party, and this Tea Party has been wagging the Congressional dog ever since.

And what do they give us?  Empty rhetoric; worse, it’s empty inflammatory rhetoric, words that are just going to make Americans hate other Americans that little bit more.

We have gun laws, people.  Maybe they could be a bit stronger; maybe background checks could be more thorough — but I could get a gun anywhere in this country, including in “gun-free” Chicago, any night of the week just by waving enough cash.  The trouble isn’t the laws; they’re strong enough to protect us from Howitzers and machine guns.  The trouble is, we can’t enforce them.

One percent — ONE PERCENT! — of the American population is behind bars.  Does anyone really think we need harsher laws for anything?

We have a problem, and we need to solve it, but the guns aren’t the problem; they’re a symptom — and anyone who says differently either wants your vote or is selling something.  (Or both.)

People bring up knife attacks and axe murders to justify firearm possession, but the comparison is too simple; it’s tough to kill twenty people with a knife all at once.  What isn’t tough is a bomb, or poison.  The ingredients for either can be purchased at your neighborhood grocery, in the cleaners aisle — in the produce section — behind the counter — at the gas pumps.  (And no, I’m not telling you how; that would be a wee bit irresponsible.  Take my word on it; it’s not that farfetched and you know it.)

How would poison be delivered?  Public water supplies are posted on USGS maps, marked off with signs, and they are vulnerable.  Our food supply sits in grocery stores, and there’s not even a security camera — and if there was, nobody would be watching it.

What about explosives?  Were you aware that there are no fewer than eight rail lines running under Capitol Hill?  Any city’s metro system is vulnerable; so is any shopping mall or football game or any other public gathering.

Let’s face it, people:  As long as we live in a free country, we’re vulnerable to that sort of attack.  And there are always people who will take the opportunity to deprive us of that freedom — and I’m not talking about guns here, but freedom of expression, of speech.  The NSA just announced their shutdown of the mass cell phone monitoring program; perhaps it’s even true — but if so, it’s likely only because someone else is doing the monitoring.  Besides, they’re still online, still reading our texts.

(Some poor schmuck’s got the job of reading this.  Which is fine by me; that’s one more hit I wouldn’t get otherwise.)

You’re being manipulated by both sides, folks.  They want you afraid so they can get your votes.  Some honestly believe guns are evil, or alternately that self-defense is a divine right — and those people I salute; they’re honest — but others just want their side to win.  And that’s most others.

Listen to me:  The guns aren’t the problem.  It’s people that are the problem.

Most of the shooters they’ve arrested weren’t insane in a clinical sense.  Oh, they’re nuts right enough; how could you kill a room full of people and not be nuts?  But they’re not clinically insane, and that’s all we can test for.  So no number of laws designed to keep guns out of the hands of homicidal nutjobs is going to work.

And if we successfully managed to outlaw all guns?

Well, first, there’d be millions of firearms smuggled in from Mexico.  A third would go to criminals; two thirds would go to right-wing militia members out to protect themselves.  Gun dealers would be right there alongside drug dealers — hell, they’d probably keep both businesses in-house; why not?  It’s money.

And what would we do with people that we caught with illegal guns?  Put them in prison?  Our prisons are vast and they’re already full.  We let people out before a third of their sentences are over because we don’t have enough space for them.

And anyone that couldn’t get a gun and wanted to kill someone would get a knife, or an axe, or a hammer, or a stick with a nail in it.

Potential mass murderers might brew poison or learn to build bombs.  If Ted Kaczynski can do it for seventeen years without getting caught — and he wasn’t exactly stable, mind — anyone can.

We aren’t facing the problem, people.

The problem is, people suck.

The problem is — let’s face it:   Some people just want to kill people.  And for some reason, they think that it’s OK that they do it.

On our televisions, the most popular shows are about serial killers, gruesome murderers.  The American people eat that up.  We forget that, in the audience, there are people who identify with the killers and see them as the heroes; there are would-be murderers watching CSI and taking notes about what not to do.

Our movies include selections about casual murder, about torture, about willful crimes, about horrific depravity.  We watch for hours on end.

In our video games, killing is commonplace.  The Grand Theft Auto series is entirely about violent crime.  World of Warcraft and StarCraft are about killing the enemy; the Star Wars games are about killing… and these last ones are the mild games, the ones with heroes and righteous causes.  There’s some truly awful video games out there, and your 11-year-old probably excels at them.

Our news media is a 24-hour circus of killing and horror and violence.  It’s all about the last airplane to get bombed, the last spree shooter, the last terror attack.  Anything to sell a paper, right?  Anything to keep those sponsors happy.

We glut ourselves with fantasy killing all day every day, and then we spend the rest of our conscious lives on Facebook talking about it — and still we wonder why people in this country are conditioned to accept violence, why the disempowered, the weakest, the poorest, the bullied, the outcasts — why they immediately go to mass violence as their outlet when their rage at their own condition takes over.

Speaking of their condition:  The average school dropout is probably black or hispanic, probably will go to jail before they’re 21, probably for drugs.  Why is this?  Poverty is endemic; it’s a self-perpetuating evil.  And it’s not because people are lazy or because corporations are greedy (though both are true); it’s because they honestly don’t see a better way forward than to make lots of money dealing drugs or die trying.  Never mind that a person who can’t make it through high school will likely lack the business acumen to make a fortune at anything, will probably lack the self-control to keep any money that is made at crime — it may be a long shot, but for some of these kids it’s the only shot, the only one they see.

The would-be drug kingpins aren’t the only trouble.  Youths of both genders see sex as a way to empower themselves in a world without power.  For a young man, it’s often about respect; who’s going to look up to a virgin?  For a young woman, it’s often about control; who’s going to mess with her if she can pull the strings on any puppet male she happens across?  And the results are easily predictable:  six-digit abortion numbers (small wonder the Right-To-Life crowd is screaming), millions of teen mothers, fathers in name only whose only ambition is to get out of jail so they can sell drugs, perpetual hopelessness, and an unending cycle of poverty.

Is it any wonder violence is epidemic?

News reports from California are saying that these most recent shooters are Saudi, or maybe one was Saudi and the other wasn’t, and I don’t know for sure.  But anyone who looks differently — especially now, anyone who looks like they might be from Syria, who looks like they might be Muslim; that person is going to feel different.  That person is going to feel like an outsider.  That person is going to feel the urge to strike back at the rest of us, we who aren’t outsiders.

Incidentally:  That’s what Daesh, or ISIL, these people that call themselves the Islamic State — That’s what they want.  They want us to be afraid of the outsiders among us.  They want us to react in terror, to feel hostile, to lash out at people for being different.  Because when we do that, we’re doing their recruiting for them.

So those are the problems, folks.  Not the guns; not the terrorists.  It’s us; We, The People.  We are the problem.

So how can we fix this?

First, we reduce the prison population.  We do this by eliminating bad laws, striking down mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines.  We force Congress to appoint justices so the courts aren’t so horribly overburdened, which at the same time helps keep violent offenders on the streets and railroads the innocent through an uncaring criminal justice system — because we’re not letting the system function.  And, while we’re at it, we legalize most recreational drugs; we can’t enforce the laws anyway and it costs way too much.  Besides, the “War On Drugs” is the only thing keeping prices up; do away with it and we end the dream of the get-rich-quick drug dealer.

Second, we fix society.  This can be done through education and through proper self-regulation of the media, but the best way — indeed, the only effective way — to reduce violence in our casual culture is to say no to it ourselves.  Don’t buy that violent game; if enough people aren’t buying the things, they’ll stop making them.  Don’t watch the horrific movie; don’t read the true-crime book; don’t re-post the latest spree killing on Facebook; say “no” to Gangsta Rap.  Instead, say some nice things for a change.  Be kind to a stranger.  Create a good place in the world and carry it around with you wherever you go, and you’ll have done more to fix this planet than most of the people you will ever meet.

Third, stop letting yourselves be told what to do.  Learn to think about issues.  Research them — the information actually IS out there — and then verify what you’ve read.  Remember:  Just because someone’s told you something doesn’t make it true.  Even if that someone is me; I’ve been mistaken before, and I will be again.

Oh, and stop blaming the guns.  Outlaw them if you want, but remember:  The problem is people.  The problem is us.

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