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Gun Violence Isn’t the Problem, Violence Is the Problem

Guns, free association and where your rights come from

I’ve been seeing a lot in the news feeds I read about companies cutting ties with the NRA. I also see people advocating boycotts of other companies that have not cut ties with the NRA. I think that’s great.

In America we have the right of free association. In fact it’s enshrined in the First Amendment of our Constitution. I support free association. I support your right to buy from whom you want, to associate with whom you want, and to not associate with whom you don’t want. You can boycott Delta, not watch Oprah, not talk to your neighbor, and not friend me on Facebook. I think that’s great.

Each of us gets to pick whom we associate with, and that right is enshrined in the First Amendment. That’s just one amendment up from the one that is at the center of the recent controversy about guns. Americans are arguing about what rights our Constitution gives us regarding guns and free association. There’s a misnomer in all this arguing about the Constitution that I’d like to clear up.

It has to do with where these rights come from. The Constitution? No, I’m afraid not. The Founders did not say that they were writing a paper that gave us our rights. They wrote down a document to enshrine the rights we already had. They believed these rights were inherent; that is, these rights are ours because we exist. The US Constitution enshrines the rights we have and limits government’s ability to take away those rights by force. It doesn’t give us our rights. Those are ours already.

I don’t know anyone who isn’t sickened by the recent mass shootings. It’s a terrible problem that we need to solve as a society. But I personally can’t see it being solved by gun control. That’s my position because I don’t see gun violence as the problem. I see violence as the problem.

Sure, if we get rid of guns that fire fast, or don’t have as big a magazine, fewer people will die when a deranged or evil person, who also decides to abide by the gun laws, decides to kill a lot of people. To me that’s a cop out. We don’t want to see the real problem, we don’t want to tackle the hard problem, so we’re willing to limit an inherent right, not even to keep people from dying, just so that fewer will die. I just can’t sleep at night thinking I’m doing something that will doom some to death just to take the easy route.

What will stop the violence? Is it true that in countries without semi-automatic weapons that mass killings don’t happen? No, about a year ago, a man named Dimitrious Gargasoulas drove a car into a crowd in Melbourne, killing 6 and wounding more than 30. Also last year a man used an axe to injure 9 people on a train in Germany. Also last year in Germany, a man used a knife that could be purchased in the grocery store to stab several people in the store, killing one. In 2014 in Canada, a schizophrenic man went to a party, found a knife there, and stabbed five people to death. Last year in Turku, Finland a man stabbed 10 people, killing two. Between 2010 and 2012, there were seven mass stabbings at Chinese schools in which children were killed. The list could go on.

I don’t think anyone, on the left or the right, wants school shootings to continue. I’ve also been confronted lately with hyperbole from both left and right about the issue. Many of my liberal friends got fooled into believing that the recent shooting was the 18th mass school shooting of the year. Many of my conservative friends got fooled into thinking that some of the students were paid actors. It’s said in Theory of Constraints that you really don’t know a problem unless you can state that problem as a conflict between two necessary conditions.

Let’s try. For those on one side, it is a necessary condition that children be free to go to school without threat of harm from guns. They see clear and convincing evidence in other countries of the correlation between gun violence in schools and the free availability of guns in the society. For those on the other side, it is a necessary condition that their right to bear arms is not infringed. They see registration as a first step to confiscation. They see tests for gun ownership such as mental health evals and having a “real reason” to own a gun as a first step to limiting the right entirely. For them, the unrestricted right to freely keep and bear arms is all that separates us from a totalitarian future.

But why does one side see it necessary to protect children in school from guns and the other sees it as necessary to protect their right to have the guns of their choice? Is there no common goal between these two groups of Americans? I believe there is.

Both sides want children to be free to learn and grow freely to be free Americans in a free country. The Signers of the Declaration said that the rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness are inalienable. Both sides agree on that.

So, Jim wants his children to have life, liberty, and be free to pursue happiness. For that to happen he sees it necessary that they be free from threat of guns at school, and because of that and sound evidence that gun violence is related to gun availability, Jim wants to put new limits on gun ownership.

And Walter wants his children to have life, liberty, and be free to pursue happiness. For that to happen he sees it necessary that he and his children after him have free access to guns that they feel will help them protect their rights. Because of that, Walter doesn’t want any new limits on gun ownership.

Are we at an impasse? No, I don’t think so. I see two well-meaning Americans not checking their assumptions. So, let’s check them for them.

Walter assumes that if he does not have access to semi-automatic weapons his rights or his descendants’ will eventually be limited by a government that is no longer afraid of its people. Even if Walter is right, that semi-automatic weapons in the hands of the populace limits a politician’s wish to take autocratic power, is it the only way?

Jim assumes that his children need to be free from gun violence. Why not all violence? Can his children grow up free if they are living and learning under threat of violence from other means? Jim also assumes that the only way to rid the schools of gun violence is to limit gun ownership. Even if he is correct that it is an effective way, we can’t assume it’s the only way.

Let me talk to Walter. Walter, you’re right. Bullies don’t mess with anyone who might be as strong, and the millions of Americans with AR-15s are probably a moderating force for any politicians who want to take too much power. But while you’ve been focusing on guns, there has been another shift in something the Founders wanted us to keep. The soundness of money and independence of money has changed. We were supposed to have money based on something that didn’t lose value over time, something we could save so that we’d have more power than government. What’s happened since is that government freely borrows what it needs from a bank it partly controls that just makes it up from thin air. So, I can see why you are feeling your freedom more threatened now than your grandfather did, but it isn’t because people want to limit your magazine capacity. It’s the money. If you really want a smaller government that has less ability to limit your rights, let’s work together with other Americans to get honest money back. Will you help me with that?

Now let me talk to Jim. Jim, you’re right. The fewer semi-automatic weapons there are, the fewer that will be used to kill masses of children in schools in a brief period. The data’s pretty clear. But while this is a growing threat lately, these weapons have been around a long time. There seems to be something else going on as well. What do you think it might be that is causing people to recently act so violently rather than talk their problems out? Have you ever heard of the Non-Agression Principle? It’s a well known ethical stance that goes back even before Thomas Jefferson, but has been the hallmark of our democracy since the beginning. But for some reason we don’t teach it anymore. When we want something to change, we’ve been asking government to change it for us. We talk to each other less, and resort to power more. Whoever is on the other end of that feels slighted and small. People who feel small naturally gravitate to something that equalizes the playing field. Is an equal playing field so bad? Don’t we all want that? If we taught the NAP to kids in school. If we taught people to use Conflict Resolution instead of appealing to a more powerful authority to fix their problems, maybe we could create a non-violent society where it didn’t matter how many guns there were or what kind. Will you help me with that?

I wish the problem was guns. I wish the problem was a certain kind of gun. I wish the problem was a certain kind of mental illness. I wish the problem was any single easy thing to fix. But it isn’t any of those. When you can’t resolve a problem quickly, it is likely you don’t understand it. It’s likely you have assumptions that aren’t correct. It’s likely that you are focusing only on part of the problem, the part you want to change and not the part you don’t want to change. But solving problems actually requires changing the conditions that brought them about, and often those conditions are things we like, things we’re not willing to look at. But we won’t solve our problems by demanding that only the other guy lose what he wants; We have to be willing to look at our assumptions as well. And we’ll never solve any problem by taking away the rights of others, even if we assume those rights came from a law we wrote in the first place, because they did not.

Addictionologist educating the world soon at Solves problems with TOC. Author of Questions and Answers on Addiction. Twitter: @addictiondocMD

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