Roundtable – Gun Control

The Roundtable is Torchlight staff’s discussion of news and events. The text has been lightly edited for clarity, and some links were added after the fact. This conversation happened on February 18, 2018.

Tom Rich, Editor-in-Chief

Welcome to the Roundtable, Torchlight staff’s discussion of news and events. The horrible events in Parkland, Florida are foremost on everyone’s minds this weekend, and our hearts go out to everyone affected by this terrible tragedy. But thoughts and prayers, divorced from an attempt to look for and implement a solution, are insulting, and so we start today’s Roundtable with a simple question: what can be done to curb these massacres?

 

Josh Kyu Saiewitz, Senior Managing Editor

Clearly the answer is, we need more guns. Guns on top of guns. Guns that shoot guns. Armed guards! Arm the teachers! Give all the students guns in case a student comes in with a gun. It’s just crazy enough to work.

 

Tom

I’d like to start out by dismissing one solution that our friends on the right commonly suggest, which is arming teachers. The question is not academic for me, since I teach night classes at a community college: active shooter training is part of my yearly refreshers, and I’ve had to grapple with that horrible “what if.” An armed teacher would be worse than useless during an incident. Distracted by answering questions, keeping on pace with the lesson, fiddling with technology, and all of the other tasks required of an instructor, there is virtually no chance of a teacher managing to realize what’s going on and heroically gunning down the bad guys before becoming a victim him or herself. Indeed, most, if not all, of the classrooms I’ve taught in have the students in between the whiteboard and the door, adding an extra horrible layer to this terrible idea. Armed guards are only marginally better; students with concealed weapons substantially worse. There is no means of armed defense for a school that is both effective and leaves the educational mission of the institution intact; it’s either reduce schools to armed camps, or find another way to prevent these shootings.

 

Christopher Dahlin, Politics Editor (aka Christo)

I think it’s pretty clear that the problem is guns.  We have too many, too few restriction, and whether we have more of an inclination to use them or not is a debate, but we are using them. Blaming the NRA is convenient, but we also need to blame the true believers who think that more guns will actually improve matters (demonstrably untrue), and also the spineless cowards who don’t want to be primaried or the like. (Speaker Paul Ryan )

Guns are now part of the culture of division, much as abortion is, but we can’t ignore what is going on.  We couldn’t afford to ignore it 10,15,20 years ago, but we did, and now it’s simply become horrific.

To address the “arm the teachers” issue, my problem is simply that if there is a police response, how do you tell the difference between a teacher with a gun to defend students, and a teacher with a gun to shoot students? This is beyond all the problems of putting the responsibility of shooting students on teachers.

 

Tom

Exactly right, Christo. I can’t foster open conversation about rhetoric and composition if I’m assessing every student who comes through my door as a possible armed threat. The mindsets don’t jive.

 

Christo

I mean, there’s also the psychic wounds of having to kill someone, especially a kid.

 

Josh

The problem with more guns in schools goes beyond “will this stop mass shootings?” to the problem of now you have a gun in the school all day every day. Accidents happen, homicides happen, suicides happen, shooters know who to target first, kids who would otherwise not have access to a gun now have ready access to a gun inside the school. We know that the presence of guns exacerbates and facilitates violence. The only answer is gun control, and it’s an answer that every other developed nation has arrived at, an answer that gun violence experts agree on, and an answer that the vast majority of the American people agree on.

 

Christo

To address the issue of “mental health”, first of all, most of those “mentally ill” are threats to themselves before any others. We can talk about the suicide issue. if you would like We also should probably address how badly we treat mental health in this country, which is utterly terrible. In a supreme coincidence, those who sanctimonify on mental health are also the ones who try to cut mental health coverage, and also cut restrictions on those with mental illnesses purchasing weapons.

 

David Schmitz, Junior Managing Editor

Josh’s last sentence is the big one. The vast majority of people agree that the solution includes a massive reduction and restriction on access to weapons meant for one thing, killing as many people as possible in as quickly a manner as can be done. The obstacles to fixing the issue are clear and not obfuscating their existence. Namely, the NRA and similar but smaller gun manufacturer lobbyists and the politicians that accept their support.

 

Josh

Like the vast majority of noises originating from GOP mouths, these distractions and absurd proposals are simply meant to make those who are questioning them go away and trouble them no more.

My concern is that this situation, and its endless heartbreak as the bodies stack up, leads those of us in favor of gun control to despair. These days a mass shooting becomes a top news story every few months at the most, and the cycle has added a new wrinkle of “why care, nothing will get done.” I think this attitude is extraordinarily self-defeating, and I’m heartened to see that the students of the school in Parkland and at many other schools are speaking up that they’re tired of being shot at, tired of guns, tired of inaction. Guns are a political issue and politics is hard work, and when the opposition stands in your way you have to fight harder and not give in to hopelessness.

 

Tom

That despair ties in to another common talking point from the anti-control crowd, which is that even if you manage to implement gun control measures, you’ll never stop somebody, somewhere from getting a gun and doing something horrible with it. This is both true and irrelevant; the point isn’t to get to 0, but to get to less than we’re at now. Locks won’t stop a determined thief from getting into my apartment, but I still have one on the front door because odds are I won’t get targeted by a determined thief, and it DOES stop the less determined thieves. Similarly, there are not that many people in the world who are so determined to commit a gun crime that they’ll persist both in acquiring a gun and keeping their plan a secret, and gun control measures CAN stop all of the less-determined would-be criminals who give up before they get a gun, or slip and reveal their plans. We’re trying to form a MORE perfect union, here, not a perfect one.

 

Christo

I think in this case, Josh we do not have to submit to despair. The populace does not like Trump. We are voting against him every time, even in the most conservative of districts in elections usually not highly participated in. Working to actually reform our immigration laws by voting out the white nationalists is coincidentally generally also voting out the gun fetishists and cowards, is coincidentally also voting out the people who would stand in the way of Russia prosecutions. If this were an actual societal failure, we would have a massive problem, but it isn’t. It is the moral failure and cowardice of a single party.

That isn’t to say the Democrats are perfect, but they want to  get things done, they want things to change, they want to do their jobs.  Not every dem is going to be for the same things, but we will have more of a platform, foundation and scaffolding to actually achieve what needs to be done.  The Republicans want nothing to change. The dems may not agree on the specifics, but they want change.

We can start with the things everyone agrees on (background checks, restricting domestic violence offenders from weapons, restricting criminals from weapons, etc) and move from there.

 

Josh

Missouri’s example suggests strongly that gun control actually works here in America, too, despite all the arguments that we’re just uniquely different from every other developed nation. In 2007, the state relaxed some relatively strict gun control measures, and has since seen crime go up significantly, according to research cited by the NYT.

I agree with you broadly, Christo. Personally I think we (perhaps people more than politicians) should argue for a total ban–that just like in the Obama years, starting with a moderate compromise against hardliners has you meeting in the middle at… no change at all. I think people are getting angrier and more willing to say, “If you’re going to reject us meeting you halfway, why should we bother extending a hand?” At this point Democrats should take back power for this and all the other reasons and simply jam massive gun control down the throats of the opposition, and then laugh all the way to the bank-where-nobody-gets-shot-anymore.

 

Christo

Unfortunately, we still have McConnell to deal with, but it’s not like I disagree with you, which was part of my point. I was just talking about an example of a final bill that would also be filibustered in the Senate, but would pass in any reasonable government

 

Dave

And that points to a very significant problem we currently have. How many in-depth studies of gun violence in America have been undertaken? Shockingly few, especially considering the level of gun related suicides, homicides, and accidents we have per capita. Hint: we lead the world by such an incredible margin that one would think we’d be curious why that is. But we’re not allowed to study the underlying reasons. I posit that the singular reason is the also curiously high number of guns available and distributed throughout our country. But again, we’re not supposed to talk about any of that. Especially right after a tragedy.

 

Christo

Well, I would hope we also make gun studies by the government legal as well.

Because right now, they are not legal.

 

Tom

That’s a really good point, Dave, and leads into an overlap between my views and those of the opposition: namely, that the root causes of these massacres are some deeper elements of our culture, and to really prevent these things we need to change how we, broadly speaking, as Americans, think and feel. Off the top of my head, and by no means an exhaustive list, we need to stop making the weak and suffering feel like failures, stop marginalizing those who seek help with whatever’s going on in their minds, and quit repeating myths of redemptive violence. But I think our fascination with guns rises out of those cultural attitudes, and that legislating to curb the former will help reduce the latter. And, in the meantime, it means fewer shot up schools.

 

Josh

Other countries have similar myths and misconceptions and toxic values and media problems. They just check to make sure people should have a gun before they get them. In mass killings or simple suicides, a gun is a tool that makes the situation deadlier. That’s the problem.

 

Tom

Agreed, Josh. We’re about halfway through our time today, so let’s shift from what we want to happen to what’s actually happened. The President’s reaction to the massacre seemed to be “report your troubled neighbors to the authorities” and “the FBI missed this one because they were spending too much time on the Russian investigation.” Your thoughts?

 

Josh

From blocking gun control to helping the president obstruct justice in the Russia investigation, the GOP is hard at work enabling criminals across our fine nation!

 

Christo

It should be noted he lifted some restrictions that Obama put in place to prevent the mentally ill acquiring weapons.

 

Josh

Look, the fact that Trump has decided that the deaths of 17 people were their fault, their friends and family and neighbors fault for not reporting this guy (they did) to the FBI (who couldn’t have done anything anyway because apparently in Florida a toddler can buy a gun as long as he can reach the counter), and ultimately not enough about him and his crimes is disgusting and enraging. Trump is generally disgusting and enraging, but this is one of the worst things he’s said since the “fine people on both sides” thing. We’re living through a national crisis in a lot of ways, most of which involve terrible people letting terrible things happen so they can perpetrate other terrible things for their own benefit. Frankly I consider that specific “spending too much time” tweet to be an act of obstruction of justice all by itself, and I hope Mueller adds another count to the charges.

 

Christo

We also can’t discount not only  his utter lack of empathy, but his complete laziness in even pretending he has empathy.   From his “thumbs up” picture, grinning with the First Responders who reacted to the tragedy, to his literal 15 minute appearance at the hospital (with a possible captive audience), to him making the shooting all about him.  He is gross, and will never be anything but gross.

 

Dave

He went to a Studio 54 themed disco party immediately after visiting the victims. I mean, priorities, ya know.

 

Tom

We’ve got about ten minutes left, everyone, so let’s move on to final thoughts. The road to solving this problem is in making sure that our elected officials, at all levels, understand that not taking action to curb gun violence will cost them votes. Donate time and money to advocacy groups if you can, contact your senators and representatives – both in your state and in D.C. – and make sure they know that this is an issue that will impact how you vote. Then follow through, and keep up on how they vote. It’s unpleasant work, to be sure, but it’s work we need to do.

 

Christo

I really hope this is a turning point. I don’t necessarily think it will be, after Newtown, I don’t trust anything about this. We’ve been saying “something must be done” (and something indeed must be done) since I was in high school. We need to work at this, we need to vote, we need to remain engaged, and we cannot lose hope.  The only sure way of losing is to give up.

 

Dave

It’s just another thing that we, as a society, are throwing on the backs of the next generation. I’m curious what the numbers for the NRA membership is, if they are keeping pace with the replacement of the Boomer generation fall off as Millennials come of voting (and gun ownership) age. The activism that is required to make the changes needed simply isn’t going to come from those in power currently, it must come from us and those younger than us.

 

Josh

Maybe we didn’t need another reason to win this fall, but it certainly can’t hurt to keep in mind the immense human cost in this direction, as well as all the others, to letting these awful people run our country. Tom, you began by saying that our hearts go out to the victims, and they do; but so do our efforts, our time, our money, toward making sure that someday this tide of blood will be stemmed. Gun control is a political issue like any other. Let’s get to work.

 

Tom

Absolutely, Josh: beliefs without deeds don’t count for much. That’s all the time we have for the Roundtable this week; thanks as always, everyone, for a lively conversation.

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