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Monday, March 17, 2014

Gun Violence and Prohibition

Recently, I was blocked from a Facebook page called "The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence."  Why was I blocked you ask?  Well, I assume it was in response to a comment I made on one of their posts.  In all honesty, I wasn't being snarky or derogatory in any way, I simply stated that Prohibition has NEVER worked in the past, and it wouldn't work now...  I would happily provide the comment itself, but it's apparently been deleted, as I have gone back to the page and can not find it anywhere.

Now, you may ask if that's how I feel then why was I following that page in the first place, and I'll tell you... I honestly started following the page assuming that (due to the wording of their name) they were focused on helping stop gun violence, which I feel is a good thing.  Apparently, however, they are only interested in stopping gun violence by banning guns.  They really should change their name to "The Coalition to Ban Guns" if that's the case, at least then they wouldn't attract people, like myself, who prefer to actually find answers rather than create bans.

Don't get me wrong, gun violence bothers and upsets me as much as it does anyone else.  The idea that children are being gunned down while playing in front of their homes or while at school turns my stomach.  And the idea that young adults and teens are turning to guns to solve their issues makes me downright sick.  I'm not immune to the worries about stray bullets, accidental shootings, hunting accidents, gang violence, school shootings or any other gun related drama that parents (and non-parents) have.  But I am a realist and I understand that all of those things - with the exception of true "no fault" accidents - have solutions that do NOT include violating the rights of law abiding citizens.

Like it or not, the "right to bare arms" is not only something our founding fathers believed greatly in, but it's those "arms" which allowed us to form the country in the first place - do you really think we would have won our freedom from England with a bunch of rocks & sticks?  Yeah, me neither!  I would even bet - although I of course have no proof - that our founding fathers created this "right to bare arms" in an effort to give the people power against an overbearing and unruly government -- I believe it was a part of their effort to ensure that IF the government they created ever got to big, that the individual citizens would not only have the right to defend themselves - but the ability to overthrow.  They understood what it took to break away from England, and they, better than we, understood the dangers of an oppressive government. THIS was just one of the ways they attempted to ensure that if such things happened in the future, that we, the people, would have the same ability they did, to change things by force if all other options failed.

It's possible of course that I am completely wrong and that given a glimpse of today's gun violence those same founders would skip over the right to arms. But unless someone has invented time travel and not told me, that's not something which is going to happen, so speculation about it is pretty pointless. What it comes down to is they wanted the average Joe citizen to have the ability to own and use weapons when needed to defend themselves and their families.

I do agree however, that SOMETHING has to be done to curb the violence.  I remember watching the news the day the Comlumbine Shooting happened.  I was actually in the hospital that day, so I was able to see the whole thing unfold as the news broke and then as they started announcing the numbers of dead, injured and eventually the names and stories of the perpetrators.  It was major news.  ABCNews broke in over top of regular programming just to make updates.  Everyone in the country knew what had happened.  This was a (seemingly*) new threat, children and teens weren't even safe in school now.  And although this wasn't the first school shooting, it seemed to stand out, and somehow it seemed as if an entire nation knew we had just turned a corner.  It was terrifying, not just for parents, but for students.  Schools across the country jumped to create protocols and action plans in case something like this would happen there.  Students sat through hours of lectures, faced new invasive security procedures and began to fear those students whom they once simply ignored.

Fast forward to 2014, just 15 years later, and school shootings have become something which barely even make the news.  In fact, there were 35 school related shootings in 2013, and an additional 35 so far in 2014, but unless you were local to them, chances are, you never knew about them.  Unfortunately, the numbers continue to climb, and it's almost become a question, not of IF your local schools will face such an issue, but when.  A truly terrifying thought for a parent (myself) of young children in a Public School.

Of course gun violence doesn't just happen in schools.  Gang violence, domestic violence, street violence, and just plain ol' murder, rape, suicide and assault are often gun related -- more now than ever before.  Especially among young people.

So what has happened? Truth be told, like most issues, there is no simple answer.  Violence, in general, rises as social injustice, poverty and desperation among society peak.  We have seen it over and over, and yet we are always shocked by it.  The biggest difference is that for all the violence in the 60's and 70's which accompanied great changes, little of it seemed to permeate our homes, schools and other "safe areas."  For the most part, the violence took place on streets, at rallies, and in other public places.  But this time... This time things are different.  Social change is taking place, and that's not a bad thing, but it's causing a great many to feel threatened.

Now, couple that with the same hormonal changes which have ALWAYS driven young people to become violent - although in my day that meant a fist fight by the monkey bars - and the sheer accessibility of guns today and guess what happens...  You get a MAJOR spike in gun violence that seems to surround everyone and everything.  Believe it or not people, this isn't rocket science.

Today's young people are no different than the young people of a decade ago, or a hundred years ago. What has changed, more than anything, is how today's young people are dealing with the same issues, stresses and emotions that young people have always dealt with.  What once would have resulted in a pushing match, now becomes a deadly confrontation.  Which tends to take us back to the argument FOR prohibition, not away from it.

But here's the thing about prohibition, it doesn't work.  YES, it would reduce the number of guns out there and in turn it would reduce the ability of many young people to get their hands on such weapons.  But would it really put a dent in Gun Violence as a whole? No.

Why not?  Because those who wish to get, and use, guns would still be able to do so.  Want proof?  Take a look at how well Alcohol or Drug bans have worked.  Heroin was first synthesized in 1874, by 1914 laws were passed limiting the drug to medical applications ONLY, and in 1924 new laws, banning the use, possession or sale of Heroin within the US were signed.  This means that Heroin has been legally prohibited for the past 90 years, yet a 2006 study showed that in the year preceding over 500,000 individuals had used Heroin, with some studies estimating a MUCH higher number of 1.5-2.2 MILLION Heroin addicts and users in the US today.  NONE of these addicts were alive prior to 1924 when Heroin was legally obtainable and usable. Which means that every one of these individuals had sought out and obtained the substance illegally from the first use (these aren't people who became addicted legally and then had no choice but to find it on the street when it became illegal.)

A similar example can be made when we look at the Alcohol Prohibition which took place in the US between 1920 and 1933.  The 18th Amendment (the prohibition of Alcohol in the US) was ratified by congress on January 16, 1919, and prohibition officially began on January 17, 1920.  Whole towns and cities chose to simply ignore the new law and in those places where it was enforced, "bootleg" alcohol became available within the first week.  Over the next 13 years which the law was in place, BILLIONS of gallons of Alcohol were made, sold and illegally consumed by those who believed it was their right to drink it.  It's important to note here that in fact many individuals DID see drinking alcohol as a RIGHT, although it was not explicitly spelled out in the constitution.  Why? Because for many, it was a part of their religious, as well as cultural, celebrations and had always been.  This lead to even the most "white bread" citizens to ignore or subvert the prohibition laws.

Lets consider now, what prohibition of guns would mean.  Like the prohibition of heroin and alcohol, those who agree with the law or who at the very least are willing to concede to the government will continue to not own them or turn in the ones they do own.  But those who believe (as the constitution states) owning a gun is their right, those who are members of violent or illegal organizations, and/or those, in many cases, who simply disagree with the law will either continue to own guns or possible even obtain them afterwards.  I would fair a guess that the majority of gun owners would in some way fall in to this category! While there are those Gun collectors out there who own guns as a "hobby."  The vast majority of gun owners do so because they believe their Gun will either protect them, feed them (as in the case of rifles) or are already criminals who use or plan to use their weapons to preform violent and illegal acts and have no care for what the laws say in the first place.  Chances are, with a few exceptions, most will never willingly hand over their weapons, or worse, will actively seek to get more.

To be perfectly honest, I would not be willing to simply hand over mine!  Not because I think Guns are some magical answer to this world's ills.  Instead, it's because I believe that if our Government chose to institute such laws, it would not be for the noble reasons which so many Anti-Gun Groups have in mind.  It would be yet another way to ease their oppression of the average citizen.  And I'm not willing to weaken myself or my families ability to protect ourselves from or rebel against (if the case warrants it) a corrupt government.  And I believe a good deal of otherwise peaceable, every day citizens - such as myself - would do the same.

So what IS the answer?  If prohibition isn't going to work, what will?  I agree that change NEEDS to be made on this issue!  We can NOT allow the rise of gun violence to continue, especially the rise of gun violence against innocent people.  So what can we do?

Truth is, there ARE solutions to gun violence!  Unfortunately, most people don't want these solutions, they want a quick fix and the flick of a pen.  But like ALL social issues, a simple change of laws doesn't do anything!  Slavery has been illegal for nearly 200 years, but there continue to be slaves.  Discrimination based on race, gender, religion, etc.  are all illegal, but they continue to affect the lives of millions of Americans every day.  BUT, if we compare racism, sexism, etc. today with the way things were in the 1950's or 60's, you would see a HUGE difference.  WHY? Not because these things were made illegal, but because the way people think about and act towards one another has changed.  Of course it hasn't changed over night, and like I stated before cases continue today. But each generation has gotten better than the last and now, even most racists or bigots don't admit to their beliefs because they know they're the minority.

This issue is really no different.  And the solutions to gun violence mirror the solutions that overcame other social issues.  At the top of that list is Education!  Those with a better education and those who's parents are "educated" are less likely to turn to guns to solve their problems.  Also, those who come from or live in low income neighborhoods are more likely to turn to violence.  So a focus on poverty is second - of course with better education comes an end to poverty.  But that's not all it takes. It takes strong communities, strong family units and solid healthcare programs that focus on healing rather than treatment.

It's certainly not a short term project!  Better education, Better healthcare, Better communities... All take YEARS of work by a great many people.  It may seem like these things are out of reach. But I don't believe so.  I think, though, that they will take some HUGE changes in the way we, as a society, approach things.  Rather than bickering over issues that limit the rights and freedoms of others, we should be working together to create a system where a world class education, true health & wellness and decent jobs are available to absolutely everyone regardless of their income, neighborhood or background.  Sadly, THAT is what I don't see happening...  I am a firm believer that we have all the tools needed to make these changes, but I don't see people in this country being willing to put aside their differences long enough to make the changes that need made -- Fact is, many people see healthcare, education and "jobs" as non-issues or as things that should be reserved for those who can pay for them.

I wish I could say I had enough faith in the people of this country to believe that they would be willing to come together and solve real issues instead of constantly arguing over who can and can't marry or who's religion is better...  But I think there would need to be some major changes made in the way people think before that could happen.

SO do we have the tools to end the majority of Gun Violence? YES! Without question.  But desperate people, people who can't see another way out, will always turn to violence (and other illegal options, such as drugs & gangs - which also lead to violence) because they don't believe they have other options. People with poor health, poor self esteem, little to no financial options and who can find no way out or up, feel backed in to a corner -- and like anyone they lash out.  I'm not making excuses!  I don't have the education I want, I don't have a decent income, and my health could certainly be better... And I'm certainly not killing people.  But I understand how it can happen.  More than that, I understand that to a large degree, it's preventable!

*When discussing school shootings I made the statement that this was "SEEMINGLY" a new threat. And although it did not quite fit in to the statements I was making at the time, I feel it is important to explain why I made this statement.  Fact is, School shootings have existed in this country longer than the country itself. The first of such shootings occurred in 1764 and it known as the Pontiac Rebellion School Massacre. Since then, until the Columbine Shooting there were over 250 school related shootings in the US.
For a chronological list of shootings in the US CLICK HERE.

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