Confiscated guns packed into Philadelphia's evidence room, which can't hold them all. Photo by David Miailetti, Daily News.
Unless some of my readers are just emerging from a cave, I don't think I have to tell anyone about the horrific shooting at Newtown. If you're looking for some practical ways to help that community, here's a list.
In the days since, just about every aspect of gun violence has come up for discussion. As NSFW Corp editor-in-chief Paul Carr rightly predicted after the news broke, we've been subjected to perspectives "smart, trite, academic, contrarian, annoying, brilliant and all variations between."
But there's still a few assumptions worth tackling.
For context, I've covered crime in my city for over five years. I've seen cases where firearms stopped murderers and where they enabled them to do terrible damage. I'm also a gun owner who feels the black helicopter crowd is a cultural cancer that makes mature discussion of issues of violence and self-defense in this country nigh impossible.
Further, I believe it's possible to craft laws recognizing a basic ability to own a firearm (not military ordinance or a damn arsenal) while making it more difficult for violent maniacs to walk around with machine guns. Perfect systems are impossible, but we can have a far better one.
But my fear — and I hope to hell I'm wrong — is that we come out of this with some unenforceable mess, more surveillance, the return of zero tolerance at schools, a stigma against autism, another push to ban violent video games, and nothing that solves any real problems.
From drug epidemics to Columbine to 9/11, our country's track record for enacting sweeping measures in the wake of tragedy is terrible. There were real problems in all of those situations, but the attempted solutions didn't fix them, or even made things worse.
In the discussion of gun control after Newtown, there's too often an assumption of the efficiency of the legal apparatus, that it's simply a matter of deciding to enact properly strict laws, and we'll get down to the low levels of violence seen in other nations. I don't think that's merited.
Practically, we're not the UK or Japan, where civilian guns were never pervasive and laws restricting weapons date back centuries. We're not Australia, which had about 3 million guns for 18 million people when its government put major restrictions in place back in the mid-90s.
Instead, there are 270-310 million guns in the United States, almost one for every man, woman, and child. This isn't just a situation that no other industrialized nation has ever encountered, it's never happened in human history.
Whatever your opinions on gun control, whether you own a firearm or find them disgusting, that's the reality: 300 million guns is a hell of a foundation for a potential black market.
Don't believe me? Last year, over 100 guns went missing from Asheville's evidence room. A few years before, the same happened under county Sheriff Bobby Medford, who ludicrously claimed he'd buried some assault rifles in the walls of the local jail. Medford's currently doing a 15-year stint in federal prison, but the guns are nowhere to be found. My area ain't alone in this problem.
My fear is that sloppy policy creates a larger opportunity for corruption, including among some of those charged with enforcing any new rules. Many evidence rooms already can't handle the volume of weapons they take in, and that situation means it's easy for them to disappear.
I'm trying to have some hope too. For well over a decade, violent crime in America has declined rapidly. Hell, it's one of the only positive social trends we have. While firearms aren't going anywhere, the culture around them can change.
Paranoids who want to keep loopholes open, allow drunks to go armed in bars, and prevent doctors from informing people about gun safety don't represent many — even most — gun owners, and it's far past time more of us said so. The crazier parts of gun culture grow because they all too often find reinforcement instead of stigma.
It doesn't have to be this way: a country where gun ownership is viewed with adult responsibility instead of adolescent power fantasy will be a less violent place. That sort of cultural shift is trickier than passing a law, but it's essential.
While we're at it, let's look at halting the mental health system's decades-long free-fall. Let's look at why the legal system doesn't take domestic abuse and rape seriously, letting violent scumbags out repeatedly until the day they finally empty a clip into someone.
And yes, let's look at gun laws. But let's do so carefully, without pretending that fixing violence in a sprawling country with a mess of social issues is just a matter of writing a rule, and remembering the limits of law enforcement.
The urge to do something in the wake of a tragedy is laudable, but getting this shit wrong has consequences. I hope this isn't just history repeating.