Guest Post: Guns, Like Washing Machines, Don't Act - People Do

Via James E. Miller of the Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada,

Reprinted from the Middletown Press and Journal

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, the usual cadre of politicians, pundits and commentators are hitting the airwaves and condemning believers of the “guns don’t kill” rationale. This exercise in demonization is being followed with pleas to strip Americans of their guns and place a ban on vaguely-defined “assault” weapons.

What’s been lacking in the flurry of proposals that inevitably followed a catastrophe like Sandy Hook has been a deeper look at the kind of environment impressionable minds are coming of age in. Far too often, politically-minded observers fall back on reactionary emotion for the solution to problems without actually engaging in critical thinking as to the root of what they are trying to solve.

As Southwestern University School of Law professor Butler Shaffer put it, we tend to focus too much “attention on the consequences of our behavior” instead of the “casual factors, as the thinking that produces dysfunctional results.”

We then end up looking to government to solve problems which it has a hand in creating. Many pro-gun control advocates are quick to mention that there is little gun violence in countries with “reasonable” gun laws in place. Yet as economist Thomas Sowell points out, countries with stricter gun control laws such as Mexico, Brazil and Russia all have higher murder rates than the U.S. When you compare Switzerland to Germany, where the former has higher rates of gun ownership than the latter, Switzerland has a lower murder rate.

The difficulty with using the empirical method to explain human phenomena is that it ignores the complexity of mankind. Data can be cherry-picked to prove any conclusion. Logic and reason are the best tools to make sense of a tragedy such as a school shooting. And the fact remains that government bans never prevent said goods from reaching the public. More often than not, good people abide by the prohibition while the more criminally inclined ignore the law.

The truth is we will never really know what compelled a young man to take the life of his mother, her coworkers and the children of Sandy Hook Elementary. There are discernable factors that may have played a significant role, however.

Our country’s empathetic response to the ongoing wars that result in the deaths of innocent women and children has certainly resulted in the dehumanizing of fatal violence. The press’s ignoring, and outright covering up, of the human victims (often called “collateral damage”) of the War on Terror has had an immeasurable impact on how today’s society views the loss of life.

When the Washington Post ran a photo of 2-year-old Ali Hussein being lifted from the rubble of his home in Baghdad after an American air strike in 2008, some wrote to the paper and complained that the picture would undermine the war effort. The fact that the child was stripped of a life that was fully ahead of him was lost on most Americans.

There also is the increased use of psychotropic pharmaceuticals that have been shown to induce suicidal and violent tendencies. These drugs were used by the shooter in Connecticut, the shooter in Aurora, Col., and one of the Columbine High School assailants.

The politically-connected pharmaceutical industry, in cahoots with the equally connected medical industry, cashes in by peddling these government-approved narcotics. While correlation doesn’t automatically mean causation, none of these points have been highlighted by a media establishment that would rather make quick judgments instead of taking the time to examine what has become the new “normal” American life.

Those who decry “the guns don’t kill people” line aren’t acknowledging reality. Guns are inanimate objects. They lack free will and consciousness. To say that a gun kills a person is to say that couches, shoes and washing machines can kill people.

In short, guns don’t act – people do. The same goes for television shows, movies and video games with violent content. They are objects that are valued by the minds of the public. Why so many in our society are drawn to violence is worth asking because the Sandy Hook shooting was but another extension of this fascination.

My father often shares with me an anecdote about a classmate who brought a rifle to his high school speech class to demonstrate how to properly clean a firearm. This was in the blue-collar city of Emmaus, and nobody felt unsafe in the presence of a student brandishing a functioning weapon. The question is; what has changed in the decades since the late 1960s? It certainly can’t be access to guns since they were just as widely available back then, if not more.

Eighteenth-century British statesman Edmund Burke once wrote that “the nature of man is intricate; the objects of society are of the greatest possible complexity” and that the simplicity often displayed in hasty political action is “grossly ignorant.” It’s disappointing, but not unexpected, to witness another intellectual mob calling for prohibition of the one tool that holds tyranny at bay.

Common sense says that disarming law-abiding citizens will make them more susceptible to harm. But in the aftermath of a tragedy such as Sandy Hook, rational thought is tossed aside in favor of short run solutions.

What must be considered is why some individuals are so drawn to violence, what effect has the increased prescription rate of antidepressants had, and why casualties in war have become so dehumanized. There is an uncomfortable but common denominator in all these factors.

I would hope anti-gun zealots notice it before they ramp up their War on Firearms.