Kern County is a gun-lover’s paradise. Its rural nature and opportunities for clean-cut hunting and sporting use of guns means a high rate of per capita gun ownership.
But does a high rate of ownership translate to a high rate of gun-related violence? Statistician and gun violence expert and researcher Leah Libresco was right to say no. She correctly argues that our gun control efforts and laws are incoherent and without common sense; “gun control” means so many different things it means virtually nothing; “gun violence” means so many things it means virtually nothing; semi- and fully automatic rifles as categories mean virtually nothing.
What kind of violence with guns are we talking about, she asks. Domestic? Criminal? Gang? Homicide? Suicide? Accidental? Mental illness? Brandishing with accidental discharge? Kids (or careless adults) playing with a loaded gun? Political or religious terrorism? Exactly what?
If guns are taken away will violence over all go down or simply shift to violence by other means? We have mass killings brought about by means other than guns that fit right into the category of senseless terrorism. Analysts claim that when gun ownership goes down, gun violence goes down apace. Are we surprised? Fewer guns out there, fewer gun-related acts of violence. Not rocket science.
But does that mean less violence in general is occurring, or just less gun violence specifically. We never get that data. Our information is incomplete. Of course if guns are removed from the scene, fewer acts of violence will be connected to guns.
Statistics tell us that there are 33,000 gun deaths a year with 62 percent related to gun-inflicted suicide. Other kinds of gun deaths are connected to domestic violence, gang violence, homicides. The smallest number of gun-related deaths is related to gun-related mass killings like Las Vegas and now in Florida. Yet that kind of gun death is what gets the greatest amount of media and political attention.
Yes, mass gun killings are stunning, and tragic. But why pay so much more attention to them while other kinds of gun killings are vastly more numerous and just as tragic, yet seem less publicly upsetting and get far less media attention?
We have several buckets of gun-involved deaths to plumb. The only thing in common is the means. Yet we simple-mindedly attack the problem by attacking the means rather than by plumbing deep to analyze the questions of why and what to do. The several buckets are very different from each other yet we grab onto the least important cross-cutting detail and try to solve the problem by attacking it.
If we look at the phenomenon of mass killings we find them occurring by a variety of means, yet we don’t attack the problem by attacking the leasing of trucks or cars, for example. Rather than outlawing truck or car rental, we are smart enough in such cases to look to the question of why.
But in gun killings we lose all common sense. We get hysterical and worked up about the what instead of the why. Nothing’s more wasteful of energy than putting that energy into solutions that miss the target. So far no solution offered would have prevented any mass shooting that has occurred to date.
There’s also the danger of creating a false sense of safety or of having done something meaningful then resting upon it.
Rather than categorizing killings by the method used, we need to categorize them more fruitfully and find more useful ways of getting at their roots. Yes, the cross-cutting element for all is guns, but each bucket begs for a different kind of analysis. Only the most simple-minded of analysts can be satisfied with the “solution” of ever-tightening gun control. Someone who’s intending to kill, on a grand scale, and on a very public stage, will find a way to do it.
A gun nut will arm up and go for broke at a school, a theater, through a high rise, broken out window. Someone who is clumsy around guns will find another means — like a truck or pressure cooker.
To get to the root, like Leah recommends, let’s dig for it beneath the simple-minded red-herring obvious.
Brik McDill of Bakersfield is a retired psychologist. The opinions expressed are his own.