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The cost of liberty

Second amendment, mass shootings, guns and freedom.

Houston we’ve got a problem. We had a recent incident here in Perth, WA – that’s Western Australia, not Washington – where a 15-year-old boy fired three shots from a rifle at a local school, thankfully no one was harmed. We’re constantly told that “this stuff only happens in America”, but it seems increasingly not that case especially with the rise in school violence in this country.

While there is a multitude of factors in dealing with an issue as complicated and complex as this one, I believe it more or less comes down to two roads that we need to travel down:

· The “Gun Problem”

· What makes a mass shooter

Firearms are as ingrained in American culture as they are in their constitution with numerous sources suggesting that there is more than one firearm per person in the United States (330m people; 400m firearms approx.). Pew Research reports that three-in-ten American adults currently own a gun while another 11% live with someone who does. The BBC state that as of May this year, there have been more than 200 mass shootings across the US.

“2A is there in case 1A doesn’t work out” – Comedian Dave Chappelle

The second amendment, 2A, the right to bear arms, is a hot topic and has been in recent years with not only the citizens, but the Government and media playing their roles in bringing to light (or is that inflaming?) issues surrounding guns and gun-related violence. The NRA, National Rifle Association, is one if not the number one supporter of the arming citizens and lobbying politicians to keep it that way. Back in 2016, the NRA spent more than $50m backing republican candidates, including then-elected president Donald Trump. Along with the Military Industrial Complex which is bipartisan, it feels like one of those impossible Dark Souls bosses to overcome. Actually, it’s more like a hydra of them with an endless supply sprouting up as soon as you beat one.

“I’d rather deal with idiots talking nonsense (1A – freedom of speech) than an armed populace (2A).”

I still get a chuckle out of the store owner saying that an Uzi is ideal for home defence, but the (relative ease of) access to weapons in the United States continues to be a major contributing factor to the ensuing violence. As I mentioned previously, in a country with “as many guns as people”, more in fact, controlling availability and access is always going to be an uphill battle…and that’s just those weapons in known circulation with (mostly) law-abiding citizens. That’s the case with a lot of things, the 99% do the right thing and the 1% ruin it for the rest of them! Just with firearms the resulting carnage, death and destruction is noticeably much more horrific. Background checks, tighter laws and restrictions (law reforms), training and education, storing and accessibility (of weapons and munitions) and shooting ranges can only do so much. However, are these just limiting the law-abiding side of the population or would it have positive flow-on effects?

Me, back in 2015, at a shooting range outside of San Antonio, Texas. Photo courtesy of Martyn Foster.

Neither “they’re coming for your guns” nor “ban guns” are helpful views to reducing the problem in America. Personally, I feel banning guns would start a civil war in America. Perhaps a voluntary turning in or buy-back scheme similar to what we had in Australia, but for a significant number of Americans this would leave “bad” people with guns and “good” people defenceless if you are of the “only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” belief. In Australia, the average person cannot purchase a gun for self-defence or personal interest, and for the most part we’re collectively okay with that. However, in a country where liberty and freedom reign supreme will we ever see a sacrifice for the greater good? The counter to that is that a lot feel the military is the sacrifice for the greater good of the American way of life.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a weapon.” – Lord of War

In a country as large as the United States, even purely from a statistical point of view, there is going to be a potentially significant volume of “bad apples” amongst the people despite the low percentage. Now, with these people what is it a result of? Mental health or derangement or terrorismwhat makes a mass shooter? As I said before there are other factors along the lines of the socioeconomic variety, amongst others, but in more recent times the focus has been on the shift away from calling them “crazy people” to mental ill or domestic terrorism.

“So just what leads someone to shoot up a school yard? A head full of bad wiring?”

Access to adequate mental health services has been a problem for a lot countries for a while now and continues to be as we find ourself in a pandemic of the psyche. Now, you only have to read the journals of the shooters from Columbine High School massacre to realise just how little they cared about life – and one of the reasons why I rail so hard against the pervasive nihilism in our society today. You, ideally, want to stop people from reaching that point where they want to show you how little they care about life by wreaking havoc on the most defenceless of us with the most potential for life (children) and then capping it off by ending their own lives. The thing is, if these people knew the destination of their nihilistic thoughts before they set off on their journey, they probably wouldn’t want to go, but it becomes more difficult the longer you’re on that train – and the internet has only facilitated such catastrophically deadly breeding grounds for such behaviour.

There is a perverted status-seeking among mass shooters which can be consciously and unconsciously inflated by the media almost ensuring that they will go out notoriously and leave their mark stained on the world – which is what they want, and part of the reason why they don’t just kill themselves, the impact is not the same.

While there are a small percentage of people who are genuinely psychopathic killers, I still feel we could help a number of these people who turn out to be mass shooters if we just got to them sooner. This, however, requires a multi-headed approach from basically everyone taking a greater level of awareness and care for everybody else which I know is probably too much to ask. I’m not asking people to be friends with everyone, I’m not asking someone to be in a relationship to prevent this from happening, I’m not asking for teachers or business owners to be psychologists and keep a detailed eye on all their pupils or staff and to know all the warning signs, but I plea with the masses to do a better job in looking after their fellow citizens even on a surface level.

Reduce suffering, increase hope and meaning, foster a more positive outlook and worldview with less doomsday-level global catastrophe. It’s not rose-coloured glasses thinking, it must be grounded in reality, but with a courageous attitude to deal with adversity, deal with your thoughts and feelings maturely, and confront the atrocities and horrors of humanity. Help bring those back from the edges of despair, don’t shun them further so they fall over world’s end. Help them reclaim a sense of personal agency in a society that feels determined to them as opposed to any manner of free will.

“The downside to freedoms and liberties is that you don’t know who will do the wrong thing at any given time, but does that mean everyone should not get the choice? Do we need to be protected from ourselves?”

That’s the million dollar question, how do you know who is going to do the right thing? Easy for those who have no interest or are afraid or don’t want them to say “ban/no”. In the same way it’s easy for those who have an interest or are financially/politically invested or simply don’t care to say “allow/yes”.

Ultimately, I feel there are too many weapons, too much money, too much power/control involved to make any real progress anytime soon, but we’ve got to start somewhere, somehow, and there are things we can do on an individual level. More shootings are just going to make people more scared and more likely to purchase a firearm. Or, more shootings may just cause people to finally have enough and actually do something about it, which is in part what we are seeing now. However, some people just love having something to complain about rather than do anything to rectify the situation.

Fighting for liberties and killing ourselves have been with us for all-time, the costs of such have been bloodied and many. The only thing that will change is the specifics of how we do so, but we can control the amount of lives it costs, and we must act to spare the many unnecessary ones.

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