My foundations of education class and I discussed the Parkland, Florida shooting a few days after the tragedy. My students tended to echo some of the most common and least credible arguments about the issue of mass shootings and gun violence. However, they were both willing to share and then eager to discuss and look at evidence.
One student, for example, noted that he is a hunter and gun control makes him uncomfortable. Others mentioned mental illness and made analogies such as access to alcohol.
So during the discussion we reached some key points I think are valuable to avoid the effort by the NRA and politicians to derail a reasonable discussion and real action:
- Other countries have mental illness, and the US sits about in the middle of comparable countries in terms of crime rates (we are not an extreme country in terms of crime). But the US is an extreme outlier in terms of fatal crime and gun violence.
- Other countries with almost no mass shootings and very little gun violence have people who hunt and people who have handguns in their home to protect their personal property. Making a country more safe with gun control is not about taking away all guns. That is a straw man argument.
- The US is an extreme outlier in police fatally shooting and killing citizens (see the US compared to Germany for example). Our gun culture impacts every aspect of our society, even law enforcement.
- Gun possession does in fact make people less safe, and the mostly wild-west approach to guns in the US is the biggest part of the gun violence problem.
- Monitoring dangerous products is common in many aspects of our culture. That monitoring and care are not about taking away freedom, and we must keep in mind that freedom is not license. In other words, human freedom includes accountability for that freedom.
- That people under 21 can buy assault-style weapons but not alcohol, or marijuana, is a serious commentary on a people with priorities out of line.
- The best way to protect children in schools and US citizens in their daily lives is to end our gun culture—not to increase security; that is addressing the symptoms and refusing to cure the disease.
The larger point here is that everyone lives with irrational and uninformed beliefs, often living in ways that contradict what we embrace as our foundational ideals as individuals and as a society.
In order to check those contradictions, we must step back and begin again with evidence. I tend to be more cynical than even skeptical, but this discussion with my students confronted me with possibility that people can and will listen even in contexts that are difficult.
As I urged my students, I want no one to take the claims above as fact simply because I posted them here. The key is to study, investigate, explore our own assumptions and biases. And thus, start with some of these links below that reinforce the points above:
- America’s gun problem, explained
- Vox First Person: Sweden may have the answer to America’s gun problem
- U.S. Gun Policy: Global Comparisons
- Mental Illness Didn’t Make Him Do It | Psychology Today
- Violence is not a product of mental illness. Violence is a product of anger.