It's Not (Just) The Guns
There are deeper societal issues at play here.
(Edit 5/25/22: Changed the number of students killed from eighteen to nineteen. I will edit this again if that number changes again.)
It’s hardly been a week since the mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, but as of the time of writing, another one has occurred at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. Nineteen students and two adults were killed as a result—including the shooter himself, who is believed to have been killed by responding law enforcement—and multiple others were injured. It’s unclear what the shooter’s motives were.
What is clear, however, is where the discourse is headed because of this tragedy. Gun control, which was overshadowed by the Great Replacement conspiracy theory after the Buffalo shooting, is about to become front and center—albeit for maybe two weeks at most, before our instant-gratification-addicted society moves on to the next big distraction.
I’ve been wrestling with the topic of gun control for longer than any other issue, I think; it is, perhaps, the only issue on which I’ve switched back and forth multiple times. On the one hand, I understand where gun control proponents are coming from—the United States possesses very high rates of gun violence compared to most other high-income countries. Gun control advocates point to how (comparatively) easy it is to obtain a gun in the US as a primary factor for why gun violence is so high. But on the other hand, it’s also clear to me that guns are not the root of the problem; at most, they simply amplify the damage that violent criminals, such as the Texas shooter, commit. In this sense, putting the focus on guns is akin to putting the focus on drugs. Even if more comprehensive gun control is passed at the federal level, I’m inclined to think that we’ll simply undergo a third Prohibition era as a result. (We’re already living in a second Prohibition era thanks to the War on Drugs, but that’s a topic for another post.)
Having said all of that, I’m skeptical that anything’s going to happen at all in response to this shooting. There have been many, many other mass shootings before this one and the one in Buffalo, and the response has been the same—liberals and conservatives talking at or past each other without doing anything substantial in their own communities, because they want the federal government to impose their ideal utopia across the entire country, rather than using their states as the laboratories of democracy they’re supposed to be. California and New York have stricter gun control laws than Georgia and Alabama; which ones have lower rates of violent crimes involving firearms? Which ones have lower rates of violent crime overall?
I’m no expert on crime statistics, but I would suspect that while the rates of gun-related incidents—and gun-related fatalities—would go down under stricter gun control regimes, the rates of crime overall would only be affected insofar as gun-related crimes make up a significant portion of them. No amount of gun control will change the rates of sexual assaults or property crimes. Just as it’s an oversimplification to say the solution to these crimes is to give more people more guns, it’s also an oversimplification to say that the solution is to just take all the guns away. The best form of gun control is to simply make people feel safe in their communities. There’s a good reason why many middle- and upper-class areas have lower rates of gun ownership—and crime—than lower-class areas with higher rates of crime. It’s because the people there feel safe enough that they don’t feel the need to own guns.
Thus, to me, this entails a lot of policy goals that mostly have nothing to do with gun control at all—the big three being a strong (read: universal) welfare system, universal healthcare, and affordable housing, all of which I believe would serve to reduce feelings of stress, scarcity and instability caused by people’s material needs not being met.
Of course, no amount of welfare, healthcare, or housing will stop people such as the Buffalo shooter, who was motivated primarily by extremist ideology and propaganda he was exposed to online. It may not even have stopped the Uvalde shooter, whose motives are still unknown (at least to me) at the time of writing. Thus, even if I’m not as fervently pro-gun-control as I have been in the past, it’s hard for me not to conclude that some sort of filter between the public and guns is also called for. What that filter would look like beyond universal background checks and buyback programs, I’m not sure. But what I am sure of is that it’s not just guns that are the problem. There’s a societal malaise going around in the US; the prevalence and availability of guns are merely the tip of the iceberg in terms of the cause and effect. If America can’t get to the bottom of the iceberg and deal with the causes, the effects will only continue to fester. And sooner or later… well, I’ll give you three guesses what will (again) happen.