Mass murder is not a new phenomenon, of course, but it’s one that’s stirred considerable public worry and outrage in recent months. That the most recent spate of high-profile killings have been the result of gun violence has also renewed the debate about the limits of gun ownership in the U.S.
Like other divisive topics – such as abortion, government spending, and the like – debate over firearms generates strong emotions on all sides. The result is less an actual debate than a sort of public scrum, with everyone talking past each other to ensure that their side’s viewpoint winds up on top.
Real solutions too often get shouted down in this age of 24-hour “news” cycles that consist largely of talking heads tearing each other apart for the entertainment of their viewing audiences. Reasonable ideas, such as one published in the Wall Street Journal, Mike Thompson: A Middle Path to Reducing Gun Violence, get lost in the maelstrom.
Even compromise approaches like Thompson’s that simply stress better background checks, enhanced access to mental health records, and improved law enforcement and prosecution of gun cases only begin to scratch the surface of what actually needs to be done to curb gun violence. It focuses too much on government and its processes and regulations.
The problem isn’t guns, you see, it’s people.
What’s really called for is a comprehensive plan of systemic prevention that integrates individual, family, community, institution, and cultural factors into a coordinated effort that focuses squarely on reducing the overall risk of all types of violence.
This is no different than the public health approaches used to reduce the risk of contagious diseases. Brandon Keim does an excellent job of laying out this argument in his Wired article, Is It Time to Treat Violence Like a Contagious Disease? This approach, combined with elements of Thompson’s middle path concept, could significantly reduce the risk of future acts of mass murder.
Ultimately, we don’t need to further limit the Constitutionally guaranteed rights of law-abiding citizens to own firearms, and we probably don’t need to post armed guards in every school or on every corner either. We just need to stop and consider the real underlying issue – that violence is a human problem that spreads and infects very much like a germ – and then garner the political will to actually do something constructive, comprehensive, and coordinated to address it.
That’s always the hard part: actually doing something about the problem instead of just talking about it. It’s time for reasoned action, though. Our very lives are depending on it.