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Thomas Magstadt
NationofChange / Op-Ed
Published: Sunday 16 December 2012
The latest atrocity at Sandy Hook Elementary School in quiet little Newton, Connecticut, ought to be the last straw for the good citizens of this gun-crazy nation, but it won't be.

Guns in America: Musings on Our National Psychosis

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Nelson's been talking to Mother Nature.  Nelson is a close friend fighting a hard battle against a deadly disease.  He's been having a series of very frank conversations with Mother Nature about, well, just about everything, from the origins of the universe to evolution to how and where homo sapiens fits into the natural order. 

It turns out we humans as a species don't – fit in to the natural order, that is.

Did I mention that Nelson happens to be a retire neurosurgeon?  Suffice it to say, Nelson knows as much about brains and how they work as anybody else walking on two legs.

But what we've been talking about lately is not why the human brain is so efficient or amazing but why it's so unpredictable, why we manifest such a vast array of psychological disorders, and why, for example, we alone kill for pleasure or motives that are simply too perverse for "normal" folks to sort out. 

The latest atrocity at Sandy Hook Elementary School in quiet little Newton, Connecticut, ought to be the last straw for the good citizens of this gun-crazy nation, but it won't be.  The massacre in the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, last July – 12 dead, 58 wounded – was another "last straw" event that wasn't.  And before that there was Virginia Tech, 33 killed.  Before that (back in 1999)  the Columbine school shootings in Littleton, Colorado, 15 killed (including the two teenage shooters).   Need I go on?

This morning when I checked my email messages there was one from Nelson.  Here it is, word for word.  (MN = Mother Nature)      

Nelson:   MN, I don't get why you would create a species with brains so screwed up that they kill each other at rates of thousands per year in our schools and on our streets.

MN:   I've already told you I was just playing around and ended up with a bad result.

Nelson:   I understand that but if you are so damned smart you would think you could let a few souls evolve that could solve some of this stuff.

MN:   I'm not good at follow through.  Today's killings of 20 kids and 6 adults in Newton CT even bothers me, and I've seen it all.  I know how to fix it, but customs, politics, paranoid people get in the way.  So I've pretty much given up.

Nelson:  Solutions my eye!  Try me.

MN:  The gun thing is simple.  People make idle talk about a fair playing field but they really don't mean it.

Nelson:   What's that got to do with anything?

MN:   Everything, don't you see?  A thug or hunter with a gun has a huge advantage in any confrontation.  The playing field is tilted far in favor of the guys with the guns.  Sportsman, football players, students - they all want some kind of equal playing field so it shouldn't be too hard to give the animal or store clerk better odds by passing a simple law.

Nelson:   OK, I follow you.  So what's the law?

MN:   All gun manufacturers would be required to make, say, one out of five guns they produce – 20% ought to be enough – with a defective metal barrel.  When a defective gun is fired it could blow ones hand off, or worse. The guns look all the same so a hunter would just have to play the odds.  He could still hunt but he would have to say, "Hmm, which do I want more, that white tail deer or my hand?" The odds are pretty good that he could get several deer before the gun got him, but there'd be no guarantee.  

Nelson:   And the same would go for hand gun users on the street or those that shoot people in schools and theaters, right?  

MN:   Right.  But if human life is valued more than a deer, the odds could be changed – like one out of two handguns would be defective.

Nelson:  The thug wants to kill a rival gang member for stealing his Mary Jane – could be his girl or his Jolly Green – wouldn't matter.  Point is, the gun comes out and for that instant he says, "I could put him down but there's is a 50/50 chance I'd lose my hand…"

Nelson worries that his conversations with Mother Nature are too cynical, that if he tells people what She's telling him they'll want to kill the messenger, metaphorically speaking.  But if it's the interlocutor happens to be a card-carrying member of the NRA, it's entirely possible that the impulse will be more than a mere metaphor.      

Nelson worries that his conversations with Mother Nature are too cynical, that if he tells others what She's telling him they'll want to kill the messenger, metaphorically speaking.  But if the other guy happens to have his own personal arsenal or sees a terrorist behind every tree or is a hardcore card-carrying NRA member, there's always a possibility that the impulse will be more than a mere metaphor.   

It's too late to stop the killing.  Too late for the 20 kids and 6 adults cut down in Newton, too late for the parents who are living every parent's worst nightmare.  Too late for the others who have died in one of the 7 massacres in the US in 2012 alone, or the 31 school shootings since Columbine, or the 61 mass murders since 1982.

Too late and way past overdue. If President Obama does not demand laws to stop the trade in assault weapons, if Congress does not show that it cares more about this nation's children than about getting re-elected or losing money from Super Pacs like the NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA POLITICAL VICTORY FUND, then the citizens of this gun-toting society will continue to be at risk every day in our shopping malls, movie theaters, and even our homes.

Worse, our children are at risk.  Even schools in middle-class predominantly white suburbs and small town are not safe. It's not merely an "inner city" or "black" problem any more.

So let's stop kidding ourselves.  Spending billions on "homeland security" to protect ourselves from real or imagine threats while turning our backs on a threat that's all-too-real is just plain stupid.  Pogo had it right:  "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

Meanwhile, Mother Nature's solution is extreme and Nelson would be the first to admit it. But then extremism is nothing new in this country.  Just ask the victims of gun crimes.

The survivors.



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ABOUT Thomas Magstadt

Tom Magstadt earned his Ph.D. at The Johns Hopkins University School of International Studies. He is the author of "An Empire If You Can Keep It: Power and Principle in American Foreign Policy," "Understanding Politics: Ideas, Institutions and Issues," and "Nations and Governments: Comparative Politics in Regional Perspective." He was a regular contributor to the Prague Post in 1998-99 and has published widely in newspapers, magazines and journals in the United States. He was a Fulbright Scholar in the Czech Republic in the mid-1990s and a visiting professor at the Air War College in 1990-92. He has taught at several universities, chaired two political science departments, and also did a stint as an intelligence analyst at the CIA. He is a member of the board of the International Relations Council of Kansas City. Now working mainly as a free-lance writer, he lives in Westwood Hills, Kansas.

Guns still do what they do

Guns still do what they do since they were invented and people still do what people do since they were created. What has changed? The programming. Violence and violent killing is the accepted norm on just about every channel and in just about every video game and from just about every role model in the United States.
Kids grow up killing for the fun of it.
Kids grow up killing for the reward of it.
They become adults that kill others simply because they were taught thru constant exposure as children to believe that killing is a fun rewarding experience. We teach the kids that killing another human being with guns is O-K. We teach the kids that torturing another human being is O-K. The President of the United States says killing with guns is O-K and can kill and torture whom he chooses on a whim with out a care or reprocussion.
Guns are not the problem. It's the conditioned and constantly reinforced belief that guns and killing with guns are the solution that is the problem.
Feed violence into the brain of a child, and violence is what you'll get out.

We don't need more gun

We don't need more gun control ... we need to CONTROL REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS. Columbine, Aurora, now Newton, CT ... Guns aren't the problem. Kids who've been raised by inattentive parents who fail to provide appropriate role models, discipline and emotional stability are the ones spawning, raising, then unleashing these monsters on society. It doesn't take a village to raise a child -- it takes one or two good parents. Stop spreading the blame to everyone. Take responsibility for the murderous child you produced.

You need a license to FISH for heaven's sake. But if you have working reproductive organs, have at it. Create a baby. Don't worry about who/how it will be raised while you're out clubbing or working three jobs. Prospective parents should have to enroll in basic parenting skills courses, then pass written and practical exams before they're licensed to reproduce. If they start to fail, take the kid away and sterilize both parents. Frankly, I would argue for mandatory, reversible, sterilization in pre-puberty and reversing the procedure when appropriate license(s) are issued.

As an interesting aside.... The APA removed Narcissistic Personality Disorder -- e.g., being self-centered, from its list of mental illnesses this year because more than 51% of Americans are now classified as such. By definition, this means any caring person concerned with the health and well-being of others is in the minority. As such, individuals not exhibiting NPD traits suffer from a mental disorder and should seek immediate therapy.

It's not the guns. It's the parents.

So if it turns out that the

So if it turns out that the latest shooter was on Meds, SSRIs such as prozac or over the counter pain meds like vicodin etc (like the majority of the previous mass shooters) should the all wise, all caring and totally incorruptible government ban all medication also?

My thinking is that guns are

My thinking is that guns are not, by and of themselves, the problem.
People were killing each other long before guns were invented and will probably continue to do so long after bullets have been replaced with quantum field disrupters. Albert Einstein once said, "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones." suggesting that neither bigger bombs nor the lack of them would prevent war.
The problem is violence in our society and until we stop treating the symptom and address the underlying question of why people choose to turn weapons on each other, the problem will continue regardless of whether the weapon used was readiy available or improvised.

I totally agree with

I totally agree with Einstein's thought...I still like John Lennon's "Imagine" and I imagine a world with no guns, no weapons for annihilating other homo sapiens -- so let's get with the sticks and stones before we are forced to using them. Dranonoake is right about "addressing the underlying question". The documentary "Bowling For Columbine" points out the difference between American culture and that of Canada where they actually have a higher per capita ownership of guns -- their culture has built in peacable methods of resolving conflict. Maybe we should take the time to learn from the Canadians about more than just their effective healthcare program. They've got the right idea on several fronts it appears to me.

I don't think anyone is naive

I don't think anyone is naive enough to believe that stricter gun control is going to prevent all of America's internal violence. Yet it's obvious that something more has to be done. Why should private citizens have arsenals in their homes? Why are assault weapons even allowed by our lawmakers?

In Newtown we had a mother who was a fan and collector of weapons. No doubt a confident and self-assured woman who would not even seek help for her obviously screwed-up son. And yet for all of her good looks and gun-loving and gun-inspired confidence she winds up getting shot in the the face by the son she ignored or protected, and he takes some of her arsenal out to an elementary school and shoots 20 first-graders multiple times, after killing the adults trying to protect them.

Tighter gun control laws will not have an immediate effect. After all, this country is saturated with private citizens with their stash of non-hunting firearms, and burglars delight in finding such weapons because they are small and have a high street value.

But we have to start somewhere. Just saying "tsk-tsk" is not enough. We've had too many young males in our society steal weapons from relatives and then go off on an innocent-killing spree before they commit suicide. We have to try to do something about mental illness in our society, but having rapid-fire weapons and ammunition in the hands of private citizens is clearly part of the problem, and it is only excused by the NRA and its ignorant misinterpretation of the Second Amendment, which any objective reading shows is clearly tied to a citizen-militia, necessary for defense of the country when there was no standing army to deter rebels against the government or external enemies.

Let the NRA protect the rights of hunters to have rifles to enjoy their hobby. Then perhaps they won't be responsible for all the senseless slaughter that characterizes our society. They should not support unregulated firearms sales at gun shows, the possession of assault weapons.

The gun-lovers like to say, "Guns don't kill people; people kill people." That's true, but they ignore this hard-nosed fact: Guns make it TOO EASY to kill people, and in large numbers. A 98-lb weakling and coward can blow away a dozen Conan the Barbarians, and that fact seems to be too tempting to unbalanced cowards in our society. Threaten an unarmed person with a loaded gun and you hold "God-like" powers of life-and-death over that person. Just the kind of power temptation that sick people respond to in such numbers, as we can tell by our news headlines.

I couldn't get all the way

I couldn't get all the way through. I got as far as "...we alone kill for pleasure or motives that are simply too perverse for "normal" folks to sort out." WE ALONE??? you mean we humans?? Ever hear of... say, chimpanzees? They kill each other on whim. If they happen across a tribe of bonobos, who apparently are incapable of violence, they will wipe that tribe out. If you can't get basic facts of biology right, then I assume you won't get anything else right. Guns are only a symptom of the problem. Perhaps the UN could repeal human nature, then everything would be fine.

Perhaps if the verbiage had

Perhaps if the verbiage had been changed to "Only species with whom homo sapiens shares more than 99% of its DNA kill for pleasure...." Would that satisfy your insistence on 100-percent, verifiable accuracy in this article?

Gotta say, you stretched pretty far in an attempt to discredit an otherwise incredibly salient, well-argued case against our inherently flawed species. NB: we're also the only species that over-populates and desecrates the environment for personal gain while fully cognizant that this behavior will lead to our ultimate demise. Since I'm not sure, let me ask you: do chimps exhibit this behavior, also?

We've spent decades building

We've spent decades building a culture based on, "Get tough on (fill in the blank)." As a nation, a society, we get tough on the smallest, weakest, least powerful, whether it's little foreign countries or our poor. We are hostile toward everyone, including (or especially) each other. We somehow equated hate with strength.

Amen. Well said. The

Amen. Well said.

The proliferation of pro-hate / power-consolidation groups, e.g., One Million Moms, Family Research Council, Westboro Baptist Church, ALEC, etc. stand as vivid testimony to our species' need to have scapegoats; minorities or individuals who can be blamed for societal ills. That's so much easier than looking within one's self to ferret out the hate and evil that lurks in the hearts of most (wo)men. (Gotta be politically correct.) Then there's the rather obvious observation that preaching hate or intolerance is an incredibly profitable business.

Imagine what would happen in America if a viable third party emerged and ran a POTUS ticket of maybe Michael Moore and Rachel Maddow -- doesn't matter who's on top of the ticket. The status quo would evaporate and all the downtrodden 98% who support groups such as Family Research Council or ALEC wouldn't know what to do. They'd have to actually start thinking and making decisions for themselves based on more than a handful of talking point sound bites. What a vision.

First, the name of the town

First, the name of the town is Newtown, not Newton.
Second, I lay the blame for this primarily with the bragging, gun-loving, take-your-kids-to-the-shooting-range mother, now deceased from her own gun in the hands of her own son, a son with long-standing emotional problems that probably weren't helped much from his time at the pistol range. Our violence/gun-loving culture has the strong supporting role this time.
Third, while laws prohibiting the ownership of assault weapons sound awfully good, I wouldn't expect them to be any more successful than the laws we have prohibiting drug possession and prostitution. Smugglers would have one more high priced commodity to sell. Certainly the gun-totin' Momma in Newtown would have had hers.
Fourth, the author's suggested solution to the problem, tongue-in-cheeck I assume, presupposes a rational thought process. It's the people with no rational thought process we need to worry about.

One point I think you

One point I think you confuse: Banning guns doesn't mean that gun violence would cease to exist. What it does do is significantly reduce the likelihood of guns being used, especially in situations where a person "breaks," flies into a rage. That said, this generation usually takes an all-or-nothing approach to every issue, but we need to see the gray in between, finding a balance.

Corrections: "...a retired

Corrections: "...a retired neurosurgeon" and "Newtown"

The fault is NOT with Mother

The fault is NOT with Mother Nature. It is with us as a culture. The rates of violence in the U.S. are astronomically higher than the rates of violence in other economically developed countries. Cultures can work either to discourage or encourage violent behavior. American culture, regrettably, appears to do the latter. Here's the issue we need to examine in more detail: What is it about American culture that leads so many people to behave so violently? For more on this see: http://mgpiety.org/2012/12/15/the-logic-of-limiting-violence/

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