I have an almost complete disregard of precedent, and a faith in the possibility of something better. It irritates me to be told how things have always been done. I defy the tyranny of precedent. I go for anything new that might improve the past.” –Clara Barton
I love teaching because it gives me the opportunity to form compassionate students. After all, isn’t teaching about the hope that one of our students makes the world better? Isn’t the goal of research to find something new that might improve the past? I suppose it is human nature to see oneself as in the mainstream of thought. I have sometimes delighted in being outside the mainstream. I enjoy thinking big thoughts and imagining something better, more compassionate, and less violent. It is hard to imagine such a world when a child being held hostage after a shooting.
If we are going to change the way we approach violence it is not productive to say that a policy or law is ineffective when special interest managed to have enough holes in the policy or law that it looks like policy swiss cheese. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 expired in 2004 and there is great disagreement as to whether it had any effect on gun violence. One problem was that there were so many exceptions as to make the law ineffective. It starts by stating, “It shall be unlawful for a person to manufacture, transfer, or possess a semiautomatic assault weapon.” What follows is a full page of exceptions and then a description of what it takes to be considered an assault weapon. It would be comical if it weren’t for the fact that this legislation was meant to save lives. Is it any wonder that it is hard to show if it was effective?
Christopher Koper (2004) did a good assessment of the impact of the assault weapons ban. He stated,
Because offenders can substitute non-banned guns and small magazines for banned AWs and LCMs, there is not a clear rationale for expecting the ban to reduce assaults and robberies with guns.96 But by forcing AW and LCM offenders to substitute non-AWs with small magazines, the ban might reduce the number of shots fired per gun attack, thereby reducing both victims shot per gunfire incident and gunshot victims sustaining multiple wounds. (p.81)
He makes one point on which everyone should be able to agree – there is no single factor that influences violence. During much of the research that occurred while the ban was in effect there was a crack epidemic that influenced violent behavior. It also occurred shortly after the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill when funding for and availability of outpatient clinics was completely inadequate for the large number of people who were no longer hospitalized. In 2004 the ban expired and there is clear evidence the number of mass shootings has increased, but why?
We must examine the culture of violence not as merely a gun issue, or a mental health issue, or a drug issue, or even a moral issue. We must examine the culture of violence as a threat to safety, security, and well-being. The politicians and lobbyist had their chance to address the issues and they clearly demonstrated they cared more about their own self-interest than safety, security, or well-being of the citizens of the United States. What they did went beyond benign neglect. It was at best apathy and at the worst a lack of respect for human dignity and life.
It is time for academia, health care, and the faith communities to take on the issues that have resulted in the culture of violence. We need a fresh perspective that is rational, evidence based, and driven by concerned citizens. It is time to take the box the lobbyists and politicians have put the issue of gun violence in and break it down and throw it in the recycling bin. It is time to think outside the box. The people who care about rationality, evidence, and human dignity and are not driven by personal financial gain or votes need to step forward. It would be nice if our government could be trusted to prevent violence, protect human dignity, and support a culture of life. I do not think they have the courage to do so. While politicians continue to talk to the people that stood by an let a culture of violence go unchecked those who view life as sacred need to address the issues with open minds and open hearts. Finding the root cause of gun violence requires that be willing to accept that life is sacred. Guns are not.