gun control

Gun Control and the Impulse to Kill

Gun culture and a lack of gun control go hand in hand in the United States. Cowboys, SWAT teams, and that drunken neighbor who swears he knows someone in the NAVY seals—they all have one thing in common: they’re all bigger, better, and crazier in America. We get off on having the power to kill others at the drop of a hat; we can’t help it. It’s all part of that rebellious U.S. childhood our citizens pore over in the history textbooks of public education—you know, the ones that some states would rather not allow fact checkers to vet for fear of discovering some inaccuracy that just might make early Americans look like…well…douche bags. In one history book, African American slaves are referred to simply as “workers”. (WHAT. THE. F*CKING. HELL. IS. GOING. ON?)

Messages about guns are pretty clear here in the good ‘ol U.S. of A: Guns rock, and if you can get one, you definitely should. Just watch any American action film. You’d think guns were falling out of vending machines on busy street corners with how quickly any protagonist produces a handgun. Hollywood studios just can’t get enough phallic metaphors served up by all those bullets, barrel cocking, and rock hard steel. And audiences love it, too. Who doesn’t want to see some underdog champ wield a dirty pistol, stick it to the bad guys, and then get laid? Hell, I’d take a shot if it were even remotely as easy as American films make it seem. I’ve never had sex after a hailstorm of bullets, but if contemporary film provides any indication, I’m pretty sure it all ends with a bucket of cash (somehow everyone ends up rich at the end).

But that’s the thing though—that’s all a fantasy. American movies perpetuate a myth that echoes the infamous tagline of the conservative right, “Good guys with guns beat bad guys with guns and save the day, every time.” Yeah, they save the day—unless, of course, you’re talking about reality, where a respectable FBI study has found that “good guys” with guns aren’t so good at killing bad guys with guns when it matters most. In fact, just 3% of bad guy plots are foiled by a hero with a gun who just happens to be in the neighborhood. As for the other percentage of good-looking vigilantes fighting for the weak and hopeless… well…things don’t work out so well; as it turns out, they usually end up injuring innocents or themselves while the bad guy gets away or eats their own bullet.

So what are we to do? If good guys with guns can’t save us, who or what can? Gun control seems like a good place to start, but the discussion is overly crowded with sound bites featuring mythical logic and dogma reflective of a time when people were shooting muskets that required upwards of two minutes to reload. Try holding your breathe for even one minute. See how that feels champ. Two minutes is a hell of a lot of time when faced with the impulse to kill. In this desperate scenario, two minutes easily becomes more than enough time to get away from some lunatic with a gun. And so, time is a factor. Gun tech today can spit out bullets fast enough to make even those who drafted the second amendment take pause—but it wouldn’t do them any good because they’d be dead before the thought even crossed their minds. This is the reality of impulsive homicide/suicide by guns. Time, tech, and ease of access are everything.

Let’s talk about gun control.

To better aid the informing of our great citizens about the reality of gun violence and the discussion of gun control, I’ve highlighted the most important aspects below. Any adequate addressing of guns and gun control must reflect upon the following characteristics of guns as they are actually used and misused:

No, murder will never end and laws are still a good idea even if they get broken.

Strangely, one of the popular soundbites against gun regulations are by those who assume anarchy would be the better alternative to having any laws at all. The theory goes that “gun regulation is pointless because people can just get a gun illegally.” This sentiment is usually followed by the logical masterpiece that is: “gun control isn’t going to prevent murder. People will always kill.” In observance of both these views, we should also abandon traffic laws and laws against rape as well because…hell…it happens anyway, so who cares, right? Because some people choose not to obey laws does not mean we should abandon laws and the chance to hold violators accountable.

While the above statements may be true, in and of themselves, they don’t absolve our society from ensuring that people don’t randomly get shot in the face at the mall. Sure, people can get guns illegally. But when you consider that over 80% of all mass shootings are carried out with a legally obtained weapon, blaming mass shootings on the black market of gun sales is a pretty weak argument.

The other piece to that tries to insinuate that gun control is ONLY relevant if it stops ALL murder. The purpose of gun control is not to stop ALL murder; the purpose is to REDUCE murder/suicide BY guns. Yes, murder will happen; people will steal; and there will be illegal riverboat gambling trips. But none of that matters when faced with the correct question regarding gun control. The question is not whether guns will end murder, the question is: Will gun control reduce the prevalence and severity of death by guns at ALL?

Well, just ask Germany, Finland, Italy, France, the U.K., Australia, and Japan. The answer is a resounding YES. Yes gun control reduces the number of deaths by guns—specifically those by mass shootings.

Guns are not cars. Not even close.

It’s very popular to compare guns to cars. So popular in fact, it’s used as a primary argument against gun control. I’ve even written about this before. The theory goes that because automobiles ALSO cause death, guns are no more a threat to human life than cars. If this baffles you and you’re having trouble making the connection, congratulations; there is likely nothing wrong with your brain. Chances are that you experience good cognition rooted in sound logic and will enjoy many years of good health and self-respect ahead of you. If you’re nodding your head in agreement with the aforementioned statement, you might need to stay after class and pick on some of this food for thought:

The purpose of an automobile is to transport people and things; that’s its sole purpose and the reason for which it was created.

The purpose of a gun is to kill; that’s its sole purpose and the reason for which it was created.

When a gun kills someone, we may be upset at the loss of life, but we aren’t surprised that a gun has killed someone—that’s what guns are supposed to do. Death by car is inherently different. When an automobile kills people while in transit, that’s an unexpected consequence of using a car as means of transportation. Because very few people expect, intend, or even WANT to die or kill by the use of an automobile, and because that is not the purpose of a car, the circumstances and moral responsibility associated with deaths via car are not equal to those by guns—EVEN IF THE AMOUNT OF DEATHS ARE COMPARABLE.

This is an important distinction. Automobiles and guns may kill a similar number of people, however, because a gun is specifically used for killing, and because persons who purchase a gun do so with the intention and acceptance that they may end a life, the responsibility for deaths caused by guns is inherently different.

Imagine someone getting angry that swords were banned from tee-ball because they believe tee-ball bats are equally dangerous. Sure a regular tee-ball bat could be used to hurt/kill someone, but that’s not its intended purpose, and therefore the likelihood of a sword hurting/killing someone is much greater than that of a tee-ball bat. That’s why they have to be treated differently and analyzed in the context of their intended purposes; and that’s why they shouldn’t be compared in the same ways that preachers of “cars and guns” do. Both a sword and tee-ball bat having the potential to kill does not mean that such potential is equal.

Delaying the Impulse

One of most overlooked factors associated with adequate gun control laws is the concept of impulse. Easy access to guns also means easy access to guns at the height of any gun owner’s emotional state. This is the problem with right to carry laws (RTC). Though early research seemed to support the idea of “more guns equals less violence,” those claims have all but been refuted due to a lack of scientific evidence. In fact, new research conducted by Stanford University shows that states with right to carry laws actually have INCREASED violence rates.

So, if the conservative right’s dream is to arm every possible emotionally mature human being, the inevitable end of that scenario is a bloodbath perpetuated by the hair-trigger impulses of the emotionally immature majority. If bullets flew every time someone felt or said aloud “I’m going to kill you,” we’d have a body count that would make current mass shooting death tolls look like a headcount at the DMV on a Friday evening.

Try to remember the last time you were very angry. Go ahead. Feel the rage and utter frustration you felt the moment someone or something set you off. Even thinking back now, the emotion isn’t as intense as it was at the time you experienced it; but that’s the nature of emotion. It subsides. It doesn’t last. Yet what we do at the height of such negative emotional states can have everlasting consequences.

When desperate people call suicide hotlines, the conversation services provided may be nothing special at all. The secret to suicide prevention is in delaying the impulse to kill oneself. When people are at the end of hope, they get tunnel vision and suicide seems like the only answer. And yet, the hotline counselor that engages with callers is most powerful in redirecting their thoughts, bringing down their emotional state, and delaying the impulse to kill. The magic in suicide prevention is less about highly specialized techniques and more about simply breaking the tunnel vision with a pause to impulsive action. Such pause provides room for contemplating alternatives in place of thoughtless reaction.

This is the same principal behind adequate gun control. The purpose of gun control in the context of mass shootings (conducted largely by legally registered weapons) is that laws should be aimed at deterring or preventing emotionally unstable persons from obtaining a weapon to act on their impulses. Fast and easy guns only increases the likelihood that someone can get their hands on one during the height of negative emotions, when the impulse to kill is ripe and virtually unstoppable.

Also published on Medium.

Matthew Rosario

American / Writer / Musician