December 16, 2012

A call for reason

Categories: Random junk

Like people around the world, I'm truly devastated by the senseless tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary; I definitely feel extra grateful my kids are safely at home tonight.

In the wake of an event like this, it's understandable, admirable, and very human to want to prevent it from ever happening again. My Facebook feed seems like a microcosm of our society, with some making fervent calls for increased (or even total) gun control while others assert that armed teachers might have made a difference. Most just express deep sadness and disbelief.

I'm not making any statements here about what, if anything, we should do; rather, I'd like to suggest how we might go about it.

First, although I appreciate the desire to do something now, I think reacting immediately can lead to poor policy choices. One has only to look to America's recent past for examples: the internment of Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor and the passage of the Patriot Act after 9/11. These seemingly well-intentioned actions made at the height of emotion limited Fifth and Fourth Amendment rights in the name of public good. However, the internment has been officially acknowledged as a national injustice and disgrace, and the Patriot Act has already had several portions ruled unconstitutional. I believe it will be seen by history as a similar injustice.

If we choose to limit or eliminate our Second Amendment rights, we should do so with clear heads (and in a legal fashion). There are no absolute rights, but I certainly think we should be cautious whenever there are calls to suspend, curtail, or overturn our liberties for the public good.

Second, we owe it to ourselves and each other to be informed and intellectually disciplined, that those who make policy or vote on it should understand the facts. For example, many people were shocked when US Representative Todd Akin demonstrated his ignorance of basic human physiology when he said that women's bodies can shut prevent pregnancies from "legitimate rape". Fortunately, I think many people were relieved he lost his bid for US Senate, preventing him from setting potentially damaging policies around reproductive rights or women's health.

I think we should be equally intolerant of people similarly ignorant about guns, current gun law, and gun control history who would propose gun control solutions. In the past, this has lead to feel-good but useless measures like banning Teflon-coated "cop killer" bullets. (Teflon doesn't enable bullets to penetrate body armor; in fact it reduces the round's ability to do so.) Learning about guns from Rambo is as insufficient as learning about science from Jurassic Park.

I've even seen my incredibly intelligent and well-educated colleagues ignore their understanding of statistics and logic. For example, they cite comparisons with other countries as evidence that gun control in the US would be effective (e.g. Japan), ineffective (e.g. Jamaica), or unnecessary (e.g. Switzerland), as if the only difference between these societies were in their gun laws. While it may be instructive to learn from other countries, we shouldn't confuse correlation with causation. I believe policy is only as good as the factual and logical foundation upon which it is built.

Most important, we must actually listen to one another. The balance between gun rights and gun control is often a deeply held, almost religious belief for people on both sides. I saw someone on my Facebook feed say, "I've never understood guns and never will." To me this is as reprehensible as a statement like "I've never understood homosexuality and never will." We have to acknowledge there are merits to both sides and thoughtfully address the concerns before we can reach any sustainable outcome.

I strongly believe, as with all complex issues, we must be wary of seemingly simple solutions. There are definitely tradeoffs and costs to any course of action. Mobs in the heat of the moment, confident in their own righteousness, and closed to dissenting views rarely find the right balance.

Posted by Tony at December 16, 2012 12:20 AM | TrackBack

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