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The Crazy Roots of Gun Control

July 20, 2012

You and I are now considered a little crazy.  We’re not considered fit to use sharp objects or firearms as tools.  It’s as if society decided we are back in school and we need to give every adult round nosed scissors rather than face the inconvenient task of keeping dangerous objects away from children.  How did this come to pass and why are you and I considered unfit to take care of ourselves?

We used to have institutions to house and confine the mentally ill.  The treatment in these homes and hospitals ranged from very good to very bad.  Our perspective on mental illness changed in the late 1960s.  Being mentally ill was reclassified as simply an alternative lifestyle.  We de-institutionalized the crazy people.  Many of the mentally ill were removed from state care and successfully treated in local hospitals.  Some were not.  De-institutionalization was a gross failure for many of these patients.  We honored their personal choices and then left them to their own devices.  Now they are the long term homeless.  Now they are the schizophrenics with their repeated confrontations and arrests by police.  In our second response to dealing with the mentally ill, we tried to make all of society into a low quality mental institution.  That isn’t a sophisticated or targeted solution.  We dumbed down the care these people need and we degraded our own quality of life.

That is the background of gun control in the late 20th century.  There is a silent expectation that you or someone you know will go crazy and be violent.  Statistics don’t back that up.   Despite the lack of criminological evidence, gun control advocates say we all need to be restrained because of some general risk of violence.  Maybe it was the 60s drug culture, President Kennedy’s murder,  or the combat experiences of WW2 and Korea that made that claim sounds plausible.   In the 21st century it might be the claim that violent video games desensitize our children.  We can look back and ask if these claims are accurate.  To me it seems crazy; we thought that by disarming the sane people we would disarm the crazy people.

Statistically they are right that crazy people are the ones who commit multiple victim public shootings.   Practically speaking, the disarmament advocates are wrong for two reasons.  The first is that guns save lives.  Yes, despite the horrific shootings, firearms save many more lives than they take.  The reason the prohibitionists are wrong is that a crazy person with a gun is usually stopped by a sane person with a gun.  That leads us to a sad situation.  A crazy person with a gun is king in a gun free zone.  Crazy people like to imagine themselves as an all-powerful king for a day.. or for the few minutes it takes until they are stopped.  Crazy people seek out vulnerable victims when they act out their violent fantasies.  The crazy people are not so crazy that they attack a shooting range.  Ironically and unintentionally, gun free zones  attract the exact situation they hoped to avoid; an environment with disarmed victims and a crazy gunman.

We were led to this sad end because we like simple rules.  We ignore the fact that simple rules don’t work in subtle situations.

Yes, it was good for some of the mentally ill to live and be treated in their local community.  Family and friends monitored treatment in that setting.  They acted as an outside check on the old abuses of institutionalized care.  That was a profound improvement for many of the mentally ill.  That approach doesn’t work when the family and health professionals can’t admit that the mental patient remains dangerous.  It doesn’t work when there is no family or when the patient doesn’t take his meds.  That is when the patient and community suffer.  Now the suffering is transfered to the public and the patients living on the street.  We suffer, not the doctors, administrators or the regulators who left the problem patients out in the cold.

The discussion of gun control often breaks down into simplistic claims that ignore context.  The gun disarmament advocates claim guns are bad because crazy people and criminals threaten innocent people.  The other side claims that criminals don’t obey the law and get guns anyway.  Facts are buried beneath talking points.  Real experience shows that sane people use guns to protect themselves.  Armed victims deter violence against the innocent.

The entire argument is misplaced.  Weapons are neither good nor bad.  Notice that the police officer and home owner might carry the same type of weapons as the gang member or insane shooter.  We all use the same tools.  The entire argument ignores that guns are inanimate tools we bend to our will.  Gun prohibition proposes to remove the tool.  Gun bigots ignore that prohibition leaves the innocent and the sane people disarmed and vulnerable.  It is sane and innocent people who become the victims of gun control, not criminals or the mentally ill.  The intended beneficiaries are the ones who are hurt.

Now that is crazy.


I wrote this last week and posted it after the theater shooting in Aurora Colorado.  I’m sorry for that massacre.  My heart goes out to the victims and their families.

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