Michael Matteo: America and guns

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

As I look at the faces of the children and teachers senselessly murdered in the most recent school shooting, my heart breaks as a parent, a teacher, and an American citizen.  As a parent, I cannot imagine what the parents of these children must be feeling, and the scars of their loss will be with them forever. As a teacher, I cannot envision what it must be like to be in a situation where an active shooter invades my classroom.  Regardless of one’s political leanings, we can all agree that this is a tragedy and something must be done to prevent it from happening again, which is a common sentiment after every mass shooting in America.  The issue is no one can agree on the “something” that must be done, which is the reason why these events are met with emotional outrage, the call for action, a cooling down/forgetful period until it happens again and again, and again.

Some naively believe that this is a simple fix: take away guns and the problem will be solved, as if the guns fired themselves.  Others put the onus of these kinds of events on the mental states of the shooters, but this makes it almost impossible to solve the problem because there is no way to regulate or even control the behaviors of so many mentally ill individuals, especially since we now live in a world where those who make these determinations classify delusional thoughts as lifestyles.  Finally, the worst groups of individuals are the ones who use these tragic events as an opportunity to push a political agenda.  This includes the insensitive Twitter post of the former president, Barack Obama, who tweeted, “As we grieve the children of Uvalde today, we should take time to recognize that two years have passed since the murder of George Floyd under the knee of a police officer. His killing stays with us all to this day, especially those who loved him.” As a parent, I highly doubt the former president would have appreciated this insensitive political tweet to summon the image of a man who once held a gun to the stomach of a pregnant woman if it had been one of his daughters who was senselessly murdered. 

The problem of guns and shootings in America is a complex problem that can’t be solved with simple solutions.  It’s not about gun ownership, nor is it about the average American.  It’s about a small percentage of individuals who are so mentally deranged that they would even consider grabbing a gun and going on a rampage to kill innocent people in schools, churches, at a mall, movie theaters etc.  The question is why, and the answer is difficult to understand.  One aspect of it is that anyone who would engage in such behavior is motivated by abnormal beliefs that range from delusions of fame through infamous actions (how many of us remember the names of the victims of David Berkowitz or Ted Bundy, but we do recognize and remember the names of these monsters).  Another issue involves the paranoia of these individuals, which leads to hallucinations and other breaks with reality.  Some shooters have been on medications and then stopped taking their meds.  The media and its glorification of murderers may also have an impact on seemingly insignificant people, who realize that they can become significant by picking up a gun and murdering people.  In some cases, we can see patterns of behavior and wonder why nothing was done, but in other situations, a killer just snapped and there were no clues or a history that would help law enforcement to prevent their murderous behavior.  

The call for gun control or even gun elimination is a popular battle cry for those on the left who believe this is a simple fix.  According to a small arms survey in 2018 America is #1 in the world of civilians who own guns with a ratio of 120.5 firearms per 100 residents, which is up from 88 per 100 in 2011, and this far surpasses that of other countries around the world. Yet, this doesn’t tell the entire story.  In my research about this issue I’ve found numerous articles that show a correlation between gun-related deaths with states that have the fewest restriction on gun ownership.  However, what is misleading here is that the statistics also include suicides, accidents, and incidents where guns were used to commit crimes but resulted in homicides which skews the data.  

No one can deny the outrageous number of people murdered with guns in a city like Chicago, (where the Chicago Tribune reported that 93.5% of murder victims were killed by gunfire in 2021) which has very tough gun control laws.  Gun control laws in California are some of the most restrictive laws in the country as well, yet, according to Statista, California has had the most school shootings (180) since 1970.  

The real problem between those who advocate either tougher laws or the outright banning of all guns, with those who claim the 2nd Amendment gives them the right to own guns is the fact that America is a country that is filled with guns.  A law that would take away guns or restrict who could own them would impact law-abiding citizens.  It would have minimal, if any, impact on criminals, who (by definition) don’t observe laws.  Thus, would stricter laws really decrease the shootings committed by those who own guns that are obtained illegally?  According to the FBI, there were 61 “Active Shooter Incidents in the United States in 2021” and 6 (approximately 10%) were stopped by armed citizens. 

To further illustrate the idea that taking guns away from law-abiding citizens is not a solution to the problem, one only has to look at statistics regarding “gun-free zones.”  According to the Gun Prevention Research Center (2018) which researched mass shootings over a 20-year period between 1998 and 2018, 97.8% of these incidents took place in “gun-free” zones.  It stands to reason that even the most deranged mind realizes that it is less likely for anyone to stop him if he goes to a place where people observe laws and no one has a gun, which is why mass shooters are far more likely to target schools instead of police stations.

The majority of Americans agree that it is unconscionable that in a civilized society parents should not have any concerns that their child will end up returning home in a body bag when they send their child to school on any given day.  The United States cannot be compared to other countries because guns have been a staple in America since its inception, yet mass shootings are a phenomenon that have become regular occurrences in the last 20 years (with 2018 being the worst year for them).  The myopic view that the guns are the problem, and not those aiming them is an emotional response to an untenable situation of someone who is screaming, “Just make it stop.”  Yet, it is not a solution that will work because if you removed every gun from every American who observed the laws, the only people who would be armed (aside from law enforcement and the military) would be the bad guys.

In the play Julius Caesar (who was ironically murdered with knives, arguably because Romans didn’t have guns), Shakespeare wrote, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”  When it comes to these issues, this 500-year-old observation has never rung more true than it does in America today and any solution to this problem requires a far more introspective approach to understand, diagnose and hopefully solve it.

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