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May 29, 2022
This week an 18-year-old gunman murdered 19 children and two teachers at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. This unspeakable tragedy has injected fresh urgency into the national debate around gun laws in America. Is the problem with the availability of guns? The people who use them? Both? Are there other issues at work? Today we dive into the OZY vault to shine a light on some unusual perspectives as well as provocative proposals about what can be done.
Why I got out of the gun-dealing business
It’s said that the best gun owners are the most knowledgeable. But what happens when you know too much? This magazine writer embraced his infatuation with firearms, going so far as to sell weapons himself. Until, that is, he found out where they were going.
Alan Korwin, in his early 70s with a professorial white beard and bushy eyebrows, may not be a familiar face. But you’ve likely heard his message. He’s the man millions of gun owners count on to fight for their right to bear arms. By his own count, he’s logged more than a thousand interviews with the press. Behind the scenes, he makes the rounds talking to state legislators, helping to shape the argument for Second Amendment rights. Korwin has even changed the vocabulary. Instead of gun control, it’s crime control; assault weapons are household firearms; and they’re not gun rights, they’re civil and human rights.
Mass shooting worries are worse for students of color
One survey of almost 5,000 undergraduates found that more than 6 in 10 students worry a mass shooting could happen at their school, and nearly half of Asian, Black and Hispanic students are likely to avoid crowded places or go out less often in order to feel safer. That’s compared to 34% of white students.
Switzerland has a reputation for being a safe, neutral nation. Yet it’s hardly pacifist or gun-averse. In fact, this small and stable country has the highest firearm ownership rate in Europe. Gun culture is deeply rooted in Switzerland, regulations are liberal and sport shooting is extremely popular. So why is gun violence so rare there? One possible explanation: strict gun-control enforcement. Automatic weapons are banned, and gun permits are not issued to applicants who have a criminal record or a diagnosed psychiatric condition.
Do guns kill people, or do men with guns kill people? Perhaps keeping guns legal and easy to own, and increasing firepower education, is all doable if we just keep the weapons out of the hands of the citizens who have controlled them all along: men.Keeping guns away from men would benefit them too: Not only are 90% of killers male, but so are 80% of victims.
Rather than eliminating guns, could gun-reform advocates aim to alter the scope of the firearms business? In other words, perhaps it would be more effective to curb demand for guns rather than halting supply. Want a gun? No problem. Give up one weekend per month to the U.S. Army Reserve.
Should the Second Amendment apply only to muskets and dueling pistols?
Most of the deaths in today’s mass shootings involve weapons America’s founders could never have imagined: automatic and semi-automatic firearms. Perhaps it’s time to return to what the founders envisioned: Honor the Second Amendment, and agree that the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, so long as the arms in question were in use in 1791, the year the Bill of Rights was ratified.
Maybe it’s time for gun control groups to think big. All 27 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, including the awkwardly worded reference to “a well regulated Militia” in the Second Amendment, have been top-down — proposed by Congress, ratified by the states. But there’s a bottom-up option, via Article V, that allows for a new constitutional convention called by two-thirds of the states. It could happen sooner than you think, and it might be the only path to a real shift in America’s gun laws.
Mass murderers may overall be saner than we wish to acknowledge. Research suggests that only about 12% of violent crimes committed by repeat offenders are preceded by psychosis. The link between mental illness and dangerous outbursts appears weak. And when mentally unwell people do commit violence, it’s often not directly due to their condition.
As the political, economic and cultural faces of America change, maybe the country’s deep-rooted history of violence is to blame. So, is violence simply a part of America’s DNA? There are two major predictors of American aggression, says Dr. J. Ryan Fuller, the executive director at New York Behavioral Health. The first and obvious predictor is gun ownership; but the second is profoundly cultural, according to Fuller.
Has modern society fetishized the military and warfare? Perhaps we have dehumanized the “other,” choosing to shoot first and ask questions later. Only 25% of soldiers shot to kill in World War II, according to a 1947 study by U.S. Army researcher S.L.A. Marshall. By the end of the American war in Vietnam, however, this percentage had almost quadrupled.
The Onion has a grim but telling tradition when an event like this happens; it recycles the same headline (‘No Way To Prevent This’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens). If you’ve ever felt like everything involving gun tragedies in America is on repeat, you are not alone. NPR noted this week that The Onion has now used this headline 21 times since 2014.
It may not feel like it, says Harvard University psychologist Steven Pinker in his book “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” but overall levels of human violence are declining, part of a centuries-long civilizing process. Rates of violence in the American South and West, however, remain notably above trend, something Pinker attributes to the lagging effects of a frontier culture that valorized honor and depended on private justice and vigilantism in the absence of an effective state authority. Watch Pinker debate these issues on “Third Rail With OZY,” a provocative TV debate show featuring informed discussion from experts and celebrities.
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