I don’t often use the quotes of others as an explanation of behavior, but after the terrible events in El Paso and Dayton and the conduct of many reacting to those events, the author Tim Kreider summed up the basis for many of the reactions very well: “One reason we rush so quickly to the vulgar satisfactions of judgment and love to revel in our righteous outrage, is that it spares us from the impotent pain of empathy and the harder, messier work of understanding.”
Understanding is much more difficult than reacting. Sometimes it’s more expedient to not spend the time with that messy work of trying to find the prime mover of the problem. We live in a world where politicians are judged not for their ability to get to the root of a problem but the speed by which they can attach blame in a way that inflames their supporters and raises their own profile.
For that reason it’s important for them to demand far-reaching action that expresses a self-righteous indignation. The action may be impossible to achieve, but it leaves no room for agreement or compromise.
We see this in the debate about guns being used in these maniacal rampages. Some take the position that legislation addressing the tool is more important than addressing the person using it.
Obviously, it is much easier to do that with something much of the public has no experience with whatsoever. People like simple and it’s much simpler to take action against a thing than a societal problem.
For instance, here is an example of a position that when examined with a little bit of knowledge doesn’t make much sense at all. Recently we’ve been told that semi-automatic weapons are at the root of these rampages with the implication they are somehow a new phenomenon causing unstable maniacs to commit atrocious crimes.
The reality is that semi–automatic weapons have been around since the turn of the last century with the first truly popular one being the 1903-1908 Colt handguns which used a seven-round magazine which when empty, could be quickly replaced with a fully loaded one. They were quite popular and more than 700,000 of them were sold to the public.
The Government Model 1911 in the deadly .45 caliber has been made, surprisingly, since 1911 with a seven- to eight-round magazine that can be exchanged in less than a second.
There are millions of these weapons in circulation and estimates are that of the 300 million firearms possessed by citizens of the United States, 100 million of them are semi-automatic. With all of these deadly and rapid-firing weapons in circulation, where are the mass shootings using them over the prior 120 years?
True, larger magazine sizes allow damage to be inflicted much faster, but replacing magazines more frequently makes only a small difference. The AR-15 rifle with a larger capacity has been portrayed as a frightening and devastating tool which has no business being in the hands of the public, which causes psychopaths who want to frighten and destroy people want them even more.
If the weapon disappeared tomorrow it would be replaced with another within weeks and the same argument would begin again and again and again.
I would submit the explanation to this dilemma is that guns are not really the issue, or at least not a particularly significant part of the problem.
The problem seems to be more directly tied to narcissism and the practice of living in an electronic world, where one can watch, listen and converse with like-minded people and sources until those lonely angry outcasts that live in this cocoon of radical encouragement lose all sense of the real world and unleash their personal demons on the public. Often they are wrapped in an off-kilter manifesto that is also a sort of narcissistic self-aggrandizement.
The acceleration of technology and the ability to disappear into it has happened so quickly that we as a society don’t yet grasp how to deal with it. Especially when those who are substantially incapable of dealing with everyday life are immersed in it — then the result can never be good.
Solving this is a much more difficult problem requiring a more thoughtful solution than banning guns, violent video games and Republicans. It will take more time and study to solve but that is much less convenient than blaming objects and political opponents.
Rick Wagner is a Grand Junction attorney. Email him at email@example.com. His weekly political talk show airs on KNZZ 1100 AM/92.7 FM on Saturdays at noon.