Gun control and ethical consciousness

When we talk about gun control and assault weapon bans, should we talk about controlling the weapons themselves, or should we talk about the ethical weight of having access to such weaponry and the implications of that weight? The national dialog certainly has been focused on the former, but I believe that the latter is far more important a thing to address.

Our right to bear arms has become a label we use for what should be called our desire to bear arms, and it is this desire that we need to discuss. It is this desire and the ethical consequences of it that have to be brought forward into the national dialog. It cannot be denied that the United States is deep in the throes of a passionate, sordid love affair with firepower. We are drenched in the post-coitus scent of black powder, molten lead, hot brass. Our language in the debate is not logical nor reasonable but passionate and fiery: the rhetoric of lovers afraid of losing each other, afraid of admitting what they have. Other countries can see the lust for weapons in our dialog, our media, our attitudes.

Before I go any further, I should say that I am not promoting a ban on anything. In fact, because my position is that we are not having the proper discussion about weapons, I am against the discussion on banning anything. I don’t think that’s going to solve the problem. We tried to ban alcohol: it didn’t work. We’re trying to ban drugs: that’s not working. My parents tried to tell me to not have sex with anyone in the house when I was a teenager: that certainly didn’t work. None of these things work because none of them address the issue at hand (hedonism, addiction, hormones). And the issue at hand in the gun debate should be around our responsibilities as they relate to owning weapons, the ethics implied by the second amendment.

For instance, I have a right to stand in a crowded plaza and say “Bomb!” because the first amendment grants me the right to free speech. However, it would be right for someone to hold me responsible for the damage that declaration might cause because my right to free speech also leaves me responsible for what I say and the results of those utterances. The same should hold true regarding the second amendment.

I have a right to purchase, own, and fire a weapon. However, I also have an ethical responsibility to ensure that my weapon is not used to harm others. I think most folks who are pro-gun would agree with this, and I’m glad of that. Responsible gun ownership is one of the hallmarks and cornerstones of the second amendment. Fine. Let’s not argue that here.

Looking back at the first amendment again. Imagine that I know or can deduce that someone is about to shout “Bomb” in a crowded plaza and cause an unmitigated panic in which surely a number of people will be trampled to death. Imagine I have the power to keep that from happening by simply taking away that person’s power of speech. Does my foreknowledge of that person’s action give me an ethical responsibility to stop him? Are that person’s first amendment rights being violated if I do so? These are the kinds of questions that are not easy but have to be asked of ourselves in terms of our “rights” as granted by the United States Constitution.

So how does this thought experiment apply to the second amendment? Surely we can recognize that the right to bear arms comes also with a responsibility to ensure that those arms are born in an ethical and safe manner. A manner in which violence does not come to those who are innocent. If you exercise your right to carry a weapon, then you tacitly agree to the ethical responsibility that comes with that weapon. It must be so, because otherwise we are giving ourselves over to the idea that the right to power also gives us the right to hold power over and disregard others, and surely that’s not what is meant by the second amendment.

While we debate about what is or is not an assault rifle or even if that’s a term that makes any legal sense; while we try to find “compromise” about how many bullets in a magazine is too many or few; while we spin our wheels trying to ban or not ban a variety of weapons, we are missing the point altogether. Banning a weapon does not free us of the shared ethical responsibility of how weapons are used any more than controlling the time manner and place of speech frees us from the responsibility we must bear if our speech causes harm. We are not able to see this clearly, however.

We are in love with firepower. Love has blinded us to the responsibility inherent in having access to that firepower. Blinded us so deeply and assuredly that the deaths of hundreds of people in either accidental or deliberate acts of gun violence has become nothing more to us than statistics we can compartmentalize for the sake of a pro or con stake in the national argument. We are so in love with firepower that the death of a child means less to us than the debate about how many bullets is too many or whether “assault rifle” is a real term.

Because as a nation we are granted the right to bear arms by the second amendment, we as a nation have also tacitly agreed to shoulder the ethical burden of that amendment. We know this because we live in a civilized society, not an anarchistic state. By exercising this right, we acknowledge our adherence to the laws and morality around that right. Just as in speech, driving a car, growing our own food, owning the rights to land, etc.

The debate about our love of firepower and our ethical responsibilities must begin and the argument over which component of what weapon will be regulated must stop. Only by acknowledging our responsibility for the safety of ourselves and each other can we begin to find a way to eliminate the innocent deaths caused by this love affair we have with weapons.

 

 

Solving democracy through complex systems

The United States of America is a broken country. Our dreams have been bent, tarnished, and mis-handled so often and for so long that we — the 300 million people who call it our home — have nearly forgotten what it means to live here. The government has gotten us so used to expecting solutions that we’ve nearly forgotten how to create our own. At the same time, we’re not really sure what the problems are that need solving. We know, though, that there are problems. Though nobody has a single solution; though there is no panacea or magic elixir; there is a way to approach what’s wrong: a method born out of complex systems analysis.

The following is a sketch of an idea I’ve been toying with since October, 2007. I’m sharing it in it’s draft form here for two reasons: 1) to get the idea into the ether because it’s something on which we all need to work and 2) to elicit your feedback. this document (PDF) charts out the idea, and the following few paragraphs are an attempt to get at the crux of the thing.

Complex problems require the ability for all involved in their solution to be able to think clearly, logically, intuitively, and critically. As society becomes more complex and our interactions with each other and our environment become that much more complicated, we need to be able to understand how our decisions and actions ripple out into the rest of the world.

To that end, the architects of our government intended that it be structured as a reverse hierarchy. In other words, the power moved from the people to the leaders and not the other way around. In order for it to work, the people — us — themselves must tackle the more complex issues in society: starvation, health care access, abortion, housing, crime. The proxies — elected officials — should only be allowed to address issues of a complexity relatively smaller: printing money, international relations, etc.

Current trends in education, government, and other aspects of this country seem to indicate a general dumbing down of the populace, however. This dumbing down is having the effect of giving our proxies more power than originally intended and subverting our Democratic Republic into something more akin to a modern-day corporation where strata are clearly defined. If the populace is dumb, it can’t make complex decisions.

In other words, by removing the complexity from our lives, by avoiding the difficult decisions at the state, county, and town level we are turning our reverse hierarchy upside down. By definition, a hierarchy only works if the people at the bottom deal with the easy stuff. If we’re dealing with easy stuff, then we’re at the bottom.

In other words, in order to fix what we all feel is wrong with our country, we have to do it ourselves. This is an Existential world, and there is no one to save us. No superheroes or omniscient politicians. In order to save ourselves, though, we need to be smart, savvy, calm, decisive, and willing to devote ourselves to the cause framed by our founders in the Declaration of Independence and The Constitution. The foundation is there, we just need need to build upon it.

I need your comments and ideas on this. If it’s a thing, it’s not my thing. It’s our thing. Thoughts? Concerns?