Sunday, June 26, 2016

Learned Helplessness

On December 14, 2012, a crazed knife wielding man stood outside Chenpeng Village Primary School in Henan Province, China, and stabbed 24 people before the police overpowered him.  All of the victims, 23 children and 1 elderly woman (from whom the attacker originally stole the knives) eventually recovered.  Does any of that sound familiar?  The Sandy Hook tragedy occurred on the same date, hours later.  The disparity of death toll (0 in Henan versus 20 in Connecticut) has already been remarked upon in the past four years.   It shows that policy can mitigate the effects of violent outbursts.  China is not the only Asian state to have knife-rampages.  Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and other countries experience them too.  The attacker in Chenpeng did not have access to a firearm, so he used knives.  It is difficult-to-impossible to prevent these rampages, but with different policy choices, they can be mitigated. 

            Americans really do seem to want to take steps to prevent or mitigate violence like the rampage that rocked Orlando on June 11, based on polling data that finds 77% support for background checks, and 57% support for outright assault weapon bans.  So why do we not enact policy pursuant to those ends?  For most of my adult life, the cause of gun control in the United States has been moribund.  Gun control laws loosened, causing the supporters of gun control to lose morale and only become pessimistic.  Whenever an event like we saw in Orlando occurs and gains national attention, the gun lobby, personified in organizations like the NRA, leaps into action and prepares to halt or resist any policy change that might tighten gun control and make obtaining deadly weapons, such as the infamous AR-15 family of guns, more difficult.  Basically, by the time legislation that calls for gun control hits the floor of Congress or state legislatures for debate, the opponents have been ready to go for some time.  Never mind that their arguments might lack merit, or polling data suggests most Americans support some form of tighter gun control.

            In contrast, Americans who support gun control legislation are poorly organized.  If you would rather tweet about how nothing will change than work for change, of course you will inevitably be disappointed!  And when you are ready to work to make things change, you need clear goals.  Preferably, the kind of goals that can be explained easily and succinctly for the peanut gallery that does not have the time or the inclination to immerse themselves in all of the minutiae of policy.  The NRA and similar organizations have simple goals: make it as easy as possible for any American to purchase firearms and ammunition.  What do we mean by control?  Do we mean banning certain classes of firearm?  Then we need to define what classes we mean.  Do you want to limit the amount of guns and ammo people may purchase?  Background checks and waiting periods?  Manufacturing restrictions?  Tight licensing requirements for gun owners?  All of these things have been or are real legislative proposals that I have heard people make on the internet, on television and in newspapers.  I do mean people in a broad sense.  Things can change, but they require input on our part.  We all have some skin in this game.  Might as well act like it.

No comments:

Post a Comment