Saturday, December 15, 2012

Some serious thoughts

There is little I can say about the horrible and tragic news from Newtown, Connecticut yesterday except to express a hope, probably in vain, that American legislators do not behave the way British ones do and do not rush through ill-conceived laws in response to some terrible and not immediately understood event. In reality, all one can hope for is that Americans being different from the British and the system being different, legislators, no matter how thoughtless and hysterical they might be, can and will be stopped.

In addition, I should like to point to something that happened in  China and was not well reported. Twenty-two children and one adult were wounded in a knife attack in Chenpeng Village Primary School in Henan province. Some of the children are in critical condition and may not survive. Surely, this is as horrific as the gun attack in Newtown, Connecticut. Nor was this unique, as this shows.
A series of uncoordinated mass stabbings, hammer attacks, and cleaver attacks in the People's Republic of China began in March 2010. The spate of attacks left at least 21 dead and some 90 injured.
I suppose China is far away and, anyway, no guns seem to have been involved as, I suspect, these are tightly controlled in the PRC.

What struck me as instructive was the reaction to the Connecticut school massacre. It was immediately presented by a number of people as being an event of banal frequence, which it is not, and the result of uncontrolled gun ownership in America. Therefore, said gun ownership, which is written into the Second Amendment to the Constitution and based, on the English Bill of Rights of 1689, whose terms have long been forgotten in this country, should be controlled by stringent federal laws.

 Let us get the practical details out of the way. Connecticut gun laws are, in fact, fairly strict, by some accounts the fourth strictest among the fifty states. The young man, in question who is alleged to be somewhat autistic and a computer geek, appears to  have broken them all when he armed himself before entering the nursery school his mother had taught at (he seems to have killed her before going to the school). What likelihood is there that stricter laws would not be broken?

As it happens we know the answer to that. Dunblane massacre took place in a country (ours) with the strictest gun laws in the Western world and was the result of several serious infringements of those laws. But it happened. The laws have become even stricter to the point that hand gun clubs, which had their own stringent rules, have been banned. Our Olympic shooting team has to practise abroad. Has that abolished guns and gun crime? Not on your life (or death). We hear about most though not all of the fatal shootings but not of the wounds some severe enough to result in death after a while. Farily well armed gangs roam round parts of our cities. They are in possession of easily acquired guns and other death-dealing weapons. Legislation does not seem to have abolished this.

The same can be said about the situation over the Pond. While twenty children and six adults massacred in the space of a few minutes is a horrific idea, the high incidence of violent death of children and young people in cities like Chicago is also horrific as they add up to considerably more over the year than twenty. Yet Chicago has very tight gun control and law-abiding citizens do not own them.

What struck me immediately about the somewhat hysterical response, which people insisted on making public, was the refusal to deal with a very obvious problem. Actually, two obvious problems but they are interconnected and neither is popular in modern thinking.

One is the question of individual responsibility. Only the person who committed the crime is responsible for it though there may have been mitigating factors (can't imagine what they were in this case) or explanations of mental health break-down. That is something many of us do not wish to face. So we burble happily about guns killing people, the need to ensure that those who cannot cope do not acquire them and so on. Anything, rather than acknowledging that people might choose to do the wrong thing.

That brings me to the second and even more difficult problem: that of human evil. Whether the result of original sin or some dysfunction of the glands, it exists, and we need to face up to it instead of either denying or trivializing it. By trivializing I mean the ease with which people announce that MPs who have indulged in financial peculations are "evil". No. They are dishonest, possibly criminal, certainly despicable but are not in the same category as someone who picks up an automatic rifle and marches off to slaughter young children and the adults who look after them.

The trouble with evil is that it cannot be legislated against. It exists and will go on existing however many laws we enact though, I suppose, if it is the result of glandular malfunction, it can, possibly, be cured or kept under control.

Thus, we avoid the problem and talk about inanimate causes: guns. These can be legislated against, at least, in theory. Therefore, let us discard the idea of evil and concentrate on what we can legislate and regulate. Let us pass more laws, more regulations; let us control people's lives to an even greater extent; and let us hope that the bogeyman will disappeare. Until the next time.


  1. I must admit that my first reaction was that if there was greater gun control this awful tragic event would never have happened. However the libertarian part of me was in turmoil as it dawned on me that maybe I was wrong in my very liberal anti regulation and anti government intervention beliefs and that perhaps I should join the more power to the state and ban everything brigade. However your article has helped me to restore my faith and convince me that only when we have the restoration of personal responsibility will we see a return to less insane actions by our fellow human beings (to put it simply as I know it is somewhat more complex than that).

  2. This isn't really a comment, but a quick note to thank you for your clarity of thought at a time when clarity is the last thing on the minds of most people. Whatever we do, we will never eliminate the human propensity for evil - that is the hard thing to grasp - and, in my opinion, an impossible thing to grasp without faith - of one kind or another.

    An excellent piece, as your work invariably is.

  3. Opsimath,
    I second your vote of thanks.
    The way our MPs caved in to the emotional blackmail of the "Snowdrop" campaign after Dunblane was predictably dreadful.

  4. On our side of the pond, jurisdictions with the most restrictive gun laws have the highest crime rates. People who legally carry behave responsibly, probably more so,than the police in many jurisdictions.
    Stricter gun laws here are unlikely after Al Gore lost because of his gun-grabber advocacy.

  5. Thank you for this article. We are getting bombarded over here with anti-gun rants from everyone from the Mayor of NYC to the media elites during our Sunday Gridiron Football games! We need to address the facts that since 1980 the mentally ill have not been treated in a controlled manner. We have 260 children killed in gun violence in Chicago Illinois in one year. Not a peep. Chicago Illinois like Connecticut have some of the most stringent gun laws on their books. The bad people will always get their hands on the guns.