Sunday, December 16, 2012

On Gun Control and Coping with Death

I've been reading way too many articles about the Sandy Hook massacre followed by an unbelievable number of inane and hurtful comments:  "Cars kill more people than guns, and cars pollute too.  So we should ban cars before we ban guns."  "If God were allowed in the schools, He would have been there to protect the children."  "If we ban guns, then only criminals will have them, and we won't be able to protect ourselves!"

You get the idea.

Until a few days ago, it was legal to carry a concealed weapon in all but two areas of the U.S.  But then, by a two to one vote just last week, it was deemed unconstitutional to ban people from carrying a concealed weapon in Illinois.  Now the only place so restrained is Washington, D.C..  Curious.  But state to state, there are still different levels of restrictions on guns, and different types of guns that can be bought and sold, and, according to one study, that has a clear link to the safety of that state.


Two years ago, Richard Florida took a look at the relationship between gun deaths in the states and a variety of possibly linked factors including gun restriction, mental illness, poverty levels, equity, employment, education, voting habits, and more.  He found four indicators that significantly correlate with gun violence:  voting habits, education levels, poverty levels, and gun restriction.

What doesn't strongly correlate with gun use?  Population density, rates of mental illness, stress levels, illegal drug use, unemployment rates, inequality, and rates of immigration.

Morgan Freeman says we need to put money into mental health research and stop worrying about gun control, and he got tons of likes on Facebook for it.  I totally agree that we need more money in mental health research and treatment, but this study suggests it won't affect the rate of fatalities, so I'm going to keep worrying about gun control.  I'm not about banning all guns or even registering them, but their use can certainly be controlled.  Laws around trigger locks, assault weapon bans, safe storage requirements, concealment, and handgun restrictions are linked to fewer gun fatalities.  Who is really harmed by being safer with less-Terminator-style guns?

But what also interests me about the study is the link to poverty but not to unemployment.  It seems that places with a social safety net produce fewer gun deaths.  And I wonder, as was suggested in Bowling for Columbine, is it the case that in societies where people take care of their poorest, that people are less likely to become murderous?  Just a thought.

Whatever the cause, now too many people are dealing with the effect.  All those comforts from Epictetus, Zeno, Seneca, and Epicurus that urge us to accept how illogical it is to fear the unknown, how painless death is once it arrives, how we didn't mind not being here before we were born, don't help when your little one is gone.  They don't help if you're grieving not just a life, but a potential life of someone taken too soon.

Montaigne might help a little,
“To begin depriving death of its greatest advantage over us, let us adopt a way clean contrary to that common one; let us deprive death of its strangeness, let us frequent it, let us get used to it; let us have nothing more often in mind than death... We do not know where death awaits us: so let us wait for it everywhere."
Montaigne grieved over four of his five children, lost his best friend to the plague, and was clinically dead briefly himself.  He suggests the best way to cope is to remove all illusions of safety we hold on to because there really is no way to ensure our loved-ones will come home tonight.  We must keep death in the forefront and remember that we could go at any time.  Then maybe it won't be such a horror when it happens.  Then maybe we can be more accepting of it when it comes.

It's not a matter of living in fear of death, but quite the contrary - living the fullest life possible knowing death could be just around the corner.  There's no point taking ridiculous precautions against something inevitable.  We need to reconcile with our finite nature even in the stressed and hurried moments of the morning rush out the door.  When we say good-bye, it could be for keeps.

I do this generally, but I'm not sure it will ease the pain if tragedy strikes.  I'm not sure how much we can get used to the reality of death before we have to.  But it doesn't hurt to keep in mind when we kiss them good-bye - every single time.

And also keep in mind there are always heroes in the mix.  Every time someone does something heinous, there's someone there to remind us of the potential for courageous kindness in humanity.  

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