Friday, April 4, 2014

Fort Hood Shootings: Another Lesson in Gun Violence and the Myths of Self-Defense

My friends over at Relations International published an excellent piece today on the tragic shootings at Fort Hood Army Base in Texas. There will be much media hypeover the next few days about PTSD and the military's health-care system and its weaknesses. All of this will, of course, be forgotten within a week's time. RI's piece points out quite rightly that shooting and killing are inherent in military culture, and that Ft. Hood serves as yet another reminder of an age-old truth - violence begets violence, often in strange and unpredictable ways (whether Ivan Lopez was predictable I leave to others to ponder).

Given my ongoing interest in issues surrounding self-defense and firearms, I want to add an additional thought to the conversation. I have written before on the mythology that the current leadership of the NRA* has promulgated publicly about the relationship between guns and self-defense (here, among many other posts - you can track them through the Labels at the bottom of the posts). And I have pointed out that the NRA's "only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun" phrase isn't an argument or an analysis, it's a gut-level worldview that wants to see everything in Manichean terms.
* I am making a distinction here between the NRA's public leadership and its membership, which undoubtedly hold a diversity of views. I have met many reasonable individuals who are NRA members but who do not agree with the leadership of the organization. The NRA itself has a long and complex history, and people have many motives for joining it. It would be unfair to tar everyone associated with it with the same brush. The organization's leadership, on the other hand, is on record as saying and supporting certain things, and is therefore fair game.
For those who haven't already drunk the NRA leadership Kool-Aid, the latest Fort Hood shooting (as well as the one before, and the many other shootings on or near military installations) should provide a cautionary tale. Wayne LaPierre's argument, taken at face value, is that for everyone to be safe we should all be armed. He believes (or says he believes) that the safest world is the world in which everyone has a gun and knows how to use it. In that way, the "bad guys" will be deterred a la MAD during the Cold War, or will be gunned down by "good guys" before they can do too much damage.

The Fort Hood shootings put this hypothesis to the test and immediately demonstrate the failure of this line of thinking. A military base is the one part of the world most like Mr. LaPierre's vision for society. Everybody, or nearly everybody, is armed. Everybody has expert-level training and experience in the use of firearms, and access to them at nearly all times. Everybody practices to maintain that level of training on a nearly continual basis. Many of the people in these spaces also have training and experience in threat recognition that are nearly impossible to replicate in the civilian world.

And yet, even with all of these factors in place, mass shootings can and do take place. Lopez killed three people and wounded many more. Major Nadal Hussein killed over a dozen before he was overcome and disarmed. These are, of course, only two particularly prominent examples - there are many, many more.

For anyone with an open mind and a genuine interest in a secure and safe society, these cases should be enough to re-think a vision that relies solely on the presence of guns to protect us from each other. This also suggests that, so long as the NRA leadership sticks to this line of "reasoning", they cannot really be interested in a secure and safe society.

My suggestion: if the ownership of guns means more to you than actual safety and security, that's fine - you're entitled to your opinions. But the rest of us, the part of society that lives in the real world and values real human lives more than slogans and self-interest, will continue working out real solutions to difficult problems. Perhaps Mr. LaPierre would like to explain to the families of Mr. Lopez' victims how they really were safer for being surrounded by guns.

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