Ric Llewellyn

Friday, Jan 25 2013 08:00 PM

RIC LLEWELLYN: Is it a gun problem or a violence problem?

By Ric Llewellyn

I agree with Robert Price. This gun control stuff is tricky business.

He and I would probably find that we have some disagreements on the issue. But we would agree that the NRA isn't much for negotiating the Second Amendment.

We would agree that predicting violence on the basis of someone's mental health is not reliable.

We would agree that social and cultural factors are significant in explaining gun violence.

Even though the issue is highly charged, it seems there would be some opportunity for rationally discussing what we can do about preventing incidents like those at Sandy Hook Elementary School or Taft Union High School.

It's pretty clear there are places where the gun control debate gets contentious, though. That contention stifles progress by misdirecting the energy everyone has for doing something really effective. Unfortunately we're not too careful about avoiding those distractions.

You might think the Second Amendment would be a good place to start. Regrettably, we tend to get sidetracked by what "well regulated militia" means. It is complicated, fraught with historical context and subject to all sorts of philosophical perspectives.

Spending a lot of time arguing the nuances of an unclear statement seems to get us nowhere. But if we apply the gun control method to a clearer statement, we might find a more fundamental issue at stake.

The First Amendment is pretty clear. Would we clamor for exemptions, restrictions or so-called modern readings of the protections on religion, speech or the press simply because they are abused or perverted by notorious villains? Or could we approach the problem from a different angle?

Do repugnant religious cults or seditious communication motivate blanket restrictions on religion, speech or the press? Would we stand up against the Fourth Amendment and cry for more government discretion to search everyone's home, phone records or Internet activity because of the nefarious designs of a few individuals?

Perhaps we are more jealous of the other amendments because their abuse is less appalling. But the Second is no less inviolable.

Gun control discussions should start with an introductory consideration of the impacts restricting the press or our freedom to assemble could have. Would it be a good thing to limit expression of extreme views for safety's sake? Or is there a different way?

It comes down to this: Are we good with sacrificing any of the rights protected by the Bill of Rights? If we say yes to one, all are at risk. With that in mind, let's talk about gun control.

If we want to make some progress without subverting our liberty, we have to take a different approach. We have to abandon derogatory characterizations and prejudicial language.

The gun control debate is often defined as a right or left issue. So it creates a strained atmosphere when conditions like schizophrenia and depression are said to be "on the far right" and mere frustration on "the far left" on the spectrum of mental health conditions.

Some people will be very sensitive to the inference. It makes a sensible discussion difficult. And it is no more enlightening than to refer to "one end or the other" on the spectrum.

Tossing out statistics like "96 percent of this country's ongoing slaughter of innocents comes at the hands of ostensibly healthy people who just happen to be full of rage" is not constructive. It is an ambiguous statement that allows partisans to cling to their positions.

Instead we should try to understand the numbers. We should abandon assumptions that have turned out to be invalid. And we should attack real, not imagined, factors that will positively impact gun violence.

We should be able to ask whether it is a gun issue or a violence issue. We should be free to ask any questions about a perpetrator's social status, background, family condition or mental capacity without being constrained by political correctness. Then we should be honest enough to ask what any of it has to do with gun violence and how can it help.

Will solutions be found in limiting magazine capacity or stock material and configuration? Will the real problem be addressed by making the process for purchasing a firearm or ammunition expensive, cumbersome and time consuming?

I agree with Robert Price. American society and culture may be the real culprit in gun violence. This makes the issue even more complex because the real solution may only be found in a cultural or social renewal we are unwilling to consider.

Even thoughtful gun restrictions won't solve that problem.

-- Ric Llewellyn is one of three community columnists whose work appears here every Saturday. These are the opinions of Llewellyn, not necessarily The Californian. You can email him at llewellyn.californian@gmail.com. Next week: Heather Ijames.

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