Friday, July 20, 2012

You Can't Defend Against Violent Sociopaths

When James Egan Holmes carried out his deadly, sick, evil plan in a nearby theater early this morning, we were all reminded that there is no defending against those determined to do evil.

I do not know if there is an answer, if there is a way to prevent or minimize the damage that armed sociopaths can do, but I doubt that the answer is to arm ourselves to the teeth. According to reports I heard on local radio, one of the moviegoers was carrying a concealed weapon, was in the theater and failed to respond to Holmes's fire. Even if he had responded with his own gun, what could he have done against a shooter clad in body armor from head to toe, in a dark, smoke-filled theater, surrounded by a frightened crowd?

No amount of bloodshed can convince those who defend Second Amendment rights as the sacred cornerstone of freedom that a big reason why these things happen more in the U.S. than elsewhere is the wide and almost unrestricted availability of people to get armed. When faced with tragedies like last night's, their conditioned response is to advocate for easier availability of weapons, so people can defend themselves against the crazies out there: There is no defending against crazies. You can't stop them, you can't limit them, you can't anticipate them. You can only hope to disarm them. But the cost of disarming them is disarming the rest of "law-abiding citizens", and that--in America--we are not willing to do.

The gaping hole in the "let's-all-get-weapons-to-defend-ourselves" argument is that it does not work. Colorado has very relaxed gun-laws compared to most states, including concealed carry laws, and it has now been the scene of two of the most memorable killing scenes in the last twenty year: last night's in Aurora, and the Columbine shootings. So where are our concealed-carry defenders when you need them?

Another argument is that the Second Amendment guarantees all law-abiding citizens the ability to keep guns, as many as they want, to defend themselves and their families. Aside from the fact that guns kept in one's home are more rarely used in acts of self-defense than in acts of violence, and that there is no proven deterrence value in having a gun in one's home, I have little trouble with allowing people to have guns in their home, to defend themselves against criminals. But then why not agree that you should not be allowed to keep particularly lethal weapons, semi-automatic guns with large magazines, and that need to keep your guns at home, and that if you are stopped outside your home with a gun or guns, without prior permission and justification, your guns can be confiscated and your license can be revoked, forever?

In Italy, where I was born and lived most of my life, people who have guns can only carry them on predefined routes if local law-enforcement is notified in advance and if the gun holder has a legitimate reason; for example, going on a hunting trip, or going from one's shop to the bank 24-hour deposit while carrying large amounts of cash. If a person is found carrying a weapon off an agreed route or outside of permitted hours, their gun-carrying privileges can be revoked. (It is possible, but I am not aware of it, that the law might have changes since I moved to the USA.)

Would such measures stop all gun violence? Hardly; as I already said, I don't think you can stop crazy. But it would definitely draw a crystal clear line between those who are law-abiding citizens and those who are intent on evil-doing, and it might make the job of law enforcement officers easier. (Of course it would require the ability for the police to do random checks, another infringement of individual, constitutional rights that the people might find hard to accept; but is it worth giving it a try?)

For now, my thoughts are with the family and friends of the victims of this senseless act of violence, but this is a discussion to be resumed.

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