For a Safer America, I’ll Take Progress Over Perfection

Children PlayingMy plan had been to blog something humorous this afternoon, or at least try to, but after today’s horrific school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut that’s not going to happen.  I can’t find much humor in anything.  Even sarcasm fails me today.

By coincidence, this morning I was scheduled to read to four- and five-year-olds at a colleague’s daughter’s pre-school.  By the time I got there, I’d already heard the terrible news.  As I read to them about a frog who played t-ball on a team (appropriately) called “The Giants”, I stared into their innocent, rapt little faces and felt crushing sadness.  I met their teachers, who were kind, loving and patient with the kids.

Despite the high security at this downtown San Francisco location (I needed to be on a guest list and show an ID to get past security guards) students and staff are still vulnerable.  If someone is violent, vengeful, unbalanced and determined to hurt someone… he will find a way to work his evil.  But that doesn’t mean we should do away with badges, screeners, security guards and guest lists.  We must do what we can to stay safe, and prevent violence.

One of the arguments I hear frequently against gun control legislation is, if a crazy person wants a gun he’ll get one.  Gun control won’t stop him, so let’s not make any changes until we find a perfect solution.

This violates one of my favorite maxims:  Don’t let perfection be the enemy of progress.

Hand holding gunFederal law prohibits most convicted criminals from buying, owning or transporting a firearm.  A background check of a would-be gun owner must also ensure that he/she has not been ruled mentally defective or been committed to any mental institution, is not an illegal alien, has not been dishonorably discharged from the military, has not renounced his/her U.S. citizenship, and does not have a restraining order or domestic violence conviction (even a misdemeanor).

On paper this should be reassuring, but in the coming days we’ll likely discover that today’s gunman was an American citizen who had never been committed to a mental institution, or convicted of a serious crime – which would have meant his gun ownership was perfectly legal.

Does this mean we should do away with background checks because they don’t successfully stop all homicidal gunmen?

Or maybe we’ll find that this angry, destructive man couldn’t pass a background check – or never even applied for one.  Perhaps he just stole his guns (plural) from a neighbor or family member.  Even so, the same question would apply.

If the gun control laws we have in place today aren’t protecting us, does that mean gun control is bad?  If this theory were applied equally throughout our lives, modern America would resemble the wild, wild west.  Drugs would be legal, because clearly criminalizing them has not been effective.  And why bother trying to enforce maximum blood alcohol levels, since every weekend brings drunken driving arrests all over the United States?

So why would we refuse to introduce tighter gun controls, just because they won’t prevent all gun violence?  Wouldn’t even a reduction be worth it?  How many more innocent victims must there be, before we get serious about limiting access to firearms?

As I said, I won’t be surprised if we discover that the Connecticut gunman bought his guns legally.  But I’ll also guess that people close to him knew he was troubled.  He may have dabbled in counseling, but probably never received consistent, in-depth psychiatric care.  If this sounds familiar, it’s not your imagination.  It was the same story in Tucson, Arizona and Aurora, Colorado.

Too bad guns are so much easier to get than ongoing, quality mental healthcare.

Above all, it’s NOT a matter of education.  (I heard this argument on Fox News recently after the murder/suicide of NFL player Jovan Belcher.)  Today’s perpetrator was very, very knowledgeable about guns.  He knew they were great for killing people, first off.  He also knew the difference between a semi-automatic Bushmaster .223, a Sig-Sauer and a Glock.  He knew how to load them, and shoot them with deadly accuracy.  He knew he’d need a bulletproof vest to carry out his mission – which included killing himself, before police could do it for him.  This guy was nothing, if not educated about guns.

Some will cite 2nd Amendment rights, but I’d argue that the 20 children and 6 adults in Newtown, Connecticut had constitutional rights too — to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.  What about those rights?

I want to believe that leaders in Washington will finally sprout a collective backbone, and hammer out gun control legislation that — while not perfect — will make America safer.  But somehow I doubt it, based on the puerile squabbling about the fiscal cliff we’ve witnessed recently.

Will someone finally be brave enough to lead the charge?

Keeping It Simple, Stupid (Part II)

Assault RiflesI’m doing more thinking tonight… about the importance of not overthinking.

More specifically, I’m pondering the art of  keeping problem-solving simple, instead constructing complex rationales for avoiding fixing what’s wrong in our lives… and the world.

Overthinking to the point of inaction can happen for two basic reasons; Either you fundamentally don’t care much about accomplishing something, or you desperately care, but the challenge is so big and overwhelming you are worried you may fail.

The first one is easy;  You say you want to achieve something that is totally attainable, but you never do… because you never really knock yourself out.

You know what?  It’s OK to decide something isn’t important enough for you to put in the effort to accomplish it. We all have a million things we COULD do — and in many cases our friends are doing (or talking a lot about doing) those things, so we feel pressured. Do yourself (and the rest of us, who have to listen to you) a favor and admit it.

“I really don’t care about running a 10k, so I’m not going to schedule – then make elaborate excuses for skipping – training sessions anymore.”

Guess what?  Your friends and family have probably heard your excuses so many times, they KNOW you’ll never run that 10k.  So you aren’t fooling anyone.

Sometimes, though, we overthink as a way to avoid doing something critically important… because it’s really, really hard.  That became painfully obvious after Friday morning’s cinema massacre in Aurora, Colorado.

It took less than 24 hours for Americans to starting asking obvious questions, like HOW did the perpetrator get so many guns and explosives, and so much ammunition, without raising suspicion?  Could an assault weapon ban have prevented this tragedy?  Isn’t there a way to apply simple common sense to the “right to bear arms”?

Unfortunately by Sunday, the discussion had stalled.  It seemed to have been universally decided; What would be the point of resurrecting the gun control/gun safety argument?  It never goes anywhere.  It’s an election year.  The NRA is too powerful. Proposing change would be political suicide for any candidate.

No more excuses.  The gun lobby is HUGE and ridiculously influential, but we need to keep the conversation alive.

At an NRA convention in April, Mitt Romney said this in support of “gun rights”:

“We need a president who will stand up for the rights of hunters, sportsmen and those who seek to protect their homes and their families.”

Because, let’s face it.  When you hear words like “victimized”, “disenfranchised” and “discriminated against” what groups immediately spring to mind?  Hunters and sportsmen, of course.

Where are the clearer heads, asking the basic questions?

  • Does anyone honestly believe that the founding fathers intended all Americans to be armed to the teeth as a basic human right?  That was a time of citizen militias, folks.  They were not worried about individual rights.  America needed an army.  The framers of The Constitution were worried about England and France.  And maybe witches.  Oh, and bears. That’s it.
  • What is so sporting about a high-powered military-style assault weapon with a 100-shot magazine like the one used by the Aurora shooter? Hunters don’t need such a weapon.  Neither do romantic cowboys.  Alan Ladd (a.k.a my reformed gun-slinger hero Shane) did just fine without one.
  • If concealed weapons are so great for  personal protection, how is it possible that no one among the moviegoers in Aurora managed to take down the killer?  Here’s your answer:  This argument is rubbish, concocted by the gun lobby to terrify you and convince you that you NEED to buy lots of guns to keep your family safe.  The truth is that — unless you are a trained Navy Seal — if someone enters your home wielding a high-powered assault rifle, you don’t stand a chance.  I don’t care what kind of weapon you have in your nightstand.

Gun ownership results in more violence, not less.  A recent study in The Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance found that when someone has a gun, he or she is more likely to believe an object held by someone else is also a gun.  In other words, when you have a firearm… all the world’s a burglar.  (Just ask George Zimmerman.)

I hope the tragedy in Aurora will renew the debate about gun control in earnest.  I’m not even calling for a gun ban, just serious legislation outlawing the kinds of high-powered weapons and arsenals that no sane, law-abiding person needs.

Don’t tell me there are millions of guns out there, and the task is too monumental.  It’s a matter of life and death, and we have to try.

Let’s not overthink it.  Let’s just do it.