There is an interesting and obvious fact that has not been mentioned regarding the terrible events in Tucson this past weekend. Arizona is a heavily armed state. The state has very liberal gun laws and a large portion of its pubic has firearms. The argument is usually made that lawful gun owners can act to protect themselves and their communities from armed criminals. Saturday we saw this not happen, again. Of course there are cases where it does occur. However, these seem to be rare and exclude the terrible spree killings that afflict us.
A seemingly disturbed young man brought so much sorrow and death to a peaceful exercise of democracy. There are few rituals more mundane and essential than those that surround an elected official meeting and listening to constituents during Saturday errands. Positive empowerment and change comes from citizens peacefully meeting and making demands of their elected representatives. No, this does not always work. Yes, many are angry and disappointed by their elected officials. No, individuals can’t solve social problems alone. No weapon brings social change. Yes, our problems can be solved or reduced through peaceful organizing and group action.
We are at a crossroads. Many Americans don’t believe they or their elected representatives can, or will, make life better. As Americans suffer sustained high unemployment, inequality of opportunity and corruption, some lose hope. If we give up on making our lives better, we slip toward seeking satisfaction in making life worse for others. This is caustic and increasingly common. In grotesque detail we see this in the Arizona shooting.
In Arizona we know the public is armed. Sadly, Jared Lee Loughner was legally and heavily armed. The crowds in the shopping area must too have been armed. Yet, as a gunman methodically targeted and shot innocent people, none of the armed folks in the crowd fired on the gunman. I am not blaming any of the innocents — armed or unarmed — that were there that day. All are victims and none bare any responsibility at all. My point is that in case after case our loose gun ownership and possession laws do not produce armed citizens defending themselves and others. So many of us have guns and we are all vulnerable.
It has been too long since we organized and made demands for more opportunity and security. That is the safe way forward. No individual can arm herself/himself from a society that is in turmoil. There simply is no way. We need mental health care. We need systems that refer those in need to care and, if need be, institutionalization. That will protect us far more than the guns we are buying.
In case after painful case, crazed gunmen open fire and slaughter innocents. We saw this in Fort Hood Texas, at Virginia Tech and so recently in Tucson. In none of these cases were our armed citizens able to do any more than their unarmed fellow citizens. Great courage was shown in reporting on suspects, protecting others and subduing suspects. However, armed citizens have been totally unable to do what arming our citizenry is supposed to do. Weapons possession seems definitively not to protect us from or during spree shootings. It appears that shootings are so fast, chaotic and overwhelming that citizens — armed and not — can’t react rapidly enough to save themselves and others. It is likely that citizens attempting to fire on a suspect would accidentally harm or kill others in a dangerous crossfire. Life does not imitate action film/TV art in this respect. The lone gunman is curative in film and destructive on our streets and in our communities. This is not really about the guns. This is about how modern life works and does not work.
I mention this as gun sales soar nationwide and another tragedy feeds our sense of insecurity and a rush to be heavily armed. We are already the most heavily armed developed country. We already suffer the highest rates of gun injury and death. As we buy more guns, are we making the same mistake that Arizona made? Is it time to face that social problems require social solutions?
This article was originally published on The Huffington Post.