Thousands and thousands of people are approaching our Southern border in an attempt to gain access to the United States. And who can blame them? It’s an awesome country. Those who take umbrage at the US would do well to pay attention to the vast numbers of people who yearly try to come and live within our borders. People aren’t rushing off to North Korea. Or Venezuela. That’s instructive. Heck, they’re leaving California! I digress.
Let me preface by saying I believe in borders. I also believe in immigration. I think that we benefit from immigrants. But that immigrants should be vetted and should come to the US in a manner that is safe for them, and for us, and in a way that is legal. Having said that, we need to make the system more streamlined. I’m on board.
I heard Ben Shapiro talking about the immigrant caravan recently. He made a great point. The caravans are not uncommon and do not spell the end of the United States. Not by a long shot. However, it is unrealistic and irresponsible to make the Pollyanna assertion that there is no potential danger in any caravan of people coming to the US in such a manner. That there are at least some dangerous criminals in the bunch is almost certain. And it would be hard to dispute that illegal immigration and border crossing clearly has some role in the power of cartels and the drug trade that is ravaging America. (That and the apparently ravenous American appetite for drugs which fuels and funds it…)
Like so many things it’s complex. It isn’t well addressed by sound-bites. Mostly good people want to come here. There are bad people that have to be stopped. And it has to be fair, not only for immigrants but also for taxpayers here who contribute to immigrants’ well-being when they arrive. And if we really believe it’s a great country, we should want those immigrants to love it as well, and respect and revere our laws and traditions.
Now, to make a sharp and sudden turn, let’s address the gun issue. I struggle with this one. I’m a physician who works in an emergency department and has for 25 years. I am a husband and father. I hate violence. I hate that people are killed and taken from their loved ones. I hate that they are maimed for life.
What do we do about it? Ah, that’s always the question. Because, in a shadow of the immigrant question, there are what, 80,000,000 gun-owners in America? (The numbers are very hard to come by it appears.) It does appear we have over 300,000,000 firearms. And guess what? Statistically, like immigrants, the vast majority will never commit a crime or hurt anyone with their firearms. Some will use them for self-defense, and successfully. (Maybe one million times per year, based on some data.)
In the same way that we cannot, and will not, simply stop immigration to the United States, it is close to impossible to 1) remove guns from circulation in the US or 2) get people to stop wanting and buying them. This is true of small handguns and even semi-automatic rifles. (Of which their are also tens of millions in circulation.)
The question is, what do we do to make it safer? I will here be reminded that immigrants don’t kill people. But that’s untrue. Some illegal immigrants do murder. And some kill others while driving under the influence. Others engage in the drug trade and cause enormous harm. It doesn’t mean that all, or most immigrants are bad. But a few are. And a few gun owners, a proportionately small number (and small number of the total firearms) are also dangerous or used dangerously.
It makes sense, let me add, that we study gun violence and seek solutions. As long as the research is done well. For those who are frustrated by attempts to block research? Let me suggest that it has to do with a perception of bias. If the largest medical organizations constantly cry out for gun control, for bans, for confiscation, the average gun owner is suspicious that research will be done in a manner that is not open, honest and objective. This is a reasonable concern. We all know that research can be biased. (We just think WE won’t be…)
It’s also important that researchers remember that they aren’t just researching a consumer product. They’re researching, in a way, a very fundamental human tendency. That is, the tendency, the desire (maybe the instinct) to have a weapon and use it to defend oneself and one’s family. This is something humans and human ancestors have done for literally hundreds of thousands of years. ‘Yes, but those were sticks and spears and arrows and axes.’ Yes, and they killed just as dead as guns when their victims were defenseless. And mass killings probably happened then; just to small bands and tribes whose bodies were left in empty, lonely places and not mourned or reported worldwide by media outlets. Dead is dead.
Furthermore, researchers have to recognize that around the world, defenseless people in gun free zones are murdered, butchered, kidnapped, raped and sold all the time. This is, in fact, one of the reasons that immigrants come here. Because in the cartel, corruption, terrorist, extremist and crime-riddled excuses for countries from which they travel, they are often completely defenseless against people who have weapons. Frequently illegal weapons. Which shoot bullets just as well as the legal ones owned by corrupt government officials and police. Tragedies that happen in ‘gun free’ countries and are simply written off with ‘tsk tsk.’ The Boko Haram kidnappings in Nigeria come to mind. In fact, Brazil not long ago began to consider loosening its gun control restrictions so that average citizens cold fight back against criminals in one of the most violent nations on earth.
Furthermore, those opposed to such research recognize that it could be used to draft legislation. And that legislation and restrictions never, ever go backwards. It’s a uniquely frustrating aspect of American politics (and probably politics around the world) that we rarely look at a law, decide it didn’t work, and remove it; especially if it covers a very ‘hot topic.’ We simply entrench it, manipulate, it massage, it, beat it and inflict it more than ever on the masses. Gun owners know this. That is, if a gun control law fails, the answer is ‘more gun control.’ If it succeeds, the answer is ‘more gun control.’
Sometimes America seems crazy. And it is. But it’s crazy with a kind of purpose. And its purpose is freedom. Freedom is messy and costly and sometimes bloody. But people come here in caravans to have it.
Admittedly, our chance of dying a violent death in modern times (worldwide) is statistically at an all-time low. But violence is still a problem all around the world. Reflective of that reality is the fact that those who say ‘only the police and military should have weapons,’ still are asserting that someone have weapons. Those who pass laws (of every sort) are willing to have laws enforced by arms carried by state-agents. Even tax laws are enforced by threat of arms; if you’re arrested, a man or woman with a gun comes to take you away.
Even those who live in safe, progressive, gun-free, gated communities will still pick up the phone and call for people with weapons to come and protect them. Any way you slice it, guns aren’t going away.
To illustrate the complexity of all this, I want to point out that in big urban hospitals around the country, in LA, Atlanta, Chicago and others, gun violence is a daily, nightly concern for my colleagues. I have great respect for those who labor to save the lives of victims of violence. In those places, blood flows all too often. And those heroic physicians and nurses give awful news to people day in and day out. God bless them. I understand their frustrations.
And yet; I have worked for 25 years in rural South Carolina (with a few other side-jobs thrown in, mostly also rural). In my current job, in a small town, I have seen exactly zero gunshot wounds in the past year. And over my career I have seen very few. Nothing at all like the nightly, running gun-fights that fill the trauma centers of the land.
Ironically, however, my town, my county, my community? Guns are literally everywhere. In homes, in cars, in campers, in trucks. Most days probably a third of the cars in the parking lot have a gun in them. I have even worked in places where nurses alluded (due to lack of security) that their firearms were in their lockers in the emergency department.
What’s the difference? Maybe the things we need to study really are complex. And maybe we need to be wiling to have hard discussions. Like addressing the fact that 40-50% of violence in America (and other places like UK) is alcohol related. Or the fact that dissolution of the family contributes to wayward, dangerous young men with no anchors? Or the fact that joblessness probably contributes to people joining gangs and selling drugs? Or the reality that humans need moral teaching from a very young age, and we can’t leave that to schools?
I’m willing to have the gun discussion. But there’s a lot to discuss. And we have to be reasonable and fair to all.
And as with immigration, we need to remember that most people with guns are not a threat. The trick is figuring out who is. And either helping them before hand, or stopping them in the act.
Finally, it won’t get better by simple political maneuvering, which will simply be reversed with the next election cycle.
So let’s all of us be reasonable and try to solve the problem. Lives are lost. Too many lives are lost. Too much blood is spilled. But let’s address the issue with respect for one another, and for the unique tradition of freedom that America has always offered to a world hungry for liberty and hope.