The Instrument of Evil

In the wake of the horrific shooting at a school in Connecticut, people are already crying for stricter gun laws in America. There are even legislators who say government should “exploit” this so called opportunity to seize guns from law-abiding citizens.

I am not a constitutional scholar, but I seriously doubt such an attempt would prevail in the Supreme Court. That aside, though, the focus on banning guns is very troubling. It establishes a dangerous logic for government intervention into people’s lives.

This issue is a test of leadership for our president and members of Congress. The test is about the ability to see cause and effect; to be able to separate twitter-generation punditry from solid analysis. It is easy to focus all attention on the guns and wish for them all to go away. But this simplistic approach will do irreparable harm – without doing anything about the problem it is designed to address.

Such a ban would have two serious consequences. The first has to do with the status of the individual citizen vs. government. By seizing guns from law-abiding citizens in response to the acts of a mad man, government will reduce the individual citizen from a sovereign agent and member of society to a subject of government. The individual is no longer considered able to separate right from wrong and therefore will be trusted with fewer and fewer responsibilities.

At some point, such a demotion of the individual leads to the rise of an authoritarian government, a government that in itself is no longer capable of telling right from wrong.

The second consequence is moral equvalency. The irresponsible acts of a mad man are elevated to the same moral level as the responsible acts of law-abiding citizens. Government thus declares that each and every citizen is a potential mad man, but it also states that there is no real reward for acting responsibly. If your neighbor cannot use his gun properly, you are being punished for his behavior. If you are going to be punished for other people’s actions, then what is your incentive to live within the framework of the law in the future?

It is not hard to see the broader consequences of ban-gun logic. If a madman’s abuse of a handgun renders my law-abiding, gun-owning friend an illegitimate gun owner, then what happens after a lethal DUI accident? By logical consequence, the deaths caused by a drunk man driving down the wrong side of the interstate should preclude every member of Congress – and every other American – from owning a car.

We don’t even have to go that far. Consider the application of the “ban gun” logic to a car accident in Ontario County, NY in June 2007. Five 17-18-year-old girls die in a gut-wrenching accident when their SUV collides with a tractor trailer and bursts into flames. Investigators determined that the crash was caused by cell phone use: the driver lost control of the vehicles because she was text messaging while driving.

If we ban responsible citizens from owning guns because of the acts of a mad man in Connecticut, then we should also ban responsible citizens from owning cell phones because of the acts of this young woman. The DUI analogy is relevant for another reason than to simply display the consequences of the ban-gun argument. It is already illegal in every state in America to drink and drive. We have outlawed drunk driving, and still up to 17,000 people die each year in alcohol-related accidents. By the same token, it is illegal to commit murder.

Evidently, making drunk driving illegal has not worked – just as making murder illegal does not stop a mad man from killing.

If the inability of the ban on murder to stop murder leads the ban-gun activist to advocate a total ban on guns, then that ban-gun activist must also support a ban on cars because DUI laws do not stop people from driving drunk.

It has been estimated that the Columbine High shooters broke some 20 gun laws. Would 25 laws have stopped them? 40 laws?

While tempting to some, a ban on motor vehicles to fight drunk driving would be considered an extreme measure by the vast majority of Americans. The reason is of course that the vast majority of Americans do not drive drunk, nor do they use their motor vehicles irresponsibly in any other way. I am sure the ban-gun activists are willing to admit as much.

It is only logical that they also concede that the vast majority of Americans do not abuse their handguns and therefore should be allowed to keep them.

Instead of focusing on the instrument of evil, we should focus on evil itself. How we do that is a matter for another, coming article. For now, here is a list (incomplete for lack of time) of mass shootings that took place in countries with tighter, in some cases much tighter gun laws than any state in America:

1994, Aarhus University, Denmark. A student goes on a shooting spree in a cafeteria. He manages to shoot four people, two fatally, with an illegal shotgun.

1994, Stureplan Plaza, Stockholm, Sweden. A man is denied entrance to a bar, goes home, retrieves an illegal assault rifle, comes back and guns down 24 people. Four die, many others are seriously wounded.

1994, Falun, Sweden. A military officer uses his service weapon, an AK-5 assault rifle, to shoot eight people in downtown Falun. Seven of the victims die.

1996, Dunblane, Scotland. A former scout leader shoots 17 people to death in a school, 16 of whom are children. This massacre happened after Britain had tightened its gun laws in response to the 1987 Hungerford massacre.

2002, Erfurt, Germany. An expelled student returns to his former school and starts killing teachers. He leaves 16 people dead, including a police officer who responded to the scene.

2006, Ermsdetten, Germany. A former student comes back to his high school, shoots five people to death and leaves a sixth victim wounded.

2009, Winnenden, Germany. A 17-year-old high school student goes on a shooting spree at his school, killing 15 people.

2009, Espoo, Finland. A man shoots four people to death in a shopping mall, using an illegally acquired handgun.

2010, Cumbria, England. Strict British gun laws passed after the Dunblane massacre, making it illegal for civilians to own handguns, do not stop a man from going on a shooting spree in Cumbria. After several hours, his final tally is 12 dead and 11 wounded.

2011, Liege, Belgium. A gunman, breaking Belgium’s tight gun laws, kills three and leaves dozens other wounded in a town square during Christmas shopping.

2011, Oslo, Norway. A man kills 77 people, most of them at a youth camp, using an illegally acquired firearm.

2012, Berlin, Germany. A man whose girlfriend has received an apartment eviction notice kills four people before taking his own life.

2012, Toronto, Canada. Tight Canadian gun laws did not prevent a shooter from killing one and wounding seven at the Eaton shopping mall.

2012, Toronto, Canada. A gunman leaves two dead and 23 wounded at a party in a private home in Toronto.

If someone cannot get hold of a gun and still wants to commit atrocious acts of violence, they can do what a student in Ansbach, Germany did: use Molotov cocktails and an ax. Or use a knife, as in the Osaka school massacre in Japan, which claimed eight children’s lives and left 15 other people wounded.

Knives have also been used in mass violence attacks at schools in China (the latest claiming 22 victims).

The perpetrator of the largest one-man mass murder in American history did not fire a single bullet. He used farm fertilizers to create a bomb with which he killed 168 people. Among his victims were about as many children as died in the Connecticut massacre.

The worst mass murder in U.S. history was perpetrated by a group of conspirators who used box cutters and airplanes to take three thousand lives.

Cars do not drive drunk. Knives to not stab. And guns do not kill. People do. When we realize this; when our focus is on evil itself and not on its instruments; then – but only then – can we begin the long journey toward ridding our society of senseless violence.