I am going move the discussion to gun control, but it’s more than just the issue at stake here. While we go through this – like most everything, it’s complicated, so it’s going to take more than one go at it – I want you to look at things from a different angle. Instead of the same old position, sit back on a grassy hill and look at the scene from a different perspective. You might start to recognize that any progress towards a solution is stifled by the current political system. My theme is going to stay true: it’s not the people, it’s not the ideas, it’s the system that is broken, and we won’t get anything accomplished until we change the rules. And we are supposed to be the ones that make those rules (remember… for the people, by the people?)
Gun control makes a good subject, for two reasons. For one, I know a bit about it.
Most pathology residencies don’t have much forensic training, and the autopsy service is limited to hospital based cases. Hospital autopsies are medical, where we are interested in the disease process, as opposed to forensic cases, which are related to the law. But the pathology department at Wake Forest serves as one of medical examiner offices for the state of North Carolina, which means the majority of the autopsies I did in training were part of that office. So I have seen more than my share of what guns can do. I have seen what can happen when two drunk friends have an argument over a card game. Or a girl. I have seen how they can be used to steal money. Or a car. I have a seen what a person can do when they are despondent about a biopsy result. Or losing their hair. And I promise you, I can remember every case, what kind of gun it was, how the bullet was fired, where the bullets went, and the damage they did.
I was trained in how guns work, in ballistics, in the effects they have on their victims, and the clues to look for to make these determinations. Make no mistake, guns have one purpose: to kill things. Animals, people, it doesn’t matter; they work the same way. But at the end of the day, guns are tools. They have no soul, no morals, they are neither good nor evil. In an ideal world, in a utopia where nothing ever needed to be killed, there would be no need for guns. But that’s not our world. So we have to face our realities. And doing so in a logical and cooperative manner is the only way that makes sense.
The second reason that this is a good topic is that the two views on guns appear completely incompatible.
I say the two views appear completely incompatible, because that’s the way in which they are presented to us. One group says we have a constitutional right to bear arms, and there can be no infringement on that right. The other says there is no reason for us to have guns, and as other countries have done with success, we should give them all up. Do you ever wonder why a careful crafted proposal of a middle ground solution by a person who sees both points of view is seldom put forward? It’s almost as if it doesn’t make for a good story, or that finding a working solution is not actually the goal. As if stirring emotion or rallying people in opposition is actually the end game. Hmmm….
Look at the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994, because this is a perfect example of a piece of legislation that we spent an enormous amount of time and resources and money to enact, yet it was absolutely useless. It did nothing more than make some people feel good while sitting on their couch, all the while adding credibility to the other side’s notion that their opponents are beyond reason. And more than twenty years later, people on both sides still hold it up in a shaking fist as an example. When what you really want is compromise and cooperation, winning is often more akin to losing.
This piece of legislation was put in place in an attempt to stop unhinged crazies from killing large numbers of people. How can anyone sane argue with that ideal? Well, how about the fact that it did absolutely nothing of the kind. It in no way prevented a person, regardless of training or ideology or mental stability, from going into a gun store and buying a brand new, semiautomatic assault rifle. And then walking out into the street and killing anyone and everyone they could. To understand why, you do have to know something about guns. And this brings me to an important point: the people making laws and regulations about guns need to know something – a great deal, if you ask me – about the very thing they are making laws and regulations about. Otherwise, you end up with something like this fiasco of a bill, something the media can spin, or that politicians can call a victory (or an attack) and use as a rallying point for their cause. All the while wasting our time and money. For nothing. You wouldn’t chose people to make our traffic laws from a group that had no idea how to drive, would you?
Right now, half of you are thinking, “that law didn’t do anything because the gun nuts fought so hard to keep us from actually making meaningful change.” And if that’s not sounding off in your head, then it is probably something more like, “those morons don’t have a clue what they are doing, they want to take away my right to protect myself and my family.” And if we are in the same room, this is where the shouting starts. And in my head, I see the coming fight in a well-lit ring, while seated in the shadows are a smug bunch of scoundrels, shaking hands and smiling as they look on with satisfaction at the impending melee.
OK, maybe that’s a bit overdramatic. Or is it? This isn’t a new problem. Decades we have been fighting this fight. DECADES. And yet we haven’t made any meaningful progress. Why? Because there is no compromise to be found? Bullshit. It’s right in front of us. We just need to listen to each other, to hear and validate each other’s view, to know the world from where they stand. And then it becomes obvious.
All I am going to do is carefully show you both sides of the aisle. And then you will come to the very same conclusion I have. And when you do, when you are thinking, “why have we not done this? What the hell are these people doing?” Maybe you will start to look differently – not just at this issue – but at the system we continue to promote. Only then can we hope to address the real problem.