I admit to having trouble understanding the rationalization of gun control. Why do we think guns are the problem? When a drunk driver causes an accident in which people are killed we never blame the automobile. When a driver falls asleep and crosses the median and hits a family in a minivan we don’t say, “Cars are causing numerous deaths and we need to get rid of them.” When a tire explodes and the resulting accident kills someone, we don’t blame the car. When a car goes out of control because of high speed or because of an icy road and causes death we don’t blame the vehicle. When a drunk or mentally ill or even suicidal driver deliberately causes a fatal accident we don’t blame the car. Even when a terrorist deliberately swerves his car onto a crowded sidewalk and kills and wounds countless people we never blame the car that caused destruction. When a fugitive flees in a stolen car with police chasing him and has a head-on collision with a car full of innocent travelers, we don’t blame the car. In 2018 an estimated 40,000 people lost their lives to car crashes and about 4.5 million people were seriously injured in car crashes in the same year. Guns killed 16,773 in 2018. And gun suicides took 24,000 lives. Both cars and guns have killed close to 80,000 people each year.

Why the outrage over guns and not cars? They caused more deaths and injuries than guns. With cars we have recognized they are not the problem. The drivers are the problem. So we pass laws that say you have to have a driver’s license, you have to be a certain age, you have to abide by a speed limit, you can’t drive when you are impaired, you have to wear a seat belt, you have to have your car inspected for safety. You can’t text and drive at the same time. Even when drivers break the laws and cause accidents we don’t blame the car. Of course we feel extremely sad when such accidents occur and innocent lives are lost, but we recognize that it is the responsibility of the driver to operate his vehicle safely. If the driver fails to be responsible then we hold the driver responsible and to suffer the consequences. The vehicle however is never blamed for the irresponsible actions of the driver.

Isn’t that the same for guns, or knives or blunt instruments or poison or ropes that hang, or drug over doses, or even the sheet that Jerry Epstein used to hang himself? It is the person wielding the instrument that is responsible not the instruments. Are we to ban every item that can cause death or injury? What about learning to be responsible? We meticulously train people how to drive so that they won’t kill themselves or others. Training and education doesn’t eliminate all deaths and accidents but it certainly makes it safer for all of us to drive down the highway. There will always be some who break the rules and put the rest of us at risk, but we are still willing to take that risk and so we continue to drive. Is there a risk? Certainly! All risk can’t be eliminated, not with cars and not with guns. It is unrealistic to think we can make cars and guns 100% safe. But to obsess on gun controls seems as someone once said, “like straightening deck chairs on the Titanic.” We’re focusing on the wrong problem.

Perhaps we need to begin looking at the factors that cause violence and disregard for human life. We need to have an elevated conversation about the break-down of families, fatherlessness in America, a culture that doesn’t value life, social media that breeds contempt, violent video games, Hollywood’s promotion of gun violence, on line bullying, teen anxiety and depression. Where there is a void in values and law, legislation will not deter bad behavior. If the energy and emotion of the recent shootings is not directed forward, driven by principles and values, it will devolve into chaotic motion or even the commotion that we currently see in politicians responses. It is true that emotion propels activity – but activity alone, without direction and forward movement, only ends in more anger, frustration, division and political posturing.

We keep waiting for scientists to prove a correlation between certain factors and gun violence before we act. Remember it took decades before scientists correlated smoking with lung cancer. Common sense will make those correlations if we just listen to it. Just like the car driver that needs education and boundaries with consequences in order to operate a car safely, so does our culture and gun owners need help with the factors that lead to violence. Whatever the reasons are they can be addressed. It is so much easier to focus on the guns rather than the help our culture needs to meet the needs of those who resort to violence. It is difficult to do assessments on persons who commit gun violence because the police kill most of them or they take their own lives. However, I contend that gun control is nothing more than a political football and obscures the problem. Our society needs to look at what we are doing that produces killers. It is not the fault of guns. My experience tells me that whenever we take responsibility away from the person responsible it never ends well. Controlling or taking away guns does exactly that.

Perhaps another reader can present a different point of view.

Kent Pilling Ph.D.

Clinical Psychologist

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