Paradox and complexity are bright line markers for our time.
It might shock you to know that we live in a time in which there are amazing drops in the scope and frequency of violence on every scale in almost every place on the planet, including our country. Steven Pinker, a Harvard neuro/cognitive systems guru, wrote The Better Angels of Our Nature, a book that highlights this surprising reality.
"Believe it or not -- and I know that most people do not -- violence has declined over long stretches of time, and today we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species' existence," he wrote. "The decline, to be sure, has not been smooth; it has not brought violence down to zero, and, it is not guaranteed to continue. But it is an unmistakable development, visible on scales from millennia to years, from the waging of wars to the spanking of children.
"No aspect of life is untouched by the retreat from violence. Daily existence is very different if you always have to worry about being abducted, raped, or killed, and it's hard to develop sophisticated arts, learning, or commerce if the institutions that support them are looted and burned as quickly as they are built."
But at the same time, we have much evidence that America's conflation of unremarkable rates of ordinary conflict and petty violence (Pinker and others claim stoutly that every society has an underlying rate of baseline mayhem) are augmented greatly by increasingly lethal, increasingly available gun technologies. Put these things together with our failure to intervene in the lives and minds of those who are capable of using lethal gizmos at random, and we get wave after wave of mass killings.
On Wednesday, October 2 at 7pm, All Souls Unitarian Church -- 2952 S. Peoria Ave. -- will host a discussion on gun violence and what Oklahomans are thinking and doing about it. The panel at the core of the discussion is organized, in part, by the Tulsa chapter of Moms. The panel includes: Sabine Brown, co-founder of the Oklahoma chapter and leader of Moms Demand; Dr. Robert Block, professor, pediatrician, and immediate past president of the American Academy of Pediatrics; Ron Palmer, a former Tulsa Police chief and CEO of Palmer Security Consulting; Dr. Lori Whelan, assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Oklahoma; Patti Ferguson-Palmer, veep of the Tulsa Classroom Teachers' Association; and Rex Berry, founder of the Oklahoma Chapter of States United to Prevent Gun Violence, a retired Tulsa police officer, and a veteran international trainer and consultant who has worked abroad on policing and security practices.
Here & There
Aurora, Newtown and now the Naval Yards massacre in Washington: all spasms of killing that signify America's dysfunctional engagement with gun violence, which continues with no slowdown in prospect.
The Newtown episode sparked a searching examination in Washington and across the country of the role of guns in our culture (the nexus of shooting machines to mental health), unconstrained gun access, and the propulsive drive of new legislation, like the "Stand Your Ground" act in Florida and 21 other American states, and a slew of concealed and open carry gun laws. All these pieces look to be artless, if unavoidable parts of the future for a country that seemingly values every imaginable freedom -- except the right to be free of gun violence.
Newtown was followed by an extremely focused look at possible solutions to random gun violence. Nothing much has happened -- testament to the paralysis that is our only answer so far to a problem from hell.
Drug War Rollback & Guns
I've been party to several informal local discussions in town recently on the consequences of Atty. Gen. Eric Holder's announced intention to modify mandatory sentences for drug crimes, including jail time rules for small weed usage and low-volume trafficking offenses. As it happens, these new sentencing and incarceration rules may slow down the pace of our immensely damaging, largely unsuccessful, monumentally expensive war on drugs. The new Obama/Holder re-look may be one way, a high yield path for getting a handle on a part of the gun violence mess: much evidence suggests that our drug wars drive a big part of America's "retail" gun violence problem.
It's also obvious that many of the bloody episodes we've witnessed in the last ten years or so have little to do with drugs and our so-called war on same: it's hard to know what to do about blood storms like Aurora, Newtown and the Naval Yard killings. Maybe a new, inventive, more nuanced look at public health delivery and providing vastly improved mental health to people in need of it is part of the answer: this will surely be part of the discussion at All Souls.
Rev. Barbara Prose, an assistant minister at All Souls, told me last week that her hope was that the gun forum could be a sort of "free space." Few are really available for a civil, first-rate discussion on gun violence. She also said that the panel might be a spot where the surprisingly large number of people who have been touched by gun violence could lend their voices.
A New Hell?
Unfortunately, we are about to enter a new realm: a time when guns, including new wave assault weapons and massive ammunition-augmented devices will be "spawned" -- actually "printed" using still evolving 3-D production systems and advanced rapid prototyping machines. This prospect will allow outlaws, small posse terrorists, and connected whacks who wouldn't even pass a simple background check to arm themselves in monstrous ways.
So whatever we might cook up in Washington or elsewhere about constricting access to guns or enacting new licensing and control mechanisms to keep them out of the hands of dangerous people may fall off the table when serious 3-D production of guns gets underway, which might be very, very soon.
Will these wild-ass and dreadful "democratizing" developments swamp any gains that might come from assault weapons prohibitions, improved mental heath gambits, background checks and improved gun registration?
It's a race between the dark side of human ingenuity, Steven Pinkers' hopeful world of civil enlightenment, and moral evolution -- maybe light will win out somehow.
Share this article: