Category Archives: gun laws

Kids with guns

No, this isn’t a reference to the song by Gorillaz. It’s a reference to a Tasmanian government report that has been leaked to the press. It apparently suggests allowing children between the ages of 12 and 16 years old to use guns if they live in remote farming areas.

I am a lifelong city-slicker who supports gun control. So my knee-jerk reaction is immediately to conclude: No way, Jose! Having said that, I haven’t read the report and seen why it argues that such a measure should be taken. Perhaps it concludes that children on remote farms use guns anyway, so it’s better to have a policy of “harm minimisation” rather than banning the use of guns altogether.

Which brings a funny question to mind. Making a gross generalisation, why do the “Left” and the “Right” have diametrically opposed and contradictory attitudes to drugs and guns? The Left generally favour deregulation of drug use and “harm minimisation” in relation to the use of drugs by children. The Right generally believe we should be tough on drugs.

On the other hand, the Right generally believe that we should deregulate gun use, and some of the American Right, at least, believe that children should be taught to use guns safely (“harm minimisation”). The Left generally believe that we should be tough on guns.

Now that I think about this, the inconsistency seems weird. Aren’t drugs and guns both dangerous? Any thoughts/comments welcome. What is the relevant distinction?

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Filed under children, gun laws, law, law reform, politics, society

Why?

“Acts of God”, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, random acts of violence…they are all terrifying. We can’t predict when such things will happen, and we can’t easily control them. It is for this reason that airplanes are more scary than cars. Although statistically, many more people have car accidents than have airplane accidents, we are not in control when we are a passenger of an aircraft. It is also for this reason that a random senseless massacre attracts more media attention than a war.

Ever since I was little, I have wondered why bad things happen to good or innocent people. No religion has ever been able to answer this question adequately for me. Why would a loving God allow this to happen to His people? The book of Job attempts to answer this question in part.

Many religions (including Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism) say that God must allow free will. The great medieval Rabbi Maimonides (aka the Rambam) posed the question as follows:

The Holy One, Blessed Be He, knows everything that will happen before it has happened, so does He know whether a particular person will be righteous or wicked, or not? If He does know, then it will be impossible for that person not to be righteous. If He knows that he will be righteous but that it is possible for him to be wicked, then He doesn’t know everything that He has created. …God’s existence is beyond the comprehension of Man. …[W]e do not have the capabilities to comprehend how the Holy One, Blessed Be He, knows all creations and events. Know without doubt that people do what they want without the Holy One, Blessed Be He, forcing or decreeing upon them to do so. Do not accept this fact solely because of religious acceptance, but out of common sense. It has been said because of this that a man is judged according to all his actions – if they are good or bad. This is the principle on which all prophecies are dependant.

(Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Teshuva 5:5)

So Maimonides said that God must allow people free will, otherwise the universe cannot exist. If God decides who is good and bad beforehand, it is impossible for anyone to grow and change and learn. What is the point in behaving well towards others if this is so? But if we can decide whether we behave in a good or a bad way, God can no longer be omnipotent and omnipresent. So God must allow us free will.

All well and good: but I am by nature a meddler. I want to help people. I feel empathy. I sit and consider: if there is a God, how can He bring Himself not to meddle? What about cases where people die not because of their own actions, but because of a terrible accident, a freak of nature, a terrorist plot, a psychopath? How can God bring Himself not to intervene? Perhaps He did intervene, but I just don’t know how what His “big picture” is. Still, it seems unfair to the blameless victims.

I think of these questions in the light of the recent terrible shooting at Virginia Tech. How can someone do that to his fellow human beings, in cold blood? I even feel guilt in the rare moments when I squash a spider. I am freaked out by the notion that I can cause it to transform from “living” to “not-living” within a second. What terrible disconnection happened in this guy’s brain that he did not feel that horror? This is something I have never understood. It is why I will never be sympathetic to suicide bombers or organisations which condone terrorist attacks. I don’t care what the cause is. I abhor such behaviour, because it suggests a total lack of empathy towards innocent human beings.

What about other terrible events which happen daily, but which do not receive so much coverage (eg, people starving to death, people dying in wars)? I read an interesting idea the other day which said that we find it harder to “connect” with starvation and wars in distant places in the relatively peaceful, prosperous Western world. In contrast, I find it very easy to imagine how it must have been at Virginia Tech; indeed, I taught a class at a university campus today. We can easily “connect” with the familiar environment within which the events took place. It is the random nature of the event which is unfamiliar. It both fascinates and terrifies.

Certainly, I think that it is necessary to try to control gun ownership of civilians, but even that will not entirely prevent such tragedies. And it is hard to see how control of gun-ownership would work in the USA, where a culture of a “right to bear arms” is so prevalent. At the least, I think it should be tried, but I don’t see that happening any time soon. Even if other students had been allowed to bear arms, would they have been able to shoot down this guy? Such an argument seems fallacious to me – who is going to take a gun along to a German tute? Surely it’s better to try and prevent the tragedy happening in the first place? Of course, by restricting gun ownership, one restricts the freedom of all because of the lunacy of a few, but I’d rather have that than allow the lunatics to have semi-automatic weapons. {How come some on the “Right” are in favour of extreme limitations on various freedoms in response to the terrorist threat, but would balk at extreme limitations of gun ownership in response to the threat of a random loner-lunatic? Just a thought – I’d be interested to read any comments.}

It is in the nature of such things that I will never really get an answer to my question of Why? I cannot know all creations and events, and I cannot know the secret heart of humankind. All I can do is express my sympathy to those who suffer.

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Filed under good and evil, gun laws, morality, religion, society