Guns Revisited by Al Sikes

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“Impossible.” In early April in the aftermath of the Parkland school shooting, I recommended requiring password controlled trigger locks on guns—think smartphone. One Letter to the Editor called such a plan impossible.

Outrage can convert impossible to possible. The pivotal question is what it takes for a strong majority of voters to be outraged. If the Parkland tragedy was not sufficient, what about the Santa Fe school shooting? Or, the ones to come that will further numb our minds? Can society be so deadened as to become supine?

According to an article in the Washington Post, there has been more loss of life as a result of school shootings than soldiers killed in our several wars during 2018. Is this a possible tipping point? And, what happens at the tipping point?

Guns have a mythological and practical imprint on the minds of a majority of Americans. And, as day-to-day living appears to be more hazardous, many believe a gun is necessary for defense. Also, guns cannot be taken away without a constitutional amendment, and that is truly impossible.

Sure, we can tinker on the edges with stronger permit requirements and place limitations on assault rifles and high capacity magazines, but that will not eliminate the gun as the weapon of choice. We should keep in mind that the most recent Texas shooting, which left ten dead, was carried out with a pistol and a shotgun.

Years ago a Polish-American friend told me of a recent trip back to visit relatives in Poland. He was a cigar smoker, and while there pitched a plastic lighter, he had been using into a waste can because the gas capsule was spent. His relatives were alarmed, retrieved the lighter and said they would find a way to put it to productive use. Poland, in the 1970s, was not a throw-away economy.

Yet in America, we queue up to get the latest generation of a smartphone, or hot toy, or an opening night ticket to a just-released science fiction movie. In each instance, we pay a premium price. But, when it comes to gun safety technology, there will be no queue absent a government initiative.

When it comes to the military, we spend billions each year on research and development to protect ourselves from foreign threats. What about a modest investment in gun safety?

We spend billions each year (through tax subsidies) on a range of environmentally friendly technologies. What about creating demand for gun safety technologies? Demand drives innovation and lowers costs. We might add to any gun safety initiative free installation of a safety device along with a law that protects those who use a safety device from liability.

As we awaken to the latest mass shooting, most people are aghast at the nihilistic spawn of our popular culture. But here we are; embarrassed, befuddled and regretful yet subordinated to the culture and an echo chamber of advocacy.

Cultural cycles have long tails. Nobody knows how long it will take for a true counter-culture to gain momentum or what that movement will look like.

Nihilism says that life, and living itself, is meaningless; certainly killing innocents and then yourself is mirror image conduct. An opposite culture would have as it’s bedrock a belief that life has inherent meaning. The critical mass of cultural signals would be life-affirming.

In the meantime, those who read talking points from the National Rifle Association should not disguise impotency with loud talk.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

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