02 October 2015

Look beyond guns

If it's not about guns, what is it about?

No country, culture, state or society is perfect. All have their share of problems which are complex, multi-layered, and rooted in history. This is what makes governance and social responsibility so difficult - there is no simple solution. As the details trickle in this morning regarding the shooting at at Oregon's Umpqua Community College, the tragic inhumanity of these events, like clockwork, are cannibalised by the why, how and what now questions which are impossible not to ponder. Why did this happen, how can we stop it and what can we do to prevent them in the future? It's a noble path for the discourse to follow, but almost always, when discussion should be based on socioeconomic policy and how to address and support the most discriminated, impoverished , sick, abused, deranged and neglected people in our society, it's instead narrowly focused on a single topic - the amount of guns Americans can have.

President Obama solemnly addresses the nation urging people to rethink gun culture. Image retrieved from the Sydney Morning Herald.

Whether you believe gun regulation in the US needs to be made freer or tougher, it's important to understand that these shootings, are terrible outcomes of a much wider array of issues and that drawing a circle around guns and claiming that Americans would be either more, or less safe if gun laws changed is so conflicting and complex that the discussion almost becomes moot.

What's more important is for the American public to reflect critically on itself and examine what its government and civilians are doing wrong and make that the conversation. It's reality that these types of tragedies don't happen in other wealthy, democratic, capitalist countries anywhere close to US frequency. Yes, gun provisions are different in America but not only are they just one point of discussion, but they're closer to the outcome of the problem rather than the cause. Focusing only on guns as a solution to violence is akin to looking only to medicine as a solution to poor health.

So what else is there? What are the other issues at the root cause of violent tragedy in America, or any other nation for that matter. Is it mental health? Poor rehabilitation of prisoners? Inefficiencies in law enforcement? Struggling education? Socioeconomic inequality? Any democratic society needs to understand that it's purpose and strength as a democracy is to debate and hold leadership accountable for the incredibly complex problems they face and a democracy can only thrive if it's informed.

Most pro gun Americans are absolutely right in communicating the point that banning guns probably wouldn't work because it's a much more complicated issue than that. But, at the same time, legislating for freer attainment of guns wouldn't all of a sudden keep everyone safe either. Think of a far more universal random crime that occurs in western countries that is still senseless and tragic such as a stabbing, rape or unarmed assault and battery. Would these events be prevented if nearby civilians, the perpatrators, or the victims had firearms on them at the time? Possibly, but the alternative possibility of things being much worse can't be dismissed any easier. Whether guns are present, in and of itself, is irrelevant.

If it's not about guns, it's not about guns. But it has to be about something. The saddest thing (aside from those being harmed of course) is that so many people act as if nothing can be done because these things just happen. Strive to be better, and care for your people. 

What the rest of the world needs to do is be understanding and keep conversation respectful and intelligent. Blaming American gun policy again over simplifies it. Even worse, blaming American gun culture is like implying that they deserve it. Like criticising a rape victim for how much they were dressed.

These are highly complex social issues that are culminating in the worst possible outcome. That outcome cannot be confused with the cause. People are broke, people are starving, people are sick and not getting treated, and people are being abused and not being helped. These are the issues we as people need to dedicate our attention to. They're deeper, more complex and require more voices, understanding and time, but they are what moves a democracy forward.