ASK Musings

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Guns Archive



October 2014



So. Tired.

Written by , Posted in Politics

Today I took a break from my Ebola preparedness work to check the news. And I saw that there was another school shooting, at a high school in the county just north of ours. My first thought was to see if this was looking like a mass fatality incident, and if it would make sense for me to call up and offer some assistance. It looks like ‘only’ two people (including the shooter) are dead, but others are severely wounded.

Are you guys tired? Because I am. I’m tired of gun violence in my community. I’m tired of the gun violence that gets the news coverage (suburban school shootings where ‘you don’t expect it’), and the gun violence that doesn’t get the news coverage (the shootings in areas where, apparently, it’s totally okay for the media to suggest that ‘you expect it’). We have an election in our state next week where there is an initiative on the ballot requiring background checks for sales at gun shows, and I will be voting for it. I love what Allison Kilkenny says in her book #Newsfail: this isn’t about gun control, this is about massacre prevention.

I don’t know how to express how frustrating this is, and how sad I am for the families, the school and the community. Some things you just can’t prevent, either because there’s nothing that can be done, or the cost of prevention would be just too high. This is not one of these instances. There are things we can do, and the costs are not too high.

[content note: guns]



April 2013



Complicated Thoughts on Boston

Written by , Posted in Politics

After the events of last week I was reading through Twitter and saw an old classmate of mine posting about it. We ended up having a somewhat heated exchange after I interpreted a tweet of his as a suggesting that the Boston ‘man hunt’ was motivated primarily by American blood lust. Instead of asking for clarification or perhaps an article he could link to that matched his thinking, I somewhat flippantly said that the search for the Boston suspects may have just been motivated by people not wanting to get blown up anymore.

That was not the best response to his tweets. It would have been much better if I’d asked him to tell me how he thinks Boston should have been handled. Was he suggesting that the pictures of the suspects should not have been made public? Was he suggesting that this was acceptable because the U.S. government has employed explosives in other countries? Or was he saying that we should not be upset when those same countries come after our military, because those situations are similar to Boston? Even with a few qualifying tweets from him I still am not clear on what his overall thesis is, and I don’t feel like Twitter is the best place for that discussion anyway.

So, why am I sharing this? Well, in addition to it being a great reminder of how (not) to interact with others on Twitter, that exchange also got my mind going to a more philosophical place than it was the week of April 15. Between the Boston marathon bombings and the West Texas explosion, my brain was mostly focused on the emergency management response. An unfortunate side affect of my work is that instead of viewing these incidents ‘as a human’, as one kind co-worker said, I ended up viewing them as an emergency manager. How quickly were patients distributed to hospitals? Did they set up a reception center for family members who couldn’t find them? Did they have a phone number for the public? What were they telling them? And who was providing that information?

But now that I’ve had some time to reflect and read some of the articles out there, I am becoming more aware of my own thoughts about the incident itself and what it says (or maybe doesn’t say) about our society and what we value. I am interested in how we make our decisions about what is unacceptable (a bomb that kills three people) and what is a seen as a legitimate cost of living in our society (assault weapons being available). If someone kills three people and injures 200 more, the city is shut down and people are calling for the arrested suspect to be treated as an ‘enemy combatant’ and denied rights, and holding them up as a reason why we should not allow immigration to this country (or something – sometimes it’s hard to follow the ‘logic’ of people like Lindsey Graham). Meanwhile, if someone kills 27 people (including 20 small children), he’s just ‘mentally ill’, and there should be no action taken at all to try to prevent someone’s ability to replicate that act.

How can we rationalize the willingness to lock down neighborhoods in an attempt to stop someone who has killed three people while simultaneously suggesting that it’s too invasive to require background checks before people can purchase guns? To me it seems ideologically inconsistent. And meanwhile, the West explosion in Texas killed 14 people and may have been caused by lack of regulatory inspection and corporate negligence, but there’s been no manhunt for the owner of that facility, no calls to properly fund the government oversight organizations that could best regularly inspect such facilities.

When I was in school in London one of our areas of study was perceived versus actual risk, and to me that seems to be pretty clearly in play with these issues. For example, people fear flying even though statistically they are more likely to die in a car crash than an aviation accident. When someone dies at a train crossing, people clamor for more barriers no matter the cost, even though few people are dying that way. And yet, when precautions that could save literally tens of thousands of lives are suggested, people shy away from them. It’s also interesting to think about how we view lives close to us (whether in our towns or country, or if they look like us) versus lives across the ocean. Peter Singer wrote about this extensively in “The Life You Can Save”; I highly recommend it.

Many people wiser than me have written much more interesting articles about this issue. I’m going to keep reading their articles and really thinking about what happened last week – the bombings, the West explosion, the gun vote and the suspect detention. If you have any further interest, below are some articles I found really interesting.

Rania Khalek:

Glen Greewald:

Michael Cohen:

Owen Jones:–some-deaths-matter-more-than-others-8581715.html



January 2011



Critical Thinking, or Why The Interwebs Make Me Want to Yell

Written by , Posted in Politics

I recognize that there are dangers with overcomplicating things – Occam’s razor and all that. Simplicity is seen by many scientists and philosophers as a criterion that strengthens a theory. However, I think that this same simplicity argument can lead to people not taking a critical look at complicated social issues. The recent violence in Tucson has reminded me of this.

What has gotten me thinking about this lately is this comment that has been circulating on Facebook as of late:
To everyone who is calling for stricter gun laws in light of the tragedy in Tucson, may I offer this little tidbit: If guns kill people, then pencils misspell words, cars drive drunk, and spoons make people fat. Remember: Hold the person accountable for their actions, not the means they chose to utilize!!! Re-post if you agree.”

There is so much wrong about this statement that my mind boggles. First, I believe much of the discussion these days is on the ammunition, not the guns themselves, so this post makes me think the original author may not be fully engaged in the debate. Beyond that, I find it extremely frustrating that so many people seem to be refusing to examine the possibility that certain regulations and laws could be helpful and instead are falling back on simple (and false) analogies. 

Let’s look at the first part of this ‘tidbit’: equating ammunition with pencils, cars and spoons. First, the car argument is actually not a bad analogy – if one can’t be trusted to not drive drunk, then getting rid of the car would be one possible way of addressing the problem of that particular drunk driver. So  yes, actually, I do support not allowing those who are drunk to access their cars. 

I am having trouble addressing the pencil and spoon argument – misspelled words aren’t usually life and death, so that’s a silly analogy. And obesity is such an amazingly complicated situation that I almost see where this metaphor would work – except the thing is, if there were something in spoons causing death akin to huge ammo magazines causing death then perhaps spoons should be examined as part of the solution to health disparities. But somehow I doubt that the person who came up with this pithy analogy would agree.

The second part is equally annoying – this idea that if society chooses to look at ALL the ways that such violence as the Tucson shooting could be prevented in the future, this necessarily means that the person who committed the act is not being held responsible. The two ideas are not mutually exclusive. In fact, focusing ONLY on the person strikes me as a very careless way to handle this type of violence. If we don’t understand what led to the action, how on earth can we expect to prevent it in the future? I’d imagine many people are familiar with the dangers of only treating the symptoms of a disease, rather than the disease itself. I concur – if I have a broken arm, some Advil isn’t going to fix it. However, if I have a broken arm, I’d like surgery to fix it, as well as Advil to help address the pain. Similarly, I’d like to figure out a way to address the issues of those who are prone to violence, as well as keep massive amounts of ammunition out of their hands. It’s a multi-pronged approach that recognizes there is no simple solution. 

Unfortunately, in this case, that requires the same people who refuse to consider the dangers of guns to recognize that there are reasons for violence beyond ‘evil’ or people being ‘bad.’ The world is not often black and white, and this insistence that it is seems to me to be leading people to turn off that part of their brain that involves critical thinking and to grasp at analogies such as the one above.

To be clear: I am not deaf to the idea that perhaps different gun laws are not a good idea. I’m still reading and learning and thinking through how to reconcile them with the constitution. Although, as an aside, I really enjoyed Rachel Maddow’s argument on this front – if the 2nd amendment argument is that we need guns so we can overthrow the government if needed, then we really should start allowing everyone the ability to own the exact same weapons the US military owns. That’s the only way it works. Because right now unless we all have some grenades, and some bombs, we certainly won’t be overthrowing the government. Are you okay with that? I’m not.

I am, however, also not swayed by ill-formed and ultimately inaccurate metaphors. If one is going to speak in the sound bites that Facebook and Twitter require, I think it might make sense to limit that to links to well-informed arguments, or statements that can be backed up by some critical thought and serious discussion. Hiding behind sad attempts to sound pithy only magnifies the ignorance.