Are guns really the problem?

On Dec.14, 2012, Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, with a Bushmaster XM-15 E2S assault rifle and opened fire on the school’s children and staff. Lanza killed 20 children, six staff members and his own mother before turning the gun on himself. Five months prior, on July 20, James Holmes booby-trapped his apartment, gathered 6 295 rounds of ammunition and went to the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado. As the lights dimmed, Holmes opened fire on the packed theatre with an AR-15 assault rifle, two Glock handguns and a shotgun, killing 12 people.

These incidents have created a feverish public uproar. Why are these massacres taking place? For many, the answer to this question is simple: guns. Guns are to blame, and reactionary citizens, news outlets and politicians alike are calling for stricter regulations. United States President Barack Obama is working on pushing legislation through Congress that would make guns more difficult to purchase and to own. Meanwhile, a Google search of the topic “gun control” will offer all kinds of reasons why Sandy Hook and Aurora could have been avoided through improved gun control — particularly tighter control of the always controversial staple of gun debate: the assault rifle.

The primary argument appears to be that if Lanza and Holmes did not have access to assault weapons, these incidents would not have occurred. There is, however, a problem with this reasoning; namely, that taking away an angry killer’s gun will make him no less angry and no less a killer. Lanza and Holmes both suffered from so-far undisclosed mental illnesses, and at some point they each made the decision to commit a massacre. Would taking away their guns have stopped them?

The answer is, likely, no. Guns aren’t the only means of committing a massacre. Imagine a world where Lanza and Holmes put their efforts not into learning the ins and outs of assault weapons, but rather, of fertilizer bombs. The pressure wave of an average fertilizer bomb travels 343 metres per second — powerful enough to cause immediate death and damage to a building’s structural integrity. A YouTube search will show you how devastating even a 35-kilogram variant can be, and a quick Google search will tell you exactly how to make one. Lanza and Holmes, if this were their method, could figure this out in a heartbeat and perhaps even increase the death counts of their respective massacres. The Oklahoma City Bombings, which killed 168 people, were perpetrated with exactly this kind of bomb. Fertilizer bombs continue to be used in Afghanistan as improvised explosive devices to this day.

Some will question the relevance of this argument, given that assault weapons are used solely for assault on human beings. Civilians are not supposed to need these kinds of weapons. Wouldn’t we still be better off without them?

For one thing, these weapons are being advocated against because they play a role in massacres, but I believe that massacres happen anyway. I believe massacres happen because we live in a world that sets people up to lead lives that they hate, to hate themselves, to feel alone and unloved and to be so starved for attention and so angry at the world that they do something horrific. I believe the best way to prevent massacres is through social change, better health and well-being and better social support. Taking away weapons won’t stop people from committing these kinds of acts; it will just change their method. Taking away weapons is a distraction from the real issue: that for some people, the world really, really sucks.

Secondly, I believe that people should have a right to own assault weapons to defend themselves against other people with assault weapons. It may seem paranoid or delusional to think that one day you may need such a weapon to protect yourself from the secret police, but it probably doesn’t seem crazy to Soviet-era Russians. Sometimes governments kill citizens; sometimes they do it en masse. Occasionally, insurgent groups gain power, and some commit genocide. You deserve a means to defend yourself should the unthinkable happen. We shouldn’t allow the government to have a monopoly over assault weapons because, historically speaking, they can’t be trusted any more than the rest of us.

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