Saturday, December 22, 2012

What will it take before we learn?

This post isn't likely to be funny (I know, I know: Why start now?).  Many of you know I have a kindergartener so the shooting in Newtown, CT earlier this month really affected me.  For days I couldn't read a news article or hear a TV report without tears streaming down my face.  Of course my first thought was that this could only been committed by a monster, someone who looked human but wasn't.  The problem there is once you've created a demon it's easy to blame, easy to hate, and easy to dismiss.  Life doesn't work that way.   Clearly the shooter was ill to the point of needing a new word to describe his illness, but he was still just a person with access to deadly force far beyond what he could handle.

Would an assault weapons ban have prevented Newtown?  Or Columbine?  Or Aurora?  Or Virginia Tech?  It's impossible to know.  But the attack in China on December 14th, where 22 grade school children were stabbed yet all 22 survived, is a pretty good indicator that such a ban would have made the attack far less likely and almost certainly less deadly.  You see China doesn't allow citizens to own guns so all the attacker had was a knife.  Sure, knives can be deadly but as an able bodied adult if someone comes at me wielding one I have a good chance of dodging, fighting back and maybe winning.  And if I don't win the next victim has a better chance if I've weakened the attacker.  A gunman can kill from across the room without giving me a chance.  And he can do it a hell of a lot faster with large clips and semi or fully automatic weapons.

Could Adam Lanza have used a bomb instead?  Maybe.  Would he have blown himself up in the process of making the bomb?  Quite possibly since you can't walk into Walmart and buy a ready-made bomb.  Some assembly is required and extremely dangerous as police statistics (and reason) prove.  But that isn't even the point.  Keeping military-grade weapons away from common citizens means they can't be used to kill which of course is the entire reason they were designed and built.

The debate is strikingly similar to that about climate change.  Did global warming cause Hurricane Sandy?  Or Katrina?  Or Irene?  Probably not.  Did it make them more likely and more destructive?  Obviously.

Want an analogy you can use with your friends?  Assume baseball player X is taking steroids.  Can you point to any individual home run and attribute it to doping?  Of course not, but it does make that kind of massive hit far more likely.  It's the same with climate change's impact on storm frequency and ferocity as well as gun safety/control.    Sandy wasn't caused by global warming any more than Newtown was caused by an AR15.  But they were certainly amplified by them.

So how do we turn down the volume on both?  Clearly the US government can't confiscate all ~300,000,000 guns for a dozen different reasons.  Nor can we completely releasing CO2 and other greenhouse gases.  But we can limit and remove the biggest offenders: semi-automatic rifles, large capacity clips, armor piercing bullets; coal power plants, low-grade diesel, leaky natural gas wells.  None of that will happen without government leadership and guidance - and after all isn't that what it's for?  To protect the population from enemies foreign and domestic?

I've heard the arguments against both and they're the same hollow bullshit.  Europe and China have proven that green technology is a net job producer.  Yes, some coal miners will lose their jobs but aren't coal mines usually in the mountains?  Where there's an abundance of wind?  (Oh, yeah - some of the coal companies have leveled those mountains.  Oops.)  How about putting them to work building wind turbines and power lines?  Manufacturing is surging in the US so put a factory in what are now coal mining towns.  They're certainly an abundance of energy and ready labor.  Green is the next economic boom and if we skip it we'll be sitting out the economic surge of the next decade or more.

By the same token, the 2nd amendment guarantees the right to "keep and bear arms" but read all of it and you'll see that it starts off justifying such ownership, stating that a well regulated militia is "necessary to the security of a free state."  A) We have a professional defense force now so a militia is as necessary as the muskets they once carried; and B) it clearly says "well regulated".  Anyone who says the Constitution guarantees the right to own any weapon is either misinformed, has poor reading comprehension, or is lying.  Besides, we already have gun control - I can't buy a grenade launcher or a howitzer or a nuclear warhead.  (Yet, right NRA?) So we're not debating whether to have gun control, we're trying to find the line between "I want to kill deer" and "I want to kill people."

The current course can't continue.  As horrific and soul-searing as Newtown was the best thing we can do to honor the memory of those 20 children and 6 adults is reduce the chance this happens again.  Likewise if we don't start taming climate change then hurricane Sandy will seem like a fond memory and all of the people who lost everything will have done so in vain, never mind the wasted billions.  We need to learn from these situations otherwise we're no better than the bird that keeps flying into your window.  No, wait.  The bird eventually learns. Or dies.

Neither of these challenges can be conquered immediately, or easily, or without sacrifice.   But the survival of our culture and society as we know it depend on it.  One day our grandchildren will look at us and wonder why we didn't start working on climate change or gun violence sooner.  At least I hope they do.  Because if we don't start soon who knows what kind of world they'll inherit or whether we'll have those grandchildren at all.