By WILLIAM P. HOJNACKI
6:48 AM EST, January 27, 2013
The terrible violence that took place in Newtown, Conn., in December has once again rekindled a very old discussion concerning gun control. Because of the horrific nature of the shootings at Sandy Hill Elementary School this discussion may last a little longer than similar discussions have in the past and there may even be some new legislation passed by Congress, but in time this discussion will fade and nothing fundamental will change.
I believe that the U.S. Supreme Court was wrong when it, in essence, said that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution did indeed guarantee that citizens had a right to keep and bear arms. I will not get into that discussion here, but perhaps in the future a different court will revisit this decision and come to a different conclusion. The scary part is that there is presumably no limit. If the Second Amendment gives people the right to own handguns and assault rifles do they not also have right to own rocket launchers, battleships and keep a drone with a warhead in their garage?
At the end of the day it probably does not matter what the Supreme Court has decided or what it may decide in the future. As we found out with our experiment with Prohibition in the 1920s, and the way people disregard speed limits today, no legal restriction can be effective unless the vast majority of the population voluntarily complies with it. The fact is that guns are part of American history and have become embedded in our culture. It is not likely to change anytime soon. In any case, guns are only part of the problem.
Violence is as much a part of our way of life as is love, hope and charity. We not only tolerate violence but we embrace it. Guns are only the most visible and the most deadly way in which the violence embedded in our culture is manifested.
From sports such as, football, boxing and professional hockey, to the routinely reported incidents of road rage, bar fights and muggings, we see, feel and tolerate violence every single day. Movie and television violence has become common place and the most popular video games are the ones where the "good guys" run around killing the "bad guys."
The National Rifle Association is probably the most powerful lobby in the United States, not because it has more money or smarter lobbyists than other groups, but because it has millions of passionate members and other supporters. They will keep and promote gun ownership regardless of what the law or the Constitution says. With this current discussion, we may be able to figure out a way of reducing the number of guns and lethal ammunition that end in the hands of dangerous people, but that will not solve the basic problem, which is that a large majority of Americans not only tolerate violence but embrace it when, in their judgment, circumstances call for it.
I propose that we take a systemic look at the role that violence in general, and gun violence in particular, plays out in our daily lives. I further propose that we start thinking about violence in the same way we came to think about smoking: that it is a public health issue that will require the public to come to grips with the seriousness of the problem.
It took more than 50 years from the time the first studies were published indicating that smoking was harmful to society to get us where we are today. It will probably take longer to come to the realization that violence is a public health issue and that we need to take steps to deal with it.
The place to start is with a nationwide discussion about the root causes of violence in our society and to identify those factors that contribute to it. Although this discussion should be on a nation-wide basis, it should take place simultaneously in every community across the country. The easy availability of weapons should be part of these discussions, as should the role of drugs, gangs and mental instability. We need to better understand the psychology of violence.
William P. Hojnacki is a professor emeritus of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University South Bend.
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