Guns? It’s the system, stupid!

By Milan Vodicka, Ph.D.

I returned from my summer trip to Canada. Upon my return I saw a poignant cartoon. In it, a little son asks, “Mamie, what is a Canadian?” “It is an unarmed North American with health insurance,” she replies.

While I was in Canada, of course, there were mass shooting tragedies in El Paso and Dayton (why on the earth the phrase “of course” jumps to my head in this context?). Dreadful statistics of mass and other shootings are on the Internet. Think! Think! Think! What if everyone applied clearheaded thinking to this problem?

Let me try. First, an analogy for understanding. When a sane person driving a car – in the judiciary jargon “a reasonably prudent person” – sees a possibility or danger of a crash, that person steps on the brakes. This may or may not prevent a crash in that particular situation, depending on many factors. Some are internal to the car (say, the quality of brakes or tires), some external (visibility, weather in general, quality of road surface, and so on). Some are related to the driver (fatigue, experience, alcohol, medications and drugs, the age). However, the fact that everyone, or just about everyone, steps on the brakes unquestionably and in the aggregate reduces the probability of catastrophic crashes.

Please think about this, especially if you would happen to be a proponent of unlimited gun ownership and use. As a car driver, you can use the car for its purpose (driving), but the car has a braking system, to be used when the situation warrants. Imagine cars without breaks. Or the drivers who do not know how to use them. This is about where we are, as a society, with guns.

Here is another fundamental and undeniable (for any reasonably prudent thinking person) fact: the car, the driver, and the external conditions operate as a system. Take away or change any component of this system and/or any relation among them and the whole picture will become different. As a simplification, consider just a gasoline powered car and its fuel, gasoline. The gasoline without the car and the car without the gasoline do not have the capacity to drive. The capacity to drive emerges as a systemic property when those two components are put together, in a proper relationship.

Let me be explicit what I am talking about, in relation to applying the “driver plus car plus external conditions” analogy to the “person plus gun plus external conditions” system. When I say a “person” I mean heretofore a “law abiding citizen,” currently with essentially unlimited and unchecked access to guns. When I say “gun” or “guns” I mean high capacity military grade weapons, such as the AR-15.

When catastrophe is looming ahead, step on the brakes! How do we do that with the potentially killing system of humans and guns? You may note that in the current environment the proposed approaches and formulated causes are fragmented – for some it is mental health or video games, for others access to guns, for yet others hateful speech, and on and on. Samantha Bee titled her show “it’s the guns, stupid!” – and she is right, yet not completely. The lethal cocktail is created by the person, the gun, the environment, and their relationships! All of them, together! The system!

In light of the systemic approach, four columns with headings “person,” “gun,” “environment,” and “relationships” would be helpful. The possible causes and partial solutions would be classified under these headings. Inevitably, the “solutions” are only partial. They may not prevent any specific incident, but they will decrease the probability (likelihood) that incidents happen.

The incomplete list of some “breaking,” or potentially breaking elements of this so far disastrous system that come to mind: Under “a person” – licensing (by law, we have to obtain driver’s license, right?), training, education. Under “a gun,” outright ban or availability limitations, safety measures (fingerprint trigger, it works on the iPhone, right?) For “relationships,” background check for previous records of criminality or mental illness, liability insurance, age limitations (a person under 21 cannot buy a beer, but a gun is OK?)

And please, do not speak gun “control.” It is gun safety, just like car safety. Nobody calls seat belts car control. Work to apply all available measures – it is the most effective way.

Ultimately, it’s the system, stupid! In Canada and other countries, they do not have these almost daily terrible mass shooting tragedies. We should not have them either.

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