I grew up in California. Had close friends who attended the University of California at Santa Barbara. Stayed with them in their apartments in Isla Vista. And yet I don’t have much to add to any conversation about the place of guns in American society that takes as its point of departure a mass public murder spree by a deranged/mentally ill/evil (take your pick) person. Who, it should be noted, also used a knife and car as weapons.
To me these spree killings are really anomalous events. As much as we desperately want to do something to understand and reduce them, they are not great moments during which to make broad public policies.
Although many are jumping in to ask for greater gun control, as I noted in an earlier post, California’s gun laws already receive the highest grade in the country given by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and California is #1 in the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence’s ranking of state gun laws (i.e., it’s laws are the most restrictive). Santa Barbara County does not issue concealed weapon permits to ordinary citizens except under extraordinary circumstances. (Consequently, according to data collected by the Calguns Foundation, there were only 39 Santa Barbara Co. permitees in 2013, down from 46 in 2012. By comparison, where I live in Forsyth Co. of North Carolina, there are over 7,000 concealed handgun permitees, and almost 100,000 fewer people than in Santa Barbara Co.)
Despite California’s restrictive gun laws, violence is still perpetrated on innocent people. It is a cliche to say that “freedom isn’t free,” but I increasingly see that one of the costs of the vast freedom we have in American society is a certain level of risk. Japan is sometimes held up as a model of gun control with its absolute ban on handguns and its very low murder rate, but its extremely high suicide rate suggests a society and culture that is not totally worthy of emulation.
Because so many of the recent spree killers (Tucson, Aurora, Newtown, Isla Vista) seem to have obvious mental illnesses, one option going forward would be restricting the freedom of those who are or are suspected of being mentally ill. That is, we could have a very low threshold for limiting the Constitutional rights (e.g., to keep and bear arms) and civil rights (e.g., freedom of movement and association) of the mentally ill.
Of course, there is a huge cost to that. Which is why I think it is easier for many people to demonize guns than the sick people who use them in heinous ways.
I hope never to be a victim of random violence. But I don’t think I would want to live in a society which was organized so as to make that impossible.