Restriction vs Empowerment

Photo by Tony Young

My 6-year-old son frequently wants to use sharp knives and it is not uncommon for him to get them out of a drawer unsupervised when he has a task that he believes would be served by using a sharp knife. He likes to use then for reasonable things but as far as I can figure out I have only two options to solve this: I can make the knives less and less accessible or I can teach him how to use them safely. In order to make the best decision on how to handle this I should consider the real issues surrounding the situation rather than simply reacting to the immediate danger.

The whole conundrum reminds me of the issue of gun violence in our society. If we want to make a decision that will actually make a positive impact on the situation we have to understand what is really happening in context.

I read a great article that  seems to capture the context surrounding the issue of gun violence and it shows how myopic the “tighten restrictions on gun ownership” approach really is. The article is focused on the aspect of restricting gun ownership for the mentally ill. While I have not been particularly opposed to that in theory I began to really question if that would have any effect other than possibly to inhibit treatment for those who might have un-diagnosed mental issues who also were interested in owning guns for reasonable purposes. Besides that likely negative side effect I realized that the real crux of the matter was summed up in this statement:

Charles Krauthammer said in the Washington Post just after the Newtown tragedy, “Every mass shooting has three elements: the killer, the weapon and the cultural climate.” That “climate” is the culture of death, which broadly encompasses 55 million abortions since Roe v. Wade to the glorification of violence in movies, TV, pop music and video gaming. Indifference or simple numbness in the face of pervasive violence leaves us in a precarious position to protect our children.

America’s deepest problems are not guns or mental illness. We can’t fix sin, evil and cultural disorder by presidential decrees. Locking up every gun in America won’t make us safer.

Obviously the younger a person is the more the option of making the knives less accessible makes sense. Likewise, there are reasonable restrictions that can be put on gun ownership. Those with violent criminal histories or insufficient mental maturity (young children or the severely mentally handicapped) could reasonably be restricted from purchasing guns. Even with those concessions, can anyone argue that making the knives inaccessible is a viable long-term solution? If my son really wants to get the knives he will eventually.

Why then do so many people think that making guns inaccessible is going to work long-term to prevent gun violence? It seems to me that I would have a higher chance of succeeding at keeping knives away from my son for his entire life than keep guns away from all criminal-minded people in a nation of 300 million. Not only is restricting access on that scale untenable but the criminally minded won’t care about whatever legal restrictions there are when they seek to acquire a gun. If we think that making restrictive ownership laws will solve the problem we are deluding ourselves.

We will be severely limited in our ability to deal with gun violence until we deal with the culture that regards life too lightly while glorifying violence.