Tuesday, June 21, 2016
I read an article on Vox where a guy tries to explain why so many Americans like him own assault rifles. The article assumes that those opposed to these weapons of war think anyone who would own one is “inhuman or insane.”
This is a straw man argument. Of course I don’t think that. No reasonable person would. I don't think you are a criminal or a nut. I get the appeal of owning a big gun like that. It’s like wanting a fast car. They are both kind of awesome. I want one, too.
The problem here is one of people needing to show moral responsibility. Driving fast is fun, but that does not mean you can race your car 90-miles-an-hour down a little suburban street. The reason is obvious, your fun endangers the lives of lots of people.
The same is true with people who want to own a weapon made for mass shooting people in war. I get why they want it. It’s cool. It's a power tool. But what is lacking here is moral responsibility and social conscience.
A long time ago Amitai Etzioni said that what we need in this country is to learn to balance rights and responsibilities. Having an assault rifle is not a right. No one needs it. It is a cool toy, like a smart phone. The question is: are you willing to be mature and responsible enough to give up your fun toy for the sake of others, for the sake of public safety?
I think a lot of people probably would be. Once we take fear out of the picture, people are often able to be considerate and social. But creating fear has become a major factor in the gun debate. People are constantly told that they need to fear having their guns taken away. They tell people they need to fear home invasion, terrorism, rape, a violent government, and every horror scenario you can think of, all calculated to play to people’s deepest fears.
This focus on fear is no accident. Fear engages your brain’s amygdala, which makes you defensive, reactive, and physiologically unwilling to compromise. It literally overrides your brain’s prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that is thoughtful and concerned about the needs of others – your social brain.
As long as a person’s brain is in that reactive threat-state, there is a huge physiological pull that keeps people from thinking of the needs of others, and of doing something good and unselfish – like giving up their dangerous toys.
So what we need is to move away from fear, away from demonizing the other, and -- this last one is maybe the hardest for us Americans -- away from unbridled me-focused consumerism. We need more people who can show self-restraint, and who can care more about other people’s safety than they do about their possessions.