Following the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, the loudest voices have, predictably, belonged to those with a gun control agenda.
In all the column inches that have been written, only a tiny percentage have tried to focus on what prompted Adam Lanza to murder his mother, then go to the school where she had taught and murder as many of her colleagues and pupils as he could, before killing himself. Much more of what has been written has been about gun control.
Surely it is more important and valuable to explore the significant mental health problems experienced by Lanza and how these were being dealt with.
It is essential to understand what exactly happened prior to the mass murder, where reports have suggested there had been an altercation at the school involving Lanza. That incident and what either happened after it, or what interventions should have happened, are far more pertinent to this tragedy than the availability of guns. But instead of focussing on an analysis of the risks caused by Lanza in his prevailing mental state and how these could and should have been mitigated, the anti-gun lobby is focussing attention purely on the risks of the availability of guns and how these risks must be removed by taking away the guns. And the media is providing them with acres of copy to do that without any balancing argument.
So it was pleasing to see a more level headed analysis of the politics of risk is provided by Charles Crawford today at The Commentator. While the focus is on one narrow element of the whole terrible incident in Newtown, Crawford reminds us about other issues this raises, and references comments about the morally corrupt encouragement of learned helplessness, which were made by Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic. Crawford’s piece prompted the following comment from me:
Worse than the kneejerk reaction we are seeing from some in the US – cheerled from parts of the commentariat on this side of the Atlantic – are the opportunist efforts of those whose political ideology esposes learned helplessness in order to restrict self reliance and individual responsibility and press for conformity to the structures they and their ilk have put in place. We need the kind of reasoned responses you have written to try and hold back the statist tide.
The usual argument in response to such challenges is for the anti-gun lobby to declare that without the guns he used Lanza could not have killed as many people as he did. Their argument therefore boils down to nothing more than a simple matter of scale, while doggedly avoiding any focus on what led to the attack and how that could or should have been tackled.
The difficult point that needs to be accepted is that Lanza could have still killed many people with knives or other weapons. Being as fiercely intelligent as he reportedly was he could have even chosen to rig an explosive device. Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people and injured over 800 and didn’t use a firearm. But there is little in legislating against those things beyond what has already been done that extends the government-preferred condition of learned helplessness – something that has infested western Europe – and which increases the power of the state over the people as they are forcibly made dependent on the often ineffective state sanctioned provision for their protection.
Having a disarmed population suits the establishment and ensures they have their desired monopoly on use of force. But it doesn’t tend to work out well for ordinary people who try to tackle criminals and assailants but are denied the right to participate in their own defence.
Nevertheless there is a shameless opportunism at play, where the use of guns in the murder of innocents is being used as a reason to advance an ideological objective that is alien to the American cultural norm of self reliance and personal freedom; and used as a reason to maintain the learned helplessness in the UK we should be throwing off. When will there be a focus on that story?
Afterthought: Think back to 1994 and the genocide in Rwanda where around 800,000 civilians died at the hands of government-backed militias. The vast majority of the killings were carried out with machetes, not guns. The international community stood by. Some allege some international actors assisted the slaugher. The UN troops in the country witnessed the slaughter at first hand, but were barred from intervening and preserving life.
This was one of the most graphic and extreme examples of learned helplessness in action, shaped by the rules handed down by the political class. The fact is the slaughter only ended when a rebel force, armed with guns, fought their way across the country and forced the militias to flee. One can’t help but think things would have been very different if the Tutsi population had been able to protect themselves.