Guns don’t kill society does by Hal O’Leary

Guns don’t kill society does by Hal O’Leary

Guns don’t kill society does by Hal O’Leary. Another deep opinion in the weekly section Just Hal on Yareah Magazine.


Gun. Photo by Jean Sander


With the latest shooting at the Navy Yard, we are being subjected to all the cliché ridden, tired old phrases we hear each time something like this happens. “Keep guns out of the hands of criminals.”  As a means of solving this conundrum, we hear the clamor for “Background checks” to prevent the criminal from purchasing a gun. One other solution offered is to establish a “Buy Back” policy. Then, of course there is the ridiculous cry from the NRA that the proper solution would be to “Arm every citizen.” I would like to take each of these offered solutions to the problem of gun violence and show how ineffective they are or would be. Then, I would like to offer the only realistic but, at the same time, implausible solution at least for the foreseeable future.

Most frequently, we hear that we must keep guns out of the hands of criminals. We are to do this by making it illegal for criminals to purchase or possess firearms. This, we are told would have the effect of preventing said firearms from falling into the wrong hands. The criminals we speak of are either unknown first offenders we have no way of identifying, or they are those onerous members of our society whose veritable way of life lies in the commission of violent crimes like theft, rape and murder. Are we to believe that these individuals will willingly give up what they consider a necessary means of survival simply because society deems it a crime? Are we to believe that gun laws will prevent criminals from acquiring any firearm of choice more than drug laws have prevented the user from acquiring any drug of choice? With more than 300.000.000 guns in the United States—more guns than citizens—can we realistically expect that even the strictest laws can solve the problem?

“Background Checks”. This has every potential of becoming a national nightmare. Can you imagine the Governmental scrutiny every citizen could be subjected to with the technological ability officials now have to invade the privacy of each of us? For such a plan to be effective, all constitutional protections of privacy would have to be abolished. If we are to assume, as I do, that criminals are not born but become, it would seem that periodical checks would have to be performed on each citizen to determine if and when such anti-social behavior representing a danger might have developed or be in the process of developing. However, should you be one of those who have no fear of losing privacy on the grounds that “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” I would call your attention to another aspect of such an invasive scrutiny. I would hope that you can recall from our history that totally innocent citizens were burned at the stake after being simply accused of being witches in Salem, Massachusetts. There is no doubt that such scrutiny would entail a call for all good citizens to report even a symptom of behavior that might appear suspicious. Indeed, I have heard such a call expressed in aftermath of each mass shooting.  As in Salem, this would provide an easy manner in which one citizen could avenge a real or simply supposed wrong committed against him. Even if unproven, the reputation of the victim could be totally destroyed by such a wanton act. To assume that no one would “do such a thing” would be as naïve as to assume that criminals will turn in their guns in a “Buy-Back” policy.

To remove even a substantial or effective number of guns that would lessen gun violence to any degree, a policy of buying them back would cost the taxpayer millions if not billions of dollars. But then, the possibility of such a plan working would be slight when you consider that the very people who would most certainly not turn in their guns would be the criminals and hardened NRA members. Need we say more on this possibility?

Of course, the most ridiculous solution offered is an NRA suggestion that the arming of all school teachers and security personnel, if not all citizens, would deter gun violence. I’ve even heard reference to the U.S/Soviet detente in support of this insane idea. Could this be a call for a return to the old West where the only law was the gun and violence settled all disputes? There might, of course, be some benefits. Think of what it would do, not only for the weapons industry, but for the fashion industry with bejeweled holsters or cleverly designed suits and dresses for concealment and easy access with no unsightly bulges.

I fear that there is only one realistic solution to gun violence. There is one phrase that I have heard that you may think strange for me to endorse. It is the phrase, “Guns don’t kill-People do.” I find this to be all too true. That being the case, the only answer is not to be found in the elimination of guns which is impossible but in the elimination of the motivations for people to kill. We must ask ourselves what makes people kill. To kill is inhuman and the people who kill are inhuman. Killing is counter to human nature just as competition is counter to human nature. And here-in lies the real problem and any hope for a solution. Our society is built on an economic competition called Capitalism. Each man is pitted against his fellow man in an insane drive for a materialism that turns simple need into greed. It is, I contend, a neurosis that afflicts our society as a whole. The destructive nature of this disease will drive other-wise empathic human beings to behave, ironically, in the most extreme and anti-social manner, a manner that is contrary to the survival of the race.  First, we have a loss of truth. Have you not noticed? This has to be followed by an undeniable lack of trust, and a lack of trust must, of course, curtail our ability to need or to love for any reason other than dependency.  Sad to say, we have an indifferent society in which the antiquated virtues of truth, trust and love are viewed as weaknesses rather than strengths. They have been replaced with the vices of greed stress and fear making violence a virtue. First, I fear that so long as this capitalistic society condones the murder of millions as a means of obtaining political gain by way of illegal wars, so long as it sanctions a criminal capital punishment as a means of deterring crime, and so long as its citizens support and are complicit in these criminal acts, isn’t it a bit hypocritical to show such obsessive concern for the relatively few victims of occasional shootings by crazed victims of a crazed society? No, my friends, the solution, if it should come, will be found in a renewal of the lost cause of true brotherhood. Instead of an “every man for himself” existence, only truth, trust and love can overcome our materialistic greed and man’s inhumanity to man. Lacking this, there will be no solution to gun violence or the many other vices this society and mankind confronts. It’s not that history hasn’t provided us with the answer. From Confucius to Socrates, from John Donne to Earnest Hemingway, the message of brotherhood has been passed. We are our brother’s keepers. Guns don’t kill, a sick society does.

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Hal O’Leary is an eighty-seven-year-old Secular Humanist who believes that it is only through the arts that one is afforded an occasional glimpse into the otherwise incomprehensible. He has been awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from West Liberty University.

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