Bye: Returning guns to their proper role in society

Wednesday, March 7, 2018 10:16 PM
Ole Bye

Finally, it seems like our country is poised to start a real gun control debate, and it had better be more substantial than business-as-usual.

It seems like a consensus could develop around tightening up how dangerous or mentally ill people are able to buy assault rifles, but I think this improvement will only do so much. Anyone who wants to buy, borrow or steal an assault rifle in this country has plenty of other avenues besides an over-the-counter purchase. However, if strategic and sensitive gun controls help prevent even one more mass shooting, then I’m willing to risk some of our liberties. We can’t go on like this.

We need to deeply consider how our culture fetishizes violence, militarism and brute power, and how this affects the people who feel powerless in our society, people with mental illness and people experiencing both who have assault weapons.

Each mass shooting seems to convey an individual’s need to revenge humiliation, and often seems to be a violent criticism by social outcasts against an illegitimate society perceived to be corrupt, elitist and emasculated. Right-wing media outlets trumpet this anti-social conclusion, and there’s no firewall between the hate-infused blame they sow and the violent ideas of the killers, and would-be killers, who form a portion of their audience.

We must accept the correlation between the hate speech put forth by right-wing media outlets and mass shootings. I believe that hate speech is inherently an incitement to violence and I question its protection under the constitution. It dehumanizes people and implies that the “other” is an enemy worth no more than killing – an undertone of right-wing media. Putting the brakes on hate speech should be one strategy in the fight against mass shootings.

Another proposed solution to school-specific shootings is to employ armed marshals in schools, or to arm teachers. I grew up shooting, but I do not believe that guns should have a central role in mediating civic society, and thus I am against armed marshals in our schools. We need to prevent the first shot, and since personal death is not a deterrent to mass shooters, armed marshals in schools are not the solution to this problem. Plenty of mass shootings occur outside of schools and armed police are not a deterrent.

Instead, I propose that some kind of compulsory gun safety education be considered in our public schools, not to prepare students for self-defense, per se, but to de-fetishize guns and gun violence, and to conceptually return guns to their proper role in our society – as utilitarian tools, as collector’s items and as powerful objects to be treated with utmost caution.

We need to go even further than this educational approach, though. I see mass shootings as a symptom of failed families and communities, and of the isolation fostered by our modern technological and capitalist economy. We need to enhance the social capital of our students and citizens, and make sure that everyone has the tools to participate in society in constructive ways.

This means we need to include people we don’t want to include, ask about the well-being of people we’d rather not talk to, forgive more and judge less, accommodate and celebrate difference, yea, even weirdness. We must support schools, and support programs that enhance mental health, youth mentoring, healthy families, sex-education, anti-bullying and so on. We need citizens who feel so powerful that an assault rifle is never seen as an arbiter of conflict.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that there is “no difference between men … so profound as the difference between the sick and the well.” I’ve been all over America, from the backwoods to the cities, and I can verify that the differences that derail us in our united quest for a better society are small. You might say they are illusory. And you might take Fitzgerald’s “sick and the well” and substitute “powerless and the powerful,” because they end up the same in the end.

To pursue that power of wellness with an assault rifle is misguided and utterly shameful, but to steal it by a subtle corporate coup that robs our democracy, our communities and our citizens of their rightful power of wellness is also shameful. I see a direct correlation between the increasing corporatization of our society and the increasing isolation and powerlessness of our citizens. Powerlessness is a sickness that manifests itself in all sorts of ugly ways, including mass shootings.

In the current gun control debate, we are struggling to identify meaningful paths to progress because it is guns, and by extension, corporations, that are controlling us. To begin to take back that control, we must limit hate speech, de-fetishize guns and violence and do a much better job of supporting our neighbors as they struggle through their own traumas.

I believe that with these and other actions, we can realign our path towards a society free of mass shootings, to a society that protects and promotes the wellness of all Americans.

Ole Bye lives in Cortez. Reach him at