Part I: Y2K and Guns
(See Part II here)
As a recovering IT professional, I have memories of the late 1990’s when everyone was panicking about Y2K. All these bad things were supposed to happen: planes falling from the sky and nuclear power plants going off line. You wouldn’t be able to get money from ATM machines so you better hoard cash and canned goods. The project I was working on, a fairly important health system, had some Y2K “bugs.” We knew about them, started working on them a year or so ahead of time, fixed them, and tested them. Then January 1st happened and, well, it all worked. Not just for our project, but for everyone. There were a few glitches here and there, but mostly it was a “non-event.“ And then the media started to get on the IT industry’s case about the fact that we were a bunch of “Chicken Littles.” Why were we panicking so much? Even today, when I casually mention Y2K to friends outside the IT industry many will shake their head about the whole “Y2K hoax.”
Except it wasn’t a hoax. And we (IT folks mostly) weren’t panicking. Not exactly. We were working hard. Very hard. And we were worried about getting done in time, certainly. But we were fixing the problem. And turns out, we did a pretty good job of analyzing the problem years before, saw it coming, planned for it, got the resources to fix it, and fixed it. It actually worked!
And there are some lessons we can draw from that, for us here, on this empty day, as the facts of the truly horrific shootings in Connecticut trickle in. But before getting to those lessons, today, I am going to make a prediction: If we do nothing, I know with certainty this will happen again. I am predicting another mass shooting just like the IT industry predicted Y2K.
But unlike Y2K, I don’t know when or where the next mass shooting will occur. It may happen later today or not until next year. That is part of the future that is regrettably unknowable. I’m not a criminologist or a sociologist or “expertologist.” But I am pretty smart, I know a little about human behavior and this country. I can look at the historical data and look our out policies and our ability to control evil acts and know, with certainty, in the United States, some day a bunch of innocent lives, and even young children, will be destroyed by a sad individual with a legally obtained assault weapon or semi-automatic hand gun.
With a random act, like what happened in Connecticut, it was just that, random. Well, perhaps random is an imprecise term. Rather, it was not predictable as to time and place. Y2K? We new exactly when and where it would happen. It was precisely predictable.
Which finally leads me to my point – we don’t do so well with probability. We really don’t know how to evaluate risks and properly assign actions to manage those risks. For big things like crime, and global warming, that fit in the realm of probability, we get so caught up in emotional biases and prejudices that we are actually unable to solve problems even after new data contradicts what we thought we knew. In fact we are often unable to prevent big problems at all. It is only after some predictable catastrophe actually occurs that we take action. Turns out, we are very reactive creatures (see also: 9/11, Katrina, the Housing Bubble, and 2012 Romney Campaign).
In 2004 we let the Assault Weapon Ban expire. At the time no one could say, “ya know, since the Columbine killings in 1999, mass killings have been kind a low, as low as the early 80s, but starting in 2004 we will see a pretty significant increase starting with a massacre at Virginia Tech in 2007, followed by a whole string a unfortunate killings culminating in 2012 and a frightening body count including a bunch of little kids in Connecticut. And mostly these were done with legally obtained semiautomatic assault weapons and handguns.” (See this Mother Jone's article about mass killings.)
I wonder what we would have done in 2004 if we knew what yesterday looked like back then. If we had the same kind of knowledge and awareness we had with he Y2K bug? But we didn’t know. Not exactly. But we did know something would happen. And it will continue. It just will. So it is for us to decide: Is the protection of a human created right to own a gun as or more sacred than the innocent lives that will be sacrificed for the right? How much longer can we really hang on to an amendment that was written in the context of fearing European Monarchical Tyranny? Written by men who lived in an agrarian nation of under 3 million people, not an urban nation of over 310 million. Written by men with no concept of mental illness like we have in 2012. Written when you had to load a gun from the barrel side by pouring in black powder, packing it with wadding, and then dropping a lead ball in.
I’m not interested in parsing the poorly written 2nd amendment and whether the right is an individual right or a collective right or if the “well regulated militia clause” is an independent clause or modifying clause to the “right of the individual” clause. Those are all bullshit intellectual exercises requiring the Chicago Manual of Style and an intimate relationship with the placement of commas. Compare that to the non-theoretical reality of our modern world: A world where most anyone can purchase a military style rifle and where individuals with mental illness wander about because of our inferior patchwork of health care.
So let’s make a choice and be honest with ourselves. It’s a simple one. We can choose, as a society, that we are comfortable with the loss of some innocent lives in mass killing events. We can choose that the loss of life that comes with gun ownership, like the gun ownership we have today, is sad, but a necessary part of a freedom that we believe is superior. For us to all be able to purchase military-style assault weapons and semi-automatic handguns is so important a right that we will allow anyone who wants to, to buy one. Even though that means, well, each year, some of us will sacrifice our lives to perpetuate that right.
That is the choice we have made, so far, as a nation. And we can decide it again. And each time we choose not to change our gun laws, that is the choice we make. It’s simple really. But I hope we make a different choice. One that acknowledges the archaic nature of the 2nd amendment and its lack of relevance in 2012 America. I’m not interested in banning all guns. If you want to go hunt squirrels or shoot targets for sport, I’m fine with that. If you want a gun to protect yourself and keep it safely locked in you home. Okay, fine. But why do you really need a Sig Sauer .223-Caliber Semi-Automatic Rifle?
It’s time for a change. And you know what? We’ve gutted so much of the rest of the Bill of Rights, why we hang on so desperately to those archaic gun rights says something about who we are as a people.
And that is a good segue to part two of this essay for tomorrow where I’ll get into what Mike Huckabee said that we've “systematically removed God” from the public schools. And guess what? I agree! Surprised? Here is a hint: Read 1 John 4 (7-21) .