My adopted state of Florida, like many other states, is trying to address the problem of school shootings. Since the state legislature is not inclined to address the gun component of shootings, the focus has been on security: armed guards in all schools, hardened facilities, cameras, monitoring social media, and software designed to collect and collate data on students. Having recently reread Harry Harrison’s sci-fi novel Deathworld, I was struck by the similarities between the story and Florida’s official approach to school shootings. In the novel, a human colony is struggling to survive a world of ever-increasing hostility. The colonists respond to the threat by hardening the colony structures and arming the colonists—even the children.
The main character of the novel is an outsider who is thus able to see the situation from a different perspective than the colonists. He does not simply accept the constant danger as a fact of life, nor does he assume that the only response to the threat should be improving the colony’s defenses. Instead he wants to consider the cause of the hostility and asks the critical question: why is the colony under attack? When he merely suggests this as an option, he is met with incredible hostility and even violence—for the colonists, to consider why it is happening and to think about options other than hardening the colony and arming the colonists are seen as unthinkable awful.
This is analogous to how Florida and other states are approaching school shootings: the focus is on shoring up the defenses of schools and countering the threat of guns in schools by putting armed guards in schools.
While many Republicans are willing to blame video games, the internet and mental illness for mass shootings, efforts to determine the actual causes are met with denial and hostility. For example, the Dickey amendment has effectively prevented the use of federal funds to research gun violence.
It could be contended that the Republicans are offering explanations, although they have (like the colonists) focused entirely on armed defense. While it is certainly true that they are putting forth explanations, these explanations have no real merit—as has been argued in previous essays.
Democrats tend to fixate on guns as the cause, which leads some pro-gun people to unceasing repetition of the mantra that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” On the one hand, this is true: guns are tools that lack moral agency, they do not kill (aside from accidents) unless they are used by a person to kill.
Guns are not like cursed magical swords that can kill on their own or force their wielders to commit murder—most gun owners never engage in gun violence. People can obviously also kill by means other than guns—knifes, bombs and vehicles are popular tools of murder around the world.
On the other hand, to “say guns don’t kill people, people kill people” and use that to justify doing nothing about guns is analogous to saying, “drugs don’t get people high, people get people high. If the line works for guns, then it should also apply to drugs as well—and to anything that people can use in a dangerous way (such as poison, radioactive material, anthrax and such). As such if this mantra warrants doing nothing about guns, then it warrants doing nothing about anything people use to harm themselves or others. This approach is certainly an option and some drugs have been decriminalized and even legalized, so perhaps the same should apply to guns as well. But this analogy does have value—almost everyone has easy access to drugs, but most people do not use heroin.
While it is true that if there were no drugs, there would be no drug problem there is the obvious fact that there is more to the drug problem than the existence of drugs. As such, simply getting rid of drugs would not solve the problems that lead people to use drugs. In the novel, the hero learns that the planetary life is trying to kill the colonists because the colonists are killers—ironically, the more they try to solve the problem with guns and security, the worse the problem becomes. So perhaps getting rid of guns would solve the problem of gun violence.
Eliminating all guns would eliminate gun violence—but it would not address why people engage in that violence and people can, as they have done, turn to other means to engage in violence. An obvious reply is that eliminating guns would significantly reduce violence, even if it would obviously not eliminate all of it. This is what happens in the novel—when the colonists change their approach, everything is not perfect—but the colony is far safer.