Activating Empathy…

Every time this gun debate happens, sooner or later, some frustrated soul says, “Well, I hope one of THEIR kids ends up on the wrong end of a gun!”  The speaker invariably looks horrified by what they’ve just suggested, retracts the statement, and begins apologizing profusely to whatever higher power they claim.  They don’t REALLY mean it.  After all, what kind of blithering, blind fool would wish harm on children because of the sins of the father?  But they ARE reacting to something many people know: there’s a large swath of people on this planet who lack empathy and the only way to get them to understand a thing is for them to experience it.

My American Heritage Dictionary defines empathy as “Identification with and understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives.”  Basically, empathy is the capacity to accurately place oneself in another person’s shoes.  Because people who lack empathy cannot properly relate to another person’s position, they often come to erroneous conclusions about things – but only while those things remain abstract.  Once the “empathy-challenged” gain personal experience in a given subject, they often have a more…applicable attitude…

Gabby Giffords is one of the more obvious examples today.  She was a Congresswoman from Arizona.  She didn’t get a high grade from the NRA because she supported an assault weapons ban but, according to Foxnews.com, she has been “vocal about her support for gun owners’ rights.”  She supported and signed an amicus brief in support of gun owners’ rights in DC vs Heller.  These days, however, she fronts a gun-control group she founded with her husband.  What changed?  A bullet to the head.  Apparently, getting shot in the head is a very convincing argument for gun control.  For her, the entire gun debate left the world of “philosophical positions” and became very real, indeed.  It got me to thinking…

No, I’m not thinking we should shoot anybody who supports gun rights.  Listen, I support gun rights, though I acknowledge it might be a little difficult to tell from this particular piece.  But that’s because I’m tired of mass shootings and I’m tired of people standing in the way of common sense gun controls that might prevent them.  Yes, I know, they might not.  But suggesting that something shouldn’t be tried because it might not work perfectly in every possible situation just sounds stupid.  Because it is…

I know that more than 99% of gun owners are “responsible.”  But in fighting every suggestion – many proven by application in other countries – that comes down the line as an attempt to take away all guns, the 99+% aren’t doing anything to help society deal with the less than one percent.  It seems to me, the very best way to ensure that eventually, society will demand confiscation is to continue to protect and defend the people who misuse their weapons and the (lack of) process that makes it so easy.  It remains true: the few always ruin it for the many.

Yes, it’s a “mental health problem.”  But our society has decided to destroy itself through endless war so there’s no money to deal with mental health problems.  If we’re not going to treat those with mental health problems, we’re going to be left with no alternative but to take away the devices they use to express their mental health problems.  You feel free to cite all the pseudo-facts and “massaged” statistics you want.  No matter what you say, the other side of the ledger shows children cut to pieces by lead.  You want to deride that as an “emotional response?”  Have at it.  It won’t change a thing.  When a loved one is cut to pieces in a way that could have been prevented, statistics have no meaning…

But I digress.  This is about empathy.  To that end, I’d like to pass a law called ‘Giving The Finger To Shooters Act.’  It provides that every time there’s a shooting with six or more deaths, society gets to take one of Evil Wayne’s fingers.  (“Evil Wayne” is Wayne LaPierre, the current bastar…uh…CEO of the NRA.)  Look, I know it sounds harsh.  I’m not trying to be cruel.  I mean, we wouldn’t use garden shears.  We’d have a doctor do the work.  We wouldn’t start with “important” fingers, either.  We would start with the pinky of his non-dominant hand and work in from there, one at a time, as the qualified shootings occur.  Real-life practice currently identifies a mass shooting as four or more victims.  The ‘Giving The Finger To Shooters Act’ calls for six or more deaths, so there’s some grace there, too.

When you think about it, the proposal provides Evil Wayne greater opportunity to protect his fingers (and toes, eventually) than his rhetoric provides for children.  Besides, said law isn’t really aimed at Evil Wayne.  It would apply to whoever the CEO of the NRA is a the time of the shooting.  But I’ll tell you this; I’ve got to believe that if Evil Wayne had to give up a digit every time someone killed six or more people in one shooting, the NRA would have an entirely different attitude about gun control.  You see, Evil Wayne would have something tangible on the line.  His empathy would be activated.  These shootings are not abstract to the victims’ families and they wouldn’t be abstract for the currently carefully protected Wayne anymore, either.

I know.  I’m not going to get such a law – and I shouldn’t – because of civilization.  Evil Wayne is protected by (and gets to profit from) the reality that I don’t get to BE a barbarian in an attempt to stop barbarianism.  So let me, instead, try to activate some empathy by using a metaphor that a certain segment of our society once found oh-so-convincing.  Imagine you have a bowl of Skittles…

To the best of my knowledge, Skittles are nothing more than an enjoyable snack manufactured by conscientious people in a clean and safe environment.  (That’s my disclaimer for the people at Wrigley…)  In our bowl of Skittles, though, through some unknown anomaly of the manufacturing process, two of the Skittles contain pure poison with no known antidote.  They’re slightly misshapen, so if you could examine them closely enough, they COULD be routed out before anyone consumed them.  But you’re not allowed to look.  And those are the two we might have caught.  There’s also one Skittle that started out just fine but, again, through some unknown group of pressures, that Skittle has “broken” and morphed from being a “responsible” Skittle, to being pure poison, with no known antidote.  No one will find out about that Skittle until someone dies.  That’s just the risk we take for enjoying Skittles…

Now…and you don’t get to choose zero…how many Skittles are you going to put in your child’s lunch today?

The Keep Your Gun Act…

This piece is about guns so I’m forced to start with the obligatory disclaimer: I’m not against guns and I’m not interested in taking everybody’s guns away from them.  Statistically, I believe the data indicate that MOST gun owners qualify as “responsible.”  I know, statistics.  I’m not fond of them, either.  They’re so…malleable.  So I won’t try throwing a bunch of stats at you to prove one point or the other.  Let’s go with ‘anecdotal’ instead, since it’s so much more reliable.  (Okay, the truth is, the actual numbers are less important than the general idea I’m trying to express so ‘anecdotal’ is good enough…)  Just think about the number of people you know who own guns and have NOT killed anybody or been in any kind of gun incident.  Lots, right?  Most, in fact…

But because the subject is guns people’s knees started jerking.  My Gun Rights Advocates (GRA’s) will be certain my first sentence was a feint.  My Gun Control Advocates (GCA’s) will insist that every gun owner is a danger to himself and society.  I say the truth lies somewhere in between.  The NRA has championed the term “responsible gun owners” but they use it as a blanket term, as though “gun owner” naturally equates to “responsible.”  The thing is – and yes, I’m repeating myself – most gun owners ARE “responsible.”  The OTHER thing is, though, some are not.

Recently, here in the bay area, an eight year old took a loaded handgun to school in his backpack.  I’m not prepared to consider an eight year old a responsible gun owner.  (Taking the weapon to school surely makes the point, yes?)  Okay, so the gun didn’t belong to the kid and an arrest has been made.  The ACTUAL “responsible” gun owner will have his day in court.  And that – right there – the “responsible” part…that’s the part I want to address.

In my mind, this gun owner is clearly irresponsible.  I mean, come on; he left his loaded gun where an eight year old could get it.  GRA’s have a tendency to dismiss such incidents as accidents or isolated events.  I would bet money I don’t have (I wouldn’t really) that the guy who actually owns the gun STILL considers himself a “responsible gun owner.”  That’s because people deceive themselves into believing they’re awesome all the time.  (We’re really a very confused species…)

So, to me, it doesn’t make sense to allow people to designate themselves “responsible gun owners” any more than it does to denigrate actual responsible gun owners as the result of some anti-social behavior committed by the smaller number of irresponsible gun owners.  Then I got this idea: what if we pass a law that sets a standard and violating that law self-identifies “irresponsible” gun owners.  We take THEIR guns (because they DO endanger everybody, after all) and leave everyone else out of it.  I toyed with some ideas about how to implement such a thing and then I realized I’d already been given the answer – by the NRA no less!

Have you ever heard of the Four Rules of Gun Safety?  They’re really good.  They work.  Here, take a look:
1)  All guns are always loaded and should be treated as such.
2)  Never point a gun at something you aren’t willing to destroy.
3)  Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
4)  Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.
Strange as it seems, if everyone followed these rules there would never (okay, rarely) be accidental gun deaths.  They’re good rules…

Perhaps you’ve noticed they don’t cover an eight year old getting hold of the gun.  I did, too.  But in fairness, IF the eight year old obeyed those rules (he didn’t) he couldn’t hurt anybody, either.  So, today, I’d like to introduce ‘The Keep Your Gun Act’ – an effort to allow irresponsible gun owners to identify themselves…

Basically, it’s a two-part law.  The first part elevates the Four Rules of Gun Safety to the Four LAWS of Gun Safety and prohibits law enforcement agencies from dismissing violations as “accidents.”  There are no “accidents” with guns.  If somebody’s gun “goes off”?  They clearly violated Part 1, section 3 of the ‘Keep Your Gun Act.’  If the round goes through a wall and kills some kid sleeping in his bed?  It’s NOT a “tragic accident.”  It’s negligent homicide.  The Keep Your Gun Act requires the “incident” to be charged appropriately…

Part 2 requires gun owners to keep their guns.  If someone takes off with one (or some) of your guns – be it an eight year old boy who wants to show off for friends or some crackhead burgling your home for a quick influx of cash – you clearly didn’t have the weapon properly secured.  You didn’t keep your gun.

Violations of ‘The Keep Your Gun Act’ result in – at minimum – a substantial fine for each violation and surrendering your weapons…because if you couldn’t even KEEP your gun, you’re clearly NOT a “responsible gun owner.”  A legitimate defense would consist of proving you had secured the weapon in a reasonable and prudent way.  “I stuck it in the nightstand drawer!” isn’t going to fly…

Now, I’d be okay giving people one chance.  That is, a first violation would result in confiscation of weapons but a person could recover the right by participating in an approved gun safety course and proving their ability to secure the weapon.  A second violation, though, and one loses their guns for good – that is, the good of the community.

So there you have it: ‘The Keep Your Gun Act.’  An effort to allow irresponsible gun owners to identify themselves.  I’d like to hear thoughts on the topic but I would ask that people think about ‘The Keep Your Gun Act’ and not just throw out the standard tropes because I’ll tell you this: We’ve all heard them all and we can repeat them all by rote…