Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Bang, Bang

A little over four years ago, a local Seattle character known as the "Tuba Man" was fatally beaten by three youths near Seattle Center, where the iconic Space Needle stands. A little less than three days ago, police suspect, one of the young men involved shot a man to death in a bar in suburban Bellevue. And, in an unrelated case, another one of the assailants is currently facing federal charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Given the events on the national stage over the past couple of weeks, there will be no national uproar about this. There will be no added calls for a dialog about "gun culture" or the relevance of the Second Amendment to our modern lives. No politicians will incite, and then pander to, the fears of the public over these events.

But this is where the majority of firearms homicide stems from. Random suburbanites suddenly going on shooting sprees with "military-style" rifles with "high-capacity" magazines are, despite being inherently mediagenic, actually very rare in the grand scheme of things. This is not to say that two in less than a month should be ignored, but it is to say that they are not the most pressing problem that is in front of us, if the goal is to prevent murders, rather than calm public fears.

The problem that Ja'mari Alexander-Alan Jones and Billy Chambers represent doesn't drive headlines. But it's the serious one that underlies the shooting that do drive headlines. The use of violence as a tool. Ed "Tuba Man" McMichael was killed because three young men saw assaulting him to be the fastest way to get their hands on some ready cash, and they were willing to take the risk of going to jail for doing so. Not knowing anything about Jones' target in the Bellevue shooting, or the possible relationship between them, I can't speculate about a motive. But this much is clear - whatever Jones was after, if he is the shooter, he sought violence as the path to getting it.

Guns, being inanimate objects, don't kill people. They do, however, make it much easier to kill people, especially from a distance. The "assault weapons" that people have become so afraid of make it much easier to kill numbers of people before they can either flee the scene or law enforcement personnel arrive on the scene. Assuming that we could legislate them out of existence, going forward, murder would be more difficult. But it wouldn't be impossible. Murder happens because some is ready, willing and able to take another person's life. As John McGuinness notes, we can't just treat the symptoms - we have to treat the disease. And laws can't do that for us. Weapons legislation can make a dent in "able." But as long as we continue to ignore "ready" and "willing," the body count will continue to rise. Even if it's slowly enough that we can pretend not to notice.

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