Lamar W. Hankins : A Humanist Response to the Newtown Killings

Photo by Whitney Curtis / Getty / The Guardian.

A humanist responds
to the deaths at Newtown

As a matter of public policy, there is no justification for allowing the widespread dispersal of semi-automatic weapons in the United States. They have done great harm in our society and have done no good.

By Lamar W. Hankins | The Rag Blog | December 18, 2012

As a freethinking humanist, I do not see the world as guided by some divine force, or by some evil force. I recognize that good and evil both exist among our species. And I react to the events of December 14 in Newtown, Connecticut, much the way President Obama did when he said:

We’ve endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years. And each time I learn the news, I react not as a president, but as anybody else would as a parent. And that was especially true today. I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do.

The majority of those who died today were children — beautiful, little kids between the ages of five and 10 years old. They had their entire lives ahead of them — birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own. Among the fallen were also teachers, men and women who devoted their lives to helping our children fulfill their dreams.

So our hearts are broken today for the parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers of these little children, and for the families of the adults who were lost.

I react personally. I have a grand daughter who is eight years old. I was with her mother when her water broke. I was at the hospital when she was born. I helped care for her when she was an infant and for all the years since. To learn that her life had been snuffed out would be almost unbearable.

That it could happen by the senseless acts of a mentally unbalanced person who too easily laid hands on a semi-automatic rifle only makes my views of Wayne LaPierre and the organization he leads — National Rifle Association (NRA) — harden into something akin to hatred.

I have always seen the NRA as a front for the manufacturers of guns, especially semi-automatic weapons. I have no problem with guns, though I respect that they are dangerous, just as I respect that cars are dangerous. I own guns, but not the semi-automatic kind, though I could. I also don’t drive 85 mph on the highways, though I could do that also.

The primary difference between semi-automatic guns and fast cars is that there is no reason to possess semi-automatic guns except to go to war or to kill a lot of people in a short period of time.

Only those who have unreasonable fears about the dangers of our society, or fear totalitarianism to the point of paranoia, or who are influenced by fantasies about invasions of the wild pigs (name your own animal) see any need for semi-automatic weapons. I know these people exist because there are reality shows about them and I read about them. I also know people who are afraid to walk down the street in daylight and at night. Semi-automatic guns won’t help these people, though they might benefit from cognitive behavior or reality therapy.

The Humanist Manifesto II provides: “Faced with apocalyptic prophesies and doomsday scenarios, many flee in despair from reason and embrace irrational cults and theologies of withdrawal and retreat.” Public policy should not be decided by a retreat from reason. Our laws should not be determined by the needs of the few in our society who have outrageous fears or disturbed notions about American society. Our laws should be written for the benefit of the people as a whole.

As a matter of public policy, there is no justification for allowing the widespread dispersal of semi-automatic weapons in the United States. They have done great harm in our society and have done no good.

While denying the few the right to possess semi-automatic weapons would not have prevented all of the killings in Newtown, it likely would have reduced the slaughter. It would have allowed a few families who are now in the depths of despair at the loss of their children and grand children less cause for grief because they would not have lost those children to the actions of a mentally unbalanced man armed with semi-automatic weapons.

And let us not forget the recent mass shootings at a shopping mall in Portland, at a workplace in Minneapolis, at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, at a movie theater is Colorado — all within the last five months. In the last 30 years, we have had 62 mass killings in this country. Something is terribly wrong.

A day after the shootings, New York Times columnist Charles Blow quoted Larry Pratt, the Executive Director of Gun Owners of America, a group more extreme than the NRA, who blamed the events in Newtown on gun control advocates:

Gun control supporters have the blood of little children on their hands. Federal and state laws combined to ensure that no teacher, no administrator, no adult had a gun at the Newtown school where the children were murdered. This tragedy underscores the urgency of getting rid of gun bans in school zones.

That Larry Pratt’s first reaction to the shootings in Newtown is to blame gun control supporters for the tragedy is to try to make a political point using the bodies of 20 school children and six teachers and administrators. And indirectly, Pratt is also blaming those teachers and administrators for their unwillingness to become a part of America’s gun culture. To emotionally dead people like Pratt, all that matters is his right to possess extremely dangerous weapons — the kind used in war and terrorism.

It doesn’t take much imagination to think about what would happen if everyone in every public venue in America walked around with a gun on their hip or in their purse. It is not necessary for our public school teachers to have to be armed to prevent such tragic shootings as those that occurred in Newtown. There must be other solutions.

Surely improved surveillance, greater passive security, and more institutional protection would serve our public schools better than arming all adults who work in our schools. Arming all teachers will assure that we raise a generation of students who are as wildly paranoid and emotionally lifeless as Larry Pratt and the leadership of the NRA.

And what about those teachers who don’t want to carry guns. Surely they and all others who don’t want to carry guns have a right to be safe. This is a question posed by Blow, who cited a Mother Jones study that revealed that the “vast majority of mass shootings in the last three decades involved assault weapons and semiautomatic handguns.”

Americans deserve the right to be free from mass slaughter without having to arm themselves. We need to find better solutions for the 55% of Americans who do not have a gun in their homes. The JustFacts website, which is a a non-profit research and educational institute dedicated to finding and disseminating scientifically valid research on public policy issues, cites a study that found that

households in which a homicide occurred had a firearm ownership rate of 45% as compared to 36% for non-homicide households. Also, households in which a homicide occurred were twice as likely to have a household member who was previously arrested (53% vs. 23%), five times more likely to have a household member who used illicit drugs (31% vs. 6%), and five times more likely to have a household member who was previously hit or hurt during a fight in the home (32% vs. 6%).

This suggests that many factors influence gun-involved injuries and deaths. Unless we take a wide range of issues into account, put emotions aside except as a source of motivation, focus on the rational, and base our decisions on scientifically valid studies, we cannot arrive at the best decisions for our society.

We do know that countries with similar cultures as ours have much lower rates of gun-related deaths. Switzerland, Canada, Finland, France, Austria, New Zealand, Belgium, Greece, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Germany, Australia, Ireland, Spain, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom all have much lower death by firearms rates than the U.S.

Looked at another way, we find that Canada has a rate of gun deaths three times lower than the U.S; Australia’s rate is five times lower; the United Kingdom’s rate is t30 times lower. Maybe we could learn something useful about better controlling the gun violence in our society by studying these other countries.

Owning guns makes some people feel safer. There is no good public policy reason to refuse such people the right to own guns, and I am not suggesting that we should do so. In fact, the Constitution gives all of us the right to own guns. But that same Constitution does not give us the right to possess semi-automatic guns, or bazookas, or surface-to-air missiles. And our society has a right to prevent such powerful weapons from falling into the hands of disturbed individuals, which is impossible to prevent if the guns are readily available.

A poll done this past August by CNN/ORC shows that a majority of Americans favor background checks before purchasing a gun, a ban on semi-automatic weapons, a ban on high-capacity clips, a ban on guns for the mentally ill and for felons, and gun registration. I don’t know if these views enacted into law would reduce the gun violence level in our society, but they are worth considering, as is closing the gun show loophole that lets people avoid registration and background checks.

I do know that to keep semi-automatic weapons from those who will do us harm requires one thing — enough politicians with the courage to take sensible steps to protect Americans from the devastation such weapons can create.

Unfortunately, most of our politicians take their orders from the NRA and Gun Owners of America, two organizations that contribute millions of dollars to protect the profits of the gun industry in the guise of standing up for rights to which none of us are entitled.

Their position on the issue of semi-automatic guns puts us all in jeopardy. They do not make us safer or more secure. On the contrary, they delay us from finding rational solutions that may prevent the kind of heartbreak felt by most Americans for the families of those children and adults killed in Newtown.

[Lamar W. Hankins, a former San Marcos, Texas, city attorney, is also a columnist for the San Marcos Mercury. This article © Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. Hankins. Read more articles by Lamar W. Hankins on The Rag Blog.]

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4 Responses to Lamar W. Hankins : A Humanist Response to the Newtown Killings

  1. Anonymous says:

    I love the NRA, and I am a member and a supporter. I love to shoot but I rarely hunt. In fact it’s been at least five years since I took a deer.

    Lamar clearly operates in a logic free zone. Let’s follow along shall we?

    “The primary difference between semi-automatic guns and fast cars is that there is no reason to possess semi-automatic guns except to go to war or to kill a lot of people in a short period of time.”

    What an idiotic thing to say. You can drive to grannies house in a Kia Rio but its more fun and exciting to drive there in a Corvette. You can shoot a .22 at a target, but its a lot more “wow” to shoot an AK or an AR. I own them, and know literally hundreds of people who own these types of high powered rifles. If you are into computers you want the one with the latest features. If you love cars, you want to give the badass car models a spin. If you like to shoot as a hobby, then you want to shoot exotic weapons.

    So Lamar, shut up please. You clearly know nothing about those of us who enjoy shooting. We own and shoot all kinds of exotic guns because it is fun and very social. You are an opportunist who is using a tragedy to further your agenda and while trying to pass yourself off as someone who is a “gun owner” to give your nonsensical drivel more merit than it deserves.

    – Extremist2TheDHS

  2. Jay D. Jurie says:

    I have the impression that “Extremist2” may be the sort who enjoys shooting prairie dogs for the fun of it. I also note he lacks the courage to post under his own name.

  3. richard jehn says:

    Lance Renfrew has never posted under his own name and I presume he never will. I call it chicken-shit politics.

    Lance, this is from the Nation:
    The National Rifle Association portrays itself as an organization that represents “4 million members” who simply love the Second Amendment. The truth is much more murky.

    In reality, the NRA is composed of half a dozen legal entities; some designed to run undisclosed attack ads in political campaigns, others to lobby and collect tens of millions in undisclosed, tax-deductible sums. This power has only been enhanced in the era of Citizens United, with large GOP donors in the last election reportedly funneling money to the NRA simply to use the group as a brand to pummel Democrats with nasty ads. (As The Huffington Post’s Peter Stone reported, even the Koch network now provides an undisclosed amount to the NRA.)

    Despite the grassroots façade, there is much evidence to suggest that corporations that profit from unregulated gun use are propping up the NRA’s activities, much like how the tobacco lobby secretly funded “Smokers Rights’” fronts and libertarian anti-tax groups, or how polluters currently finance much of the climate change skepticism movement.

    In a “special thanks” to their donors, the National Rifle Association Foundation lists Bushmaster Firearms Inc., the company that makes the assault rifle reportedly found with the shooter responsible for the mass murder today in Newtown, Connecticut. How much Bushmaster Firearms Inc. (a firm now known as Windham) contributes is left unsaid.

    The Violence Policy Center has estimated that since 2005, gun manufacturers have contributed up to $38.9 million to the NRA. Those numbers, however, are based on publicly listed “sponsorship” levels on NRA fundraising pamphlets. The real figures could be much bigger. Like Crossroads GPS or Americans for Prosperity, or the Sierra Club for that matter, the NRA does not disclose any donor information even though it spends millions on federal elections.

    And like other industry fronts, the NRA is quick to conceal its pro–gun industry policy positions as ideological commitments.
    Lance, why do you defend the indefensible?

  4. Anonymous says:

    Thank you Richard. You recruited me here, so i assumed you and the others knew my name. Nothing to hide on my part. I actually like the moniker better so I continue to use it.

    Who cares if the NRA is a pro gun lobby? I want it to be one. Who cares if guns groups help support it? I assume they do.

    You write this as if its some terrible secret. The NRA and other similar groups help to blunt the onslaught of gun control policy, gun criminilization zealots, and left wing nut jobs (you know who you are, Richard) For that, I say, please continue. Someone needs to be the voice of reason when so many simply want to intimidate those like me.

    – Extremist2TheDHS

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