Guns Not The Only Problem

Posted: February 7, 2013

You can’t shoot a
bird that is sitting
on your gun barrel.
— Chewa aphorism

Thousands of years ago, when humans first lived in small bands, the first murder occurred. It is difficult for us to imagine today that the group did not immediately hang the perpetrator on the nearest tree. The band was first stunned and probably did not know what to do or how to react. Eventually solutions evolved that may seem so obvious to us today.

Although we Americans claim to be so educated and sophisticated, the society may still be at that point where even after 20 school children at Sandy Hook Elementary and six adults are killed quickly in the most brutal way with a high powered assault rifle, we are still wringing our hands.

Even after a chain of these violent gun massacres, we are still debating the Second Amendment: people kill, not guns; people can kill with knives, rocks, and hammers. Should we also outlaw these items? The other popular argument is that more gun legislation will not stop these violent gun murders as criminals and other mentally unbalanced individuals will still find a way of getting their hands on high capacity rifles and kill people. The list of these arguments on both sides is long.

To simply argue that the solutions to gun violence are very complex today and that the problem may defy one simple solution may seem like copping out. But this approach may offer our best hope to finding one compound solution. When I was introduced to Factor Analysis and multiple correlations as high falutin statistical tools as a young graduate student decades ago, I never thought it could be a possible solution to a serious problem in the real world.

In its most basic form, Factor Analysis tries to investigate how numerous variables may be correlated. The gun violence problem may be best solved through exploring many factors that may contribute to it. If we use this approach, the challenge is that the solutions to gun violence may also demand that as a society we act on many solutions at the same time, some of which may be very invasive. We may strongly oppose some of these possible solutions today as we deeply believe that government laws or my neighbor has no right to invade my individualism and privacy.

Factor Analysis may find that there are more than, say, 30 contributing factors to gun violence. These may include: excessive supply of guns, poorly trained private citizen gun owners, too much money in the gun industry, excessive advancement in gun technology, drug abuse, easy availability of dangerous, better guns, or assault rifles, mental and emotional illness, violent videos, excessive publicity of each gun violent massacre, breakdown of marriages, families and neighborhoods, secularization of society, and poorly enforced gun laws due to having fewer police and other law enforcement officials.

The solution to gun violence can never be just difficult-to-pass gun laws due to gridlock in Congress, or just banning certain weapons, or locking up everyone who has a hint of emotional or mental problems, or returning religion to schools. Possible contributing factors may include mental imbalance, poor social or family support and isolation among teenagers, in addition to easy availability of powerful assault rifles. Solutions to gun violence would then require us to act on many fronts as a society. But those solutions are more difficult. This is why we tend to settle for one old familiar solution to what may be a new serious problem of gun massacres.

Mr. Tembo, a sociology professor at Bridgewater College, is the author of “Satisfying Zambian Hunger for Culture.”

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