May 032013

I was probably never going cross paths with or hear about the five-year-old boy who shot his two-year-old sister dead, nor any of her parents. Odds are, most people on the planet wouldn’t know about them had it not been for the story that hit the news.

Unbeknownst to me, I had gotten in an argument with a pro-gun who hid his affection rather well, all the while I thought we were having a casual conversation.  As tragic as this is, and as a parent I can identify with the grief of losing a child. But I cannot feel sad any more than I can understand what a parent must feel knowing it wasn’t an accident out of their control, rather it was precisely a consequence of their upbringing. “No, it’s sad. It’s very sad.” I was told. To me sad is that nearly 9 million child dies every single year of malnutrition and other trivially-curable complications or diseases, I answered. “You aren’t sad for the 9 million dying children?”

No, I’m not sad. You know what Stalin said? He said, ‘a single death is sad, millions dead is a statistic.

Yes, that was the response I got.

And before I knew it, I got the argument for guns: Cars kill more people than guns, but you don’t want to ban cars, do you?

Before we get too worked up, let’s separate these two points: Emotions developed on hearing stories of unknown individuals, as tragic as they may be, is one thing, not having good arguments to defend a position and instead repeating bad arguments is a completely different matter.

Hume Rolls in his Grave

Kentucky State Police Trooper, Billy Gregory, said “in this part of the country, it’s not uncommon for a five-year-old to have a gun or for a parent to pass one down to their kid.” Regardless of whether I am pro gun or not, I must recognize one thing: Guns are dangerous.

“Passing down” guns to a five-year-old inherently and inevitably implies taking a certain risk. The risk of the gun going off, whether intentionally or accidentally. Failing to recognize this simple fact is akin to covering one’s face when losing control of their car. There might be multiple ways to resolve a problem, but ignoring it couldn’t be one of them.

If I start drinking and gambling, I shouldn’t expect anyone to be surprised when I lose everything and end up on the streets. I shouldn’t expect anyone to feel sad for my stupidity and bad choices. They might as well laugh at my surprise at the outcome. If I hand my twelve-year-old the car keys, should I or anyone else find it odd when they crash the car and damage people and property? Should I expect pity from others if the car crashes into my house damaging and injuring me?  Similarly, guns and children do not produce an infinite output of combinations: there are very few things that we should expect to happen from the marriage and we only hope it’s going to be playground fun. But hoping is no precaution.

I find it borderline humorous that people systematically give their children guns and then the whole world is gaping at the death of a child. I find it inevitable, unless steps are taken to prevent it. Like everyone else, I have limited energy, both emotionally and otherwise, and I prefer to spend them on preventable causes that affect countless more children, equally fragile, equally lovable and equally rightful to life.

Just because we find it easier to write off millions of deaths to statistics doesn’t make it right. I’m sure Stalin had other apt utterance worthy of quoting in the light of the massacres, deportations and cold-blood killings that he sanctioned. But should we take comfort in the coldness of the indifference that we may feel at the death of millions of children who, like the victim in this case, haven’t yet seen their fifth birthday? Does Stalin’s ludicrous indifference have any bearing on how one feels or should feel?

Stalin’s quote was at once shocking and baffling to me. I didn’t know if using it was an excuse and justification for one’s feelings, or lack thereof, or it was a Freudian slip. Either way, just because something is doesn’t imply what it ought to be, morally speaking. Perhaps we should start feeling sad about these children of have-not parents. The children dying of famine have only nature and our inaction to blame. The five-year-old who killed his sister, in contrast, has his parents to blame for preferring to buy him a gun (or at least allowing him to own one) instead of a multitude other things they could have done, not least buying him a book to read and learn from in the hope of bettering himself and his society.

I cannot feel sad for the decisions of others, any more than I can prevent them from taking these decisions. However the same couldn’t be said of the children dying of malnutrition and lack of clean water. In the later case I can prevent it, and my (collectively our, really) inaction to save a single more child is sad indeed.

At least in one sense he was right, though. We cannot begin to imagine anything in the millions, but a single child with a picture in the news is readily reachable. But that only speaks of our limitations of being human, and hopefully not of our inhumanity.

Guns and Cars

I have heard many decent arguments for crazy things, including keeping slaves and leaving women out of the workforce (and typically in the kitchen) among others. Here “decent” doesn’t mean acceptable or justifiable, rather that the point in an of itself having a merit. They fail because taken in the full context of the issue, a single argument for or against something as complex as these topics doesn’t simply have enough weight.

Slavery had many benefits to slaves, not least steady income, job security and living space. And at least some women will not mind if given half a chance to be relieved of the burden of providing for oneself and their family entails. Women aren’t unique in wishing for an easier lifestyle than working forty-hour-weeks.

But these arguments fail to resolve the issue one way or the other because they are incomplete. They shed light on a single aspect and it’s a very narrow one at that as well. Cars do kill people, perhaps much more people than guns (clearly here we are ignoring wars). I’ve read numbers as high as 500,000 annual deaths from car accidents.

Do I want to ban cars for this huge loss that they cause? Yes, and in a sense we do already. The traffic and car licensing laws have evolved in response to both the dangers that are inherent in driving and the exploding number of cars and motorists. Driving under the influence of alcohol (given a certain allowance, if at all) is a grave offense in many states and countries and can be a felony if others are injured. Multiple offenses typically result in revoking the license and often sentencing to jail.

More importantly, the argument is weak and irrelevant because it appeals to one’s disposition, bias and shortcomings of undermining the perils of cars. Indeed, many of us cringe upon hearing about spiders and snakes, let alone seeing one, but may jaywalk in heavy traffic, sometimes with children.

We should avoid driving whenever we can and we should have better laws, education, responsible drivers and car owners as well as better traffic rules to minimize their risks. But we should also do the same for guns. Giving them to kids should simply be an offense no less sever than letting a minor drive your car. Having a gun gifted to a child, by maker called “My first rifle,” and then pretending that the gun will be locked in a safe is simply avoiding to see things for what they are. Children are attached to their toys and I guess that’s the point of manufacturing guns for them in the first place – they are expected to become loyal gun owners for many more years.

All this pretending that guns have benefits to society on equal footing to cars to justify their risks. I am not willing to give such a blank license to cars and will demand improving the situation to avoid unnecessary injury and loss of life from car accidents. But the onus for proving the benefits of guns to be even remotely comparable to those of cars is certainly not on me. Let alone the benefit of guns to kids.

When someone kills another with their car, they cannot claim that injury is a risk we’ve come to accept, so why prosecute them anymore than a gun owner can claim the same. But let’s not pretend that owning guns is a right without restrictions, because being responsible is all about restrictions, first to oneself before others.

We will never take responsibility if we don’t see the inherent dangers of our choices and if we don’t understand that both car and gun deaths are preventable and they are both of our choosing, and as long as we view our actions vicariously.

Evidently, the grandmother of the now-dead two-year-old has a different understanding of cause and effect than mind. “It was God’s will. It was her time to go, I guess, I just know she’s in heaven right now and I know she’s in good hands with the Lord.” She said.

I feel sorry for the five-year-old for having the parents he has, and I can only hope he will not repeat the same mistakes when the roles are reversed.

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