It's been twenty-four hours since the horrific elementary school shooting in Connecticut, and President Obama has already suggested that it's time to get serious about gun control. But if history serves as a guide, the discussion of gun violence will again get bogged down in a quagmire of binary thinking.
On one hand, gun control advocates attribute gun violence to the very existence of guns. And on the other hand, gun owners believe that, "Guns don't kill people — people kill people." They point to another elementary school attack in China where the assailant stabbed his victims instead of shooting them. From this, we are to infer that guns are not the issue. Instead, it's a mental health problem.
Gun advocates continually point to examples that show how guns have saved lives. "If we outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns." People on both sides of this issue speak in absolutes. They use deductive reasoning to back up their thinking: if something isn't true 100% of the time, then it must be false. It's exactly this kind of binary all-or-nothing thinking that prevents us from making substantive progress toward preventing tragedies like this one and countless other mass killings across America.
First, we need to understand that guns are but one piece of a larger puzzle. Mental health is another piece, as is parenting, as is violence in video games, as is the glorification of getting even, as is the acceptance of hate. Attacking the gun problem alone will not result in the outcome we're looking for. We need to address the whole picture, including sensible controls on gun ownership and strict limitations on assault weapons.
We need a comprehensive plan that doesn't even use the words "gun control" in its title. It's time to get serious about mass violence and all of its causes.