By Erin Lale:
“The right to bear arms shall not be infringed.” That sounds pretty clear to me. When people argue over the Second Amendment, they tend to argue over a clause enclosed in commas that gives insight into the reasoning behind creating the Second Amendment, which refers to a “well-regulated militia.” It has been argued that “well-regulated militia” describes the National Guard, rather than individuals. Right now, the Supreme Court has sided with individual ownership, but that has not always been the case throughout U.S. history. The argument that the National Guard’s business is to stay within the borders of a State and do the State’s work evaporated when the Federal Government nationalized the National Guard and sent them to war overseas. During the Hurricane Katrina disaster, National Guard troops were not available to keep order in New Orleans because they were in Iraq. The National Guard’s previous work fighting fires in the wild land of the American West also cannot be done when the Guard is stationed overseas, and much of the work has been taken over by a patchwork of Federal and local governments, volunteers, nonprofit agencies, prison labor, and Native American tribes. The work of regular military, reserve military, and National Guard has become indistinguishable, and it takes place outside the United States in foreign countries. If the people of the U.S. were to depend on the National Guard to be the possessors and users of firearms in the U.S., we would find ourselves sorely lacking. It is in the face of this reality that the political climate turned in favor of individual rights.
What about keeping guns out of the hands of madmen? Laws don’t keep lawbreakers from doing anything. Murder is already as illegal as it gets. It is not only against the laws that are on paper, it is against the laws that are carved in stone. Homicide has been illegal since before human beings learned how to write. A person who is willing to commit murder will not be deterred by any law. That is fairly well proven by the Aurora killing spree, in which a mass murderer went on a killing spree in a posted Gun-Free Zone.
It is dangerous to label spree killers “madmen” as if they were a separate species that could be identified before they kill. Our society defines “madmen” in a way that would make us all less safe if we let government use those definitions to deny people guns. Our mental health system classifies rape victims who seek counseling as having a mental illness while rapists are not considered mentally ill. If the mental health system determined who should and should not have guns it would give them to rapists and deny them to victims of crime.
Society does not know what causes spree killing. It is a new phenomenon, unknown before the 20th Century. Certainly there were rampages in history, but most took place in a warfare context. The history behind the word “berserker” referred to a King’s royal elite troops, not to random killing by individuals. Modern spree killers are usually described as quiet loners, just like modern serial killers. Like serial killings, spree killings are a male phenomenon.
Of course, historical conditions are different than modern ones. It is true that modern firearms can shoot more bullets per minute than older types. Military rifles of the pre-World War era came with bayonets because the enemy could close during reloading time. It is also true that in previous times, a would-be rampage killer might have gotten shot or run through with a sword before getting off a second shot, because in previous eras the theater crowd would themselves have been armed. The arguments of both the left and the right have merit, but neither get at the heart of the issue: why do spree killers kill? Of all the people who have examined this issue, it seems to me that it is neither the political commentators of the left nor the right but the Catholic priest Steven Kalas who may be on the right track. In his Sunday column in the RJ, he proposed that something has gone wrong with the masculine in our modern era.
Boys are not being taught responsibility in the way that they used to be. A previous society’s chivalric code of honor has been abandoned, but no other masculine code of conduct has yet taken its place. Boys are being left behind in school, and when they fail to act like girls they are labeled hyperactive and medicated into obedience. The child who wants to run and play is considered abnormal, labeled with a mental illness. Society values the quiet, orderly, studious child who prefers the desk to the playground and the alone-ness of the test to the team of a sport or military unit: precisely the personality type that is described over and over in our newspapers by the neighbors of mass murderers, with a quizzical, plaintive statement that “he seemed so nice and quiet.” Society has labeled normal, active boys as mentally ill and the quiet loners who grow up to be mass murderers as the ideal child.
To the extent that an absence of a proper channel for the growth of boys into men is a cultural problem, it begs a cultural solution. This is an issue to be addressed in our homes, schools, clubs, churches, and even in our popular entertainments. Ideas have power. Transmission of cultural ideals comes through movies, books, games, TV, the internet, sports, and even advertising in a way that is psychologically powerful. Laws that focus on guns or any other objects will not accomplish this cultural work. It is clear that what we need instead is a revolution in the rearing of boys. We need a different framework than our current education-pharmaceutical complex. We need education that adapts to the student rather than education that hammers square pegs into round holes. The future of education is already on the horizon as individually tailored curricula in internet based education and home schooling are infiltrating the educational universe everywhere they are still legal. Many different opportunities will give us the kind of educational system we need to allow everyone to develop their full potential and will give boys the breathing space they need to grow up without becoming unhinged spree killers. The primary obstacle to achieving individually tailored education is the education bureaucracy entrenched in the government school system. Our current school system was based on a Prussian system and was intended to train future factory workers to respond to the school bell and the factory whistle and labor obediently in assembly line fashion. The American population had a higher degree of literacy before compulsory government schools were created; it’s time to do away with that failed experiment and let a market of ideas bring us to the future. A future where boys are free to grow into well-adjusted men.