Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The right to bear assault rifles

After the Sandy Hook massacre, the Connecticut state legislature has started hearings on gun ownership. The shock and outrage generated by the shooting rampage were just enough to put laws regulating the ownership of powerful “assault rifles” on the agenda. It’s anyone’s guess what it would take to move beyond that. Predictably, opponents of new gun regulations far outnumbered proponents among the politicized crowd in front of the state capitol; and – as one gun opponent noted – men far outnumbered women. This is a curious correlation which is not always noted.

Yes, the mother of the Sandy Hook shooter was a passionate gun lover. And brave women like Sarah Palin are not far behind. Yet, statistically, it would be fair to say that more guys than women are attracted to guns, particularly to military-grade assault weapons. I am sure Google would quickly corroborate this. Why this gender imbalance? Some could say men are, well, more macho, and guns are a potent symbol of male power – which seems to have fallen on hard times lately. But this would be gender stereotyping, and we want to avoid that when possible.

If you ask some of the men picketing the Connecticut state capitol, it turns out they have a different explanation. It seems they are better equipped to think straight, as they are immune to “knee-jerk reactions.” Instead, they have considered judgment – as exemplified by the father of a 6-year-old boy shot dead a couple of weeks earlier who testified inside. This is the way he reasoned: “I believe in a few simple gun laws. I think we have more than enough on the books. We should hold people individually accountable for their actions. The problem is not gun laws. The problem is a lack of civility.”

The logical conclusion to this line of thought would be to say: all that is needed to reduce gun-related deaths is to curb incivility. Then even the ownership of shoulder-mounted anti-aircraft or anti-tank missiles – and why not of drones and land-bound killer robots – wouldn’t pose a major hazard to public safety in a free society. To which I would respond: good luck with that project, particularly among the less fair gender.

Meanwhile, I am tempted to offer another provocative theory. There is some research indicating that the excessively analytical, “left-brained” thinking – as exemplified by extreme gun advocates – can easily shade into delusion, be it at the clinical and sub-clinical level. For complex biocultural reasons, men could be more susceptible to this syndrome. And this heightened susceptibility could affect they functioning in other areas where the boundary between delusion and sound judgment is less clear. Unless I am again parroting entrenched stereotypes, even when they are not exactly flattering to the gendered category under which I fall.