A Double Standard on Deadly Weapons

Posted: Sep 19, 2013 9:08 AM

PARIS -- It's heartbreaking that America is mourning the victims of yet another horrific shooting massacre -- this time as the result of a former Navy reservist opening fire in the Washington Navy Yard complex, killing 13 people (including himself) and injuring several others. Once again, we begin looking to make sense of it all.

But something strikes me as new this time, if only because of the current news cycle: As Syria's brutal dictator, Bashar al-Assad, agrees to hand over his chemical weapons to international control in the interest of detente, Americans are increasingly arming up.

We might want to start recognizing in ourselves the same problems that we see in others. Why, for example, is there such a glaring double standard with respect to how some Americans view deadly weapons at home versus elsewhere? Many of the same people who take pride in posting Facebook profile photos of themselves with personal arsenals sufficient to overthrow a small island are nonetheless opposed to arming the Syrian rebels. They're outraged by the use of chemical weapons, yet it seems as if the only thing keeping some of these people from obtaining their own personal stashes of chemical weapons is the fact that they can't be purchased at the local Walmart.

Pick a lane: Either you're in favor of arms control, or you're in favor of every man arming himself as he sees fit. Yes, I realize that Assad is a bad guy who probably shouldn't be permitted anything more lethal than a pair of pliers, but it's not like there are any psychological tests being administered as a prerequisite to firearm ownership in America. It seems to inevitably turn out that the shooters in these mass-murdering rampages were just time bombs quietly ticking away.

Assad has agreed to hand over control of his chemical arsenal in the face of what he perceived to be the very real threat of retaliatory action against his regime, his role and his own life, despite being in a position to defend himself alongside his allies. That arsenal didn't have to be pried from his "cold, dead hands" -- and we're talking about a brutal dictator here. On some level, Assad's capitulation had to come from respect -- most likely respect for close ally Vladimir Putin and the proposal he was extending.

It's an interesting exercise in soul-searching to ask yourself if you would be willing to do the same -- forgo your own weapons in the interest of a societal detente, a shift in attitude and a shot at greater collective civility. Assad has taken a step toward reducing the mayhem in his country, though it's fair to wonder whether he was more motivated by the goal of detente, or by the goal of saving his own hide.

It's not guns that make a society civilized, as some like to argue. There is ample evidence to suggest that the cultural breakdown of a society, with a lack of respect at its root, leads to an increased focus on guns and self-defense -- and this includes a lack of respect for the firearms themselves.

Personally, I view a firearm not as a toy but as a tool created for one purpose: taking the life of another living being. When I hold a firearm, I feel its weight in more ways than one. If I have one in my hand, it's for a reason that I have thought through extensively, and not just because I wanted to look like some kind of a tough chick to all the friends and strangers who come across my Facebook profile photo.

Some increased self-awareness and a cultural shift back to an attitude of general respect are the keys to tackling this increasingly macabre trend.