Pretend with me that I'm a terrorist living in the 8th century AD. I've committed myself to the killing of your specific group of people. Maybe my deity told me to do it, or maybe I just don't like your hair. Those are as valid as any reasons that any real terrorist has ever stated---because NO reason is valid---but whatever excuse I'm using to justify the mass murder of your people, I'm going to kill you ALL.
Ignore the moral issues and let's just consider the practicalities. That is, from a practical perspective as an individual actor, what are my options? I'm not being intentionally horrific here in trying to get you to consider what means are available for killing people, I'm going somewhere with this, stick with me. So, at this point in the history of lethal weapons, I'm rather limited. Most weapons are carried by a single person and are focused on causing individual death by either physical trauma or blood loss, such as smashing your head in or slicing you open. History itself documents the brutal efficiency of the available weapons, but even if I were the best swordsman that the world had ever seen, terrorism by direct mass murder is going to be difficult at best, more likely I'll just get myself killed. Disease and famine were bigger killers of large groups; I'd be better off attempting some sort of indirect approach like burning your crops so that you'd die of starvation. But it's still going to be a serious challenge because the weapon technology just doesn't exist yet.
Fast forward a century to the introduction of black powder. This gives me some serious new options, but it will still be quite some time before explosives are readily available enough to be used by an individual as a weapon of mass murder. Canons come along fairly quickly, but they're not exactly ideal for either carrying around or terrorist-type attacks. But make no mistake, my options are improving fast. Jump forward a few more centuries, to sometime around the end of the 12th century. Individual firearms are now available. Now I can kill you from across the street, but it's still pretty much a one-shot deal (pun intentional). In just a few more short centuries, however, I'll have easy access to personal-sized explosives (e.g. hand grenades), semi-automatic firearms, automatic firearms, and worse (think nuclear) options.
There's a pattern here that is undeniable fact: as time passes, it becomes easier and easier for one human to end the life of another, especially very quickly and on a large scale.
So, is technology the problem? Are guns the problem?
If you are reading this blog you are probably familiar with arguments on both sides of this question. There are those that argue that no gun on its own has ever decided to kill someone and then acted on that decision, and there are those that argue that if the gun (or whatever the weapon technology) was not available in the first place, then it couldn't be used to take human life.
There is merit to both of these arguments. Guns are in fact inanimate, non-living things. They don't kill people. Period. A human actor is required. It is also true, however, that if the weapon did not exist or the human actor did not possess it, he or she could not use it to kill another human. Also fact, period. Both are true, so which is the problem? Does the fault lie with the weapon or with the user of the weapon? Most people having given this some critical thought will conclude that both are issues. With the ultimate goal being to define the problem so that we can solve it---you can't solve a problem until you know what it is---then is one of these things more of an issue than the other when it comes to gun violence in 2016?
To answer that, let's go back to my life as a terrorist who doesn't like your hair, and also consider the reason that weapons exist at all in the first place. As we observed, as time passes, advancing weapon technology makes it easier and easier to take another life if I choose to. And yes the "choosing to" is a big part of the argument about why the problem is not the technology, but let's also ignore that for a moment to make this as pure and simple as possible. Let's take the pattern of continually advancing weapon technology to a possible end-point. How far could it go? Where's the end?
Imagine at some point in the future, a technology exists that makes it possible to kill another human being by simply thinking it.
Would that not be the ultimate weapon? The ultimate power? The marching advance of weapon technology is forever moving toward ways to make it easier and easier for human beings to kill one another. What ultimate conclusion of this process could be easier than to kill with a mere thought?
Now imagine living in a world where this was real. Let's call the technology the Death Wish 9000. ("Death Wish" because, well, that's pretty much what it is, and 9000 because it sounds like something that an evil marketing department dreamed up, sorry HAL.) If I've got a DW9000---this is a concealed device, by the way, maybe it's implanted in the brain---and I'm walking down the street and I see you and I don't like the style of your hair, or the color of your skin, or that you are still using a flip phone from the 1990s, and I decide that I want you dead---then you're dead.
Will the human race survive if this technology ever becomes real? This would be "Gun Violence 2016" taken to the extreme, and the weapon technology that does exist in 2016 already has us asking this question. The answer lies in the other part of what we are considering, that I've alluded to twice but have yet to address: the reason that weapons exist in the first place. Weapons exist for one reason: so that humans can more easily kill other living things, mostly other humans. This goes back to the now somewhat trite but true "guns don't kill people, people kill people". Whether it be a sword, a modern automatic firearm, a bomb, a DW9000, magic, the Force, if someone chooses to take a life, the weapon is merely a tool that makes it easier. And as human ingenuity is wont to do, and as history shows, the tools that allow us to kill each other are on a steady march to being ever more effective.
So, for mankind to survive in a DW9000 world, what would it take? The answer is so obvious and blatantly simple when taken to the extreme of the DW9000 where we can kill each other by just thinking it: you simply don't choose to kill someone! That's it. People NOT choosing to kill one another is the only way that humanity would survive. In my hypothetical terrorist example, I would need to be able to walk down the street, see you and your hairstyle or your skin color or your offensive outdated flip phone---and then not choose to kill you! But that would be so hard, right!? Because, wow, that would require me to be tolerant of whole LOT of hair styles and skin colors and phone choices, to respect other people for their own choices.
And---heeeeyyyyyy...maybe that's what we should do now!? In 2016! I mean, all we have are guns and bombs and stuff, no DW9000s yet, but maybe it could work!? Maybe the problem isn't the weapons after all. Maybe the problem is the hearts of the people holding them. Hmnnnn...
Sarcasm aside, if we have any hope of solving the problem that has been incorrectly labeled "gun violence", then we need to address the right problem, and it's mostly not the guns. It's the humans holding the guns and their lack of tolerance and respect for others that makes them say, "I choose to kill you." Whether it be guns or something you and I have not imagined yet, centuries of advancing weapon technology makes one thing clear: it will continually get easier and easier for humans to kill each other. Efforts to create a world where humans can't kill each other are likely wasted time; we need to focus instead on choosing not to kill each other in the first place.
Tolerance and respect are the only way forward.
President & Co-founder
President & Co-founder