Gun violence in America is a multifactorial problem

Let me warn you — I own guns. I love to shoot. And I’m a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. This may seem hypocritical coming from a doctor, but don’t shoot me figuratively speaking, of course — before I make my case. Any mass killing is a horrifying event. Any senseless death is riveting. Obviously, this goes without saying, but as a doctor whose purpose is to save lives, this hits home more painfully so. Amidst our grief and outrage as a society, we desperately search for a preventative remedy, often setting aside individual responsibility and shifting the blame to a more universal source.

So then, who or what are the causes of such violence so that we may find a cure? To some, the issue is singular and clear: It’s the availability of guns, the NRA and pro-gun advocates who allowed this to happen. To others, it’s a mental health issue. Still, to others, the issue is muddier: Is it a result of a society that glorifies violence in its mass media, a decline in our spiritual and moral fiber or the frequency and duration by which the news media reports acts of violence and aberrant behavior? Or, perhaps, it’s a combination of any or all of the above.

Gun violence in America may very well be a multifactorial problem.

The way information and entertainment are propagated these days might play several roles. On the one hand, entertainment media wantonly glorifies violence, such that with the passage of time we become desensitized to things that would have shocked us only a few years ago. On the other hand, the news media bombards us with continuous coverage of real-life violence, making it seem more prevalent than what the statistics may show. Then there is social media where anyone can spout malignant ideas. One wonders whether such media saturation, in its various forms, is the tipping point that sparks someone already of an improper mindset into a murderous rampage.

But all of this falls under the protection of the First Amendment and, for the most part, rightly so. As with all our rights, there are associated risks; it’s the price we pay for freedom. The risk of freedom of speech is the risk of speech inciting hate and violence. Yet, most of us would dare not curb our First Amendment rights and exercise censorship. And so the blame shifts to some other source, such as the NRA, law-abiding gun owners and the Second Amendment.

However, removing the means by which a person can harm others will not eliminate the threat. The Oklahoma City bomber used fertilizer to create a bomb killing 168 people. The 9/11 terrorists used box-cutters to hijack four planes killing thousands. Then there were the Boston Marathon bombers and the recent package bombings in Austin, Texas done with makeshift devices. Gang-related violence is all too common in our urban areas where in many instances, firearms are obtained illegally. Sadly, where there is a will, there’s a way. Mental illness may be a factor, yet in some cases, it may simply be evil-minded people who became that way for reasons we may never know.

The Second Amendment gives teeth to our Bill of Rights; it provides the means by which ordinary citizens can protect their unalienable rights, rights given to us not by government, but by a higher power. Our founding fathers believed this power to be God, but whatever the source may be, the overarching idea is that man or government is not the source of our freedoms, and therefore neither man nor government can take them away. But to enforce this idea, there must be a way for ordinary people to defend it.

But the risk of the Second Amendment is that innocent citizens can be killed by the very means in which they are enabled to protect themselves. Yet, peaceful coexistence with firearms in the public sphere is possible. Case in point: Switzerland has one of the lowest murder rates in the world (and less than strict gun-controlled nations such as the United Kingdom and Australia) and the third highest per capita gun ownership.

The gun debate has always been a hot and divisive topic, vehemently stirring passions on both sides. How do we protect ourselves from violence without creating a crusade to restrict or potentially annihilate a constitutional right? How do we do this without vilifying one set of beliefs over another, without creating more resentment and hate and increasing the divide?

Let’s face it: we’ve been killing one another since the dawn of recorded history. The darkness of the human heart has existed since Cain and Abel, well before the advent of firearms. Formulating policy that severely restricts or eliminates any of our constitutional rights will not keep us safer but weakens us as a whole.

As a civilized society, we must work together to combat this problem without demonizing another’s beliefs or treading on another’s rights. Each and every one of us is part of a larger entity — not only as a nation but as a collective fabric of the entire human race.

We must remember with any right comes responsibility, and yet we also have a responsibility to one another. We must demonstrate our lawfulness and maturity and our sense of right and wrong before we are able to handle and own a gun. We must find a way to identify and help those with mental health issues before they cause harm without restricting their liberty. We must be careful in the way we display violence through mass media without undue censorship. To every person, we must bring to light the very real and painful costs of violence. The remedy may very well require a multifaceted, balanced approach.

Randall S. Fong is an otolaryngologist.

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