Tuesday, December 25, 2012

In other news, water still wet

Wayne LaPierre said something that was simultaneously simplistic and annoying:

"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

These words annoyed me the moment I heard them, but it took an off-handed comment to understand exactly why. When I linked to a news story about this*, and read back that sentence, he smiled wryly and said, “Yknow, I'd accept help from a second bad guy who hates the first one, in a pinch.”

And that's it. There's this common thought that the world is set up like a movie – more specifically, like a Western – where there are such things as bad guys and good guys. As Terry Pratchett once said through one his best characters, “I believe you find life such a problem because you think there are good people and bad people. You're wrong, of course. There are, always and only, the bad people, but some of them are on opposite sides.”** Or, to go straight-up biblical, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Reduce that sentence a little: “The only thing that stops a bad guy is a good guy.” Take away the whole firearms issue, and you're left with what sounds like a middle schooler explaining his Batman short story to his teacher.*** It's reductive and silly.

So, let's see if we can save it.

One of the primary things that stops an aggressive attacker with a gun is another trained attacker.”

Okay, this I can work with. It doesn't make my eyelid twitch with cognitive dissonance. It's a little long and and complicated, but inarguable, right? Well . . .

Crisis negotiation began in 1972 as a way to resolve conflicts between law enforcement and civilians without using lethal force. While it's effectiveness is debatable, it is inarguable that violent crime has, despite what you might hear, gone down, and many credit crisis resolution techniques with that reduction.****

The best possible solution to anyone attacking with a weapon is, of course, to prevent it happening in the first place. Needless to say, this is rarely going to involve gunplay.

So, we're left with another rephrasing:

Once prevention and negotiation have failed, an aggressive attacker can be stopped by another trained attacker.”

And this is the problem with press conferences and soundbites. Try getting a single article written about your speech when you say something that boring and dry. Still, we have to try. We have to have a conversation about this, where we're willing to talk using our big-people words, where we speak not in absolutes and certainties, but try to use the study and work of others to help us come to a solution, knowing that any solution we find will not be permanent and will not end violence.

Because this isn't bad guys versus the good guys, and it never, ever has been. There are no white hates, and no black hats, just shades of grey. And, well, some taupe and ecru, for some of the truly exceptional. We're all in this together. All of us. It's high time we started acting like it.

*For those who don't know, NRA President Wayne LaPierre said these words at a press conference, in follow-up to the Sandy Hook shootings. I'm not interested in talking about gun control here, but in case you need that context, there it be.

** Lord Vetinari in “Guards, Guards” – really, the book's a perfectly adequate introduction to Pratchett's Discworld. I prefer to start people off with Small Gods as it's nicely self-contained, but, well, just get started somewhere.

*** Of course, I've now just implied that Batman is a good guy – ooog. Just pretend I said Green Lantern instead. Wait, what's that? He helped the Guardians hide the creation of the Manhunters and hindered their prosecution. Oh, sod. Captain America, then. No, wait, he went directly against a federal order in opposing the Superhuman Registration Act. Huh. Even comic book morality is more complex than Wayne LaPierre's.

**** I have cites for this. Fans of statistics and analysis can check out http://www.eisf.eu/resources/library/hostage_negotiation.pdf. Fans of anecdotal evidence can read http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/12/answers-about-hostage-negotiation-part-1/. Or read both. The former's dry, but the latter's a good read. There's tons more out there, and anyone looking into what they want to do with their life, or for a second career should take a look.