The gun control issue has been a touchy subject for many years in the U.S.. In this past year of 2012, with James Holmes shooting up a movie theater during a showing of The Dark Knight Rises and the recent Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, people have become particularly divided on the subject. Before I get into the nitty gritty of this subject, I must stress that I myself am NOT a gun owner, but I've always respected the rights of people to bear arms under the Second Amendment, for reasons I will explain throughout this post. The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution is as follows:
"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
^Over the course of many debates I've had in regards to gun control, I've heard much talk that the Second Amendment is outdated. The main argument tends to follow along these lines:
"Back then, the people only had muskets that took time to reload; today we have semi-automatics and automatic assault rifles that can kill people in seconds! People shouldn't have these those weapons to hunt or kill, and we'd be better off for it!"
The musket thing is true, of course. Times have obviously changed since then, and no responsible gun owner or advocate is denying this. The weapons are also obviously more dangerous, especially if they fall into the hands of a James Holmes or an Adam Lanza. As one can imagine, many people have been calling for the banning of semi-automatic and automatic assault rifles citing this reason, but few tend to look at things from a logical standpoint (even those on the pro-gun side tend to do this as well, Alex Jones being a perfect example). I can understand their reasoning somewhat; emotion can be a strong influence on one's decision-making and viewpoints, but letting it overwhelm them is where it gets too far, something which the media perpetuates all too often. This is best exemplified during the aftermath of the fiasco of a debate that took place on Piers Morgan Tonight, between conspiracy theorist/radio host Alex Jones and host Piers Morgan. Piers Morgan and guest Alan Dershowitz highlighted Alex Jones' antics as a reason FOR gun control, passing things off as if Jones was the representative of every gun owner in the U.S.:
Unfortunately for Piers and Dershowitz, that's just not the case. If gun owners, particularly responsible and licensed gun owners, all acted like Jones did on Piers Morgan Tonight on an every day basis, they can rest assured that they might have a potential argument. The reality of it all is that the every day person doesn't see people publicly running around with assault weapons throughout the country; in fact, it's not something people see at all unless they're in some terrible crime-infested neighborhood (in which case, they should probably move ASAP). To add some insult to injury here, although Alex Jones acted like a total buffoon during his appearance on Piers Morgan Tonight, the man doesn't have a history of violent offense with a weapon at all; in fact, he doesn't have any violent offense to begin with. People like Piers Morgan and Dershowitz tend to use emotional appeal to perpetuate this type of thinking to people, who in turn expand upon it outside of the media. I'm of the belief that Piers Morgan is someone who legitimately believes in what he's saying, and I give him credit for sticking by his guns even with facts presented against him, but the way he and others involved in the media speak of such things gives off a vibe of moral superiority and arrogance that just disgusts me.
Piers Morgan is the type to cite how proud he is of the U.K.'s gun bans, citing that they have only had 35 gun murders in recent times and that the U.S. has the highest gun murder rate in the world, but he neglects to mention a few things, such as the U.K. having one of the highest crime rates in Europe, and that the U.S., despite having the world's highest rate of gun ownership, actually is 28th on the list of gun murder ratings in the world:
Ben Swann's Reality Check debunking Piers Morgan's statistics
Citizens in the U.K. protesting gun control and gun ban laws
Gun homicide and gun ownership statistics
Ripplemagne on Gun Control I
Ripplemagne on Gun Control II
*NOTE* The latter two links belong to a friend of mine, and all credit goes to him for his hard work and research on the statistics, as well as many thanks. Also, full credit goes to Ben Swann for his own hard work and research on these statistics, and much thanks to him for being one of the few credible journalists left in the media today.
I've always believed that the most important thing that should be brought up during tragedies such as Sandy Hook is that it's the malevolent person holding the weapon that should be truly feared; it seems however, that while this does occur at first, it quickly tends to shift towards the weapons themselves and not the person behind the chaos. That's truly sad in a way, and I find it disrespectful to the victims that the media tends to turn things into a partisan issue to debate over. I think throughout it all, people tend to forget that for all the bad things that happen in our country with these deliberately planned (I say this in reference to the shooters, not some wacky conspiracy) or random shootings, the average gun owner shows plenty of restraint when handling their weapons. When we enter a restaurant or public place, rest assured that there are plenty of licensed gun owners who carry for self-defense reasons. These people aren't snapping on a whim or trying to go out of their way to ruin people's lives for the sake of doing so, so it begs the question: why do the media and government perpetuate this anti-gun rhetoric with over-generalization of every day gun owners?
The answer is simple. Controversy on a subject creates ratings for the media, and for the government, it creates another problem that they can argue over in order to play both sides of the issue for their votes, with neither the media or the government being liberty-minded enough to point out that both sides are having their rights infringed in a certain way by arguing like they do. For the anti-gun movement, many do their part by generalizing every gun owner, and (to play Devil's advocate here) for the pro-gun movement, many tend to cite the reason they should have guns is for more menial reasons. Throughout the chaos that ensues, a lot of what the Second Amendment is about is lost. Besides one's own implied self-defense, the Second Amendment is for the right of the people to keep and bear arms with the mindset of true self-defense from potential tyranny. The media and government tend to downplay this particular aspect for whatever reason, with media pundits, news anchors, and hosts such as Piers Morgan citing that such a possibility would never happen due to the supposed moral superiority of the government of the United States and his home country of the United Kingdom. This is once again best exemplified in Piers' debate against Ben Shapiro, who composed himself far better than Alex Jones did:
But the reality is, tyranny has happened before throughout history, and it continues to happen across the world. The same media and government that bicker back and forth on the issue of guns are typically the first to want to rush to another country's aid whenever a government goes mad with power against its own people. These particular fellows are also the first to want to arm those countries' citizens as well, as evidenced with the situations in Libya and Syria. In a lot of ways, the fact that these citizens needed to be armed in order to defend themselves against the purposeful or supposed tyranny of their government says it all to someone like myself who is liberty-minded. While it's good to think of the present at times, we as a people need to constantly be on our guard and think of the future as well. Every decision we make affects what future generations will have to deal with, and once again, people tend to forget about that. In the United States, we can also look to our own past for examples of government gone wild with tyranny as well, with the Battle of Athens being a prime example of citizens having to take up arms against the political corruption going on there.
So ultimately, when it comes down to it, what should we do as a country in order to curb gun violence? These are also simple answers. In regards to enacting gun bans and such, we should do nothing of the sort. Prohibition would most certainly start spreading more of these guns to the shadier kind of individual or to gangs. In regards to gun violence, we need to take steps to crack down on gun violence by attacking the real problems head-on, which are guns in the hands of irresponsible/bad people and gangs. It will be impossible to stop every potential bit of gun violence, but we can certainly lessen things so that there is an overwhelming majority of good people with guns rather than bad. On the part of gun owners, they also need to focus more on always encouraging self-control and personal responsibility for their weapons, so that the average gun owner isn't thinking more about hunting or showing off than the bigger picture of things. On the part of the anti-gun movement, generalizations and the infringing of others' rights to bear arms needs to end. Lastly, as every day Americans, we need to go back to our lives with a sense of normalcy. As a society, we can't let ourselves be beaten by someone like Adam Lanza; the best thing we can do to pay homage to the victims is to live our lives to the fullest, whilst keeping the victims of terrible instances like Sandy Hook and the most recent Albuquerque shooting in our hearts in some fashion.
Over the years, many people I know have referenced this famous (paraphrased) Socrates quote to me, whether it's been with the intent to lecture me in a debate or to discuss their disgust over the context of the quote. More often than not, I get the former scenario when involved in a debate, but most of the time, it's never used to actually get me to come to a self-realization or questioning of my stance like one would expect it to. It's not hard to understand why people bring up this particular quote; Socrates is up there as one of the most well-known philosophers of all time, and with how seemingly simple the quote is, it's easy for people to bring it up to try to turn the tide of a debate in their favor. I've found out over the years that the people who use this quote without thinking don't really try to explore the depth and the reasoning behind Socrates' usage of "I know nothing." After many years of hearing misinterpretations and complaints, I figured it's a good idea to explain the usage behind Socrates' words in layman's terms for people who misinterpret the context of the quote:
"All I know, is that I know nothing."
To start things off right, it's best to look at how exactly Socrates came to the the conclusion that he "knew nothing." As the story goes, a friend of Socrates asked the Oracle of Delphi who was wiser than Socrates. Her reply was frank and to the point: "no one is wiser." Socrates, unsure if the oracle was actually correct in her statement, decided to test whether or not he truly was the wisest. After publicly talking with politicians, poets, and craftsmen, he determined that although all of them were indeed wise (or at least APPEARED to be wise) in some manner, none of them seemed to understand that there was more for them to learn beyond what they already knew. This of course wasn't taken very well by his fellow Athenians, as the Athenians he questioned felt like they had been embarrassed in front of their peers, and it was what eventually led to his eventual trial and sentencing to death. He had multiple opportunities to escape trial and execution, but because he felt that it was a good time for him to die, he remained firm in his belief that he was the wisest Athenian around. It goes without saying that Socrates was considered a pain to begin with by the status quo of Athens at the time as well, but that's a story for another time.
Now, getting back to the modern era, I'm not afraid to admit that I've been schooled in a debate by an opponent who has brought this idea/quote up using the Socratic method. It's the kind of quote that has to be used properly to make someone stop and think whether his or her knowledge on a subject needs improvement or credibility. In that sense, it's a perfect tactic to use in a debate, and I don't discourage anyone from using it to cement one's argument/stance in a fair and reasonable matter that makes both sides expand their thinking to another level. The fundamental flaw of this quote by Socrates is the fact that it's a little too loosely worded; this might be attributed to the passage of time, as if you tell something long enough, it's bound to get diluted. Ironically enough, I've found that the same people who would be deemed by Socrates to be unwise are the same people who seem to flock to this quote in numbers. To illustrate this point, I'll bring up a scenario that recently happened to a friend of mine. He was engaged in a debate with some people in his class, and one of his opponents referenced the "I know nothing" quote in an attempt to disparage my friend's argument. The person my friend was debating was a type of person that's been described to me as stubborn in his beliefs and refusing to accept anything outside of the status quo that he knew. By using the "I know nothing" quote as a reference to his losing argument, he made an attempt to slander my friend's argument rather than making a logical point in the debate.
That person is the kind of person that gives strength to another quote by Socrates that I think needs more love than it gets:
"When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser."
See, when people use this quote to slander rather than to educate, the entire meaning behind what Socrates was saying is lost. Although one can look at his reasoning as somewhat arrogant, Socrates himself never debated the people he did with the intent of trying to embarrass them; rather, he debated them because he wanted to test a theory. The Athenians took offense to it due to a lack of self-realization on their parts, and they failed to understand that they could have been just as "wise" as Socrates was if they expanded beyond their level of thought at the time. In fact, given the setting, telling people that they "know nothing" with the insinuation that they're stupid and that their stance on a matter is completely wrong compared to yours gives off a vibe of hypocrisy. If one uses this quote in the wrong context, two things happen:
1) It instead leads to an opposite effect of the other person coming to the self-realization that the person he or she is debating is the ignorant one.
2) The user of this quote/idea ignores his or her own ignorance and fails to come to the self-realization that there's still much more to learn.
I look at this quote like it's a double-edged sword; if there were more people at the time with the same beliefs of Socrates like there are today, he'd be looked at as arrogant for telling people he was the wisest, but since it was used at a time when the people of Athens weren't thinking outside of the box, it was a radical idea that has gained a lot of influence since then when used properly and improperly. One has to treat this quote by Socrates like all tools of debate; it's how one references the quote that can make or break an argument. Ideally, it's best for both people (or peoples) to walk away from a debate with a sense of gained knowledge and further understanding that there's still so much more for everyone to learn about life, the universe, and everything in general rather than any feeling of bitterness between individuals and staying close-minded. After all, debate can be a powerful learning tool if one takes his or her "wins" and "losses" with an optimistic outlook towards the future rather than ignoring the idea of perpetual self-improvement.