Who Needs a Gun?

It’s happened again. The horrific violence in Orlando is at least the 133rd mass shooting of 2016, and the 998th since Sandy Hook in 2012–a moment in history when any reasonable person would have thought: surely the slaughter of twenty kids and their six teachers will change gun policy in America. Nope. In fact, the tragedy at Pulse in Orlando is now the deadliest mass shooting in US history. They seem to be only getting worse.

There’s reason to worry that the frequency of mass shootings and the absence of any gun policy change are making us desensitized to gun violence. These kinds of tragedies in the age of social media have a very short half-life of attention. In a few weeks, will you still be mourning the victims in Orlando and clamoring for changes to gun laws in America? Will I?

Maybe instead of losing the forest for the trees with the particulars of each shooting as they happen–the number of casualties, the religion and mental state of the shooter–we need to ask more poignant, all-encompassing, difficult questions. A question like:

What citizen needs a gun in 2016?

If we’re objective and honest, nobody needs one. There are many people who want one–recreational hunters, for example. But no regular citizen of the United States needs–fundamentally, unequivocally–to possess a firearm. If you disagree, ask yourself why?

What exactly do you expect to happen that necessitates owning your own firearm? Hunting for meals? Someone trying to murder you in your home? Self-defense against a suddenly tyrannical US government?

How likely are those scenarios to happen?

The reality is that today, no one needs to hunt for their meals. We are thoroughly civilized and consumerized by the likes of superstores, farmers’ markets, convenience stores, and restaurants. They all are regularly supplied by reliable food production systems that ensure that even the family mart in Quaint Town, USA, has some organic meat and produce available. Even those who hunt primarily “for the meat” only make up 35% of hunters–not even close to a majority. And it’s not clear that nowadays it costs less to hunt for meat–should someone declare that regular groceries are unaffordable. To be sure, a game meat like venison is absolutely delicious–I grew up in Wisconsin with the occasional family-hunted jerky, steaks, and sausage. But it’s not essential to survival. Just enjoyable when you can get it. And you could get it with weaponry other than a firearm. That’s not a need.

Nor does anyone need to own a gun in expectation of a home intruder. Statistically, it’s actually less safe if you do have a gun in the home. It’s much more likely a family member or close friend will be shot with it–domestic violence, suicide, or child-related accident–than a criminal intruder. Even if you are in the uncommon situation of an intruder in your home when you’re there, there’s a reasonable chance that: (1) the gun gets taken over from you; or (2) that you reactively shoot as soon as you see someone and discover it’s a person you know (that you may have been able to talk down), someone unarmed (and therefore not immediately life-threatening), or even someone innocently entering the house when you weren’t expecting it.

As for the so-called citizen militia scenario, let’s all simply recognize there is no modern Lexington and Concord to come. The United States today has a flawed, yet relatively stable democracy. Citizen paranoia is much more probable than violent state tyranny.

So, again, where is the need for a gun for the average citizen in 2016? There isn’t, it’s a want.

And if it is just a want, we better ask another question:

What does a gun do?

For too long, too many have gone along with the guns don’t kill people, people kill people cliche. But ask yourself: what is the purpose of a gun? What is its function? To have portable, quick-to-initiate, precise, lethal force, in a way that extends and amplifies the human physiological capacity for violence–like a punch or throwing a rock. In short, guns inherently wound and kill. You don’t use them as a replacement flower vase or to tie your shoes, because that’s not what they do. 

It’s a relatively narrow and modern application to use them in an intentionally non-injurious way like target shooting. And, even so, there are surely less risky and intense hobbies than loading up a firearm and trying to rupture specific places on a stationary target or objects flying through the air–even though that may be a fun skills challenge or stress-relieving.

But what about freedom?

Indeed, the United States is a country wrapped in the necessity of that immensely powerful idea. “Life, liberty (i.e. freedom), and the pursuit of happiness,” are the DNA of this country. But freedom doesn’t mean everyone gets to do whatever they want. Each person in the United States surely should have freedom from violence–as much as people desire to have the freedom to buy many things they want. Needs are more vital than wants. And freedom from violence is unquestionably a need, whereas the freedom to own a firearm–a piece of technology that’s primary purpose is to wound and kill–is a want.

We should therefore question how that want can impinge and is impinging on freedom from violence. The terror in Orlando has given us a fresh reminder of that. The shooter was an American citizen–legally in the country–using a Sig Sauer MCX–a semi-automatic firearm legally purchased. The victims were innocently trying to enjoy their lives and pursue happiness.

Whatever the original intent of the Second Amendment, it doesn’t seem to fit the current era of guns and gun violence. And, in fact, Thomas Jefferson was mindful of such unforeseen times:

via @JohnFugelsang

Existing gun policy is clearly “unadapted to the good of the nation”–to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in 21st century America. It’s time to think outside the box–outside of dogma, partisanship, and prejudice–about real freedom, what guns are for, and who actually needs one. Too many innocent people have died or will be killed as we’ve maintained the status quo of lax laws to accommodate want.


Let’s Take a Couple Steps Back. Why This Blog?


Over the weekend, with some loving criticism from my brilliant non-nerd wife, I started to sense that I got a bit ahead of myself with this blog. Right now it just kind of exists without any explanation for being. I hope that the posts that have been coming out were enjoyable to read. With some reflection and hindsight, though, I’m realizing some things. Most of them are a little too abstract or lacking real application—a bit boring even. Some of those single posts would have been more interesting or made more sense if they were broken down into 3 or 4 smaller posts in a series. I also didn’t leave much space for you as the reader to really engage what’s there; it comes across a little like some seemingly clever ideas shouted through a megaphone. It’s OK if you think that; I do too.

Since it’s new, I’m learning a lot about how to write and run this blog as I go. Without a doubt, there are going to be posts that are duds—at least for you as the reader. Sorry about that. No one likes chocolate-covered turds—me included. But I hope that in time I’ll get a much better sense of what’s interesting to you and how to present it well, because I have a strong feeling why this blog exists and why anyone might invest time reading it.

I’m fascinated by the relationship(s) between people and technology. Not just in a what’s-going-on-in-the-market kind of way: the latest gadgets being bought and sold. There are a lot of helpful websites for that (we can talk about them if you want). And not merely in a highbrow-philosophical, possibly-put-you-to-sleep kind of way either. There are some expensive academic journals for that (we can talk about those too if you’d like).

I’m most interested in what technology does to us and for us as people in our everyday lives, what sorts of things we expect from technology, and ultimately what that says about what we think it means to be a person.

Sherry Turkle, a professor at MIT, writes in her book Alone Together:

We make our technologies, and they, in turn, shape us. So, of every technology we must ask: does it serve our human purposes? It’s a question that causes us to reconsider what these purposes are. Technologies, in every generation, present opportunities to reflect on our values and direction.

It seems to me that there’s a void (and therefore an opportunity) for us to think and talk about these kinds of things in a commonsense, thoughtful and critical way. I’m not an expert on the business side of technology, nor part of any university’s pantheon of academics. But I do have a decent background in philosophy, religion, sociology, and other humanistic fields of study that might add some helpful perspective to the plain-spoken conversations we would have together if we were chatting over beers. And I’m also just a regular, confused, addicted, disappointed, frustrated, optimistic user of all the same devices you’re probably using. Let’s talk about it.

To be clear right out the gate, I don’t think all technology is evil. This blog is not Let’s Build a Band of Luddites and Burn Everything in a Fire. It’s Upgraded Humans—as in, what sorts of upgrades, literal or metaphorical, make us better people? Most technology has pros and cons—not just one or the other.

Marshall McLuhan, eccentric media theorist, famously talked about The Four Laws of Media—an intimidating name for four simple questions to ask that reveal the effects of any piece of technology. (The Hidden Power of Electronic Culture by Shane Hipps is a solid resource on McLuhan’s most essential ideas, which is paraphrased here).

First, what does it extend? Every technology enhances, amplifies or extends some human capacity. A coat enhances our ability to regulate a stable body temperature in inclement weather. A telephone greatly extends the distance over which we can converse. So, when Apple or anyone else releases something, the first question to ask is what human ability does it extend? What thing can we do better, or more, or at greater distance, or faster, etc.?

Second, what does it make obsolete? Every new technology makes an older one obsolete. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the old one disappears—just that its function is different. Perhaps the most famous example is the horse and buggy, which went from the primary means of transportation to a quaint way to take a date through a park when the automobile (the “horseless carriage”) was created. Are we cool that that’s what a horse and buggy does now?

Next, what does it revert into? This is where we think most about the downside, the negative effects, or the dangers. In its extreme, any technological creation reverses into its opposite intention. A car, in its most extreme, reverses into annoying traffic jams or horrifying collisions. A smartphone in the extreme keeps us perpetually busy or anxious—always on—or, differently, becomes the preferred but shallow way of interacting with other people where we can choose how much of ourselves we want to share with them and disconnect whenever we don’t like how it’s going. Togetherness, yet solitude, as Turkle puts it. Maybe there are good reasons for a technology not to exist, or at least to make it different than what it is to prevent such regressions.

Finally, what does the technology retrieve? Ecclesiastes in the Hebrew Bible contains the well-known idiom there is nothing new under the sun. No technology or other similar human creation is entirely new. Each retrieves in some way something from before. The tweet or the text message largely retrieves what the telegraph did decades ago. Surveillance cameras retrieve the city wall and its guards from the medieval era. I’m sure you can think of many more interesting examples. Are there things we need to retrieve? Is this particular thing retrieving something we were glad to be rid of?

(Still tracking with me? You’re halfway to being a communication theorist).

These are the questions I’m interested in asking. Not necessarily in a formal, thoroughly researched way. Simply, what do we learn about ourselves and about this or that thing we use if we ask questions like this? There’s good and bad. It all shapes the people we are and the kind of people we will become.

I’ll probably revisit common themes or the same piece of technology sometimes, because they’re not going away anytime soon and the issues they present won’t change overnight. The iPhone 12 will be just slightly different than the iPhone 11 (and millions of people will line up to replace their 11s), but those changes might be important to talk about. New forms of social media are emerging all the time. I’ll do everything I can to make sure I’m not boring or repetitive.

Most of all, I want to know what you want to talk about. What has technology made better for you? What has it made harder? What do you expect from technology—right now, or what it might do for you in the future? What do you care about most as a person, and how do devices and a culture saturated in technology encourage or impede those things?

Please comment, email, Tweet, and Instagram me. Sign up on the email list so you get the latest posts right away and can jump in on a conversation about them. Send me interesting or ridiculous ways people are using technology. Let me know what you care about, what you want me to write about, and what you think. I’m genuinely interested and eager to talk.

Thank you for reading and being part of the Upgraded Humans tribe.