We live in a time of unprecedented change. The balance of world power has changed, shifting from a singular superpower to a group of rising economies, with China in the lead. Domestic demographics are changing, with political power rapidly abandoning the traditional older, white, male power center. The Republican party must change, either adopting new values that alienate its aging leadership and many of its members, or abandoning all hope of winning national elections by maintaining the policies they adopted in the mid-20th century. Weaker countries seeking global power, such as South Korea, are learning how to use cyber war and other asymmetrical warfare tactics to counter America’s massive conventional military advantage. One of America’s most immediate and tragic changes is the increase in gun violence. While this issue has received immense attention in the media, few policy makers grasp why we have gun violence, and offer few effective proposals. If America wants to stop gun violence in America, we need to introduce real change management, not just a few ineffective laws.
There is an old Russian saying, “If all you have is a hammer, you treat the world like a nail.” Politicians see problems in terms of laws, rather than long-term programs. Reducing gun-related deaths in America will require new laws, but it requires much more, starting with an understanding of the effectiveness of existing laws. We need better collection and research of gun violence statistics. We need real, measurable goals and a process to track the results of the actions we take. American citizens own an estimated 300,000,000 guns, and since 2010 have bought 12,000,000,000 or more bullets annually. Significantly reducing violence will take decades, and requires supporters who will maintain their support for decades. Programs that don’t work must be defunded, and effective programs must be replicated. We need the freedom to experiment, without every effort by gun-control advocates being opposed by the most vocal gun rights advocates. It requires both sides of the argument to agree on the most reasonable way to preserve the rights of gun owners and save the lives of Americans.
A top-down solution, a comprehensive national gun control law, will fail. There is not enough political consensus to pass and maintain such a law. Even if it could pass, the proposed bills have yet to focus on real, measurable changes. In order to work, we must turn to the discipline of change management. The five key elements of change management that need to be a part of any plan to reduce gun violence are:
- History: Understand why America developed it’s unique relationship with guns.
- Diagnosis: How does America’s gun culture create gun violence?
- Goals: Specifically, what do we hope to accomplish?
- Initiatives: Which changes need to happen, and how do we track progress?
- Measurement: Did we create the meaningful changes that lowered violence?
Let’s dive right in and start with…
HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN GUN: America was created by European settlers who needed to control natives, and later slaves. Early settlers wrote of their fears that natives would rise up and kill us. Gun ownership became not just a right, but an obligation to your families and your community to defend the lives of settlers. Had America been settled by Europe a few hundred years earlier, perhaps we would be talking about the sword rather than the gun. But it was the gun that defined America when hunting provided the meat needed to feed your family. Americans predominantly fought honor duels with guns, killing other citizens who dishonored their good name. Most importantly, it was the citizen with a gun that allowed America to fight the British in the 13 colonies, fight Indian wars throughout America, and eventually fight other Americans in the Civil war. When America became a nation, it was a small country with powerful enemies in Europe, and with competing European controlled governments to the north and south. At a time when only the mightiest of nations could afford a standing army of any size, America chose to rely on a militia for defense. Which bring us to…
- The 2ND amendment: Strong gun rights advocates point to the 2nd Amendment their primary justification for unrestricted gun ownership, going so far as saying that the founding fathers wanted to arm so that we could overthrow the government, if it overstepped its authority. The 2nd Amendment states, “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.” Guns advocates fixate on, “shall not be infringed,” while having ignoring, “A well regulated militia.” No other amendment uses the word “regulated”, to say nothing of “well regulated.” The 2nd amendment, plus the “Mlitia Acts” that followed a few months later, defined how our national defense operates, and did not say anything about other gun rights. In fact, the Supreme Court repeatedly found (in: United States v. Cruikshank, 1875; United States v. Miller, 1939; District of Columbia v. Heller, 2008; McDonald v. Chicago, 2010) that the 2nd amendment is about maintaining a militia, not personal defense.
- Militias: The Bill of Right became law in 1791. In 1792, the Militia Acts were passed, defining a militia (as a semi-professional military, controlled by the state, and called up at the request of the President). Every white adult male was to serve, and each state was responsible for training and inspecting their troops twice a year. The Militia Acts stated that the militia was to protect us from any, “foreign nation or Indian tribe,” and lays out required equipment: a musket with 24 bullets and 1/4 pound of gunpowder, a knapsack, etc. In 1903 a subsequent Militia Act abolished all state militias, replacing them with the National Guard. The second amendment was never repealed, but it should be clear that a National Guard, plus the development of a standing military (now the largest in the world), eliminated the primary reason for this amendment.
- Rebellion Against Tyrants: The need for unlimited gun rights are often justified because citizens need to follow the plan of the founding fathers, and be ready to overthrow the government, should it overstep its authority. The recent debate between Alex Jones and Piers Morgan repeatedly references this old argument. If Jones appears disturbingly agitated, he also appears to be genuine in his conviction. As do other gun rights advocates who see themselves as protectors of the Republic. This has become a pillar of belief for gun advocates; unfortunately, it is not true. In 1792, citizens in Pennsylvania refused to pay a tax on whiskey. Citing the Boston Tea Party (making them the first and original Tea Party), they claimed the right to armed rebellion against the government. By 1794, the Whiskey Rebellion escalated to 500 men laying siege to a tax collector’s home. How did the founding fathers react? President George Washington called out the state militias, raised an army of 14,000 soldiers and put down the rebellion by force. The next significant rebellion (including a lot of talk about tyranny) turned into the Civil War. It ended badly for the rebels. Native Americans also had “armed rebellions,” which ended very badly. From the founding fathers to today, America has been very consistent, and very efficient, in dealing with armed rebels.
- Gun Control Laws: Gun advocates argue that the 2nd amendment comprehensively protects their right to any number type or number of guns, with any legislative restraint. This is the exact opposite of US legal history. Citizens who once dueled on city streets, were pushed to the outskirts of town and by the 1880s (through a series of state laws) were forbidden to duel. Likewise, states known for strong gun support today, once passed laws to take guns away from citizens. At least, from black citizens. These laws, were still in effect until the early 20th century, explicitly or implicitly using race to determine gun ownership. Later, the rise of organized crime (and the Tommy Gun) led to the National Firearms Act of 1934, which limited sales of military-style weapons, high-capacity magazines, and silencers (collectively called “weapon of assassination”).
Gun Culture: The founding fathers wrote the 2nd Amendment for very specific reasons, with national defense as the main reason. The time of militias has long since passed. The history of gun restrictions is long, and a few more regulations won’t change it much. And yet, it doesn’t really matter. While both sides are arguing law, this is about culture. Gun-control advocates are trying to change American culture, and gun rights advocates are trying to preserve a culture that no longer exists. If it ever existed at all. At a time of culture wars, primary roles have changed. Liberal Democrats back their proposals with hard statistics and research on violence. Behind the bluster, the normally undemonstrative Republicans, are making an emotional appeal that we leave them their role as protectors of their own home. Tales of the Alamo, images of the Old West and the homesteader firmly planted in from of a log cabin with gun in hand, ready to protect the family, are vital images of American history, but they are not very relevant in a country where 80% of the citizens live in cities, and rural life is disappearing.
We need to balance the importance of our culture and history against the need to protect American citizens. History needs to be part of the equation, but prejudices and preconceptions about guns need to be forgotten. We need to be guided, but not ruled, by the facts. We need a bottom-up approach that provides specific programs with specific actionable results that save the lives of Americans. The programs that both gun owners and gun-control advocates can agree are effective, without changing the world of the gun owner. That’s quite a goal. That’s why we will only succeed if we follow a formal change management process.
Now that we have some understanding of gun history and culture, the next part of this series will dig into the research and identify targeted programs to reduce violence in America.