Change requires change
When I was a teenager, I wanted nothing more than to rock out in a band with my best friend. My parents did not pay for a music teacher, and I had no idea where to begin on my own. Bill and I had a lot of heart, but not a lot of skill.
We were awful.
Eventually we found a friend and mentor who could outplay Eddie Van Halen in his sleep. I will be forever grateful for the way he taught me how to use my weapon of choice1. Training with him for two months taught us more than we had managed to learn on our own over the course of the previous two years.
I learned a few things from this experience. First, improving on the status quo often requires changing your approach. Secondly, Van Halen is not really all that good.
America as a whole seems not to have realized either of these simple, basic, and fundamental realities. A new national record was set on October 1st in Las Vegas: 59 killed in a mass shooting. We keep hewing to the same status quo and feeling shocked to wake up to the same tragedies.
We are growing a garden, not carving a sculpture
I recently wrote about perverse systems. The American political landscape is a system more complex and perverse than even the stock market, and that is saying a lot2.
People in power, and people afraid of change, often point to the law of unintended consequences in support doing nothing. "What if," they say. Every slope is slippery, and every imagined evil is somehow more weighty than the reality we face today.
These people are fundamentally wrong and misguided.
Almost nothing in life is "set it and forget it" except for consumer goods designed to be thrown away. Even the tools in my garage require some amount of care and maintenance. Carbon steel knives and cookware must be kept oiled. Combustion engines are filled with seals and gaskets that wear out, and they rely on the regular changing of fluids and filters. Habits must be tended to like gardens. Every time I play my guitar, I have to tune it.
Every. Single. Time.
Legal frameworks need just as much attention as my guitar, believe it or not. The existing rules of the game are by nature insufficient. They will always be insufficient, until the day the lobbyists invent a time machine that allows them to undo their work for the past hundred years, violent crime no longer exist, magical faeries supply everyone with their wants and needs regardless of the shape of the economy, foreign nations have no interest in affecting the future course of our interest, we can safely dismantle our armed forces, and no more elections are needed because bad actors have completely stopped trying to circumvent the system.
In the meantime, there is work to be done.
Gun owners are not the same as the gun lobby
I like guns. I own guns, I shoot guns, and I have used guns to protect myself and others3. But I am not a member of the NRA. Their roots as an association of private citizens interested in hunting and sport shooting is long past. They are now a lobbying firm that dances at the beck and call of arms manufacturers, and active drivers of a manufactured cultural divide that benefits no one.
Over a third of all Americans households have at least one gun in them. Maybe 5 million people are members of the NRA. We do not know because they guard those numbers tightly—uncertainty gives them more strength as lobbyists than does the plain truth, whatever it might be.
This pattern of deliberate uncertainty exists over and over again when it comes to violence and guns in the United States. Due to lobbying, there is no searchable, computerized database of gun owners in the United States. Overworked, underpaid government bureaucrats go through piles of physical records by hand because of laws that most Americans, and most American gun owners, do not support.
The government also cannot conduct research and gather data about firearms due to lobbying by the NRA. Not only has the Centers for Disease Control been stripped of funding to conduct research and gather data, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is prohibited from disclosing its data to anyone, including researchers and reporters.
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests are at least as important to the protection of democracy as guns, but these laws explicitly neuter them as a way to gather information the ATF already has in its possession. The public has borne the cost of the crime and the investigation, but is denied the ability to interrogate the statistics.
The gun lobby controls most of the NRA's political actions and has zero incentive to improve the situation. Their stock goes up every time there is a mass shooting. More broadly, their bottom line improves when the American public is filled with fear: fear that they will need guns for self defense, and fear the government may restrict access to guns.
In the meantime, in the reality we face today, the public is being intentionally veiled and kept ignorant. Basic information is unavailable because some groups benefit from ignorance more than they do from the clarifying light of truth.
As a general rule, those groups are almost never the good guys.
What is the connection to this blog?
One of the keys to living your best life is knowledge. You must know yourself and your environment, or you will lose the race before it has even begun.
The politicization of gun ownership in America is a clear example of this concept in action. We have been intentionally blinded by a small group of lobbyists and a large group of voters who believe forced ignorance is better than flawed data. Because we have been prevented from Powering Up our understanding, it is nearly impossible for us to Magnetize™ and take meaningful action.
I do not have an easy answer. No one does, no matter what they may claim. Gun violence in America is a fundamentally difficult problem that will require many years to meaningfully affect, even if we did everything exactly right starting tomorrow—and that is not even a possibility.
Individual actions can make a difference even when the political process is dysfunctional and paralyzed. Clark County Commission Chair has created a Go Fund Me campaign to support victims of the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting.
Knowledge is a light that can illuminate the path of right action—if you let it.
Andrew Reeves is an entrepreneur, touring musician, and practitioner of eleven martial arts. He reached financial independence at age 28 and has dedicated his retirement to fighting crime and helping others.
Which these days is Helen, a custom black-and-red Steinberger guitar.
A perverse system, in the sense I am using it, means a system that reacts to your actions in order to undermine them. You see this in any system that is human-driven—that is, any system that is political.
- Wealth will distort itself in order to exploit tax exemptions that were never meant to "help" the wealthy.
- Large companies will work to undermine regulation using a variety of methods: regulatory capture, pushing for regulations that disproportionately hurt competitors, or finding "innovative" ways around them.
- Proposed legislation is regularly subverted or extended in unintended ways by unnecessary amendments.
- Fines and other punishments for failing to comply with regulations is often less than the gains companies see from breaking the law.
Perverse systems can never be totally understood and mastered without constant vigilance, since they are composed of opposing actors who are constantly evolving their understanding and their behavior.
I have also used guns to hurt, and more than hurt, people whose only crime was to be on the wrong side of a disagreement with some very bad people.
Do you know someone affected by a mass shooting? Are you a member of the NRA? Why or why not? Do you think change is possible?
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