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Please begin with an informative title:

Not much to say today, other than to share a few observations that I've made in Facebook discussions following the Newtown, Conn., massacre.

1. We know what causes violence, and we know what causes it to decline.

Any discussion of violence has to begin with The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker. Because, yes, violence has declined over history, even as we remember and react with horror to the moments when it comes belching forth.

Some will argue, "People will always find a way to be violent." Not necessarily -- not if they live in a culture that actively endorses and enforces alternatives to violence.

There are certain prerequisites to reductions in violence: literacy, empathy, higher status for women, and a governmental monopoly on the legitimate use of force. Where literacy is low, empathy is rare, women are second-class, and lex talionis (the law of retaliation -- taking "justice" into one's own hands) is the norm, violence is common. You can see that in the differences between continents (Europe is largely peaceful; sub-Saharan Africa and central Asia are chronically violent), between nations (Turkey is more peaceful than Egypt, which is more peaceful than Yemen), between regions within nations ("red" states are consistently more violent than "blue" states) and even within metropolitan areas (high-poverty neighborhoods, where literacy is low, children poorly nurtured, women less respected and officers of the law distrusted, are consistently more violence-prone than neighborhoods where most families live in comfort, literacy is universal, the sexes are more equal in dignity and rights, and recourse to the police and courts is taken for granted).

A nice but naive person in one conversation I was having said, "Violence is part of our evolutionary heritage, and I'm not so sure we can do much about that, except bring Christ to people, and put reasonable restrictions on behavior." Curtailing violence has nothing to do with whether "Christ is brought to people." On the contrary, religious fundamentalism and violence have historically gone hand in hand, and the safest parts of the United States are, by and large, also the most secular. I don't mean this as an attack on religion, but at the same time, I declare that faith is a naive "solution." The causes of both violence and its decline are pretty well understood by social scientists. It declines when people understand others' lives, come to value others' lives, and realize that there are ways of achieving justice for oneself that don't involve threatening others' lives. For a few people, maybe that comes from Christ; for most, it actually comes from reading novels. (Not a joke; not even tongue in cheek. More than one historian has linked the decline and eventual abolition of judicial torture to the emergence of the novel as a literary form in the 18th and 19th centuries.)

2. The Second Amendment is not at fault; our interpretation of it is.

The Second Amendment was written in an era with no standing army, no police forces as we understand them today, only civilian volunteers to keep the peace. It was written when remote towns and villages (and everything not a city was a remote town or village back then) were vulnerable to bandits and raiders, and if the Crown seized the local militia's weapons because of fears of insurrection, those towns were thereby left helpless to defend themselves.

The Second Amendment refers to "the right of the people to keep and bear arms," "the people" being used back then only in a collective sense; if the authors had meant individuals, they'd have written "men" or "persons" (see, e.g., Article I, Section 9: "The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit"). In other words, since you need a public militia to keep the peace, you can't be taking the militia's weapons away, for crying out loud.

Well, now we do have a standing army, a National Guard and modern police forces, along with the understanding (unfortunately lacking in a few of our national subcultures) that the only way to keep a lid on violence is to give the state a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. Consequently, the Second Amendment should be treated as an outdated quirk of history (much as the Third Amendment is viewed today, Engblom v. Carey notwithstanding) mixed with a statement of the more-or-less-obvious . . . not as carte blanche to be your own one-man army. Because if your interpretation of the Second Amendment is that it grants you the right to guarantee your own "security" by "keeping and bearing arms," that's lex talionis. That's saying that the responsibility for establishing justice rests in your own hands, not in the machinery of government and law. And that is the obsolete mind-set that generates further violence.

3. Concealed-carry . . . no. Just, no.

"An armed society is a police society"? Bullshit. If you want to see how effective concealed-carry is at deterring violence, just look at a subset of the population among whom, the law of the land notwithstanding, concealed-carry is the normal and universal state of affairs: urban gang members. Do they seem more "polite" to you? Feh. What they are is ready to reflexively deal out violence to anyone who looks at 'em cross-eyed. They live by lex talionis. All it takes is one little match, and the whole gasoline-filled room goes up in a conflagration that never dies down as long as there are hotheads willing to keep the cycle of vengeance going . . . and there are always hotheads willing to keep the cycle of vengeance going. To suggest that we should adopt this way of life as a deterrence to mass public shootings is beyond idiotic.


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