Enlightenment principles can help us reduce gun violence

Sunday , March 04, 2018 - 4:00 AM

E. KENT WINWARD, special to the Standard-Examiner

Once again, tragedy strikes. The news lights up with the latest mass shooting, and we invariably revisit the same responses, across the political spectrum. Everyone is horrified and disheartened. No one wants to see any more shootings. Flags fly at half-staff. The country immediately divides into pro- and anti-gun-control factions — both, ironically, fueled by fear.

Responsible gun owners collectively flinch at the news of yet another mass shooting. When a novice brandishes a gun with bravado or in an irresponsible way, they are even more appalled than a non-gun owner. How to control such dangerous objects — objects that so easily could result in death if misused?

The cold, hard fact: No one wants to get shot. The pro-gun crowd is less fearful because they are armed, so logically, per the Golden Rule, everyone should have guns. The anti-gun crowd is less fearful when they campaign to disarm everyone, because they believe if we don't have guns, no one will get shot. So again, per the Golden Rule, no one should have guns.

The dialogue has become a revolving door with no exits.

Suggestions for getting out of these circular arguments have been fired off in books, but they've been fitted with suppressors, so we can't seem to hear their logic over the political shots ringing out. Insurance requirements for gun ownership, which would pass Second Amendment muster, seem like fertile ground for a possible win-win reform. Background checks that include a person's legal and medical history have long been upheld by the courts, and a better, more efficient system of checks would go a long way in preventing mass shootings. (And I’m sorry, but the attorney in me was upset by President Donald Trump’s suggestion last week of doing away with due process and just taking the guns, violating multiple parts of the Constitution. His statement was without merit and contributes nothing of substance to the discussion and should be disregarded.)

Yes, tragedy has struck, and will strike again. And yet, I am hopeful. I'm hopeful for a couple of reasons. The first encouraging thing, and it should encourage all of us if we move past anger and fear, is this: whether pro-gun or anti-gun, we all oppose gun violence. We all want the same thing: No more innocent lives taken by people misusing guns. And it's from this united platform that our legislators could develop realistic, logical, and sane solutions.

The second encouraging thought is that historically, we've successfully addressed societal problems when we’ve followed a very simple process: Identify the problem. Study all facets of it. Recognize all possible variables and adjust for them. Test the solution’s hypothesis. Go with what works. Repeat. This experimental process has been going on since the 17th and 18th century.

Looking back over the last 400 years or so, the trends are so incredibly good that Steven Pinker just penned a 556-page book titled, “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress,” to show us all just how optimistic we ought to feel.

Our family has always been a big fan of the Enlightenment; our refrigerator features a magnet my wife bought years ago containing the “Principal Ideas of the Enlightenment,” and it remains a constant adornment. I smile every time I look at it. But as big a fan as I am of those principles, I didn’t realize how well the Enlightenment team has been playing over the years in our history.

In my lifetime, the world population has doubled. Yet despite the astounding increase, and for the first time in history, the bulk of humanity does not live in extreme poverty. We live better lives than ever before. The Enlightenment’s concepts work exponentially better than any other system in human history.

Forget conservative and liberal. We know from 400 years of history which economic, legal, and governmental systems work best. The governments of the world are all drifting upwards toward similar democracies that protect the rights of individuals, provide a strong social safety net and allow for capitalism to flourish in well-regulated markets. These governments respect reason, education, the rule of law and objective data, using all four elements to achieve better systemic results.

How to truly measure the results? Look here. However, I'll summarize just a few improvements. Life expectancy has skyrocketed. Infant and maternal mortality have plummeted. Childhood death from diseases have declined drastically. You're less likely to die from pretty much everything. Declines in workplace deaths march down in accordance with the timing and efficiency of regulations. I could go on, but the tenets of the Enlightenment have worked wonders on our world.

So how do we apply these same principles to gun violence? First, we remember to seek objective truth. Guns are neither good nor bad, so we must learn to strike a balance. Objective truth is unattainable if we disallow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from examining gun deaths and ways to prevent them, which has been the case since legislation prohibited the CDC from doing just that in 1996. Only with more knowledge are we able to address this problem effectively. Let's start there in order to reach our common goal of ending needless deaths.

The tenets of the Enlightenment are enshrined in our founding documents: all of us are created equal, and all have the unalienable right to pursue life and happiness. The pursuit of life and happiness has increased a thousand-fold thanks to the application of these principles.

Let us apply history to today's pro vs. anti conflicts. Let us think, behave, and solve problems like the enlightened beings we are destined to be.

Kent Winward is an Ogden attorney. Twitter: @KentWinward

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