Photo of the day

Recent National Geographic photo of the day:

Picture of rays of light streaming into Grubug Cave

Light at the End

Photograph by Elena Bobrova

Light streams into Indonesia’s Grubug Cave, captured by photographer Elena Bobrova after descending nearly 200 feet into neighboring Jomblang Cave and traveling through a natural horizontal corridor. Bobrova writes that the vision was “so beautiful that someone called it ‘the light of heaven.”’


Charleston, guns, and America

Enjoyed John Cassidy’s take:

After living in this country for almost thirty years, I confess I find it hard to write about gun massacres. They are just too familiar, and too depressing. An alienated post-adolescent, almost always white, gets a gun, or guns, and exorcises his demons by killing as many people as he can. Then follows an equally predictable media outpouring, with round-the-clock coverage on cable, lengthy accounts in the serious papers, harrowing profiles of the victims, and why-oh-why editorials aplenty. Flags are flown at half-mast. Politicians, especially those who represent the area in which the massacre occurs, say that something needs to be done about gun control.

Nothing much happens, of course, and, after a while, we move onto the next incident…

When you turn your country into an armory it’s hardly surprising that you end up with a lot of gunshot deaths—more than thirty-three thousand in 2013, of which more than eleven thousand were homicides. Although reliable figures are hard to come by, the proportion of multiple-casualty homicides also appears to be increasing

In this policy area, as in others, the American political system has largely lost the capacity to learn and react. The Republican Party is in league with the National Rifle Association, one of whose board members reportedly suggested that Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who died in the Charleston shootings, was partly to blame for the massacre because, as a state senator, he had voted against concealed-carry laws. The Democratic Party, although it contains many individuals who support gun control and have campaigned for it, remains wary of alienating rural voters…

If the public disgust at the Newtown massacre wasn’t sufficient to overturn this political reality—and it wasn’t—it’s hard to believe that the Charleston shooting will have much impact, either. So the cycle of violence and hand-wringing will continue.

Yep.  This excellent take in the Economist is even more depressing and makes some really important points about guns in this country:

But to best understand why gun laws in this country are not about to change, one must also recognise the disproportionate power of the gun lobby. The NRA rallies supporters with a masterful use of fear and distrust of government, and intimidates Republican politicians by turning support for gun rights into a defining test of conservative values. The group consistently and successfully diverts attention away from guns to mental illness.

There is also a painful dilemma that honest advocates of gun control must address. It is not clear that limited gun control, of the sort that might be politically possible in America, would actually make gun massacres much rarer, or even stop the country from topping rich-world lists for gun deaths by a mile. For once guns are reasonably common in a society, it is easy to see why some people will feel safer arming themselves. The sort of gun control that has had dramatic results in other countries, such as Britain or Japan, essentially involves no guns, or making it essentially impossible for private citizens to own handguns. This is not about to happen in America.

Indeed.  Very depressing and very true.  And a major reason that my lodestar criminologist, Mark Kleiman, is skeptical of gun control policy making all that much of an impact.

And, finally, guns are ever more a part of identity politics– and downright sacred (I wrote about this back in 2012) to many (back to the Economist):

n short, questions over guns are becoming questions of identity. When Mr Obama or the mayor of Charleston says that gun control would be a logical response to Wednesday’s killings, the message triggers a tribal response. The America that believes that guns make the country more dangerous—urban, educated, Democratic America—is proposing to disarm the America that is sure (indeed increasingly sure) that safety lies in keeping firearms close by. As a result, nobody is about to disarm anyone.

I’m not going to give up on advocating for far more sensible gun policies than we currently have, but I have come to the depressing conclusion that– at least for now– this senseless waste of life to gun violence is basically in America’s DNA.

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