Add muscle ideas to gun politics

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By John Bartlit

The nation’s darkest loss in the super storms of partisanship is the loss of ideas. The very meaning of “idea” has been lost. 

This New Year essay was halfway along before December’s mall shootings in Oregon and the maniacal mass shootings of school children in Connecticut. The shootings’ aftermath concludes the column and raises explicit ideas for action. 

Before the shootings, I wrote: 

Political camps typically supply a principle when asked for an idea. “Liberty” or “fairness” are principles, not ideas. Ideas are doers.   

A principle differs from an idea the way a wordbook differs from a speech. That is, a principle is a worthy tool that rolls out no product. Work is needed to shape the abstract into concrete deeds. 

Writer John Steinbeck put it this way: “Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them and pretty soon you have a dozen.” 

A string of ideas creates bright new possibilities. A principle alone supplies dim light. 

Question: How can we make electricity? Answer: Faraday’s Law. The principle is central, but it brings no electricity to town. A string of ideas does that.

Q: How can airplanes be more airworthy? 

A: Bernoulli’s Principle 

Q: How do I write a symphony? 

A: structure it

Q: How can government be more coherent and efficient? 

A: liberty, fairness

Each answer is a sound principle. Yet none by itself brings any useful thing into being. Principles are bone; ideas are muscle. 

Bones make it possible to run, but they cannot take a step. Ideas are the muscle and sinew that, with bones, move the whole along to meet needs. 

Our nation’s party politics are fixed on principle and starved for ideas. 

The December mall shootings in Oregon and school shootings in Connecticut resolidified old stands on gun limits. How far do we get with fairness and liberty?   

This core question is the center of attention. Yet the weeks of words brought little muscle to the task.  

Two ideas for action come to mind.

 Idea No. 1. What if the tens of millions of responsible gun owners, gun sellers and gun clubs pursued the idea of seriously training themselves and their camp to spot latent mall-shooters? Such shooters have behavior traits, either ongoing or soon before heading to the mall or elementary school.

Imagine tens of millions more trained and watchful eyes, like those that stopped the shoe bomber aboard the flight to Miami in December 2001. 

Idea No. 2. Is it possible that individuals prone to public shooting sprees have physical tags in their genes and/or their brain that in time could be found and catalogued? 

What if society began gathering physical data from the dead perpetrators, as by tests of DNA and well-known techniques of neuroimaging that look inside the brain? 

Work on these ideas may already be under way. If so, we rarely hear of it in the politics of random mass shootings.

The Los Alamos National Laboratory has excellent resources in the fields of DNA and neuroimaging. These are people with knowledge, technology and ideas. 

 What if TV news interviewed people with ideas in addition to the advocates who restate their stands for and against gun laws? Scattered examples of this change have appeared. 

Every idea has problems and faults. Uses of data from DNA tests and neuroimaging run into issues and laws about medical privacy. 

Gathering such data from dead mass shooters, who already killed their right to privacy, is not the same question.  

Every idea can be killed, if this remains the passion of politics. 

Or an idea can spark a better idea or three. This is how inventors succeed.  

Ideas are like rabbits. Learn to handle a couple of them, and pretty soon you have a dozen. 

Our country sorely needs to change the familiar dynamics of killing bystanders in malls, movies and schools. Change needs muscle ideas to work with the bones.