Epistemology is the study of knowledge, why something is true, how to justify a belief, and how do we know that we know?

Those who hold these truths to be self-evident do not think about why they believe what they believe.  That is why it is so difficult to discuss religion and politics amongst intelligent people, and even less intelligent people. There is the problem. It is those self-evident truths that get in the way.  All the truths are fiercely debated and in some “discussions” have led to armed conflict and torching the opposition from the time of Galileo, to the present when ISIS burned a Jordanian pilot to death by dousing a cage where he was imprisoned with gasoline and setting it on fire. Furthermore, these supposed truths are not all that self-evident. 

We have three major religions, and these are further divided into multiple divisions.  Christianity has at least 40 major groups and depending on your definition of what constitutes a denomination, and it can reach into the thousands of subgroups.  Judaism has only three major branches, but within each branch, some subgroups hold different belief systems, some of which even combine a belief in Jesus with the traditional Rabbinical Judaism, Messianic Judaism.  Islam is the youngest of the Abrahamic religions and understandably has a lesser number of divisions.  Nevertheless, there are said to be 73 “sects” which is still a rather impressive number to divide 1.6 billion people into.  

I contribute to a blog that is sponsored by the American College of Surgeons, an organization of 82,000 surgeons worldwide.  How smart are they?  They all have had college degrees and graduate training with a doctorate, and many have post-doctorate education.  The recent El Paso, Gilroy, and Dayton shootings sparked a lot of commentaries.  All surgeons have contact with gun violence.  All the responses are well thought out, logical, well reasoned, and well documented, on both sides of the argument. You would think you could find consensus.   Guess again.  Strong feelings, Yes. Consensus, No!  It is not education, intelligence, or experience.  And there is little chance for agreement.  It is a deep-rooted primal belief, just like religion.  The conclusion of the discussants was basically, “we agree to disagree.” And is very similar to the argument about which religion is right.

When political discussions devolve into impugning the participants as to their stupidity, ignorance, their hairstyle, the size of their hands or penis, and other ad hominem non-sequiturs, the prefrontal cortex disengages, epistemology ceases, and the primal reptilian brain takes over.  And if you have ever seen two crocodiles fight over a duck you will soon recognize that peaceful settlement will just not happen.  

The spectrum of Homo Sapiens has a wide range of mental abilities.  Very primitive humans, just barely human, are included with the geniuses that can out-calculate IBM’s DEEP BLUE.  Unfortunately, some of these near-humans have armies, or at least an AK47  at their disposal.  It is the same mindset. The difference is in their firepower. How should we deal with the single shooter or the individual who has an army at his disposal?  We cannot agree with the single shooter nor the army of shooters.  There are a lot of guns out there.  If we disarm the Populus are we in danger from other humans, or even the government that decides we must now kill all Jews, or all Capitalists,  or all Gypsies or, round up all Native Americans and place them in concentration camps, which we did after “Wounded Knee”?  And these are not theoretical.  Our founding fathers warned us that would happen, and it did, and continues to happen, as it did in Nazi Germany, Turkey, China, Cambodia, Uganda, Guatemala, the Soviet Union, Cuba, and Venezuela. Each of those gun confiscations was followed by rounding up people and exterminating them,  some honored by getting their own name, like the Armenian massacre, the Cambodian Genocide, and the Holocaust.   Have we lost more people to the dictators who confiscated guns or to the loner crazies with an AK-47?  One of the stranger arguments for having semi or fully automatic weapons I have heard was from a trauma surgeon in Texas who faced 50 feral pigs that attacked his hospital’s emergency room. 

I do not pretend to know the answer.  But I do see the problem.  How many Gilroy, Dayton, Las Vegas, El Paso, Orlando, Sandy Hook, U. Texas Tower, San Bernadino, Fort Hood, Columbine, Aurora Theater, Thousand Oaks, etc., etc., must we endure?

In the US there are 393,347,000 firearms in circulation, which is 1.2 guns for every person, man woman and child, and less than a third are registered or licensed.  The logistics of confiscating that number makes it obvious that it will not happen any time soon. 

Most of us agree that people who have exhibited the inability to control their hostilities either because of mental issues, or anger issues, or control issues, or previous homicide, or previous attempts of suicide, should not be allowed to have access to a gun.    Easily said but not so easy to effect. 

Surprisingly, according to the Centers for Disease Control, gun homicide has actually decreased by 36% even though the gun ownership in this country has increased by close to 60%.  But the perception by the majority is quite the opposite.  

I had the unsettling experience of having my life threatened. I had to press charges, and the person was arrested.  When the police came to arrest him they found 12 guns, including Laser sited weapons.  Although I had never fired a gun before, I got my concealed weapons permit (despite living in California), and I learned to shoot at a formal training course (which I passed to the standards of the LAPD).  I did feel better, but not much.  If I met this individual in a dark alley, I wanted a bit more than even odds.  Incidentally, when he was released from jail, they gave him back all his guns, despite my objections.  “He hasn’t shot anybody yet!” was their response. I would like to think that if this happened now he would likely not have gotten his guns back.

Most of my friends are opposed to gun ownership and will be appalled when they find out about my little secret.  It comes down to trusting society to protect me or trusting me to protect me.  With gun ownership at 1.2 guns per person and lack of adequate checks on gun purchases to date, society has failed my basic gun control rule, which is:  “If everyone has a gun (especially the bad guys)  I want to have one too!”  Paraphrasing Clint Eastwood, “I have a very strict gun control policy: if there’s a gun around, I want to be in control of it.”