Season 2, Episode 1
In episode 1 of Conversatio’s second season, Dr. Michael Watson and Dr. Julia Beeman sit down to discuss the role of guns in our culture today and how to navigate this hot topic as Catholics.
Julia Long 0:00
Welcome to Congress ought to do the Belmont Abbey college Podcast. I’m Julia Long. Today we’re going to talk about an issue that we hear a lot in the media, in conversations with our friends, and in the general world. And that’s gun laws and gun ownership. And I’m joined today by two of our esteemed faculty members to talk about this and really to navigate some of the challenges and things that we’re hearing today. So before we jump in, I would like our audience to get to know you both a little bit better. So if you’d like to just give a brief overview of yourselves, Dr. Watson, we can start with you.
Dr. Watson 0:37
Yeah, so I’m, I teach economics here at Belmont Abbey college, I also teach the PE 300 W, PPE seminar every spring and the topic changes in this last semester, I taught, I taught it with another professor in the philosophy department on the ethics and economics of crime and weapons.
Julia Long 1:23
and, and that relationship. Yeah, yeah. Excellent. No spoilers yet, though. And then Dr. Beeman.
Dr. Beeman 1:30
thank you. So I started the criminal justice program here at the Abbey in fall of 2006. So I’m, this is my 17th Fall semester in the Bay, which is very exciting. It’s gone very quickly. We have the good thing about our program is we still have in spite of what’s going on. In the country, right now, we still have a number of awesome young people, yeah, who desire to serve in the field of criminal justice, we’ll do the best we can to prepare them.
Julia Long 2:09
Great. Well, I think it’s so important to be here with both of you today, because as you both just kind of mentioned, you are reallyyou’re on the ground, in the classroom with these students. And these issues are coming up these students are seeing these things on their social media platforms are hearing these things from their family and friends, and You two are doing the reading and doing the research and really helping guide some of these discussions that are coming up either organically or in your own classes. So I think a really good place to start is what got us here. What’s, you know, in thinking about the Second Amendment, and some of the things historically that have happened? You know, where what got us to where we are today?
Dr. Beeman 2:56
Well, I think gun ownership has been a part of our country’s history from the very beginning. Yeah. And recent decision, the 2008, Heller decision by the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment applies to individuals, right. So and as we look at the Catechism, there’s a right to self defense. And there are a number of reasons why one might own a firearm, right. Self Defense is one of them. Sport is another Yeah. And defense of the common good. And I know that that’s something that Michael has read about and talked about the role of Catholic social thought and gun ownership and that our lives personally are as valuable as everybody else’s. And yeah, we never want to have to take the life of another. Right. But should we need to? It’s permissible. Yeah. In this country in this country is under an under the Catechism. Yeah, right. That it’s that essentially the moral responsibility falls on the aggressor. Okay, who initiated the act?
Dr. Watson 4:16
Yeah, yeah. So, there are three purposes to that I can see for owning firearms. One is sportsmanship, sport that can be competitive shooting, like in the Olympics, or we can be talking about hunting, and hunting is aimed at not just provision of food for the family, but in this day and age, especially. stewardship of the environment. Yeah.So that’s obviously good. Right. And just the next is self defense. gun violence. Violence in general is bad thing, right? It’s not just gun violence, places where you don’t have guns, you’ll see like in London, they use knives. So they switched from when pistols were made illegal, and it was harder to get the switch to the next form. Yes, but was knives. So often cops there were knife proof that’s vests, not bulletproof vests?
Julia Long 6:28
Well, it’s interesting what you said about you were talking about the second reason and being self defense. And I think one thing that came to mind about why that’s so important, is because that’s a bit of a human instinct, isn’t it? I mean, I think of movies that show like, for lack of a better term, the olden days, right, when there weren’t a lot of resources out there. And you see people in hard situations, whether they’re about to get, you know, invaded or whatever. And, you know, there’s always kind of that moment, where you see this person, the reality of what’s about to happen sink in, and you see them almost have to make a decision, right about if they’re going to fight or flight response. Right. I mean, I think that it’s human instinct to protect ourselves. Sure.
Dr. Watson 7:12
So. Okay. And go ahead.
Dr. Beeman 7:14
I was just gonna say, and I, and I think that’s why we’re hearing at least partly the conversation that we’re hearing now, yes, we’re actually dealing with two different issues. So unfortunately, they’re they’re being confused. So I would like to Yeah, put forth the idea that we separate them and look at them differently. So the one issue are the mass shootings. Right. And I think from what you were just saying, we feel particularly vulnerable under those circumstances, especially when it’s a school, right? There’s the children. Yeah, that’s the worst horrible, or we’re in a grocery store, or a movie theater, like who expects our church something to happen? Exactly. Yeah. So I think the air of vulnerability really strikes us scares us collectively. And we want to do something. Yeah. So then that’s one issue. The other issue is gun violence in urban areas. Right. generally associated with gangs and drugs. Yeah, right. Those are two very different things, the underlying from a criminal logical perspective, the underlying reasons and explanations and possible solutions are different. And so we have to separate them, in my opinion, we have to talk about them differently, and approach them differently. And but we can’t take any shortcuts. Right. And so there are short term solutions that we could take, and there are long term solutions that would be more effective. We look at the short term solutions. And let’s for right now, let’s focus on that vulnerability that we feel. A short term solution is deterrence. Deterrence works. There is a criminal logical theory that’s been tested and demonstrates its accuracy. It’s called routine activities theory. And it basically says that three things are necessary in order for a crime to occur. A motivated offender, a suitable target, and absence of guardian.
And the basic premise here is we can’t do anything about the motivated offender if someone is motivated enough and under, you know, when we look at why would one consider a mass shooting, yeah, there are a lot of psychological reasons why they would. So there’s not much we can do about that in the immediate moment. Right but us suitable target, we can make people places, unsuitable targets, and absence of a guardian, we can make sure that there are guardians present and a guardian doesn’t have to be a person. It can be cameras, alarms, dogs, I mean, it can be any number of things. So and then the the suitable target, we talked about hardening the target, right? We don’t want soft targets, we want hard targets. So what might that look like, in a public setting? There’s a Oskar Newman, who was an architect developed Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design in the 1970s. And it’s the idea that you literally construct the building from the ground up with crime prevention strategies in mind. Yeah, harden the target. And so on the short term, I think those are some of the steps that we ought to take to protect our schools to protect some of our public spaces. Yeah, we’ve done it before. Right. I mean, that’s now why we have concrete barriers right up in front of our governmental buildings. So you can have car bombings drive up. And so it’s it’s not an unusual approach. Yeah. And then yeah, effective one deterrence works. Yeah.
Because economists who study crime, are have felt lied to, generally speaking, they agree that deterrence works. And economist asks the question, and this is called the classical school out of the Macquarie approach, they agree with that they that’s the way they approach these questions, these these crime questions is how do we increase the marginal cost of crime and decrease the marginal benefit of any crime? Yeah. And deterrence, more police officers, prosecute prosecutors who will not? Who will actually enforce the prosecutor to prosecute, hardening targets with armed security armed personnel, those work?
Julia Long 11:56
Where’s the line in terms of deterrence? What makes it feasible, and then not feasible?
Dr. Beeman 12:02
So the idea here, and in the classical school, we explain crime, through freewill. It’s a choice. And so what works and everybody every choice you make, you’re doing a cost benefit analysis. Right. Right. And so what we need to do, and Bulgaria argued that in order for punishment to be an effective deterrent, it must be swift, certain and fair. Yeah. So this as an individual is going through this. Oh, gee, you know, is it worth it? Yeah. It can’t. It can’t go too far. One way or the other? Yeah. Where it’s not going to be an effective deterrent. So how far do we go? Do we put up barbed wire fences around? You know, K through five? Yeah. I don’t know that. We need to go that far. But here’s the thing about hard versus soft targets. Think of your neighborhood. Yeah. And you have four homes in a row. And three of those homes have a ring doorbell camera, they have spotlights. Yeah, maybe they have fencing. Maybe somebody has a gravel driveway. So it makes noise when anybody comes up there. landscaping around the front is low. So you can look into Windows and that sort of thing. Yeah. So the first three homes have some some like that. And there’s a dog. They have an alarm systems that got the sign out in the yard. Sure. And then that fourth home doesn’t have any of that. Yeah. If you have a motivated offender who wants to break into a home? Which one were they going to pick? Right? Gonna pick the fourth home? Right, the soft target? So anything you can do? Yeah, if someone’s motivated, and they want to get in, there may be nothing you can do to stop them. Right. But you have to try. Yeah,
Dr. Watson 13:57
and you have to have the law enforcement that will respond. Right. So parts of this country, law enforcement doesn’t work at night, or parts of the country that doesn’t exist, right. And in Chicago, I live in Chicago, it’s a complete, it’s a bit of a mess right now, not a complete mess, but a bit of a mess. The cops often don’t show up, when you see catalytic converters being cut out of cars. In fact, my neighbor ran in his PJs, ran outside and yelled at them. They ran off, he decided to follow them walked around the corner, they started on the next car, there’s no fear, because the cops do not show up. And so that is, well,
Dr. Beeman 14:31
there’s not even much fear when they do show up. Right. That’s true. You hear the manner in which the officers on the street are spoken to on a daily basis.
Julia Long 14:42
And why is that? Are the cops?I mean, do we know is it is it? Is it exhaustion? Is it a cultural shift? Is it respect? Is it all of it
Dr. Watson 14:53
easy answers, there aren’t enough of them at least in the city of Chicago. The other issue is that there’s an increase in crime and I mean, probably need more cops. And the other problem is prosecutors aren’t enforcing the law. So one thing I noticed, and I don’t know if this is cause and effect, but when I would go to grocery stores, even Whole Foods in a nice part of town as part of Chicago, armed security, they had a Glock on their hip. Now, that’s all disappeared. And one of the things that changed in Chicago was that if you believe if you steal under $500 worth of stuff, the you’re not going to get prosecuted. And I’ll I’ll hear the cashiers talking about all those folks just walked out with all this stuff. And so do you want an armed security guard who has a private security guard? has personally this has civil liability? Police officers don’t correct? They’re protected from that usually? Yeah. That’s the whole immunity thing is being debated right now. Do you want your private security guard that you hired to interfere with that theft? If the if the law is not going to be signed in court? Yeah, that is not asking me very expensive. Yeah. So I that’s why I think they got security. And now what you’re starting to see in Chicago is they’re moving some of the drugs and some of the things into the back or behind glut locked glass. Yeah. And we’re just
Dr. Beeman 16:14
Walmart. Walmart, in Belmont, has makeup wipes, makeup wipes under lock and key?
Julia Long 16:22
Dr. Beeman 16:23
Yes. Because of the, the increase thefts that are occurring.
Julia Long 16:29
And you know, I think when we hear stuff like that, most of us try to rationalize why it’s happening, right? Maybe because rationalizing, it makes us feel better. Or we feel like we can explain it to ourselves and our kids. I don’t know exactly. So the economist here like, is it when we try to explain the theft to ourselves? Is it because things are rising, the cost of things arising and people are stealing? Is it because the motivation is
Dr. Watson 16:51
I don’t think the motivations have changed? I don’t think they could have changed in three years. I think what’s going on as the marginal cost of committing a crime has decreased significantly, and the benefits haven’t changed too much. They’ve increased a little bit, but the marginal cost has decreased. Right.
Dr. Beeman 17:05
And there’s a you can some individuals will get a high. See what they can get away with. Right. Right. Right. And as Michael said, If I mean, our police departments across the country are 30% 35% understaffed. Yeah, you know, and so when you have calls coming in, they have to be prioritized and the staff that you do have need to go to the more serious calls. Not that law enforcement doesn’t care about what’s happening to you or what’s happening in businesses, right the country, but you can only do so much. Right. And yeah, I mean, it’s it’s, there are some areas of our country where law enforcement or not, they’re not respected, they’re not treated. Well. Yeah. And unfortunately, the law enforcement officers in those areas, it pretty much said, All right, you’re on your own. That’s what you want. That’s what you’ll get. Right?
Dr. Watson 18:09
We think we’re talking about what happened in Chicago when a female police officer was shot and killed. Yeah. The police when we’re left with the mayor showed up at the funeral, the police turn their back to her. So when you see you gave her the back, right, yeah. The entire police force turned their back on her. So that’s distrust against the elected officials. Yeah, police force. That’s not good. Yes, yeah.
Julia Long 18:31
And that’s tough, then when we get back into these discussions around, like gun ownership and gun laws, because for the individual who’s maybe trying to sort out how they feel about it, or trying to decide how they’ll manage things in their house, or their neighbor or wherever, then they’re seeing these things.
Dr. Watson 18:48
Interesting, this more guns don’t cause more crime. More crime causes more people to buy guns.
Which we have also seen, we have seen an uptick in gun purchases, right, particularly by women. And I think that female purchases have gone up something like 40% In the last two years. Yeah. So minorities, and this.
But an important point to make about that. Right, is that and this comes up with individuals who are proponents of gun control legislation as they bring up the safety issue, right? Well, if we didn’t have so many guns in the home, guns wouldn’t be stolen, and you know, and someone is more likely to be injured by their own weapon than aggressor. So let’s definitely talk about safe gun ownership. Let’s let’s talk about if you are going to own a weapon, that you know how to handle it, right, that you know how to properly store it, that children don’t have access to it. Right. And, and that’s kind of the second piece when we talk about violence in society in general. There are a couple of criminological
Dr. Beeman 19:59
into that explain it. One of it is modeling. One of it is that it’s a learned behavior. Well, where are they learning this behavior from?I have a,an interesting, I had pulled two interesting papers off. One is called the Violence Project, which by the way, went through and analyzed every mass shooting in the US from 1966 to 2019. Okay. There were 167 in 50 years, lot of gun violence, particularly on school grounds, right? When two high schoolers have a beef over a girl or over drugs, right? Or whatever, then yeah, who knows what they’re fighting about? Yeah, it has, that starts on the school grounds, it may stop with a gunshot on the school grounds. It carries over into the neighborhood. It carries over into North Lake Mall. Yeah. You know, yeah. So it’s, that’s why we have to separate the two, they’re very different. But when we look at some of the explanations for gun violence, gang violence, drug violence,modeling, they do what they see. Differential Association has been around as a theory since 1940s, your parents told you about it, be careful who you hang around with, right? That criminal behavior is learned behavior? Sure. And the theory is a little more complicated than that. But that’s essentially the bottom line. And the last point of the theory says that criminal behavior can’t be explained because of sponge some special need or desire that an individual has, because non criminals have those same needs and desires. Right? So that’s not it. Right. So what is it? And I, I pulled a position paper from the American Academy of Family Physicians. Okay. that addresses the issue of violence in the media, and its impact on children and family, right? Imagine that. Right? Right. Imagine what these kids are seeing 84% of households have at least one smartphone with the median US household containing five connected devices. And these are devices that are going on monitored, right for those under the age of 18. In the home. Right, right. And what’s included in there. We have an average American youth will witness 200,000 violent acts on television before age 18 to 100,000. And although this is a quote, although some claim that cartoon violence is not as real and therefore not as damaging, it has been shown to increase the likelihood of aggressive, antisocial behavior in youth. This association makes sense in light of children’s developmental difficulty discerning the real from the fantastic. And this was a conversation that Michael and I were having about.
When I was growing up, yeah, we watch cartoons every Saturday morning. Yeah. being beheaded, right. Yeah. But it was an intact family unit. You were having conversations with your parents, and the church about what behavior was appropriate. What was not appropriate. What was real. What was fake? Yeah. Unfortunately, as the traditional family unit breaks down, which by the way, is our first society? Yeah. As it breaks down. Those messages to children break down as well. That’s right. And when they are spending 50 hours a weekon media streaming, cable, yeah, games, videos, music, right. By themselves, it has more of an influence. That becomes an In fact, contemporary researchers look at Switzerland’s differential association theory which said that in orderor for behavior to be learned, it had to be learned within an intimate, personal relationship that where there was communication. Yeah. And contemporary researchers say, you know, if Sudirman knew then what he knew now, what we know now he would have included media in that intimate personal relationship. Right, right. chat rooms, andwho these young people who feel as though they are disconnected from their family, yeah, for whatever reason.
Who do they gravitate toward? Where do they feel they belong? And 1950s? Quite frankly, that’s the reason people have joined gangs, right. Young men, boys, they want to belong, they just want to be alone. Right? They just want to and they’ve been rejected. Somewhere along the lower. Yeah, along the way. Yeah,
Dr. Watson 25:52
I think one of the big questions once you ask about violence, and these mass shootings, etc. And guns, is and this is the question I really never see. anyone ask and it frustrates me is that in the 1950s and earlier, it was very easy to buy a firearm, it was way easier than it was now. There were no background checks you ordered, right? You want over mail, a Mail catalog, it showed up you showed up at mace know, the vert, the equivalent of Macy’s, downtown Chicago, you can pick out a firearm right? There was no checks. Yeah.
Dr. Beeman 26:23
Every in high school, in high school, every pickup truck had a shotgun run rack, right and right, never never had any problems at all.
Dr. Watson 26:30
In my high school. I’ve seen the black and white photos, we had a shot hunting, rifle teams weren’t uncommon on school property. Even in New York City, you would read about kids taking their shotgun, you know, in a case on the subway to high school, they turn it into the coach and lock it up. something’s changed. And also back then 50% 50% of homes had guns. Now it’s around 38 to 40%, depending who on the survey you look at. So we have fewer guns in homes today, more background checks, and we’ve ever had most guns, 90 something percent of guns go through a background check whenever you buy it. Yeah, but we have the issues. We have issues that we didn’t have in the 50s. And I think what we’re getting at is this, the long term solution is we need a cultural transformation, especially on how we treat the most vulnerable in society that is children and how they’re raised. You have communities where I have friends who are social workers, and they work in high schools where no one has a dad, almost no one has a dad. They work in high schools where half of them have dads and half of them don’t have dads. And they’re like that’s the sons who have the sorry, the men who have are the boys who have dads at very differently than boys who don’t have dads. And it’s a stark contrast.
Dr. Beeman 27:44
And I think this is where the church can can really make a difference. Yeah, because that’s what we do. That’s who we are. Right. And we know that mentoring works. We know when we look at juvenile delinquency statistics and the outcomes of mentoring programs. We know they matter. They make a difference. Yeah. For for young boys and girls. And, you know, looking at when you look at who’s committing these acts of violence, they’re predominantly male. Yeah. And we are talking about predominantly fatherless homes. Is there a connection? I’m not a psychologist, but the research seems to suggest that there might be right for sure. But we also know that males and females deal with traumas differently. Yeah, males will externalize females will internalize. So sadly, this is where
there’s a 85% of female juvenile delinquents had been sexually or physically abused. So that sets them on a pathway. But they are, what they’re going to do is they’re going to turn to prostitution, they’re going to run away from home. Right. Right. They’re going to self injure. Yeah. I think a lot of these kids are going to self medicate. Yeah. And you know, we’re, gosh, we’re seeing the overdoses. uptick now. And there’s so this is where we as a church, I was thinking the other day when I was sitting in maths, you know, if, if, if, if every person in maths are sharing the love and the peace and the joy, yeah, that is going to accommodate this transformation. Yeah. And we we will have the heart to become mentors. We the church is so good. This is not this is not a government responsibility. This is our responsibility as people who see Christ and others and we want for them what we want for ourselves, right?
Dr. Watson 29:48
Unfortunately, when the family does break down, it becomes government has to take government does take over those problems. Yeah, it means we need more law enforcement. It means we need more social workers. It means we need more have mental health workers, etc, etc. It’s just the when the family breakdown happens, those costs are thrown out on society. And if the voluntary groups like the church and things like don’t handle it, then we’re going to end up socializing those problems with the government. Which, yeah, that’s a great, you know, isn’t the best solution. Right? Yeah. And in the end, it’s a very expensive solution.
Our responsibility, right? As people who see Christ and others and we want for them what we want for ourselves. Right.
Unfortunately, when the family does break down, it becomes government has to take role and does take over those problems.
It means we need more law enforcement. It means we need more social workers. It means we need more mental health, workforce, better, etc. So it’s just the when the family breakdown happens, those costs are thrown out and society and if the voluntary groups like the church and things that don’t handle it, then we are going to end up socializing those problems with the government which.
That’s a great you know, isn’t the best solution, right?
And in the end, it’s a very expensive solution.
And I think your point about the church is so important because I think what happens in a lot of times with these issues is that there are two sides. Right. And what we’re really hearing right now in the media is like guns are a problem and we have to do something about them. And one side is saying get rid of them.
And the other side is saying, no, it’s my right to have them. And it’s really all about that when instead to your point, what if it was like, OK, but the issue is not really the gun itself. The issue is the breakdown and all these things that we’re sitting here in this room bringing to light and the church can help.
And Jesus can help. Salvation can help. Right. You know.
And you know, the pro side, I have issues with their rhetoric because they always talk about individual rights. Yeah. It’s like, well, you should have you should have a rhetoric because it’s true that you can order firearm ownership toward the common good, whether it be sportsmanship or self-defense or in the most drastic, serious defense of nation. Whereas rather than an individual right, as long as you talk about it being an individual right, you’re not going to win a large part of the population over.
Right. Or even they won’t be able to imagine that it can work in a free and virtuous society.
Right. And I think that’s another part of this cultural shift that we’re talking about is this this not almost this obsession with individualism, right? I mean, if we look at what we’re called to do or called to live in community and share the love of Christ, and we’re all the body of Christ together. Right. But we live in a society where there is this constant individualism I mean, and we’re seeing that here.
As, you know, devout Catholics, authentic Catholics. We we we have to remind ourselves, we are we are not Democrat. We are not Republican. We’re Catholic.
And it’s very it is very difficult for us to participate in the political arena because we have one foot in each each camp, so to speak. Yeah. There are things we support in both. And there are things that we do not. And if we could just the church could become a little less partizan and and follow the teachings you know, how how is God calling us to serve our fellow man, whether they are offenders or police officers.
Right. And everybody in between I, I think we could, we could make a difference.
Yeah. So I think we’re unfortunately nearing time but is there anything else that’s like burning to be said? We can also do a part two of this if you wanted or felt like we need to. I think it’s been an enthralling discussion. I’ve learned a lot from both of you, and I feel so grateful that the younger generations are learning from people like you who are clearly committed to the mission and that we’re called here for.
Is there anything else you’d like to say before we I mean.
The things that I’d be thinking about are much more particular solutions, which we don’t have. If we only have 5 minutes, it’s not OK.
So maybe we invite you back for another time.
Yes, there would be an order of the things Julie was saying and I was saying about Catholics also in the common good. So but yeah, there’s there’s so much we could probably price. This has been an hour here talking about some of these topics.
Yeah. And I’d just like to thank you both for joining us today. And I’d like to thank our audience for joining us. If you’re enjoying conversatio, please like share and tell your friends. Conversatio is available through Google Play. Apple Podcasts and Spotify. You can find us there. Until next time. I’m Julia Long. God bless.
About the Host
Director of Graduate & Continuing Education Marketing
In the role of Marketing Project Manager at Belmont Abbey College, Julia’s main focuses are brand development and external communications. This includes oversight of Public Relations, Advertising, and Social Media for the college.
With a Bachelor’s in Journalism and a Master’s in Communication, Julia’s passion for brand and communications led her to positions in corporate and higher education. She lives in Gastonia, North Carolina with her husband Justin, daughter McKenna, and two cats, Einstein and Galileo.