The recent appalling and tragic massacre in Charleston underscores once again the “debate” about gun control in the US. I put the word in quotes, because, in reality, there is no debate, just competing declarations of faith in either guns or gun control. I won’t beat around the bush; I blame the NRA and gun supporters for this impasse, because of the utterly uncompromising stance against any and all attempts to even regulate guns. The NRA has even had the unspeakable gall to blame the pastor of the church in Charleston, himself a victim, for the tragedy because of his position against allowing guns in his church. As if an all-out gunfight would have resulted in a better outcome. It’s hard to have a conversation, and literally impossible to reach a compromise under these conditions. And let’s not forget that one side is armed to the armpits while the other is not; not particularly conducive to a productive dialog.

It is a truism that banning guns will not stop murder, even murders by gun. For one thing, there are now enough weapons at large in the US to arm every criminal for the next several generations; the gun lobby has ensured that their mantra, “criminals will always have guns,” is true. So let’s instead talk about their proposed solution, that everybody else arm themselves.

Leaving aside the obvious point that that would make even more guns available for criminals, who by definition have no qualms about stealing weapons from law abiding citizens, there are other issues concerning the value of being armed as a deterrent to crime. First and foremost, if a criminal inclined to murder you thinks you have a gun, why wouldn’t they simply shoot first? Why wouldn’t this become commonplace as more people carrying guns becomes commonplace? Indeed, it seems to be happening already, judging from news reports.

Anyone familiar with the news knows how difficult it is for even trained persons, such as police, to properly judge when shooting people is appropriate. How is an average joe with a few hours of mandatory “training” (which, by the way, the gun lobby is also against) going to be able to do it? It is not unusual for those who have, in fact, killed someone in a situation they thought warranted it, to regret it for the rest of their lives (George Zimmerman notwithstanding). Are you ready to kill another human being based solely on your own judgment in a tense, confusing situation? I’m not asking for a public answer to that; it’s likely to be standard, and reflective of your politics anyway. I don’t need an answer. You do.

One other factor is at play here, and that is the corrosive, shoot-em-up atmosphere in our society. We revere the maverick, the lone wolf, the rebel who breaks laws and jaws with impunity to achieve some kind of primitive, retributive justice. There is no doubt that the Charleston murderer sees himself in precisely that light. It breeds contempt for law and inculcates the belief that revenge supersedes all interests of the society at large.

You might say it’s just rhetoric, just words. But language is what we humans do. We live by rhetoric and symbol. It might well be the most important factor here, as it drives the non-debate, and paralyzes the will to take effective action.