Aaron Betsky: The Design Solution to Gun Violence? Outlaw Guns

Betsky, the President of the School of Architecture at Taliesin, weighs in on the role of design in the aftermath of the Las Vegas massacre.

gun violence design
A “bump stock,” such as this, turns semi-automatic rifles into automatic rifles. Courtesy Slide Fire

What can architects and designers do to increase the security of public spaces in the wake of the Las Vegas massacre and other acts of terrorism? Work to enact strict gun laws.

Design, in other words, is neither the problem nor the solution. The only way we can truly protect ourselves in buildings and through architecture is to turn the structures where we live, work, and play into hermetic cocoons. We certainly cannot truly protect public space. The Las Vegas shooting is a perfect case of the difficulty design faces. The only way to prevent such a horror in the future would be to turn hotel entrances into the equivalent of airport security barriers, make windows unbreakable, and eliminate all outdoor gatherings. Do we really want to turn ourselves into paranoid hermits?

To be a member of our society means opening ourselves up to a certain amount of risk. Architecture both increases and decreases the chances we take every day. It puts us in closed-off buildings far above the ground, and then ensures that we may be able to escape in the case of a disaster by making sure there are plenty of escape staircases and exit doors. It creates both public and semi-public spaces (like hotels) that are open, inviting, and essential to public life, and then incorporates barriers that prevent us from being harmed either by humans or their products. Sometimes it seems that architecture is in a perennial race between designing ever-more exciting, attractive, and dangerous environments and preventing us from getting harmed in such spaces.

There certainly is something that architecture can do to prevent not only the damage that can arise from fires or building failure, but also the danger of intentional harm inflicted by our fellow humans. We can erect barriers that prevent vehicles from crashing into buildings and even build them into our designs, as KieranTimberlake did when they turned the new U.S. Embassy in London into a moat-enclosed castle, and create more or less secure enclosures for ourselves at places such as airports, and for materials that might explode or harm us in other ways.

There is, however, one insidious and simple way in which one human being can inflict a large amount of danger in a manner that is extremely difficult to stop; She or he can buy a gun.

There is very little we can do to stop one person with a semi-automatic rifle or even a pistol from killing scores of people. The only thing that has proven to at least drastically reduce, if not stop, that danger, is effective gun control. The more difficult it is to obtain a gun, the less deaths by gunfire, which is a leading cause of non-natural deaths in this country, occur.

Architects and designers should, to paraphrase the union organizer Joe Hill, not design, but organize. We should all work as citizens and as human beings to prevent the scourge of guns by banning them.


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