January 6, 2013

One More Stab at Having a Gun Conversation

I've been doing a lot of reading on guns lately. I have several friends who are anti-gun; I also have friends, and most importantly, a nephew in the Navy, who are on the opposite end of the spectrum.  I have teacher friends who don't want guns in schools, and parent friends who do want a gun available if needed. I have friends who hunt and friends who don't. I have friends who own guns and (I think) more friends who don't.  Both side are posting fast and furiously, pardon the expression, in attempts to sway opinion on guns in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting.

I don't think I've ever seen my nephew more passionate about a subject. Because I love him dearly, and because I respect his opinion, I'm trying to understand where he's coming from. I'm not sure we'll ever agree on guns - but I'm not sure we have to. I do want us to be able to peacefully co-exist, which is what I think most people want. I'm still crazy enough to think there's common ground out there on most of the big ugly issues,  including guns, if we can get past all of the rhetoric and actually listen to each other.

So I've been trying to listen, and trying to see the pro-gun side of things. I hope he's trying to understand where I come from too. Here's where I landed on some of the more popular topics I've seen lately.

There should be no limits on guns, periodWhat I think I understand is that there shouldn't be any limits on the type of weapons, the number that can be owned or purchased, the number of rounds of ammunition that can be fired or purchased, or how the guns are equipped (barrel shrouds, flash suppressors, silencers, and so on). Limiting the guns that a law-abiding citizen can own only makes it more likely that a criminal will end up being the only one who has guns.  And if we limit or take away one type of gun, it's just a matter of time before Uncle Sam will take away all the guns, leaving the population defenseless in the face of a tyrannical government or a person with bad intentions.

How do I respond to that? The other day, I posted a video of Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn performing his classic, If I had a Rocket Launcher , with this statement:
Sure, I believe in the right to keep and bear arms. But there are limits, right?
I didn't get a whole lot of action on that one, I think because people really like the song and so would 'like' the post for that reason but missed my point: As a private citizen it would be absurd for me to own a rocket launcher, or an IED, or a cannon, or a nuclear missile, or an assault weapon or any number of other clearly 'not intended for personal use' weapons to create a kill zone around my house to protect me and my loved ones. Yes, 'kill zone' is a term I've seen in several articles and blog posts lately, and I have to say it makes me uncomfortable.

Now, I don't think anyone believes I should have a rocket launcher and I haven't seen anyone advocating for this type of weapon being in private hands. But when you go the 'no limits' route, that means no limits, right? And if  I can have one of these, then the bad guy down the road can have one, and before you know it we'll be having nuclear shootouts at the corner market. And while it's extreme to think that would ever happen, that's apparently what's happened with other weapons, such as the kind used at Sandy Hook and similar shootings. Because we allow good guys to have them, bad guys have them too.

My gut response to this is simple: I think there are reasonable limits that we can all be comfortable with, and still allow people to own guns for sport, hunting, and yes, for protection.

You don't even know the definition of an assault weapon. That is an absolutely correct statement. Most people don't know the clinical definition. I've seen more than one lately, similar but with varying degrees of specificity, so I'm not sure the experts even know what the definition is. To me, it's kind of like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's comment on pornography:
I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["hard-core pornography"]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it...
Have I ever seen one, up close and personal?  Nope. Have I seen what I think qualifies as one in movies and on the news?  Yep.  Have I seen reports of shootings that used a 'so-called' assault weapon? Yep.  And yet, I don't recall ever feeling compelled to pull out a gun pictorial to make sure people called it by the correct term. The right name in most of these cases is 'the gun that an evil sick bastard just used to kill a bunch of innocent people.' Isn't that sufficient? 

Do we really want to argue over the semantics of it?

Finally, on this subject, there's this interesting fact, from an article I found in my research:
These guns are not the weapon of choice for this nation’s criminals or killers. Indeed, the FBI found that in 2010, the last year for which data is available, more people were beaten to death than killed with all long guns including these so-called assault weapons.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that it would take more than 10 minutes or so -- the amount of time it took at Sandy Hook -- to beat 20 children and six adults to death.

We had an assault weapons ban for 10 years and it didn't go any goodThat's also a correct statement, because the ban was doomed to fail from the start. As with pretty much all legislation ever dreamed up by either side, we get ourselves so strangled up in nonsense that we end up with a law so watered down or so ridiculous that it's pretty much worthless.

Take the ban that everyone on the pro-gun side says didn't work, and everyone on the more gun control side says needs to be resurrected. From an article  in the Washington Post on the history of gun control regulations:
The law defined “assault weapon” narrowly, outlawing the sale of 19 brands of semiautomatic firearms, including certain guns built on the AR-15 design, which is the civilian version of the military’s M-16. To be banned, a gun had to have two or more military-style features, such as a pistol grip, a flash suppressor or a bayonet mount. Manufacturers found workarounds, modifying their designs to comply with the law.  “There were so many ways around the ban that it wasn’t really effective,” said John W. Magaw, who ran the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) during that time.
Almost before the ink was dry, gun manufacturers were working to skirt the language, removing a feature or two so that the gun no longer met the rules.  Now - before you go ballistic on me, that's what's supposed to happen in our political system. Isn't that why businesses, trade associations, unions, and the like spend so much money lobbying?

Do I wish the gun manufacturers didn't work so hard to get around the intent of the law, which was to protect people from being killed by a maniac wielding one of these guns? Yes, of course. But I do not fault them for making a legal product and selling it to people legally.

Limiting the number of shots that can be fired without reloading would make the world more dangerous, not safer. This one comes down to one question -- "Who is holding the gun?"

If it's a bad guy, then you want him to have to take the time to reload, because it means he can't kill as many people. If it's the good guy, you don't want him to have to reload, because that takes away from his opportunity to take out the bad guy.  Plus, "good guys miss sometimes" as I read, and so more bullets without reloading is a good thing. 

Now, if  no one was holding the weapon that can shoot a whole bunch of times without having to be reloaded, we wouldn't have to worry about reloading, would we?

Well, if you ban the manufacturing of these guns, people will just make their own. I thought this was ridiculous; to find out, I did a search for "how to make a plastic assault rifle" and found 31,900,000 results. Many of them are news stories and such, but a significant number of them are little instruction manuals, many with videos.  So sure, it's possible that people would make their own. 

It's harder to find out how many times one of these home-made so-called assault weapons was used in a crime, or more particularly in a mass shooting.  I couldn't readily find a statistic, using a variety of search terms.

My guess is, if you put a bunch of bad guys in a room with some PVC pipe and whatnot, they'd end up hitting each other over the head with it long before the made a weapon out of it.

The best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. There's some truth to this, I agree.  Once the bad guy has the gun, and has the intent to use it, there isn't really much that can happen to keep him (or her) from doing what they set out to, except someone else who can take them out.  Which is why we arm the police.  On the other hand, since the police can't be everywhere at once, we need to have other armed people at schools. Or so we're told.

My question: Is it just at schools, or is it everywhere?  Is it also movie theaters, and shopping malls, and WalMarts, and bars, and grocery stores, and churches, and bus terminals, and fast food restaurants, and everywhere groups of people gather? Because if you follow the logic from the pro-gun side, people choose schools and, apparently, only those particular movie theaters in a multiplex that say 'No Guns Allowed', because they know they won't meet any resistance.

Personally, I think the people who do this kind of thing choose the places they do for maximum exposure, not for minimum resistance. I don't think they spend a lot of time scouting the signage. Shooting one person at a Walmart, while a much more frequent occurrence than a mass shooting is simply much less impactful than shooting up a school or a midnight movie. And that's why we don't hear about it.

But it's the media's fault. It's true that the media spends an inordinate amount of time on tragedies of all kinds - we even get special music for the stories, so if you're not already glued to the TV, you can come running when you hear the somber tones.

Here's a perfect example: One of my local media outlets here in Syracuse sent the lead anchor to Newtown.  I have no idea why -- we already had wall to wall coverage by all of the networks. But I had to chuckle when, the same night I saw my guy standing in front of a soccer field on the 6PM news, I saw a local anchor from a Chicago affiliate of a different network standing in front of the same soccer field on their 10PM news.  It's ridiculous.

And I also agree with the folks who posted on Facebook and Twitter that we need to commit to memory the names of the victims and never again mention the name of the shooter.  That's a lofty goal, and admirable, but we know that's not going to happen. How many of the Sandy Hook victims can you name?

It's not just the media, it's the video games and moviesIf you're my age or a little older, I'm sure you remember how aggravated parents were with all wildly gyrating rock and roll stars on television that were going to drive all us impressionable girls to do....whatever.  And you surely remember that marijuana would lead to harder drugs. And that reading Playboy or Hustler would cause boys to become rapists or something (even though they got the magazines from their dads).

We laughed at all of that back then, so why isn't everyone laughing now when the NRA blames Quentin Tarantino movies and violent video games?   We've always had violence in the movies, so why now start blaming the entertainment industry? Is it because the violence is more gratuitous? More realistic? Done using the same type of gun that's being used in mass killings?

Seems it was not so long ago that when people suggested that violent cartoons, movies and video games were bad, pro-gun folks would talk about Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner and snidely ask if we should ban safes and anvils. And of course cars, and pens, and broken beer bottles, and pool cues and baseball bats and on and on down the line of absurdity.

Whatever the reasons the NRA chose to raise this issue now, to suggest that the problem is an abuse of the First Amendment, not the Second, seems a little disingenuous. The question is though, what specifically should be done?  What rights do they feel everyone else needs to give up to make our movies and video games less 'pornographic' as Wayne LaPierre said, and safer for our children and society?

People with mental health issues shouldn't be able to own guns. Agree again. Except where do you draw the line?  Anxiety? Depression? OCD? ADHD? Medicated, or not medicated? Seeing a therapist, or not? Would the slightest hint of a behavioral issue, current or prior, preclude someone from owning a gun? If yes, I can think of several gun owners I know who would be disqualified.

Would current gun owners be willing to undergo a mental exam of some sort every year, at their own expense, to certify they're mentally fit for gun ownership?

And don't forget, the Newtown killer's mother was a legal gun owner; she also happened to have a son with 'issues'. So, would all current gun owners be willing to have their family mental health history documented, and tested and affirmed regularly (again, at their own expense), and sacrifice their right to own guns if they had a child or spouse with a current or prior mental health issue? 

We need more people with concealed carry permits, and we need each state to honor all other state's concealed carry permits.  This is a tough one, I admit. Picture a person leaving their home in Virginia and heading to New York to visit family. You've got Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York concealed carry laws to worry about, and I don't think we post the rules on the Welcome signs, can't remember. You either take your chances or you have to learn the laws and do whatever's necessary to be compliant with them along the way. Seems silly, I agree. 

So there are two options: a national concealed carry law, which means that everyone who wanted a permit for CCW would have to meet the same requirements and would be equally vetted and deemed a responsible citizen who is not a threat. The other option is, we trust that if your state says you're OK, my state should assume you're OK, even though each state's 'gun sensibility' may be very different. 

Would pro-gun folks agree to a national law on this, even if more restrictive than their current state law? If yes, then I see that as progress. If no, then I see it as more of the same that we've been hearing forever, that the whole solution lies somewhere else.

People are demonizing legitimate gun owners. The people who are being demonized are not the people who hunt or shoot at targets, like my friends and my nephew.  I think people are demonizing the kind of weapons that allow 20 little children to be murdered in about 10 minutes, and I think people are demonizing the bastards that use these weapons to commit that kind of heinous, senseless, atrocious act. And I think there's a certain amount of demonizing aimed at Wayne LaPierre, the executive director of the NRA.

So where do we go from here? Pro-gun people simply saying 'don't touch my guns', 'guns don't kill people, people kill people', or, now, 'guns don't kill people, video games kill people' doesn't help the conversation any more than anti-gun people saying all guns are bad.  I am NOT one of those people. I respect your right to have guns.

But so far, it seems like everything that's been suggested has been about stopping him and others like him only after they have committed to killing as many people as they can before taking their own lives, or being killed in the process.

To me, that's too late.

The NRA and others have put several ideas on the table, pointed at several contributing factors leading to mass shootings like the one at Sandy Hook, or Aurora, or Virginia Tech, or Fort Hood, or Columbine, and so on. So now, let's talk about those ideas -- a conversation, not a shouting match.  A conversation geared towards solving the problem, not simply perpetuating the status quo.

1 comment:

  1. Nice title- bringing a knife to a gun fight - funny???...

    ReplyDelete