Friday, July 20, 2012

My Politics, by B: Guns

As before, I am not posting for people to argue with me.  
I just like articulating my thoughts.
Warning.  Below is a hastily written, poorly proofed stream-of-consciousness.  Type-o’s and gaps in logic will surely be found.

Today’s news of a mass shooting at a packed Aurora Colorado movie theatre really made my stomach turn.  12-14 dead (I have seen varied reports), 4 guns found on the scene of the Dark Knight Rises movie premiere.  I called my wife to see if she had heard.  She responded, “You just can’t feel safe anymore.”  It seems that every other week some disturbed individual walks into a public space and starts shooting strangers. 

The most disturbing are those occurring in schools.  Fifteen were killed in the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, eight in 2005 at Red Lake Senior High School, six in 2006 at an Amish school in Pennsylvania, thirty-two in 2007 at Virginia Tech, six in 2008 at Northern Illinois University, seven at Oikos University in Oakland California, and the list goes on… 

During that same time in the United States, other big headline tragedies included the 2002 Beltway Sniper attacks in Washington DC, when ten people were killed, the Westroads Mall shooting in Omaha, Nebraska in 2007 where nine people were killed, the Geneva County Alabama shooting in 2009 when 10 people were killed, 2010’s Fort Hood shooting that left thirteen dead, the recent 2012 Seattle cafĂ© shootings that left five dead and now, the 2012 Aurora shootings leaving 12 dead and 38 injured.  See

I can’t keep on looking this stuff up – it is just too disturbing.  Feel free to peruse wikipedia’s entries on Spree Killers, Thrill Killings, School Shootings, and so forth.  It is a grim commentary on the world we live in.

In the wake of such tragedies, people are quick to jump to the most obvious politically relevant debate: Gun Control.  Unfortunately, the debate usually devolves into the National Rifle Association on one side, and anti-gun or gun control advocates on the other – yelling and unable to sit down for an intelligent discussion.  “Guns don’t kill people – people kill people,” says one side.  “Yeah, but people use guns to kill those people, say the others.”

I get tired of this debate really fast.

I’ll go ahead and state flat out that I DO BELIEVE people should be allowed to own firearms.  I believe in the 2nd amendment – we indeed should have the right to bear arms (or arm bears?).  I enjoyed shooting .22's as a kid.  I earned my rifle and shotgun shooting merit badges as a boy scout and thoroughly enjoyed doing so.

The 2nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, part of the original Bill of Rights, protects, in part, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” 

Fair enough.  But here is where things get a bit complicated.  Indeed, almost immediately, the law underwent a number of legal interpretations and reinterpretations.

There are 2 arguments about the Second Amendment that I find interesting.

  1. The idea that when the Founding Fathers protected the citizens’ right to bear arms, they had no idea that the “arms” thus protected would someday include weapons with which someone could walk into a crowded public space and in a matter of seconds, kill scores of people.  People argue that the “arms” of 1789-1791, when the Bill of Rights was passed, were muskets and breech loading rifles.  This is an interesting argument. I couldn’t find the clip, but a comedian (Daily Show maybe?) joked that 2nd Amendment advocates should be limited to the “Arms” that were available when the 2nd Amendment was passed.  Our society has dealt with the evolving issue of gun control and advances in firearms technology in various ways, passed various restrictions and regulations, etc… in attempts to answer the obvious contradiction between the killing potential of the “arms” of the 1790s and the “arms” of the modern age.  The technological context of the 2nd amendment cannot not be directly applied to modern technology.  It is apples and oranges. 

                This is all a very interesting debate to have, but it sidesteps one of the primary contexts of the 2nd amendment.  And that brings me to my second point.

  1. The 2nd amendment was passed in the context of England’s previous ban on citizens owning firearms.  I don’t want to go into a history of colonial and revolutionary history.  Lets just say that the revolutionary generation was quite upset by mother-England’s attempts to restrict their access to firearms, and at times, use that restriction as a way to control the population.  Hence, the 2nd amendment was a reaction to previous fears of a tyrannical government (from which the 13 colonies had just risen up against and beaten).  So, citizens should be able to own guns in order to protect themselves from a tyrannical government?  Ok.  I get that.  So, is that the context the NRA and others are fighting for?  If so, they are fools.  Does the U.S. government allow regular citizens to own the types of weapons it would take to seriously protect oneself from the U.S. government?  Um….no.  The U.S. military has access to an advanced and devastating arsenal to which we have no access.  Where does this leave us?  The “fight against tyranny” context of the 2nd amendment cannot be directly applied to modern America.  Nor should it be!  I don’t think citizens should be able to buy nuclear arms, submarines, strategic bombers and fighter jets.

In other words, it is a mess.  Should people be allowed to own guns?  Yes, I think so.  Target practice, hunting, etc… I am fine with all of that.  The question is what kinds of guns should people be allowed to own, and who should be allowed to own them.  Laws are already on the books restricted types of weapons and who has access to them, so it is a question of amending those laws.  Unfortunately, any attempt to enact reform seems to be met with across-the-board, no-questions-ask, no-room-for-debate opposition from the NRA and other gun rights organizations.  ANY attempt to restrict gun access is off the table.  I think this is wrong.  They will state that citizens have the right to own guns in order to protect themselves from the government.  BS.  You don’t have that right.  Citizens cannot own the types of guns it would really take to protect themselves against a tyrannical government, and I am fine with that.  People will say they need the right to own guns to protect themselves against intruders, thieves, criminals, etc…  Ok, I can buy that in principle.  But studies and statistics on the use of guns for self-defense in public and private spaces is mixed.

So here is what I would like to conclude with.  How does all of this relate to the situation in Colorado last night?  And here’s the rub.  What can we do to prevent lone gunmen – nut-jobs – psychopaths – from walking into public spaces and shooting?  One argument is that there will be less crime if everyone was carrying a concealed weapon.  I don’t buy this.  If everyone in that theater had a gun – would it have deterred the guy from walking in and shooting?  Probably not.  So many of these incidents are murders, following by suicide of the gunmen.  They walk in, shoot, and then kill themselves.  They aren’t concerned about their own life.  So, I don’t think the fear of someone else shooting them would deter.  Furthermore, I suspect that a theatre full of concealed handguns would likely result in a lot of people shooting – and many of them accidentally shooting each other. 

Imagine a University Campus shooting on a campus where everyone is allowed to have concealed weapons.  The campus police receive word that there is a shooter on campus.  Regularly, their task would be to find the person with a gun and subdue them.  But what if, in the chaos of a mass shooting, the police arrived on a scene in which multiple people had guns.  Eventually, they could probably figure out who the one guy was that everyone was shooting at, but it would be a mess – and a lot of people would probably get shot.  Guy walks into room and opens fire, multiple students pull out there guns and shoot back, other students are killed by friendly fire, bullets pass through walls and kill people in other classrooms, students from other rooms hear the gunfire, pull out their own guns and rush to the scene to “help” only to be sighted by the police who are just arriving and shot themselves because the police just saw someone running through the hall with a gun – how would they know if that person was “the shooter” or a student with a gun trying to chase down the shooter.  It is a mess of a situation to imagine. 

I don’t believe “more guns” is the answer.  I don’t believe unregulated access is the answer.  I am pro-gun, but also pro-gun control and reform.  Will any such reforms really keep crazies from getting their hands on them and shooting places up?  Maybe not.  But, I think we should make it as difficult as possible for such things to happen.  Maybe tighter regulation would at least reduce the number of such incidents.  Are there other cultural problems?  Yes, of course.  None of this deals with trying to figure out how to improve the mental health of culture, society and individuals that leads to such events.  That is another can of worms.

I don’t know.  I think we should have the right to bear arms.  But I also think we should have the right to go to the movies, send our kids to school or walk through the mall without increasing paranoia due to regular news reports of crazed gunmen.