I’ve got a massive, multiple-day update planned detailing our trip to Texas and back, with pictures and all. (I’m sure you noticed I wasn’t posting on here for like 3 weeks? No? Okay cool then, it’s fine.) But before we get to that I’ve got to say a few words about the latest controversy on gun control, in response to the Aurora shootings last week, organized as a serious of barely connected thoughts:
- When people talk to me about gun rights, the Second Amendment always gets mentioned, but honestly I don’t even use old Bill O’ Rights #2 when defending gun ownership. Why? Because it can be construed a million ways. Folks insisting that only the militia (which they read as the National Guard, despite the fact that the Militia Act of 1903 is pretty clear that the “Militia” is anyone eligible to be drafted, which means any male between the ages of 17 and 45) should have guns, or insisting that “well-regulated” means that the government should have the right to decree what guns are legal and what aren’t, and the folks on the other side that say “well-regulated militia” is just the rationale behind the amendment, and the real meat of it is the “shall not be infringed” part. Each side defines the text however it best fits their agenda. So frankly I just ignore it. Even if there was no Second Amendment, I still think most everybody should be allowed and encouraged to own guns.
- When someone is in favor of gun control, I think it’s fair to ask exactly what they intend to accomplish with it. Getting rid of guns is a pointless thing to do unless it serves some greater goal. It’s like banning trans fats. The reason for banning trans fats, of course, is to make food healthier, which leads to healthy people. Healthy people is the real goal, trans fats is just the step that gets you there. So when you want to enact gun control, what you REALLY want are safer people.
Assuming they want a safer populace, what gun control advocates really have to demonstrate is two-fold: first, does a full or partial ban on guns actually make us safer, and second, is it the MOST EFFICIENT way of making us safer. The second is a little difficult to explain, but let’s say that banning all guns would make Americans safer, as indicated by a drop in violent crime of, say, 2%. (That’s a made up number, just used for this example.) But say that increasing welfare benefits to the under- and un-employed would cost about the same as a gun ban, and would produce a drop in violent crime of, say, 25%, just because a well-fed, healthy population tends to shoot each other less frequently. (Again: made up number.) Wouldn’t the second option be the better idea, just from a cost perspective?
The first issue is a little more cut-and-dried: John Lott’s studies in the 1990s seem to indicate that communities that enact gun bans see pretty much no drop in crime as a result. In some communities the amount of crime went up, the speculation being that criminals are no longer afraid of encountering armed homeowners during burglaries. So at the very best, gun control SEEMS to be an ineffective way to reduce crime.
- Another issue is that gun control always seems to come up after a big shooting tragedy, and if you think gun control is ineffective in reducing overall crime, it’s absolutely hopeless in preventing tragedies like we had last week. For example, Germany has fairly strict gun control: a firearms license is required, and to get one you must prove “trustworthiness,” “personal adequacy,” “expert knowledge,” and “necessity.” (“Self-defense is not a recognized ground for necessity, outside the narrow requirements of a carry permit.”) None of this kept the Winnenden School shooting from occurring. The fact of the matter is that unless you can GUARANTEE that no guns are available to anyone anywhere for any reason whatsoever, you can’t guarantee that tragedies won’t happen. And if they aren’t guaranteed to be prevented, it’s just a matter of time before they happen. It sucks that they do, but it’s one of the sad side effects of living in a free society.
An example: man joins the Marines, goes into a combat zone, sees some horrible things and develops PTSD. However, like most mental issues of that type, he’s able to control and hide it fairly well. He leaves the service, and because of his military experience is able to get a job as a police officer. One day, he snaps. He walks into the police armory, walks out with a variety of semi-automatic weapons, and goes berserk. I don’t say this to disparage the military (although they could probably be doing a better job working on the mental issues of veterans), but to demonstrate that there is no gun control legislation that will absolutely guarantee we don’t see the occasional spree shooting. Make it less frequent, maybe, but honestly they’re so infrequent now that it’s like trying to do something about people dying from lightning strikes.
- Unfortunately, none of these facts seem to make any difference to gun control advocates, who seem to want to eliminate guns just because they find them scary. Which I find a little terrifying, because that’s exactly the same kind of logic that leads to anti-sodomy laws and the drug war. I mean, if we can outlaw certain types of firearms just because they make folks FEEL safer, it’s hard to argue against initiatives to eliminate gay marriage. In both cases, logic and science are being ignored in favor of feelings and beliefs. Pretty scary thought, for a country that’s supposed to be the freest in the world. It made me think of a fun internet trope I’d seen, which I’m modifying here a bit to reflect what I think is liberal hypocrisy on this subject. (I think my liberal bona fides are fairly well established, so forgive me a little zinger.)
Don’t like gay marriage? Don’t get one.
Don’t like abortions? Don’t get one.
Don’t like drugs? Don’t do them.
Don’t like sex? Don’t have it.
Don’t like guns? OMG BAN THEM THEY ARE SO SCARY
- Another frequently comment I see is along the lines of “Well, guns in general are fine I guess, but we need to get rid of military style assault weapons, nobody needs to have those.” (Nobody needs to have swimming pools either, and a few thousand people a year drown in those, but you never hear of anyone wanting to ban them.) Here’s the big issue: what consistutes a “military-style assault weapon?” The military has access to all kinds of weapons that aren’t available to the general public for purchase, usually because of the fully automatic features. Buying a legal, fully automatic weapon requires a federal license that’s almost impossible to get. It seems as if folks think that anyone can waltz into a gun store and buy exactly the same rifle that soldiers are using in Afghanistan, but that’s just not true.
So what a currently legal “assault rifle” is, is a semi-automatic rifle. It might have a pistol grip that makes it a little easier to hold and aim, but that’s just about the only thing that differentiates it from a regular semi-auto hunting rifle. So-called “assault weapons” often have larger magazines, but guess what: you can buy a hunting rifle with a big magazine too. You can also buy semi-automatic handguns with large magazines, and honestly if you want to perpetrate a mass shooting, one of those is even better to have because it’s concealable. And as I mentioned above, there’s some evidence that getting rid of defensive handguns actually makes a community less safe. So what you’re doing with a ban is reducing the number of shooting sprees (which are already so rare as to be discounted, statistically) and increasing the number of “everyday” shooting deaths.
My feeling on the matter is that so-called “assault weapons” just look scary, and so some folks think they should be banned. Which goes to the issue above: just because you’re scared of it, doesn’t mean getting rid of it would actually make anyone safer.
- Here’s a little thought experiment: take two groups, conservatives and liberals, and show them the movie “Boys n the Hood.” If you haven’t seen it, a quick explanation is that it’s about gangs and violence and what the African American youth experience was like in the 80s and 90s. It’s got a fair amount of shooting in it. After you’re done, ask the two groups about what was responsible for the violence. Now I haven’t done this experiment, but my best guess is that the liberals, who usually haven’t grown up around guns and tend to be leery of them, are going to say that the problem is the guns. I think the conservatives, many of whom grew up around guns and are pretty comfortable with them, are going to say “black people.” Obviously I’ve set up a room full of straw people and I’m laying a lot of racism on them, but I think it demonstrates the kind of irrational fears that I believe are driving most political debates today. And let’s face it, as Jon Stewart once said, not all Republicans are racists. But if you’re a racist, you probably vote Republican.
- Just as a final note, I’d like to comment that in Switzerland, every male citizen between the ages of 20 and 30 has a fully automatic assault rifle in his home, although admittedly he is no longer required to keep ammunition for it, which seems kinda silly. Still, estimates of the number of military or privately-owned guns in Swiss homes ranges from 1.2 to 3 million, according to Wikipedia, in a country with a population of 8 million. The number of murders in Switzerland in 2010? 53. Also, here’s an interesting tidbit: “Although Brazil has 100 million fewer citizens than the United States, and more restrictive gun laws, there are 25 percent more gun deaths; other sources indicate that homicide rates due to guns are approximately four times higher than the rate in the United States.” Also: “All firearms in Brazil are required to be registered with the state…The total number of firearms in Brazil is thought to be around 17 million with 9 million of those being unregistered.” But restricting gun availability for everyone keeps them out of the hands of criminals! Not so much, it seems.
- This is probably a little bit “Chicken Little,” but if things continue along their current path, the likelihood of armed confrontation between groups of Americans goes up. Tea Party folks are already showing up at political rallies carrying their guns, to show how “free” they are, and also to make sure we’re all nice and intimidated. I admit a civil war isn’t terribly likely, but it’s hard to rule out. Do we really want the Tea Party “Patriots” to be the only folks who have guns, and know how to use them? Seems like an anti-gun liberal is a guy that’s not paying enough attention to the crazy SOBs running the Republican Party at the moment.
- In the end, this country is facing a lot of issues at the moment, and I think that gun control is just about the last thing we need to be worried about. The fact is, Americans like guns, and no politician facing a difficult battle this November is going to touch the issue with a ten foot pole. The Supreme Court legalized unlimited, anonymous contributions to political campaigns, and I’d say we’re pretty much screwed unless we can put a stop to that. Right now the political process is bought and paid for, and I’d kinda like to get it back in the hands of Americans instead of corporations. That ain’t happening if we elect a GOP President who’ll pack the Court with conservative appointees, and if President Obama utters even one peep about maybe banning a few assault weapons, we’re almost guaranteed a terrifying Romney administration. As progressives, let’s just drop this gun control nonsense and focus on the important issues, okay?
Next time, I’ll get to chit-chattin’ about our Texas trip, which will be much more fun, less argumentative, and probably picture-heavy. Have a solid week, y’all.