Monday, October 05, 2015

The Last Time I'm Going to Write on this Topic

I wasn't sure I wanted to write this post, for two reasons. First, it's depressing to think that yet again innocent people have been murdered by a gun-wielding person.  And second, each time I write something about the topic of guns, my conservative friends treat me at best like a wooly-headed liberal simpleton who doesn't understand the Constitution and at worst like a wild-eyed commiepinkoratbastard who hates America and wants to confiscate everyone's guns and turn us over to the Iranians for forced conversion to Islam.

I'm sick of stupid cartoons and memes that make those of us who are horrified by the endless slaughter look like idiots. I'm tired of hearing the same old excuses trotted out each time there's a mass shooting. I'm tired of the crocodile tears being shed by those who refuse to admit that there's a real problem here.

Last week my friend Bob posted a link to one of the closest things I've seen yet to an even-handed discussion of the gun mess in this country: an article by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry titled Both Sides Are Wrong on the Gun Debate. Here's Why. Mr Gobry makes some sound arguments that address both sides of the argument, and though I don't fully agree with all his points, his article is worth reading for anyone interested in an attempt at an actual, fact-based discussion of a serious problem.

Here are some of the places where I agree and disagree with Mr Gobry ...

Mr Gobry first looks at the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which enshrines the right of Americans to "keep and bear arms." He suggests that both conservatives and liberals misunderstand the Second Amendment and the relationship of the right to keep and bear arms to the maintenance of a militia as the Founders would have understood the term. I agree with this assessment, but believe that he failed to note an important part of the historical record: Americans' traditional mistrust of a large standing army. The Founders, after all, had had the experience of subjugation under a standing (British) army, and it should not be forgotten that an Amendment not often discussed - the Third - prohibits the quartering of soldiers in private homes, except as prescribed by law. The alternative to a standing army that could be a threat to individual liberties was considered to be an armed and ready citizens' militia. The "well-regulated militia" described in the Second Amendment had a specific meaning that has been lost in the shouting*.

Mr Gobry goes on to note the obvious fact that there are hundreds of millions of guns in private hands in the United States, and that no matter what new laws might be enacted in the future, all those guns will remain in circulation, and will be utterly impossible to confiscate** ... as Mr Gobry writes,

"Short of establishing a totalitarian police state ... there is no feasible way to make America a non-gun-saturated country. Whether or not it is theoretically desirable that there not be hundreds of millions of guns circulating in America, it is simply not the world we live in. Any credible gun-related policy needs to take into account this inconvenient, stubborn fact."

By most measures, there are more guns in private hands in this country than there are people. Take off the tinfoil hat ... nobody is ever going to be able to take away your guns.

My biggest quibble with Mr Gobry's article is with his next section, which is headed "We Don't Have a Cure for Mental Illness" and in which he writes,

"... in America, a determined crazy person will find a way to get their hands on guns."

It's true that we do not have a good record of identifying and treating mental illness, and that many of the people who commit horrifying mass murders with guns are indeed mentally ill in some fashion. But not every person who uses a gun to kill is mentally ill, although mental illness is a convenient excuse to deflect attention from other factors. The small child that kills himself or others because he found and played with his father's poorly-secured gun is not mentally ill. The person who commits suicide by shooting himself may be mentally ill, but may just be temporarily depressed and attracted by the allure of a quick and painless death. The cheap hoodlum who kills someone in the course of robbing a convenience store may be mentally ill, but is probably just high on the power he gets from wielding a gun. The gang-bangers who riddle a street party with bullets in drive-by shootings may be mentally ill, but are more likely drunk with the power of life or death over their enemies. Yes, mental illness is sometimes a factor in gun violence, but it's not the whole problem, and pretending that it is creates a smoke screen that ignores all the other social, economic, and political factors involved.

Mr Gobry goes on to note that people have a right to self-defense. No argument there. But I would suggest that a little common sense might be in order ... is it necessary to openly carry an AR-15 with a hundred-round drum magazine attached into the world's busiest airport because "you never know where something might happen"***? Regardless of any other arguments, as noted earlier in the article, the country is completely awash in guns, and many people clearly perceive a need to carry guns of their own in order to protect themselves from real or perceived threats. As Mr Gobry writes,

"... it is hard to see how it is possible to severely restrict the rights of law-abiding citizens to own guns without also unacceptably restricting human rights as they are understood in the Enlightenment tradition in general, and in the Anglo-American Constitutional tradition in particular."

I accept that. But I also think that the rest of us have a right to feel safe, too ... and since I can't judge the mental state and intentions of a person carrying a large gun in public, I don't feel any safer when they're around.

Here's another point: advocates of gun rights point out - perfectly correctly, if somewhat disingenuously - that new laws will not prevent new murders ... that criminals and the mentally ill will always find a way to get their hands on guns. No argument there. But should we make it easy for them to do so?

Here's my final point, and it's one that I've made before and for which I've been ridiculed by defenders of gun rights: it is often said that laws aimed at restricting or controlling gun ownership and use are of no value, as criminals and the mentally ill will ignore them anyhow. This is absolutely true. But then the logical extension of that argument is also true: if laws are useless because they will only be observed by the law-abiding, why bother with laws at all****? Please don't tell me that criminals ignore the law. It just makes you look stupid.

Mr Gobry gives a good summary of the situation in his article:

"What, then, can we do about guns? Well, the first step is to have humility. Humility to recognize the facts as they actually exist, and humility to recognize that there is no magic wand that will stop every bullet. Second, there are, indeed, practical steps to take, such as closing the biggest loopholes in gun laws, and embarking on a significant, but realistic, endeavor to experiment locally and incrementally with initiatives to combat mental illness. But embarking on these practical steps entails having the humility to recognize that the utopian (or, perhaps, dystopian, in the light of stop-and-frisk) vision of a gun-free America just isn't going to happen. And third, most importantly and most difficultly, Americans should evolve their culture toward a greater recognition, as the original vision of the Second Amendment and the example of Switzerland point us to, that gun ownership is a right, yes, but also a responsibility. But this humble recognition is hampered by the fact-free, boasting utopianism of both sides screeching through this so-called debate."

This is the last time I'm going to write about this topic. The people who most need to listen and think - on both sides of the argument - won't, and I'm tired of being treated like the village idiot for trying to promote some rational discussion of a terrifying ... and terribly complex ... problem.

Before I go, here's a look at the scope of the problem ...

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Yes, I know how the Supreme Court has interpreted the Second Amendment. I respect their decision as the law of the land, which doesn't mean I think it was the right decision to make. Oh, and since we now have an actual standing army under civilian control, do we really need ... oh, never mind.

** By most estimates there are more than 300,000,000 guns in circulation. There are also about 11,000,000 illegal aliens in circulation. Neither the 300,000,000 guns nor the 11,000,000 illegal aliens can be - by any practical measure for which Americans would stand - rounded up. Get real.

*** Yes, it's happened. Read about it here.

**** Or as my father was fond of saying, if you lock your doors and windows, all the honest people will stay out.


eViL pOp TaRt said...

This is a new perspective on things - the Second Amendment being seen in light of our distrust of a standing army. We've always feared central control; but I agree, carrying an assault rifle out in public just in case something might happen is overkill!

Linda Kay said...

There are extremes on either side of the argument, for sure. I guess my question is whether current laws are being enforced. But I do stand on the side of self-defense. I have many girlfriends who carry.

John Hill said...

Good post!

Mike said...

Switzerland gets mentioned often because people are required to keep a rifle for national defence. What they fail to mention is that all the bolts for the rifles are kept at the local post office and need a government decree to be released to the population.

Atomic Dog said...

We're not going to experience an immediate decline in the number of guns out there as long as some people are fearful of their safety, rightly or wrongly. There are these unforeseen mass shooting events that make the news, but many of us live lives in which the actual probability of danger is quite remote. And we have the sport hunters, who use their guns only lawfully. Most urban-dwellers neither that the opportunity or the interest in hunting animals for sport. (I wouldn't want to have shot Bambi's mother!)

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

I feel less safe when I see some visibly toting and displaying a gun!