Posts Tagged ‘ gun control ’

Yeah, Guns Again…

This morning I read two reasonable pieces at the National Review.

First was a piece by Kevin Williamson thoroughly excoriating the lunatic, paranoiac wing of the American Right so eager to dismiss the significance of mass shootings that they embrace conspiracy theories about “crisis actors” and school massacres as false flag operations aimed at stripping gun rights. It’s a reassurance that the Earth is not flat recently echoed by Marco Rubio who, in the hot seat from angry teenagers, has nevertheless taken the bare minimum steps required by human decency and denounced suggestions that these children were anything other than survivors of a gruesome atrocity.

The second piece was a very interesting analysis of the political divide on guns from David French. In it, French paints a picture of an America starkly divided. On one side, French quotes his colleague Williams to characterize the leftists who see gun culture as “an atavistic enthusiasm for rural primitives and right-wing militia nuts, a hobby that must be tolerated — if only barely — because of some vestigial 18th-century political compromise,” who are met on the other side by individualists who are “repulsed by the notion that personal security should depend almost completely on the government…[seeing] progressive peers as soft and unmanly.”

French worries that this divide, over such a flash point issue, could “break” America and he seems to earnestly worry over the widening divide as “geographic differences create cultural differences, and cultural differences hasten ever-greater geographic change.”

I have no reason to doubt this earnestness or sincerity from French. He sees an America split down the middle by this painful issue. But despite positioning himself in his piece as someone who knows both worlds and can see past the vitriol, what he sees is obviously biased by his position from deep inside his own “red” territory.

Because the facts paint a different picture of just how divided we are on this issue.

The NRA touts a membership of five million. The current U.S. population is over three-hundred twenty million. As the emerging #boycottNRA movement is quickly demonstrating, that’s just not that big a proportion of the population. It’s true that Americans have a lot of guns, but it’s also true that they are not evenly distributed and that despite ownership rates, some surveys suggest that up to 97% of the population supports automatic background checks for all firearm purchases.

French imagines a clean split, but the truth is that the Right in general has already lost the majority, a trend that many conservatives have worried over, even Williams who recently noted that in surrendering urban communities as hopelessly “blue,” the American Right was turning its back on “where the people are.” In any other democracy, the Republican party would already be out of power. We all know Trump won the election while garnering three million fewer votes than Clinton, but Republicans actually won the house with fewer overall votes than Democrats as well. Without gerrymandering–a practice losing in court battle after court battle–Pelosi would be back in as speaker.

French argues, and implicitly defends, the pro-gun view of the world as a legitimate way of “perceiving your role in a nation and a community.” It is, apparently, a fiercely individualistic worldview in which these patriots reject “the sense of dependence [represented by liberals]… at odds with their view of a free citizenry.”

It is also factually ridiculous.

This notion that being a gun owner will make you safer, that it puts your safety in your own hands is factually absurd.

American gun owners: you are not safe because you own a gun.

Your safety, the security of your lifestyle in which you can wake each day and be reasonably confident that you and your family will not be harmed, does not stem from your ownership of a firearm. If you doubt that, I invite you to reflect on the life of a Syrian rebel today. He has a gun. He woke up very much uncertain about his safety and security.

No, you are safe because you live in a stable and secure society, one defined by the rule of law and a tradition of individual sovereignty. Your gun did not keep murderous thugs at bay today. A functioning society, and yes, a functional government, provided that blanket of security.

It is possible that there could arise a moment or two in your life where your gun could be a tool for further guaranteeing that security, true. But statistically, that gun’s presence in your life is more likely to make you less safe. Whether by accident or misuse, that gun–from a strictly statistical point of view–is more likely to kill you or yours than to save you.

That is what all these guns in our society are doing for us as a nation as well. By most estimates we have as many guns as people in this country and so, unsurprisingly, we have more gun crime than any other developed nation. Even as crime rates have fallen in general, gun deaths are still a rough tie with automobile accidents as a cause of death. Then, of course, there is the grim spectacle of mass shootings, which is a uniquely American blight best captured by the Onion’s recurring headline: “No Way to Prevent This, Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.

French is right that there are two views of the world at odds here, but they are not equal. One is informed by facts and by a realistic reckoning with historical and international evidence.

The other is a fantasy.

It is a fantasy to imagine that having a gun makes you safe, that it is a realistic counter to violence in the world. The fantasy hinges on the presupposition that you, law-abiding gun owner, will see whatever nebulous threat you imagine endangers your family before it comes, that you will get off the first shot, that your aim will be truer than whatever criminal element threatens you. The probabilities stack up to the point of absurdity.

Rather than a gun, you are much safer if your community is well policed, if crime is dealt with systemically. Alarm systems are better deterrents to most crime than a gun. There are nonlethal means to defend yourself in close quarters like TASERs and pepper sprays that reduce the chance of accidentally killing your own family members–a grim kind of irony that is twice as likely as killing in self-defense.

The pro-gun worldview French describes is a fantasy.

But you know what, you can have it. Really, keep your guns.

I repeat: Nobody wants to take your guns.

Hillary Clinton didn’t. Obama didn’t. Nobody wants to take your guns.

Every time the NRA has said that someone was coming for your guns, they were lying. Evidence: You still have them. The Democratic majority under Obama in 2008 did exactly nothing to take your guns away. Instead, they just tried to give you health care (those bastards).

Keep your guns. But stop fighting background checks.

We can pinch the gun supply to criminals and crazies alike with a comprehensive system of background checks. Let law enforcement and healthcare providers put temporary holds on gun purchases for domestic abusers and sociopaths alike. Let courts put permanent bars on such purchases. Let’s make it so that gun transactions are documented and controlled like car sales.

Again, 97% of Americans support universal background checks for all firearms.

There are other rational steps–like putting licensing barriers between buyers and especially deadly weapons like the now-infamous AR-15. But the NRA won’t even admit to the necessity for the background checks and their Republican allies continue to defend the fantasies of the pro-gun set, preventing all progress on this issue.

What they miss is the demographic reality. They really are a relic. They are the minority. The pro-gun world view is slipping into the past, where it always belonged. Guns never made you any safer and some retreat into fantasies of an Old West balance of power will not lead to any real security.

We make a safer society together, not by balkanizing our communities behind armed fortifications. And the way people in a society do things together is, yes, through government. This irrational dread of anything collective from the Right isn’t just anachronistic, it’s wholly illogical.

The Right must abandon its commitment to the absurd conviction that government can do nothing right and begin participating in conversations about what’s the right thing for government to do.

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Fantasyland

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In 2012, we became witness to something remarkable. Visionaries and dreamers have conjured thousands of lurid, vibrantly realized alternate worlds in literature over the eons, but this was something different. An imaginary world actually became real for thousands, no millions of Americans.

Yes, during the entire presidential campaign we were treated to a glimpse of a Bizarro world where cutting government spending could actually boost an economy (contrary to, you know, all the facts of history during the Great Depression and WWII) and where Obama, a president whose every policy was once proposed by a Republican somewhere, was a dyed-in-red commy of the first order.

In 2012, the Republican worldview went from being a conservative philosophy, to what can only be described as a widely shared delusion.

Ah, but it’s all harmless fun, right?  Were it not for the gerrymandering that gave the Tea Party the House of Representatives, we wouldn’t have anything to worry about at all.

The problem is that this trend in America’s right wing has gotten worse lately.  The Great Schism with Reality, as I like to call it, is widening.

As the nation has turned its focus to gun control in the wake of the terrible tragedy in Newtown, another stripe of this (mostly rural and white) part of America’s sublimated rage has appeared. We knew it was there. It’s the UN-is-coming-to-take-our-guns-and-brand-us-for-the-Antichrist crowd. But now an alarming number of Americans are “liking” YouTube rants from angry gun owners itching for a revolution, propelling pissed-off Marine sergeants to viral-video stardom, and generally turning Facebook into an f’ing minefield with unhinged overreactions to even the mildest suggestion that some new gun legislation might be in order.

The paranoid contention of the hour is that the federal government is coming for the guns.  Jack-booted thugs are mobilizing, ready to pounce on every Nascar-loving American with a stately collection of semi-autos.  So the logic is that Americans must take up arms to defend their arms.

Behind them, they hold up the sacred Second Amendment to extol the wisdom of the Founders in preserving their right to bear arms for exactly this purpose (one wonders why, with this same crowd, the separation of church and state from the First Amendment is seldom so venerated).

Sadly, these poor folks haven’t taken stock of the changes in military hardware since the good old days of 1791. While a “well-regulated” militia of dudes with muskets might have been an effective counter against the British armies in the eighteenth century, your gun collection–no matter what’s in it–isn’t going to make a lick of difference when the UN descends upon you in their black helicopters.  Just ask the insurgents in Iraq how effective their AK-47s were against a modern military machine.  They didn’t shift strategies to sneaking around and planting bombs by the roadside because shooting at us was working out for them, you know.

But, whatever. If people want to imagine themselves as victims, let ‘em. Nobody’s really coming for their guns. New gun control laws are just going to tighten restrictions on new weapons, so even if these folks would seriously form up into regiments to protect their guns, it doesn’t matter. They won’t have to. I say if people want to live in a fantasy world, let ‘em. Hell, I watch Doctor Who. I get that reality sometimes isn’t enough. Ordinarily, I say, “Go ahead. Live in your own world.”

Now, though, it has gone too far.

There’s a new scourge in this fantasy landscape: Sandy Hook conspiracy theorists. According to these new “truthers,” the shooting in Newtown was perpetrated by the government or staged by the government. It doesn’t matter which, just so long as it makes liberals look evil for nefariously tricking people into rejecting a guns-for-all happy zone culture. You know, like the Wild West–a perfect cultural model for us to aspire to in the 21st century.

Their evidence is manifold…and contradictory. And stupid. One blogger will jump up and down, excitedly pointing out that one of the supposed victims can actually be seen sitting on Obama’s lap after the massacre in the same dress as a photo at the memorial! (It was the victim’s little sister, wearing a hand-me-down dress.) Another will allege that one of the crying parents in Newtown is actually the Aurora, CO shooter’s defense attorney, proving that this broad, history-altering conspiracy run from the highest levels of our government has a very limited casting budget! (They’re completely different women with only a passing resemblance to each other.)

Alright, I’ve been flip so far, but this is serious. Parents and survivors are being harassed by these lunatics, who ask the bereaved and traumatized, “How much do you get paid for being a crisis actor?” So I’ve got to say, it’s juvenile to try to rewrite the world around you, to live inside a bubble of your own biases and prejudices without regard for fact, but it’s inhumane to spit in the faces of parents who have suffered the ultimate pain possible in this life. These twenty young lives snuffed out for no reason were not props in some government conspiracy, and they should not be made props in your self-deluded fantasies.

Have you people no shame? Just because society has turned its attention to a serious issue that may, just may affect your access to items that are, for most of you, little more than playthings–you call grieving parents and harrowed survivors liars and frauds? How dare you?

To these people who posit a world veiled with sinister government conspiracies that conveniently leave them such obvious “evidence” to fuel the flames of their paranoia, I say simply this:

Grow the hell up.

We need to work together building a civilized society, with public policy based on rational discourse. That may involve some gun control legislation. So when you people are ready to step out of your imaginary world of self-aggrandizing narratives and victimhood fantasies to help solve the problems of the day, let us know.

Until then, just button it and let the grownups get to work.

 

Truth, Lies, and Gun Control

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Shortly after the Sandy Hook tragedy, Morgan Freeman said this in an interview: “You want to know why. This may sound cynical, but here’s why. It’s because of the way the media reports it. Flip on the news and watch how we treat the Batman theater shooter and the Oregon mall shooter like celebrities.”

Except he didn’t.  We don’t know who said it, but it wasn’t Morgan Freeman.

I recently saw another gem on my Facebook about a Texas woman gunning down a robber.  When asked why she shot the perp six times in the back, she said that it was because when she pulled the trigger a seventh time, nothing happened.

Except, again, it didn’t happen.

Oh, and on Piers Morgan, gun enthusiast Alex Jones yelled, “Hitler took the guns, Stalin took the guns…and 1776 will commence again if you try to take our firearms.”

Yet again, no, they didn’t, and no, it won’t.

A lot of finger pointing and rhetoric is being blasted around and I’m surprised by how much of it just isn’t true.  Of course, the lie at the center of it is that the constitution protects the rights of every American to own a firearm for personal use.  Any grammarian who reads the 2nd Amendment in all its glory can clearly see that the right to bear arms is protected, according to the founders, because, “a well-regulated militia” is “necessary to the security of a free state.”

While this statement was quite true in 1791, it can hardly be said to be true today, unless the “well-regulated” militia in question is something like the National Guard.  In any case, the second amendment clearly does not cover recreational shooting or collecting AK-47s.  In fact, the second amendment was pretty much included to protect slavery.  Yeah…that’s right.  That whole “free state” part is ironic.

Now conservative politicians eager to protect this right, which their base is so passionately (if not rabidly) attached to, have started pointing fingers at movies and video games.

More lies.

Plenty of other countries consume more video games than we do, yet they don’t have murder rates like ours.  More importantly, the use of video games has skyrocketed in the last twenty years, and yet violent crime and gun homicide rates have not been affected.  And if we are worried about our culture glorifying guns, then I have to say: no sector of our culture glorifies them more than the gun lobby.

The newest lie is that more guns is the answer.  In mass shootings, it’s 50/50 as to whether bystanders with guns have a positive or negative effect on the situation.  We can know with certainty, though, that innocent civilians with firearms in a crisis make it harder for law enforcement to do what they need to do.  Police officials will tell you the best bet is to try to flee a scene or hide.  Firing back has more potential consequences.  What’s more, the proliferation of guns in public can lead to more crime.  A Texas A&M study found that states adopting “Stand Your Ground” laws saw increases in homicide rates compared to control states, without any sign of the laws acting as deterrents to other crimes.  For every story of someone successfully defending himself or others from possible bodily harm, there is the body of a Trayvon Martin or a Kelly Danaher.  At best, we could call it a wash, but when we consider the fact that guns in the home are much, much more likely to be used to kill you or one of your family members than ever to be pointed at an intruder, then it’s patently obvious that we, as a society, really do not need more guns floating around out there.

Another pervasive lie that’s worth mentioning:  Obama is coming for your guns!

The NRA pushed this one in 2008, whipping gun owners into a frenzy.  Not enough of a frenzy to tip the election toward McCain, though.  Four years of President Obama doing exactly nothing about gun control set the stage for the NRA’s 2012 pitch: Obama is coming for your guns…this time we mean it!

Lie after lie after lie.

So what is the truth?

One truth is that there’s not much that could have prevented the Sandy Hook massacre.  The perpetrator–whose name I won’t mention because whoever wrote those comments attributed to Morgan Freeman was right; we should forget him and remember the victims–didn’t buy the gun he used, so background checks wouldn’t have helped.  An armed guard on the campus would’ve likely just been the first victim (security guards tote handguns, which wouldn’t fare too well in a showdown with that AR15).  That boy was sick, and in his sick mind, going out as the perpetrator of a horrible crime was a way to make himself feel important.  The best thing we can do to prevent another case like this is not adopting zero tolerance for guns, but adopting greater vigilance for the warning signs and making sure that genuine mental healthcare options exist for people with potentially dangerous psychological disturbances.

Another truth that’s hard to accept is that even this year, with all these mass shootings, the fact is that these events are statistically anomalous.  The death toll from the mass shootings combined, even for 2012, is one hundred and fifty-one.  Yet, nationwide there are thousands of deaths by firearms every year.  America’s larger problem with gun deaths is in poor, urban areas, and it’s mostly drug-related.

It’s in that environment that gun control can make the most impact.  Tightening the supply chain would make guns less accessible to criminals.  Opponents to gun control argue that “if you outlaw guns, then only outlaws will have guns.”  Lessons from other countries, though, say otherwise.  If we create a responsible registration process and restrict access to some firearms through classes, licensing, etc. then we will impact the supply of guns, making them luxuries for these “outlaws.”  A lot of attention has been paid to large-capacity magazines, but tracking bullet sales would be an even more important tool in fighting crime.

Those are only stopgaps, though.  The real solution to our problem of gun crime is to address the poverty that leads to it.  For that there’s no magic wand, and even if there was, with the fiery debate fixated on the Sandy Hook tragedy, the real question is:  Does America care to solve the bigger problem?

Tomorrow’s Technocracy?

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In an op-ed out today at CNN.com, Michael Halpern makes a dispassionate, well-reasoned argument to step back from the impassioned, biased viewpoints that currently drive our political discourse in the United States.  Halpern argues that we can use scientific research to reach sounder policy decisions in today’s gun control debate instead of allowing pre-existing ideological stances to sway the furors of one side or another to sufficient pitch to scare off or motivate Congress.  We have seen this same dynamic in issue after issue.  Again and again, our debates favor ideology over fact.

Can we do better than a bitterly divided political battlefield?  Can we coax entrenched ideologues from their own personal Maginot Lines?

The challenges of our times deserve reasoned solutions, not knee-jerk reactions.  Acknowledging this, though, changes nothing.  Our system has been locked into a two party dyad of political gridlock for a century and a half.  It has been a model of inefficiency designed by both circumstance and by Enlightenment thinkers who argued that the government which governs least, governs best.  At the dawn of the twenty-first century, though, there is another alternative:

We could govern scientifically.

We could restructure our system to allocate political will not only through majority rule, but also through empirical tests.

Such a notion may sound like a monumental change in the nature of our government, but it needn’t be.  China’s one party rule is often labeled as a technocracy, and some in the West even praise it for the way in which is has avoided the curse of other Communist nations by orchestrating a smooth transition from leader to leader.  Beijing’s technocracy, though, lacks the transparency to allow reason to govern.  Science, after all, strives for open dialogue–something shunned in China.

An American technocracy could be entirely different, and it could be erected with a few simple pieces of legislation establishing non-partisan research boards and mandating a burden of proof for key types of legislation.

We could, in short, require our duly elected representatives to ask for evidence before enshrining any ideology into law.  It would be a new component of the checks and balances system, one more plate on the multi-faceted scale that has preserved our republic through calamity and corruption, striving onward for a more perfect union.

Our founding fathers were, after all, believers in the capacity of the logical mind above all else.  The rigor of the scientific method that has ushered us into the modern world would impress and delight them, and there can be little doubt that they would approve of further enshrining their most sacred of beliefs, the faith in human reason, as an indelible component of our system of government.