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Lock and Load Some Common Sense

July 2nd, 2008 | by Omnipotent Poobah |

Statue of LibertyThe US Constitution is a wonderfully malleable masterpiece. It’s simultaneously steeped in tradition, yet remarkably fresh. That quality usually stands us in good stead, but requires lots of judicial interpretation - much of it extending “meanings” to cover issues the framers could never have imagined. Some call these decisions judicial activism. Others hail them as a forward-thinking, rational decisions. But with charges and counter-charges thick in the air, there’s no reason to suspect the bickering over some amendments will end anytime soon.

The Second Amendment is one example of the Constitution getting it - if not wrong - at least too vague. There have been decades of debate about the definition of a militia. Lawmakers and the courts disagree on whether basic gun control laws are allowed. In fact, there’s even controversy over what constitutes “arms” - pistols, high-powered automatic weapons, or bazookas. Even though the Second Amendment isn’t a hot button issue for me, I find it interesting to hear the debate.

If you’d asked me 30 or 40 years ago, I would have said gun control wasn’t practical nor needed. I figured there were already enough guns in the country to equip several million-man, well-ordered militias. I believed it was too late to shove the cat back into the bag. Over time, the nexus - fueled by powerful lobbies and politicians on both sides - moved from a focus on sportsmen to crime, self-protection, and true militias that are not only well-ordered, but sometimes led by dangerous crackpots in the truest sense of the word.

A Domestic Arms Race
Due to the escalating domestic arms race since then, there are even more guns on the street now. Unfortunately, that tabby that was so hard to stuff back into the bag 40 years ago is now a snarling tiger much in need of some whip and chair action. I don’t believe I’ve seen a convincing argument for or against gun control, but what I have seen is a huge lack of common sense and a propensity to rage at each other rather than rationally discuss the issue.

The gun lobby is fond of bumper sticker debate and one of the most popular is, “This (insert name of personal property here) is protected by Smith and Wesson“. The words suggest a certain macho swagger, but they don’t mention that 55% of gun deaths are suicides and that gun owners are markedly more likely to lose their gun or be shot in a burglary than to use it against the bad guys. Add some drunk asshats who shouldn’t be given a guns on the basis of Darwinism and a few truly mentally ill owners and guns don’t look so attractive as self-defense tools.

There’s also the debate over what kinds of guns should be allowed. There isn’t a big disagreement over leaving hunters or other shooting sportsmen alone, but people are understandably nervous about the cheap, disposable handguns that criminals routinely use and fully automatic weapons that the dangerous and bizarre shoulder. There’s some statistical evidence that gun control laws can partially curtail the violence, but the formula for a successful law isn’t clear and they’re damnably hard to enforce.

Common Sense is Uncommon
Rather than interminable arguments over the issue, it’s time for both sides to cool their jets and shoot for common sense solutions. We should considering limiting background checks to felony and mental illness screening. It’s not foolproof, but it’ll screen out the most likely bad guys while not making the requirements for gun ownership too onerous. Maybe we should invest in public education highlighting how poor guns are as self-defense tools. Perhaps we should engage the NRA to give required competency tests not unlike driver’s tests. Finally, state laws shouldn’t encourage (nor discourage) people to use guns. Shoot first and ask questions later laws are recipes for jacking up gun-related crime. Buy back programs might make a good addition to the mix too.

There are a hundred other good ideas for protecting the right to keep and bear arms without unduly restricting gun ownership. It shouldn’t be so difficult for reasonable laws to emerge. I usually counsel common sense on these matters, but I’m none too hopeful it will carry the day. I’m sure many heat-packers will continue to be paranoid muttonheads while anti-second amendment gun-haters will pile one unenforceable law upon another until they reach the height of a clay pigeon at high arch. One thing is for sure, given our culture , the number of guns already in circulation, and the hubbub about them, guns will be a hot button issue for years.

Lock and load.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

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  1. 13 Responses to “Lock and Load Some Common Sense”

  2. By William Weber on Jul 2, 2008 | Reply

    “that 55% of gun deaths are suicides and that gun owners are markedly more likely to lose their gun or be shot in a burglary than to use it against the bad guys”

    The first point is totally irrelevant. The second needs an unbiased reference. The only evidence I remember came from cherry picking some very questionable statistics. In any event, it is totally misleading as only a very tiny percentage of confrontations lead to a gun being used. Most of the time the bad guys retreat rather than continue a confrontation with a citizen they believe is armed.

  3. By Omnipotent Poobah on Jul 2, 2008 | Reply

    William,
    First, I don’t agree that suicide rates are irrelevant. People use guns to kill themselves and I think that’s a valid part of the discussion even if it is a low number.

    In gun control debates, as in most politically-charged debates, there are those who cherry-pick data. I’m sure anyone with enough time and energy could find statistics to support both sides, so I think it’s a wash. I’m willing to consider anyone’s data as long as I can get a rational argument about what it means.

    My source for the information about losing guns to bad guys came from 3 different policemen on 3 different police forces. Since they have first-hand knowledge and I don’t, I’m sticking with their opinion. Although I don’t personally know any, I’m sure you can find plenty of cops who disagree, but there’s no surprise in that.

    I agree the numbers involved are small but that doesn’t mean the issue doesn’t exist and shouldn’t be discussed.

    As I said in the post, I’m only saying that everyone on both sides of the fence are pretty jacked up and I advocate discussing things like adults…just as you’ve done.

    Good comment.

  4. By rube cretin on Jul 3, 2008 | Reply

    You know i don’t know about all this gun control stuff, especially the statistics. I do have some strong opinions on philosophical side of suicide, but this not the place to discuss them. One thing i do know is that i grew up in an armed home and one of the last things i check before going to bed at night are my pistol and shotgun. I live much of my time in the city in a good neighborhood, but have been in too many situations where all i had were my teeth and there ain’t many of those left. Do Not Fuck With My Gun!

  5. By Omnipotent Poobah on Jul 3, 2008 | Reply

    Rube,
    I’m don’t know a lot about it either except there’s a big divide between people on the issue. It seems to me we could all do with a little less hysterical squabbling and more about working out a compromise that allows people who want guns to keep them safely and the one’s who don’t to get their concerns addressed too.

    And don’t worry about your gun. I know I’m a danger with the things so I leave them to the people who can use them without shooting themselves (or, hopefully, me).

  6. By Craig R. Harmon on Jul 3, 2008 | Reply

    For me, the issue is this: (1) the right to life, so self-evident to the framers, is fundamental; (2) that right must include the right to protection from those who would lawlessly take one’s life; (3) the police are self-evidently not up to protecting everyone; (4) therefore, people must have a right to protect themselves and others when the police, really only good for catching the bad-guys after a crime has been committed.

    Therefore, we would have to invent such a protection if the second amendment didn’t exist from those who would prefer to leave us defenseless from the criminals who have no respect for gun laws and will threaten people no matter what laws are on the books.

  7. By Liberal Jarhead on Jul 4, 2008 | Reply

    O.P,
    Thanks for a balanced and nuanced look at a complex issue that too many on both sides tend to try to make simple; as Einstein said, everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.
    Some thoughts on points you looked at:

    1. Suicide: my belief is that suicide itself is a complicated enough issue to require a lot of caution by anyone bringing it into the debate about guns. I’m a psychotherapist and it’s part of my code of ethics that if I find out a person’s mental or emotional illness is putting that person at imminent risk of suicide, I must to whatever I can to stop that. I’ve worked on a suicide prevention hotline, and I’ve had a client committed for 72 hours when she told me she was likely to go home and shoot herself with the pistol she had at home. But with that said, I believe that for an adult in his or her right mind, suicide is a choice each of us has the right to make. I also know, from a lot of experience, that a suicidal person will find a method - if a gun is available, he/she is likely to use it, but if not, there are a lot of other ways to go. Literally.

    2. Restrictions on gun rights: as far as I know it’s been a rule of every society that’s ever existed that if a person abuses a right in ways that make him or her a menace to that society, that person has that right taken away or abridged. That’s just part of th social contract, any social contract that makes sense. There’s no reason for this to be an exception; the Second Amendment doesn’t give one the right to commit crimes with a gun any more than the First Amendment gives one the right to defraud people (although you can also find people who will try to use the First Amendment as a defense in cases of fraud, libel, and slander.)
    That being true, it is just and reasonable to prevent a person from having a gun if he or she is a violent criminal or is unable to behave responsibly with that gun due to mental illness. So there’s no legitimate argument against background checks. The process is not onerous - it involves simply proving one’s identity with a driver’s license or equivalent photo ID and filling out a form providing basic information, after which the gun seller makes a phone call and checks to find out whether the buyer is on a government database of people who aren’t allowed to buy guns. Takes about ten minutes. That includes buying guns online or by phone or mail: the seller has to ship them to a federally licensed dealer, who checks your ID against the database before you’re allowed to take possession of the gun. It would be a good idea, and easy, I think, to set up a way to do the same process for sales at gun shows. They’re already very careful about keeping track of what guns people have when they enter and leave - make, model, and serial number. They could set up a place where a licensed dealer could process the background checks for all sales on the spot.

    However… it is not just or reasonable, or effective in terms of public safety, to abridge the rights of person A because of the actions of person B. It makes no more sense to say I can’t have a gun because Joe Schmoe is a criminal or is mentally unstable than to say I can’t have car because he’s guilty of drunk driving. Even less, because the Constitution says an American has the right to own guns, but there’s nothing in the Constitution about cars.

    So by all means, let’s keep running background checks, and improve the system by eliminating loopholes where the checks don’t get done and by improving sharing of databases between government agencies so that nobody slips through the cracks. Let’s support stronger penalties for using guns in the commission of crimes. I don’t want individual criminals armed. I don’t want either criminal gangs or moonbat so-called “militias” who take the law into their own hands armed.

    But at the same time, I’m a person who obeys the laws and is careful and responsible. I shoot my guns only where it’s safe and legal, which since I live in a city means at official shooting ranges; I keep my guns and ammunition locked up when I’m not using them; I’ve been trained so that I know how to handle and use them safely. I have a concealed carry permit for self-defense purposes but I don’t carry a gun where I’m not supposed to, which is a fair number of places. In the over 30 years that I’ve owned guns, I’ve never pulled a gun on anyone and never tried or threatened to hurt anyone with one.

    Given those facts, I should not have my right to own guns abridged, and should not be expected to prove any need to own them, any more than I should have to prove a need to assemble peaceably with other people or to prove a need to be free of unreasonable search or seizure. There are good reasons why even in the 21st century, we should protect the individual right to own guns. We can’t expect the police to be able to protect us all the time - around here, their response time to a typical call can be close to an hour. And it’s still true that an armed populace is a protection against tyranny. That’s why totalitarian governments typically do their best to disarm their citizens, same as they try to stifle free speech and assembly.

    So I think that I’m standing on the middle ground - I don’t agree with those who resist any restrictions based on the “slippery slope” theory (domino theory of communism, anyone?) and wholeheartedly agree with reasonable restrictions, but I also disagree with those who would deny my right to own guns as long as I continue to be responsible and obey the law. That goes for owning guns in general, for how many guns I have, and for what types of guns I have. And if anyone wants to debate about it, I’ll listen and engage in an honest debate, but only one that is focused on issues and not personal attacks, and one that follows the rules of reasonable argumentation - no ad hominem, no straw men, no cherry-picking or out-of-context stats, no trying to turn it upside down into a question of need rather than rights.

  8. By Craig R. Harmon on Jul 4, 2008 | Reply

    Not to mention what might happen even if America successfully banned all guns.

  9. By Craig R. Harmon on Jul 4, 2008 | Reply

    LJ,

    Well said. But what do you consider reasonable gun laws?

  10. By Craig R. Harmon on Jul 4, 2008 | Reply

    LJ,
    One comment. You say above:

    I should not have my right to own guns abridged, and should not be expected to prove any need to own them, any more than I should have to prove a need to assemble peaceably with other people or to prove a need to be free of unreasonable search or seizure.

    Living things rarely die in the midst of peaceable assemblies and when they do, they are usually health related rather than crime or accident related. Not so guns. Sadly, children find guns and ammo and play cops and robbers, killing or maiming one another in the process; they take them to school; they shoot themselves with them; owners shoot their children coming in late, taking them for robbers; they shoot and miss and hit innocent bye-standers; etc., etc., etc. Gun ownership, even by those who are law abiding citizens, is considerably more dangerous than exercises of peaceful assembly rights or expectations of protections from unreasonable search and seizure. Therefore, it may not be unreasonable to ask whether one really needs gun to protect themselves and their families or to ask whether the public safety issue, affecting large segments of society, doesn’t override a second amendment right.

    Don’t get me wrong. The Heller decisions pleases me no end and, in my opinion, the need for means of self-protection is as self-evident as the fact that the police and justice system are utterly incapable of protecting us, good only for cleaning up the mess afterward and apportioning punishment that is of little use or good to the victim. I’m just saying that comparing gun ownership rights to peaceful assembly rights seems a bit off point.

  11. By Liberal Jarhead on Jul 5, 2008 | Reply

    Craig,

    My views on reasonable gun laws are fairly simple, and mostly contained in what I wrote above: possession of guns should be limited to adults who pass a strong background check to screen for predatory felons and people who have a history of mental instability. The background check system should be strengthened by integrating databases among different levels and agencies of government, and there should be checks for sales at gun shows as well as stores. Penalties for crimes with guns, and for possession of guns by people who aren’t legally allowed to have them, should be severe. It should be a crime to handle a gun while under the influence. There should also be harsher penalties, and no sympathy, for people who recklessly shoot family members in the middle of the night, leave guns where kids can get at them, and so on. I favor laws requiring that guns be kept securely locked up when not under the direct control of an adult legally allowed to handle them. I think it would be a good idea, too, to add gun safety training to the standard high school curriculum, given the likelihood that anyone may sooner or later find themselves in a situation where they need to know, if nothing more, how to unload a gun and make it safe if they find one someone else has carelessly left out.

    I equate the right to own guns with the rights to free speech and free assembly because all are protections against tyranny. The difference is in the spheres in which they operate - gun ownership, like the rights of habeas corpus (anybody remember habeas corpus?) and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, operates on the level of the individual, and free speech and free assembly work because of the power of people in larger groups to curb abuses if they know what is going on and are able to organize.

    As for people rarely dying in the midst of peaceable assemblies - it may not happen often, but it does. Kent State. Tienanmen Square. The University of New Mexico (that last is more obscure, of course. But during the Vietnam War, there was a peace march on campus and the National Guard went nuts. Nobody died, but a lot of people were clubbed and gassed and they did bayonet one guy who came very close to bleeding to death. Flash forward to the current war: during a peace march against the Iraq war, mounted police went on what the oversight commission’s investigation called a rampage - they used the term police riot - again clubbing and gassing people. One officer was found to have aimed his gas cannister gun directly at a man and hit him in the head with a gas grenade - the man suffered a major head injury and nearly died. The mayor and police chief tried to stonewall that investigation with a so-called internal investigation that was a half-assed whitewash full of stuff that video footage proved to be perjuries. But other than a few cops being selected as scapegoats (can you say “a few bad apples, boys and girls? I knew you could!) nothing happened. The mayor, who has supposedly said in private that he thinks fascism is a good system and considers himself a fascist, is getting ready to run for governor. I trust him to respect the rights of a defenseless citizenry about as far as I would Kim Il Sung.

    Given the escalating record of abuses by both national and local government over the last century, I think that disarming the population in general would be a greater threat to public safety than leaving responsible people armed.

    And I do believe we need to be able to protect ourselves from crime, not rely on the cops. Home invasion robberies by gangs looking for money for drugs happen too often here, and the cops just don’t get there very fast. As you said, typically it’s all over when they arrive, and they aren’t good for much except making pompous speeches on the 6 o’clock news. So when my wife and I are sitting in our living room in the evening, we have a .45 on the coffee table, and when we go to bed, it’s within reach in the bedroom. We have both gone through firearms safety and proficiency training classes (I’m an instructor, but she went through a certified concealed carry class with another instructor). We keep it loaded but with the chamber empty, so that it won’t go off if someone happens to bump the trigger, but if we need to shoot we can chamber a round in a fraction of a second. For the safety of the neighbors, it’s loaded with ammo that won’t go through exterior walls, and before either of us pulls a trigger we will make certain of who or what we’re aiming at - not each other, not another family member, and not our cat. Not that hard to do.

    I haven’t always felt this way. For a while, after I got out of the service, I was strongly enough opposed to violence that I got rid of all my weapons, although I never felt others should not have the right to have weapons if they chose and could be trusted with them. But I thought hard about it over a period of a couple of years, and changed my mind. Working in the prison system was a factor, as was a lot of discussion of the issue with one of my brothers who is also a weapons instructor and collector. So I’ve been back and forth on this one, but this is where I’ve settled, unless and until some new information or perspective convinces me to change my stance.

  12. By Liberal Jarhead on Jul 5, 2008 | Reply

    PS:
    Just to clarify something I see I didn’t, if our grandkids are in the house, the guns are locked up no matter what - if we got broken into then, I’d be down to pepper spray and the machete in one of my dresser drawers, I guess. At this point - the kids are 5 and 7 - I talk with them about gun safety and the seriousness of it. Once they have the safety rules memorized to the point of being second nature, we’ll start practicing safe handling of guns with unloaded BB guns; when we’re satisfied that they’re following the safety rules without having to stop and think about it, then we can go to the shooting range and start practicing with them loaded. Once they’re thoroughly vetted on the BB guns, we’ll move up to regular firearms, with instruction and unloaded practice on safe handling for each type before they ever pull the trigger on a live round. About the time they’re old enough to buy their own guns if they wish anyway, they should be competent to have them.

  13. By Craig R. Harmon on Jul 5, 2008 | Reply

    LJ,

    All sounds good to me. Thanks.

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