Pick Wayne's Brain

December 16, 2012

Can We PLEASE Talk About Guns In Our Society Now?

On the morning of December 14, 2012, it was Newtown, Connecticut.
Before that it was Clackamas Town Center, Oregon.
Before that it was Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Before that it was Oak Creek, Wisconsin.
Before that it was Aurora, Colorado.
Before that it was Seattle, Washington.
Before that it was Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Before that it was Oakland, California.
Before that it was Seal Beach, California.
Before that it was Carson City, Nevada.
Before that it was Tucson, Arizona.
Before that it was Manchester, Connecticut.
Before that it was Fort Hood, Texas.
Before that it was Binghamton, New York.
Before that it was Carthage, North Carolina.
Before that it was Northern Illinois University, Illinois.
Before that it was Kirkwood, Missouri.
Before that it was Omaha, Nebraska.
Before that it was Virginia Tech, Virginia.
Before that it was Salt Lake City, Utah.
Before that it was Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Before that it was Seattle, Washington.
Before that it was Red Lake, Minnesota.
Before that it was Brookfield, Wisconsin.
Before that it was Meridian, Minnesota.
Before that it was Fort Worth, Texas.
Before that it was Atlanta, Georgia.
And before that, on the morning of April 20, 1999, it was Littleton, Colorado.

These are all places where someone, or several someones, took a gun, or several guns, and began shooting people at some location, or several locations. Does this list strike you as being rather long? These are just ones since Columbine. There were others in between and before that. Many people died in those mass shootings. Too many. And too many were children. Far, far too many. And yet, we can’t seem to have that talk about all these mass shootings and the prevalence of guns in our society.

How many people have to die in mass shootings before we are allowed to talk about the prevalence of guns in our society, and their direct connection to all these mass shootings? How many more children have to die? This last time it was 20. I shudder to think that this many children dying in a single mass shooting in our country can’t convince us to have this talk. If we can’t talk about this now, can we start talking about this when the number of children killed in one of these mass shootings hits 30? Or do we have to wait until a mass shooting claims the lives of 50 children, since 50 is such a magical number, given more importance than the numbers immediately prior to or following it? This last time, the victims included five-year-olds in an elementary school. How young do the victims have to be the next time before we’re allowed to have this talk? Two years old? One year old? Newborn babies in a hospital nursery?

On Saturday morning I was watching Chris Hayes and he began one of his points with, “When these things happen…” Think about those words for a moment. “When these things happen.” Why are we using euphemisms to discuss this topic? Why aren’t we saying, “When mass shootings like this happen…”? Wouldn’t the conversation be more open and honest if we talk about it in terms of what happened? How often are “these things” happening, that we can instantly understand when someone boils it down to those four simple words? Why do mass shootings happen? Or if you’re bothered by those words, why do “these things happen”? Do we even know the answer to that? Why do “these things happen” so often lately? What has changed to make the number of mass shootings go up in recent months? Have we tried to do anything in the past to prevent these things from happening? Why hasn’t anything we’ve done in the past to prevent these things from happening, prevented these things from happening? Have we been doing the right things? Have we been addressing the right issues? Have we been asking the right questions? Have we been framing the debate in the right way? Are we allowed to frame the debate in the right way? Is this a gun issue, or a rights issue, or a safety issue, or a health issue, or a mental health issue, or a political corruption issue, or a mentally ill politician issue, or some other kind of issue? Do we understand what the other side is saying when they give their views? Do they understand what they’re saying when they give their views? Is this really an issue about Freedom? How is the word “Freedom” being defined? Is owning a gun really the same as being free? Is your right to freely own a gun more important than my right to be free from being killed by your gun, even if you aren’t the one pulling the trigger?

Call me crazy (You wouldn’t be alone, my mother does that all the time. When I was a kid and my mother was getting in the car to go some place, I’d ask, “Where ya going?” And she’d say, “Crazy.” And I’d say, “Can I come?” And she’d say, “You’re already there.” That really happened. A lot. So I got that going for me, which is nice. :)), but I think the very first question we should be asking in this debate, the very first one, and perhaps the one question that will set the tone for all discussion to come is a very simple one. It’s so simple that everyone can get it right, but because it’s never asked, it’s never considered. And that question is this: What year is it right now?

It’s not 1791 anymore. (BTW, the Second Amendment was ratified 221 years ago Saturday.) We can’t keep looking at this issue as if it were. When the Authors of the Second used the term “militia,” they had a very specific idea of what the militia’s role was in society. They were also clearly stating that the context of keeping and bearing arms was directly related to militia duties, and if Congress should change the nature of militia duties (which was perfectly within their constitutional authority to do), then the right to keep and bear arms would likewise change. The rationale for why anyone would have the right to keep and bear arms would adapt as the role of the militia adapted. If the militia were no longer to be used for keeping the peace, which is primarily done by police officers now, then it would not be rational to say that you could now own a gun for the purpose of keeping the peace. And that, IMHO, extends to personal protection, as well. People were allowed to keep guns for personal protection because, being part of the well-regulated militia charged with protecting the local citizens, they were expected to own a gun for that purpose (because there was no such thing as a local police force in those days.) And since the role of the militia has changed over the years, the justification of community protection no longer applies. I know that recent SCOTUS rulings suggest my interpretation of the Second Amendment is wrong, but I prefer to think that a temporary case of illiteracy has overcome certain Justices and will be corrected at some point in the future. I also hope they’ll look at a calendar and see what year it is, and what year it isn’t.

It seems that every time one of these horrific incidents happens, we are horrified, and we say something ought to be done. Then, after much public squawking and hand-wringing, little or nothing actually gets done, and another horrific incident comes along to horrify us yet again. How many more times do we have to be horrified before we’re horrified enough to say, “Enough!”? How many more children have to die before we’ve decided that enough children have died to make that talk necessary? If guns aren’t part of the problem, then why aren’t there more mass killings through any other single method? As Ozzy Osbourne (of all people) pointed out so astutely, “If guns don’t kill people, people kill people, then why do we give people guns when we send them off to war? Why don’t we just send people?” The man makes an excellent point. If guns don’t kill people, then why are they used in so many murders?

There have been reactions to gun violence that have been absolutely stupid. When a child was gunned down because he dared to shoot water on someone with a super soaker, a New Jersey legislator’s solution was a bill to ban super soakers. After the Aurora movie theater shootings, the movie chain banned costumes, as if they were the cause of the death and destruction. Why not publicize a rule against bringing guns into the theater? I’m sure that would make other customers feel so much better than knowing they can’t wear costumes to the theater. Have you ever heard the expression, “Check your iron at the door”? You do know that even in the Old West, people were not allowed to bring guns to a social function (like a Dance.) Everybody accepted it as a sensible form of gun control. So why can’t we ban guns in other social settings? Why is it okay to bring guns to a political rally? Or into national parks (thank you,President Obama, for that expansion of gun rights)? Or into bars where alcohol is served? Why does anyone think any of those measures would “promote the general welfare”?

Gun owners may argue that if a mass shooter didn’t have a gun, he would just find some other way to kill people. There are a number of flaws with this thinking. For one thing, how do you know that someone who kills with a gun would still kill if a gun wasn’t available? I’ve heard some point to that guy in China who stabbed a bunch of school children with a knife, as if this happens all the time in this country. You know why that guy didn’t use a gun instead? Because China has very strict gun control laws. And since he stabbed them instead of shooting them, most of them survived the attack. But won’t China start cracking down on large knife owners? China had already implemented Large Knife Control measures after a “spate” of school children being stabbed in 2010. Now, gun owners may try to use this to say that gun control would be equally ineffective at stopping stabbings of school children. To that I would say, “Good. Because the Large Knife Control measures in China have reduced the number of such killings from a spate to a rarity. I only wish mass shootings in the US were just as rare.”

Some gun owners actually believe the absurd notion that we would all be safer if everyone were allowed to carry a concealed gun. It’s not a new idea, either.

Of course it’s just automatically assumed that everyone who owns a gun is skilled enough to use it in a crowded setting and not take any more innocent lives. Is this a wise assumption to make? In the wrong hands, a car can be deadly to those around it. But we let you buy all the cars you want provided that before we let you drive them on public roads without adult supervision, you take tests that demonstrate your proficiency with them. You say it’s not the same because you don’t have a constitutional right to own a car? Okay, you have a constitutional right to a lawyer. It’s also accepted that you have a right to a lawyer who knows what he or she is doing in the courtroom. Isn’t that the same as requiring proficiency with a device that could kill many people around you, including yourself? Can’t we require all gun owners to store their guns at a local armory, sign them out when taking shooting lessons at that armory, and pass a marksmanship test before being allowed to carry that gun out in public? And shouldn’t they be required to demonstrate that proficiency again every so often, just to make sure that they are less likely to shoot innocent people. After all, the Constitution also says that no one shall be deprived of life without due process of law. Wouldn’t letting someone have a deadly weapon without requiring them to make the minimal effort not to take anyone’s life while using it constitute denying you due process? It stands to reason that an annual proficiency test is not out of line with the responsibility that comes from carrying something lethal in public.

Maybe we could have that talk if the leadership of the NRA would listen to its own membership and allow talk of gun control. But they won’t allow it. They have taken an absolutist position on the issue of gun control and defy virtually all attempts to impose any. And for that, I say they must share some of the responsibility for all those lives lost. They haven’t been promoting gun safety, which was the reason they came into existence, as much as protecting the right of gun availability. And that has help lead to the prevalence of guns in our society. So what do we do? To be honest, I don’t know. What we do depends on what we’re trying to ultimately achieve. Is protecting so-called “Second Amendment Rights” more important to our society than protecting the lives of innocent people? More important than protecting the lives of elementary school children? More important than protecting the lives of babies in a hospital nursery? What is more important, your right to own a gun or my right to not be unjustifiably killed by that gun, no matter who wields it? All these things need to be discussed. So when do we start discussing them? After the next mass shooting, or before?

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