Sunday, January 10, 2016

At Gun Points

It's hard to ignore the national argument about guns these days.  Between the president's recent executive efforts, the ravings of lunatic acquaintances on Facebook, and actual conversations with those old friends I am required to accept as sane, it's hard for me to resist formulating some kind of internal statement of principles in response to all the unsolicited opinions.  (I know I coughed up something along these lines a couple years ago; I recall it was one of my more obnoxious posts.)  As I probably mentioned then, I don't have any particular issues with gun ownership, collecting, or sports, and I recognize firearms as occasionally useful tools of land stewardship.  It's not my bag, but hey, if you like the things, then more power to ya.  And as far as hunting goes, I feel similarly about that as I do about smoking in bars, other people's backyard parties, or leaf blowers.  Which is to say, I would greatly prefer the public space to accommodate my activities more than those of some orange-jacketed yahoo who might accidentally put lead in me, but I accept that some kind of compromise is probably appropriate here.

I don't reflexively hate the things, but I've arrived at a few considered points in my internal process that I can't work past, and which I've never seen adequately refuted in the public conversation.  And, well, here they are. 

  • Owning a gun is one thing, but carrying a gun, on the other hand, makes you a dangerous asshole.  You are dangerous because you're carrying a gun.  And you are an asshole because you feel the need to be dangerous in my company.  
  • Any reading of the second amendment that gets around the "well regulated militia" part is incredibly tendentious.  For something held so proudly forth as an unassailable totem of gun rights, it's front-loaded with weasel words.
  • Gun manufacturers (and their lobbyists) don't necessarily have citizens' best interests at heart.  Their goal is to sell guns, which may well be inimical to the well-being of the people, considering you can sell more guns when groups of locals are inspired to point them at one another.  I won't address exporting them into conflict-rich zones (I don't know enough to comment), but let's take the NRA formulations as stated: the bad guys with guns, the world where only outlaws have guns.  They didn't mysteriously appear in their hands of all these scary people.  They bought arms that you, the gun companies, manufactured and sold to them.  Are you seriously using the threat of the people you've already armed to sell even more guns to the rest of us?  Fuck you, the NRA.
  • It's not your imagination: mass shootings in the U.S have gone up in the last 15 years, according to the FBI.  Meanwhile, our murder rate is higher than other developed countries, and guns make up the majority (like 60%) of those homicides.  Guns are reported to increase the risk of suicide, at least among young people.  I'm aware that statistics can be massaged, but these seem as reliable sources as anyone's going to find.  I'm aware that overall, violent crime is down here, as it is in many parts of the world.  But it's not too adventurous a hypothesis to propose that what gun access does is to change the nature of violence.  They're death-enabling.  Would-be murderers are empowered to take dozens of victims along with them.  People down a rough path can have them right there when they're feeling their most desperate.  Maybe this isn't for the best.
  • You're almost never going to get the jump on a prepared armed person.  Any self- or home defense scenario which requires you to grab a hidden pistol from your person, or fish it out of your possessions, you've already lost.  Seriously, playing cat-and-mouse through your sleepy house, standing off a mugger, preemptively intimidating a violent display, it all presumes you've identified the offender and his intentions (not to mention established the safety of everyone in your dangerous path) before he's had a chance to perpetrate his crime.  Good luck with that.  It also presumes your threat identification skills are top-notch, and let's be honest here...

    In order to ever put the odds of these kinds of scenarios in your favor, you have to be constantly prepared.  There are situations where this level of perpetual adrenalized vigilance is warranted, but it is very stressful.  Usually it's limited to people whose job it is (cops, soldiers, gang enforcers), and because it demands abnormally high commitment, they get paid for it. 

    It's true that sectors of normal life can also come under such routine threat as to require hyper-awareness, but when the social contract has broken down to such a degree as that, the equation changes.  There are marginalized enough people in this country, sadly, but promotion of American gun rights has almost always been from a position of social privilege.  I realize that I've been lucky, world-citizen-wise (as have the president, those Facebook loonies, and my friends).  I'm not really at much risk getting wasted in the path of some neighborhood strongman or some aggressively deranged bastard, and I think obsessing about them is kind of chickenshit under the circumstances.  I'm currently much more worried about drunk drivers, cancer, house fires, and botulism--you know, the perfectly rational stuff--none of which can be deterred with firearms.

Undoubtedly, the number one perk of civil society--arguably the definition of civil society--is that walking out the door isn't an invitation for death.  A few legal hurdles don't sound too onerous to reserve guns for those who want them for nonviolent ends.  The people who feel otherwise, I just wish to hell they'd make the honest argument that they feel the tradeoffs are worth it to them.  If the increased risk of horrible violence (for someone) is worth the security/enjoyment/empowerment a gun provides (to you), then demonstrate your steel-eyed toughness and say so.  


Archaeopteryx said...

About as well-said as I've seen this.

switters said...

Amen. (Goes without saying, but I didn't want to take any chances.)

The only time I ever wanted a gun was when coyotes were harassing Moonpie and Cat. Apparently there's this parallel universe in which gun control was in the NRA's best interest, and that parallel universe exists in our universe 40ish years ago. Weird!

Inkberrow said...

Keifus Writes, and well as usual. I'll play the angel's advocate for a rejoinder. Full disclosure: I've never discharged a firearm in my life, nor even held one except with disabling security locks pre-attached.

First off, the starting point for analysis with firearms policy just isn't the same as with other topics. As with abortion, staunch advocates and opponents tend to treat all changes, however modest, as existential propositions.

Like abortion, fundamentally, analysis cannot proceed from the reasonable, ab initio utilities you outline. That's because SCOTUS says the Founders guaranteed individual gun (and abortion) access in the Bill of Rights. Period.

As I see it, many progressive pols are just as disingenuous as Texas lawmakers who pretend their makeweight hospital-privileges rules for clinics are about women's safety, when it's simply to reduce abortions in absolute terms.

Analagously, when President Obama and his supporters say they don't want to "take everyone's guns away", they are truthful only in the sense that they'd like to take most people's guns away. Just say it, if so, and say why honestly.

Moreover, even within that aforementioned utilities box, the proposals offered would have had little or no effect on the featured mass killings we already know about, nor on unfortunately inevitable gun atrocities in the future.

The easiest, fastest lawful ways to reduce gun violence nationwide--if we were honest and serious--would be to reinvigorate stop-and-frisk, plus attach stiff mandatory penalties for illegal use AND possession of firearms.

Both of the foregoing measures are non-starters not because they aren't efficacious but because they would disparately impact certain progressive social justice constituencies in the very places where the bulk of gun violence occurs.

My own view is that individual rights are still Constitutionally protected if the existing predicate and ongoing eligibility requirements for concealed-carry folks are imposed upon ALL gun carriers as a matter of course.

As with automobiles. Insurance, licensing, etc.

Keifus said...

Arch, thanks for stopping by, man.

Good piece swit. Worth being reminded that the NRA only got this crazy in my lifetime (and they're sooo far off the rails now).

Here's a true story: my memorable experience of the "responsible gun education" NRA was when I was 12 or 13, and my scout troop leader thought it appropriate to take the kids to a gun safety class. I am pretty sure it was an NRA thing, anyway. There were logos everywhere, the scoutmaster cared about that kind of stuff, and what else would have been a couple weeks long? I remember very little about it, because on the first day, they had some movie about acting responsibly in the outdoors, how nature is completely unforgiving of your dumb ego when it comes to getting lost, hypothermia, trying to hike out of the desert, or whatever. It wasn't especially well-produced or convincing, but somehow it caught me in exactly the wrong way, kind of like the Wizard of Oz did when I was five, and it freaked me the fuck out. The image of that one dude's sunbaked corpse, Jesus. I couldn't be dragged back to those classes.

Keifus said...

Ink, Obama hasn't proposed to take anyone's guns away. It's only weaksauce stuff about selling more of them. It's an idea that has widespread support (when not attached to the president). His proposed path is less aggressive than yours.

I think the context of the second amendment is fairly clear, whatever the cafeteria constructionists have said. The writers thought that keeping a standing army around was a temptation to tyranny, and wanted a citizen militia instead. (Which wasn't even a priority for too long.)

I don't think I disagree that the framers assumed guns would (should) be on hand, as they no doubt generally were. I mean, "well-regulated" is a hell of a disclaimer too, either way you want that phrase to mean. It could have gone differently, we could have kept the spirit of the amendment by going more the way of Switzerland maybe.

I don't know much about what happened between, say, 1812 and 1968, vis a vis arguments about gun rights. Quick skim of Wikipedia says the argument was ongoing, and one interpretation or another seems to have been applied rather selectively.

[And for the record, just because it's an amendment, don't mean it's right.]

Inkberrow said...

Obama hasn't (publicly) proposed to take anyone's guns away, no, but he and his want to nonetheless. Heck, I'll even join them in large part, provided they do it openly and honestly. Repeal or test-challenge the Second Amendment as necessary. (I was in Cornwall over the holidays, and the town where I stayed of about 25,000 inhabitants had recently seen its first violent homicide in a decade or so. Strangulation or blunt force, I believe). SCOTUS would still say individual right to own/carry is protected if per-gun licensing and registration were required.

But as I said, the pro-gun and anti-gun movements are not dissimilar from pro-abortion and anti-abortion forces. At least guns are actually mentioned specifically in the Bill of Rights, as opposed to springing from inferential penumbra, as with abortion. The pros-, and with some justification, defend any inroads from the antis- upon untrammeled access as part of an overarching purpose to with a few exceptions delegitimize guns or abortions altogether. I think the Founders DID like the idea of Joe Citizen having a piece as a general matter.