Log in

No account? Create an account
An author of no particular popularity

Jay Lake
Date: 2007-04-17 19:44
Subject: Guns again
Security: Public
Tags:guns, politics
A last couple of points on the gun threads, then I'm going to try to let this drop.

jennawaterford challenged me on Constitutional grounds, as did several other folks, essentially saying I don't get to pick and choose from among my Bill of Rights. My response:

I think there's considerable grounds for reasonable disagreement about the meaning of the Second Amendment. I don't think it obviously and inherently protects widespread private gun ownership, for one thing. It can just as easily be construed to be authorizing the National Guard, save that the current political and cultural climate makes that interpretation highly difficult to sustain.

Secondly, even if I grant for the sake of argument the Second Amendment is intended in its most extreme interpretation, there are other parts of the Constitution which have changed over time with respect to circumstances in society changing. I don't think it's unreasonable to view the changes in the very meaning of the term "arms", and the capabilities of those arms, over the past two hundred years as being significant to society to a similar degree as chattel slavery or female suffrage.

In other words, I don't think the "but it's a Constitutional right" argument is airtight from either end.

There's more interchange between me and her downthread from that comment. She's arguing (I think, not to put words in her mouth) from a progressive point of view of strict defense of the Constitution.

Ah, that marvel of American politics, where liberals are so often strict on the other nine amendments of the Bill of Rights and loose on the Second Amendment, while conservatives are so often strict on the Second Amendment and loose on the other nine.

chris_gerrib challenged me rather thoughtfully, and was gracious when I pushed back, as I asked, "Are your guns worth my dead child? Are anyone else's guns worth your dead child?."

I don't know how to answer that without sounding arrogant, blindly patriotic or otherwise stupid, but I shall try.

At the heart, I believe the gun issue is a matter of freedom. And while I sincerely hope it doesn't come to that, yes, freedom can be worth people's lives. Mine and my child's included.

I'll sound even more callous here, but I will point out that the "kids" who died today are almost certainly as old as the "kids" in Iraq and Afghanistan are. Which is to say that they are adults. Civilians, yes, and no they most certainly don't deserve to die, but they are not kids.

I do not dispute the assertion that fewer guns would mean fewer gun deaths. I would point out that since only 1 of 400 guns is ever used to kill somebody, to net any practical effect, fewer needs to be effectively zero.

But frankly, I'm not sure that waving a magic wand and making guns go away would solve the problem. As you point out, history is full of people coming up with new ways to kill each other. Absent guns, it seems entirely too easy for the few strong and ruthless men to dominate the larger but individually weaker population.

I think chris_gerrib come to a point of honest disagreement here.

First of all, I don't interpret gun ownership as an essential defense of freedom. Put it in a historical context. At the time the Bill of Rights was drafted, there was little to no distinction between military firearms and civilian firearms. Artillery was perhaps the only significant area of military technology not generally available to civilians, and its utility was limited to rather specific circumstances. You can view the Second Amendment as authorizing unfettered private gun ownership (the prevailing view today) or as authorizing militias outside of the control of the central government (a reasonable alternative reading). The distinction between the two cases was much less dramatic in the 1780s than it is today. That in turn means the "rise up against tyranny" argument was more cogent, as any reasonably tough band of farmers was not far different from a similarly-sized unit of soldiers. Our'n was as big as there'n.

Today the distinction between private weapons and military weapons is fantastically extreme. It simply isn't analogous to the intention at the time of the framing of the Bill of Rights. A .38 special on the night stand is considerably less useful today in defending essential liberty than the reasoned exercise of the voting privilege. Likewise a free press is far more important.

I'll pass on chris_gerrib's statement about the kids who died for two reasons, neither of them out of disrespect for him and his argument. One, everybody who dies is someone's child, someone's sibling, someone's parent. Two, something like 15,000 people are killed every year in the United States in firearms incidents. Take the essential liberty argument out of the emotional realm of children (where I am the culprit in casting it), and you've established the going rate for that theoretical defense of essential liberty. 15,000 deaths per year in exchange for freely available firearms. Is the public benefit from freely available firearms worth those deaths? We make a similar calculation for automobiles as a society, and agree to their use. But the public benefit from automobiles is far more clear to me than the public benefit from firearms.

As for the question of reduction of freely available firearms -- yes, there are so many out there now that any practical reduction would have little to no net effect. I understand this. At the same time, that is a shitty argument for not trying to do something. The First Rule of Holes is to stop digging. We just keep digging the gun hole, because it's too deep to fix anyway. That doesn't hold water for me as a matter of social good or emotional logic.

And no, I'm not proposing some widespread ban or confiscation. As satisfying as that might be to me personally to see that happen, it's neither reasonable nor practical. But as a society, we need to do something besides cluck about essential liberties and go out target shooting. There is no magic wand here.

But I also don't buy the strong/weak argument. The whole point of a civil society is to abstract that kind of elemental bullying from the social contract. Arming ourselves only reinforces the problem, it doesn't solve it except at the most tactical, personal level. Which is satisfying for the individual, but doesn't serve the interests of society as I see them.

What am I arguing for? A lot of things, I suppose. Acknowledgement of the dreadful human costs of widespread gun ownership. A widespread, long-term effort to de-emphasize the sexuality and emotional power of firearms. Social and financial support for unstigmatized mental health services so that disturbed and distressed people don't feel like their only outlet lies in violence. I'm arguing for a whole constellation of things, many of which I cannot name here and now. Mostly I'm arguing for a change in direction in our society. That I don't see. Not when people love their own guns more than they love the lives of those around them.
Post A Comment | 6 Comments | | Flag | Link

Gary Emenitove
User: garyomaha
Date: 2007-04-18 03:13 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I read today where Rosie O'Donnell, who supposedly spent a large part of her (allegedly) large personal fortune on gun control promotion, has all but given up on it, saying it's impossible to win this issue at this time in this country.

This is not a fight I've chosen personally (we each have to pick and choose) but, unlike some other battles (in which I am involved) that seem to have progressed somewhat...this one, as Ms. O'Donnell said, appears to be going nowhere.
Reply | Thread | Link

Gary Emenitove
User: garyomaha
Date: 2007-04-18 03:14 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Clarification: I did not mean the **discussion** of this issue is going nowhere in this LJ. I meant the **issue itself** seems not to be progressing legislatively or judicially.
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link

bluesgirly: peace man
User: bluesgirly
Date: 2007-04-18 13:50 (UTC)
Subject: guns
Keyword:peace man
The topic of guns is a hot one, very emotional. But, guns don't shoot themselves. Taking guns away from law abiding people who obviously need them for self defense is not a good idea, in my opinion. If one good guy had any way to defend him/herself, that maniac would not have been free to do what he did.

It's like blaming a pencil for spelling mistakes. People kill other people in all kinds of ways. If he'd have run through the campus with 4 knives, he'd have still caused (although much less) mayhem and horror.

When we can have a coherent mental health system for seriously ill people- instead of the one we have now which is quite simply a trip to jail, there may be hope that needs can be addressed prior to another disaster. There is no way to involuntarily commit someone who needs it, and unstable people with a mental disease do not necessarily believe they should take meds, have a problem, and so on. There is a huge difference between people who need counseling and persons with a gigantic and complicated mental problem/disorder. Clearly, Cho was very sick for a very long time, untreated. In some cases - it would take a team of social workers, doctors, and an appropriate facitlity to manage a case like his. At this time, I am not aware of any place that can force a person with "rights" to get help- even if that person needs such help.

Millions of guns exist. That's just reality. It may feel nice to imagine a world without them, and I agree this would be ideal - it's just not realistic in my mind. I think it's silly to rely on the government to protect me and my family. One look at Megan's Law website and I know - there are 50 perverts in the area I am living in. Child rapists etc. The government let these guys out - it's up to me to make sure my home is safe for my kids. That's how I see it. I can defend myself against felons, evil and violence, because I am able to be armed in extreme cases like this.
Reply | Thread | Link

User: chris_gerrib
Date: 2007-04-18 13:56 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Well, Jay, I was going to write a massive, statistics-filled reply to whatever you posted here. (I was mentally composing it last night.)

Having actually read your thoughts, I've decided to focus on our areas of agreement. From what I'm hearing in the news, the Virginia Tech shooter was clearly mentally disturbed, as are most if not all mass murderers. We do need to take a hard look at our mental health system.

Since mass shootings are (fortunately) rare, I think we also need to look at other things. Some countries (Switzerland) have lots of guns and little violence. Others (Brazil, Philippines) have few legal guns and more per-capita violence then the US.

My theory is this is related to income inequality. The third-world countries mentioned all have huge suburbs of people living literally in cardboard boxes, frequently in sight of very wealthy areas. This creates a sense of nothing to loose desperation. In an industrial society, some of those desperate folk will find a gun and use it.

Although the poor in the USA are better off (TVs, electricity and running water are available to even the poorest) the "perceived" inequality is higher. In America, after all, any child can grow up to be President. So, if you are poor in America, the sense that "something is wrong" is great, and some people will respond to that by violence. This is not a new phenomenon. I don't think it's an accident that Bonnie and Clyde were famous in the Great Depression, or Jesse James in the Reconstruction South, both times where lots of folks were getting a raw deal.

So, working to reduce this inequality is not only the right course morally, but beneficial. After all, the typical leafy suburb isn't safe because there's a cop on every corner. Rather, the folks that live there have much to loose from crime and violence, and little to gain.

This doesn't mean we'll never need police - people have an amazing ability to do stupid and self-destructive things - but suggests a way out of our violence problem. It's cheaper and better to give people a stake in society then to pay for guards and fences.
Reply | Thread | Link

User: dirkcjelli
Date: 2007-04-18 14:52 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
While firearms won't stop a military force, they will slow genocide. Consider that the first thing which was done in the Armenian Genocide was disarming all of the Armenian men of fighting age. The second was killing them. Then they let all the rapists and murderers out of prison, and had them 'escort' the Armenian people on a death march across the countryside, where they were frequently raped by the roadside.

In Africa, a genocide was conducted with little more than machettes.

Fundamentally, the 2nd amendment is about the -right to self defense-. It underlies my right to actively resist violence, with or without weapons.

Can you explain to me why I shouldn't have the right of self defense, why I shouldn't have the right to come to the aid of another, why active resistance is wrong... in light of what just happened?

Since this is about your child... were she attacked by an older student bent on doing harm to her, and she was prosecuted for assault for resisting her attacker, how would you feel then? If she were a 18 year old, and against your wishes she had obtained a legal firearm in a fit of rebellious pique whilst living on her own, and she used it to shoot a would-be rapist... should she go to jail?

Yes, guns should be (and are, in many states) well regulated. Outside of the context of 'getting rid of' guns, discussion of better regulation is certainly warranted. We need better mental health care...


Before you continue in this vein, please articulate how you intend to deal with 4 million plus -illegal- firearms now in circulation. Your proposal is to restrict -legal- access to firearms... this is not the same thing.
Reply | Thread | Link

Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2007-04-19 01:41 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Actually, at the moment, I'm not proposing anything in particular. I'm just trying to get people to understand the consequences of their own beliefs. In this case, that widespread firearms availability is connected to widespread firearms fatalities.
Reply | Parent | Thread | Link

my journal
January 2014
2012 appearances