Monday, December 17, 2012

Guns

This includes a whole lot of Steanso opinion.  Just so ya know...

So when I found out on Friday that someone had gone into an elementary school and killed 26 people, 20 of them children, with a high powered combat rifle, I felt a combination of sadness and horror and anger.  It took a few minutes before I realized that what I failed to really feel was a genuine sense of surprise or shock.  I thought for a few minutes about some of the many mass shootings that we've experienced since the time of the Columbine killings (off the top of my head, without doing any research or much thinking at all, I could think of the Virgina Tech, the school shooting that small university in Oakland from earlier this year, the Colorado movie theater shootings, the Jared Loughner shooting from Arizona, an Oregon mall shooting from earlier last week, and the Fort Hood shootings).  Although I was already, of course, furious with the Connecticut shooter who decided to throw some sort of temper tantrum by killing 26 people, I became angrier and sadder yet when I thought about the fact that the people in our country have done little more than shrug our shoulders in response to our growing epidemic of mass shootings.
So, yes, I'm talking about gun control.  I know it's a controversial topic, but I truly feel that at this point, given all of the violence that our country has endured, if we don't take some serious measures to curb gun violence, the negligence of our silence is beginning to make all of us complicit in these crimes.

Personally, I don't own a gun.  I've never owned a gun. 
I wouldn't say that I've never thought about buying one, though.
At various times I've considered buying a shotgun to do some trap and skeet shooting, and from time to time I've pondered the merits of owning some kind of handgun for self (i.e., home) defense.
I'm not rabidly anti-gun.  I have some respect for the rights and desires of people who wish to own firearms for hunting, sport, or defense.  I've got family and friends who are gun owners and who are responsible, careful gun owners.

I think that part of the problem with the gun control debate, like so many of the political discussions in our country, is that it's become extremely polarized.  Gun rights advocates seem to want no restrictions whatsoever on gun ownership, and many gun control proponents would like to see personal gun ownership all but eradicated.
It's worth noting that there's a lot of room for reasonable compromise somewhere between these two positions.  It seems like many "middle ground" positions are often ignored because of the emotion that the gun control debate stirs up, but there are probably some reasonable ways to curb gun violence without outlawing guns altogether.

I firmly believe that we need much tighter restrictions on the types of guns that people are permitted to personally own, and we probably need much tighter regulation of the buying and selling of guns.

I don't believe that Second Amendment entitles people to own any sort of weapon that they want to buy.  I don't think the founding fathers contemplated an era of automatic weapons in which criminals would be able to single handedly execute dozens of their countrymen, shooting innocent victims multiple times, within a matter of minutes.  Given the constraints of the technology of their time, the founding fathers weren't faced with questions relating to the amount of carnage that one modern day criminal can carry out with a high tech, high powered weapon.  If a criminal went crazy during the period of our constitutional framing, he might get one rifle shot off and take a few swipes at people with a knife or bayonnet before potential victims would have the chance to fight back or flee.
There are also arguments out there about how the right to bear arms is constitutionally protected in order to allow the citizens to protect themselves from the potential oppression of an out-of-control totalitarian state.  Well, unless we're going to allow private citizens to possess .50 weapons, unmanned drones, spy satellites, tanks, helicopters, chemical weapons, and every other instrument of modern warfare, I think that we're already at a point where our citizenry is pretty much stuck with safeguarding themselves through the political process rather than trying to mount an armed resistance in the face of alleged totalitarianism.  This is probably a very good thing.  Given the distorted way that certain radical groups have taken to their perceptions of government action (e.g., Branch Davidians, Republic of Texas movement, sovereign citizens movement, various armed militias, etc..), I'm just fine with the idea that individual groups are forced to opt for political solutions over armed conflict. 

Soooo... I think we definitely need a ban on automatic weapons, probably a ban on most semiautomatic weapons, and a ban on large capacity ammunition magazines that can quickly be swapped out.  It's not a magic bullet that will stop these mass killings, but it's something.
We've done this before.  Bill Clinton signed the Assault Weapons Ban into law in 1994 and it was in effect for 10 years before it expired under a sunset provision.  Since then our leaders have lacked the political will to renew it or pass something similar into law. 
I think that hunting rifles are fine, so long as they don't allow for too many shots in rapid succession before needing a reload, and I think that a six (or even five) shot revolver is as effective a weapon as anyone needs when it comes to self or home defense purposes (if they were good enough for most inner city police officers for may years, I'm not sure why every gun these days has to be a semiautomatic with a 15 or 20 round capacity and a quick loading magazine).  Shotguns that hold a few shells are okay, too.
Basically, I think we need guns that still allow people to accomplish the basic principles of sport or defense, but that aren't capable of rapidly shooting the volume of bullets that are being used in these shooting massacres.  Forcing shooters to have to stop and reload after firing a limited number of shots shouldn't hurt the purposes of the overwhelming number of legitimate gun owners, but it could certainly slow down these mass shootings.

You're going to have people, of course, who say that there are already a lot of powerful guns out there, and that we'll never get rid of them all, so we shouldn't even try.
I disagree.
I think that if you outlaw the possession of certain types of guns, then potential mass shooters won't be able to walk into your local sporting goods store and buy their ideal gun off the shelf, and I think that would be a huge start.  Programs that exchange guns for cash, groceries, gift cards, and other commodities have been effective in some communities in terms of getting people to turn over prohibited weapons to law enforcement, so maybe we could get some of these high powered weapons off the street that way.  Hopfully the idea of going to jail for possessing an illegal firearm might get a lot of people to rid themselves of their guns voluntarily.  Also, guns require some maintenance.  Over time the number of functional automatic and semiautomatic weapons in our communities would probably drop off as some became inoperative and were not easily replaced.
There would undoubtedly be some sort of black market for outlawed weapons, but that doesn't mean that making automatic weapons illegal wouldn't result in a drastic decrease in their overall prevalance over time.  Many of the weapons used in mass shootings have been bought easily and legally by the shooters.  There's really no telling whether these people would have gone through the extra, hopefully more difficult steps of buying their weapons on the black market, but we probably can surmise that the ready availability of powerful weapons at retail stores made it much easier for a number of socially awkward, alienated, isolated individuals to go out and procure dangerous weapons without having to navigate the black market.

I don't think we're ever going to be able to identify all of these rampage killers before they go off.  Security in schools is, of course, a good idea and probably serves as a good deterrent, but it's probably not enough when a gunman show up with assault weapons.  On top of that, although we can secure certain obvious targets (like scools) it's probably impossible to secure all of the potential places where shooters might choose to attack the public (malls?  movie theaters?).  You have to have an awful lot of security to stop a person with an assault rifle who launches an unexpected attack (and in the case of the Colorado shooting, body armor and a helmet).  I've heard suggestions that armed teachers and/or students are the way to go.  Do we really expect our teachers to be trained well enough to mount a counterattack under combat conditions?  How will the police differentiate victims from offenders if everyone has a gun?  Will civilians end up shooting each other?  And, of course, we can't arm elementary school children....

It's time to get serious about trying to do something about curbing these shootings.  We just have to.  I can't accept the notion that we're going to let more people die because this is a politically difficult topic that people don't like to talk about. 
Cutting off at least part of the supply of weapons might be a good start.  Personally, I think that limiting the possession of our most dangerous weapons- weapons that are used by very few people for very few legitimate purposes in the first place- is a reasonable sacrifice to make in the face of the rising body count that we're facing in this country.
I think we need a new version of the assault weapons ban.  Even if it fails, we need to put it to a vote.  If people want to argue or vote against it, let them do so on the public record, and with their registered opinion fully on display the next time one of these weapons is used in a mass shooting. 
I've heard some pundits say that the slaying of innocent civilians might just be a cost that a significant portion of our population is willing to pay in order to protect their right to own assault weapons.  If that's how our leaders feel, I think that their opinion needs to be part of the record, and I think that this record will provide some part of the answer next time the nation stands around asking "How did this happen?" in the wake of one of these mass shootings.  It's just time to have an honest conversation and to try to take a hard, pragmatic look at the costs and benefits of the gun laws as they currently stand in our country.

4 comments:

The League said...

Arming teachers is when you realize how completely insane the argument has become. Arming teachers. Now we have a gunsafe in every classroom and teachers at the whiteboard with a six shooter on their hip? That's not even to mention the few, qualified individuals who would want to be teachers who would opt out of teacher/ Dirty Harry as a job description. A job, by the way, that a lot of voters seem to believe is a waste of their money to begin with.

It's an infuriatingly reductive argument formed by people who base their concept of reality on action movies rather than what happens in an actual emergency or think about the logistics of such an idea, or even trying to imagine asking sweet Ms. Appleby in her 28th year of educating kindergartners to start packing heat.

BTW - when the SWAT team does arrive, and if you are carrying a gun, you're going to wind up dead. This was the lesson we learned when we had a young man with an assault weapon enter my building. The cops are going to kill anyone not in a uniform who has a weapon.

Guns are to make us believe we can always be in control of our situation. It's a childish response to the chaos of a world in which other people can sometimes determine our fate. Creating revenge fantasies for our educators is the most immature of responses.

Anonymous said...

I fully and completely support your reasoning and your position.

Dad

J.S. said...

Yeah, I know I'm just writing dumping my opinions onto the internet, but I really do want to express support for some reasonable gun control measures. When politicians start trying to pass some laws or orders on gun control, there's going to be outcry from people who will say that our government is being tyrannical or oppressive. I just want to endorse the idea that a lot of people are actually fed up with gun violence, and placing limits on guns, especially assault weapons, is a political act that actually represents the desires of a lot of people. We're tired of seeing our neighbors getting shot.

Unknown said...

Amen. Lee