On Guns and the Control Thereof

I am, at this point, completely out of patience for everybody talking about guns, gun control, mass shootings, and everything tying those things together.    You’re all being shallow, vapid, and dumb, so stop it.  Or at least stop self-righteously prancing all over the internet with it where I can see you.

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

That’s some pretty clear wording that, read on it its own, makes it pretty clear that any sort of gun control at all is a constitutional violation.  That is, in fact, what those words in that order mean.  It’s not craziness to read these words and walk away with that interpretation, it’s literacy.

The problem comes, as with so many things when talking legal matters, with the context.  The second amendment is my second favorite amendment.  Let’s take a look at my absolute favorite.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

 

Are we living in a world that follows this as it is literally written?  We are NOT.  Everything from prohibitions against yelling fire in a movie theater to the IRS treating churches as anything different from small businesses or corporations is, in fact, a direct violation of the literal wording.

In other words, the argument is subtle and complicated.  If you think you’ve skewered the people who disagree with you in 140 characters, what you’ve actually communicated is that you think you’re witty and aren’t actually listening to anybody else.  Which is sorta okay, I guess, because they aren’t listening to you, or even really talking to you.  But as somebody who’s chronically pissed off at everybody for being narrow-minded ideologues who are more interested in marking their moral high ground than actually having conversations about problems and issues, I find this extremely frustrating.

Here are the things I think everybody (more or less) agrees on.

1) It’s bad when people go places and start shooting strangers.

2) Gun crimes require the presence of, at a minimum, a gun and a person.

3) An absolute ban of all gun ownership for civilians does not fly without amending the Constitution.

4) The current situation needs to be fiddled with.

Are we all with me so far?  I think this is a fair summary of the common ground.  Feel free to tell me if I’ve made an incorrect assumption or missed an important element.

Now, here are my thoughts on the issue.  I invite you to disagree, tell me I’m wrong, or make counter points.  But if I’ve already seen what you have to say on Twitter a billion times, I reserve the right to yawn at you.

First off, I’m really not afraid of getting shot by a random gunman.  The odds of this happening, even in the wake of all the recent incidents, are still so very low that I’m much likelier to get myself killed with my propensity for doing 90 in a 55mph zone.  (Want to hear my rant about American speed limits?  No, no you don’t)  When I hear about a mass shooting on the news, my response is not to suddenly feel less safe in public, but to steel myself for everybody getting boringly foamy.  I’m told this makes me insensitive.  Fine.  It also makes me rational.  When we’re talking about fiddling with the social contract, I think rational is much more important than sensitive.

That said, I’m rather bothered by people not me, or personally known to me, owning guns.  I’ve met people.  On the whole they’re stupid, prone to panic, and have lousy aim.  This is true for everybody ranging from cops and soldiers to the neighbors across the street who have a weird tendency to climb onto their icy roof with a shovel.  I don’t know the actual stats, but viscerally, I’m much more worried about getting shot by a cop than I am by a random stranger.

Castle doctrine style legislation, where I don’t have to justify why the person who broke into my house is dead, strikes me as perfectly fine.  It doesn’t say I have to shoot people who break into my house, it just says that if I panic and do something extreme in a stressful situation that I didn’t ask for, there’s a limitation on the legal consequences.  My problem with these laws is that they almost always say, “Unless the person you dropped was a cop.”  Between the War on Drugs and the War on Terror, the cops are entirely too entitled to come barging into my house without clearly identifying themselves, and if it’s not my fault for panicking when a burglar, who probably just wants my stuff, breaks in, then panic when people who want to drag me off to jail and prosecute me seems all the more warranted.  At the very least, there should be a “was the police entry lawful, necessary, and appropriate,” question involved.  But then again, I also thing if I resist an arrest that gets thrown out, I should be rewarded, not punished. (This latter stance has problematic potential consequences.)

I don’t think we should have a standing military.  In fact, I think the wording of the second amendment makes it pretty clear we weren’t meant to.  And we didn’t for a very long time.  We also had a really good track record of winning wars we got involved in, despite not having a standing military before the war started.  We’ve gotten less good at winning things since that changed.  This is a shallow rendering of the history, but it’s one I think is worth ruminating on.

On the other hand, I think we ought to beef up the National Guard in a huge way.  Having an organization whose mission is to defend the homeland and its citizens against disasters of the man made and natural varieties strikes me as a brilliant idea.  I’d even get behind a societal expectation that most people will spend a year or two signed up for it, especially if it cuts down on the “You have to go to college to get any kind of worthwhile job, whether or not college actually helps you for it,” we have going on currently.  Also, anybody who deploys the National Guard for a war not occurring on American soil should be prosecuted for treason.

We need to dispense with our cultural conditioning toward victimhood post-haste.  There’s hasn’t been a successful plane jacking or terrorist plot involving planes since 911, not because of the TSA, and not just because the people who’ve tried have almost universally been morons, but because civilians were paying attention and thwarted the plot.  (Granted, there have been plots foiled before they got to the airport or on the plane.  Credit to those who’ve earned it.  The TSA, not among them)  The days of passively accepting a plane jacking so we can all make it out alive are over.  This strikes me as a very good thing.  This is the idea behind Stand Your Ground style legislation.  I like the idea.  I find most of the actual implementation of it to be unsubtle and problematically buggy.  Possibly terminally so.  I am very interesting in finding a workable version of it, though, because the fact is that whole swaths of American society can’t trust the cops to protect them.  These are not the swaths often cited as loudly petitioning for this sort of legislation, but that has no bearing on the actual merit of the arguments.

The one point I’m not really willing to be flexible on is this: If a government entity is allowed to own a certain weapon for potential use on civilians, then civilians should be allowed to own that weapon as well.  I’ll entertain arguments for more or less powerful weapons.  But if the government is giving them to people for domestic use, then they will be available on the black market.  Any system that creates or enables a black market availability of things that then cannot be acquired legally is, as far as I’m concerned, fatally flawed.  You want to give the police rocket launchers?  Sure.  But I want to be able to get one too.  You want to cut the police off at hand guns?  I’m not going to squawk about doing the same to me.

And those are pretty much my parameters for what I’m going to consider an acceptable shift in the status quo.  You’ll note, that means I’ll accept shifts both toward more control, and less of it, but with other effects taken into account.  If you’re arguing for a society where everybody is armed, I’m expecting you to also argue for dismantling the TSA and rolling back most of the police empowerment the War on Drugs has sparked.  If we’re self-policing, then let’s self police.  If we’re trusting the government to do our policing, let’s make sure the government can be trusted.

Either way, could we stop sound-biting each other to death?

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3 thoughts on “On Guns and the Control Thereof

  1. Part of why I oppose the Castle Doctrine (and similar ideas) is that I really don’t like the idea of encouraging people to throw caution to the wind when it comes to murdering someone who they’re afraid might be a dangerous criminal but who might be, say, a drunk neighbor. Rather than look for statistics of how guns in homes are used and try to argue based on that – which would take a lot of care to do right, assuming the data needed to do it right is even available – I’ll just note that we already have people operating under the assumption that they should shoot first whenever their danger sense goes off, secure in the knowledge that they probably won’t suffer any consequences: those people are cops, and I’m not a fan of what this has led to. And I’m not optimistic that extending this encouragement-to-shoot to more people will somehow lead to better results.

    But another part, relating to your mention of people who can’t trust the cops to protect them, is that I’ve noticed that none of the anti-violence organizations made up of and standing up for such people go anywhere near advocating for more gun ownership as a means of self-protection. And I’m willing to give those organizations the benefit of the doubt (since I’ve never lived in that sort of poverty) and assume that they have good reasons for thinking that arming the people the cops have abandoned isn’t a viable strategy – I’d expect reasons relating to the likelihood that these guns will just end up in the possession of the people most able and willing to use violence to get their way (and their goons), but, again, my speculation doesn’t count for much here. And I’m definitely more inclined to trust these people’s perspective on dealing with violent crime than I am to buy into the paranoid hero fantasies that seem to drive most Castle Doctrine supporters.

    Aside from that, I suspect we agree on a lot of things here, including some of the more extreme-sounding things (though I also steer clear of anything that puts “culture” and “victim” too close together, out of knowing what I don’t want to be associated with). I’m feeling a lot more hopeful than bothered by recent Internet anger, though – sure, it’s unproductive to yell at people who don’t agree with you and aren’t going to change their minds, especially in 140-character chunks, but I’m seeing the amount of outrage over the Sandy Hook murders as a sign that maybe the tide is turning against Republicans on gun control as a political tool. Which is heartening, because it’s appeared to me that, from somewhere in the mid 90s (I don’t know when, I wasn’t really paying attention) until a month ago, this was a guaranteed easy win for the GOP every single time – talk up guns, back shitty laws, and lock in a nice chunk of votes and campaign contributions for the next election cycle. I’m happy when any of these tactics starts failing (as anti-gay rhetoric seems to have in many places), and if, in its failing, we get policies that lead to better things (in this case, fewer shooting deaths), then that’s a pleasant bonus.

    (I do wonder how the right to keep and bear arms was interpreted in the early days of the Republic. Was it permissible to hoard cannons and explosives, for instance? Not that I think we should base our modern policies on what was done back then, especially given the early interpretations of the first amendment.)

    • There’s a difference between permitting a thing and encouraging a thing. I haven’t seen Castle Doctrine legislation that says I have to shoot my drunk neighbor, just that I’m not going to be prosecuted if I do. And the police are not trained to shoot whenever they feel threatened. On the contrary, police training discourages even drawing their weapons in the line of duty. It’s not fear that generally prompts police abuse, it’s a sense of entitlement, or a fallout from a sense that they’re combatants rather than guardians.

      I’m feeling a lot more hopeful than bothered by recent Internet anger, though

      I suspect we don’t agree nearly as much as you think we do. It was a “Everybody who thinks an armed society is a polite society is welcome to move to Somalia” comment that send me over the edge into the ranting. The rank ignorance about guns and arrogance of of the currently angry people has be highly annoyed. The fact that the NRA saw fit to play a parody of themselves just makes my head hurt.

      (I do wonder how the right to keep and bear arms was interpreted in the early days of the Republic.

      Well, given the number of merchant ships owned by private individuals and armed to the gills with state of the art canon…

      Though the fact that the difference between military weapons and weapons for personal use, aside from artillery, didn’t really exist meant that the situation is much more complicated to talk about now than it was then.

      • I was pondering why I might have ended up with more patience for ignorant “dialog” if it seems like it might eventually make a bit of progress in a direction I favor, and I remembered that I’d calibrated my expectations based on the debate around genetically-modified food – which, at least to me, is way more depressing. (Also there might just be some things for which I have more patience than you in general.)

        It’s not fear that generally prompts police abuse,

        From what I’ve heard, fear – along with misdirected desire for revenge – is often a part of it when it comes to shooting black guys who move their hands in slightly the wrong direction: like soldiers in Iraq who fire on any civilian vehicle that gets too close after being ambushed too many times, cops remember comrades who have died on duty and become very ready to use lethal force whenever someone looks like a Dangerous Drug Dealer – which is to say, when they are black and male, because if that’s not enough to make an inference about whether someone’s willing to fire on you, then what is? (But obviously both factors you mentioned are relevant here as well.) (We’re already in tangent territory here, so there’s probably no need to bring up other similarities between the War on Drugs and our excursions in Iraq, like whether or not they should even be a thing.)

        Anyway, I will grant you that Castle Doctrine laws may not lead to more unnecessary deaths – aside from in as much as any pro-gun-ownership law, or really anything that talks up defending your {self,family,home} from criminals leads to more irresponsible people deciding to become gun owners. I don’t know, I’m not good at predicting what will encourage people to act how. But I am not looking forward to the fallout from however many cases of some intoxicated but clearly nonthreatening teenage trespasser being killed by a homeowner who can’t be legally held responsible.

        given the number of merchant ships owned by private individuals and armed to the gills with state of the art canon

        Something tells me that, if a bunch of tenant farmers were able to pool their resources and buy an old canon being sold off by the owner of such a ship, the authorities wouldn’t have waited for anything else before arresting said tenant farmers on some trumped-up charge. But maybe I’m just a cynic.

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