Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Guns, Guns, and Guns

Due to vacation, grad school, work, parenting, sleeping, and frankly being rather lazy, I've avoided talking about this topic since Orlando. Which makes me part of the problem no matter how great my excuses. But today I finally made it out of the house for a run and my mind couldn't leave it alone. So if I may have a "few" words on the topic.

If you know me, you know I swing left. I'm not the most liberal person on your friends list (if I am that says more about you than me, but I digress), as such you might have a sense of where I'll go with this and if you have that sense and you think you'll disagree with me you probably (and I fully understand this inclination) will stop reading sometime soon and think, "yeah, I've heard all of this before." Maybe you have, but for that set of friends and family I'll start where you might least expect me to, by agreeing with you. You can decide from there if you want to hear out the rest of it, or if like me on most days, you feel you have better things to do with your time.

There was another reason why I've been more silent than I normally am after these sorts of tragedies: I have misgivings about one of the two main solution offered up. Here are things I'm willing to concede: the 2nd amendment grants U.S. citizens the right to bear arms. Making laws that infringe upon rights is not a long term solution. Even if you get such a law passed it will only be a matter of time before the Supreme Court overrules your law in favor of the constitution. So the banning suspected terrorist from buying guns is a non-starter for me. Not because I own guns (I certainly don't, they're more likely to up the odds of one of my kids killing themselves or someone else with one than protecting my family so I have no desire to own one) and not because I think people have a God given right to own guns, but because I believe in the rule of law. And in order for that rule of law to have meaning we can't yank serious rights from Americans for being suspected of something, especially when that something is maintained in secrecy where a suspect has little means to know why they are on the list or how to get off it. I'm generally not fond of slippery slope arguments (I bet I'll belittle one later in this post if I know me), but we have to put a serious eye toward what the future looks like when we allow the government to curtail a right based on suspicion. I care for all the other rights in the constitution more than the 2nd amendment, and so I have to ask myself, not only is the country broke enough to suspend that one right, but is it broke enough to suspend any of the others as well? More on this "solution" later, but my other big problem with it is probably more liberal based and I just want to agree with my friends on the right for now.

I agree with you that a gun is no more dangerous than a pebble of sand when it's left to its own devices. Nor does it need any blame in any death. It's a brainless, careless, thoughtless, useless tool without the hands of humanity. I also agree that there are a handful of different things in our lives that kill and maim people, that on the whole do more harm than guns do. I concede it can be fantastic, fulfilling, and compelling to feel safe in your home, or when you're out and about. The desire to protect yourself, your family, and even your inanimate objects is to degrees natural (less so with our stuff, but more so with our people), and that desire for protection and for protecting is no sin. We find peace in many different ways, even in ways that don't always make sense to other people. We have these things in common. With these things I hope there is a middle point, some place that feels more sane and safe to everyone, a place that feels more human.

Those are the similarities between me and those most different from myself. I hope they amount to something; if not a bridge, at least a blue print of a bridge. And if not a blueprint, then at least an acknowledgement that a bridge sure would be nice for reaching the other side of that canyon.

Now for the typical rant. Back to the suspected terrorist solution, let me first say of course no one wants terrorists to have weapons of mass destruction. But more importantly, hiding this Orlando incident behind a discussion about ISIS and terrorists is a red herring. The coward who shot up that club (I won't be using any of the shooters names, they can find glory somewhere other than my blog) was messed up in the head, but he didn't know ISIS from Hamas from Al Qaeda, and his target wasn't America, his target was the gay community. Rather than deal with that, rather than look at ourselves and see how our own rhetorical violence against the LGBT community might some how incite this sort of madness from a broken person, we deflect and talk about terrorists. It's unethical to ignore how the worst of us have been physically violent to these people and a near majority of us at best hide behind semantics to try to curb their happiness and then shrug our shoulders and wonder, "I don't know why that guy would target a gay club." If you want to make a list to keep people from owning guns based on this incident, it should be a list of suspected homophobic ass hats (but "suspected" lists are bad, so kill the list idea, but also stop hiding behind Islamic terrorism here).

The other major solution being discussed is the legality of assault rifles. This wave of violence brought the rhetoric to a new low, IMO. Now we'er suppose to believe there is no such thing as assault rifles, that because fully automatic weapons are already outlawed there is nothing further to be done. It's a fun game of semantics but not all that convincing. You know an assault rifle when you see one, but more importantly these cowards know one when they see one. They aren't bringing your dad's 30 ought 6 to these killing sprees because they know those guns make shitty assault rifles, they hunt deer well but they aren't effective at killing as many people as possible as fast as possible. I get it, 100%, it's fun to go to a shooting range and to pull the trigger a bunch of times as fast as possible and put holes in a target (sometimes even some that look like people), but otherwise there isn't any good coming from assault rifles being so readily and easily available. So available that a nearly mentally retarded boy could get one and shoot up a school full of elementary school kids. I won't be convinced that that barely functional human being would have been able to acquire the money nor know how to navigate the black-market to purchase such a weapon had they been illegal. So sorry, not buying the "gun laws wouldn't have saved one life." I'm 100% certain there would be 10 or more elementary aged children still alive with that one little change in our laws; if that means nothing to you then our bridge has a much broader gap to span (and I honestly worry about you owning guns).

I know, I know, but cars kill people, and water (gasp!) kills people and we don't outlaw those things! Those things have other uses, some are essential to life (so just stop, please), and we as a society have to weigh their value vs their risk. And when the risk of car ownership went up we created safer cars, more laws, insurance, and mandatory driving tests and that saved lives. Guns have a value too, more to other people than me, none-the-less they have a value, but assault rifles other than "they are fun to shoot" aren't needed to realize the value of guns. So maybe only .00001 percent (I made that number up, don't quote it) percent of Americans are killed by guns, and maybe the ban would have only saved 10 little kids lives, but damn it if those ten lives aren't worth more than the joy we collectively get from pulling the trigger on a lifeless metal object and have it shoot more lifeless little nuggets of brass at targets and cans. I challenge anyone to show me when an assault rifle has helped a private citizen do something they couldn't have done with a less powerful gun. The only thing they are better at is killing lots of people really fast. Private citizens don't need to do that (generally, nor do our police). But! What about keeping a tyrannical government in check? Two things, this line of thinking insults the morality of our men and women in the military and even if our military is as base as you must think they are (or could be), your stupid assault rifle is going to be melted down into little pools of even more useless liquid metal after the army drops a bomb on your bunker from a drone a thousand feet above or from a tank shell shot from a mile away. Let's just get real about how effective your toys are at fighting the U.S. modern military. And let's not buy into the hype that ISIS doesn't invade America because they know we all have guns. They don't invade us because we're a continent and ocean away and they don't have a navy and they actually know how powerful U.S. drones and Tomahawk missiles are from firsthand experience. The cowboy hero fantasy is fun, but it's not based in any sort of reality.

But what about my second amendment right? I have a right to bear arms! You certainly do, but we've already placed restrictions on that right. You can't have a tank. You can't have a nuke. You can't have a rocket launcher. You can't have a fully automatic gun. And why is that? Because those things sole purpose is killing a lot of people as fast as possible (even though we all recognize it would be hella fun to drive a tank all over the place and to shoot 50 caliber machine guns at the side of hills). And arguably, since the introduction of these limitations that second amendment has been interpreted more favorably for gun enthusiasts than not (http://www.powells.com/book/second-amendment-a-biography-9781476747446), so whatever slippery slope you're worried about it's going the opposite direction. See?! I told you I'd eventually get belligerent with a slippery slope argument.

Then there is a matter of gun culture. You're right, as I said earlier, guns don't kill people in a vacuum. For a gun to be effective it requires fingers, brain cells, eyes, and either rage or a mistake. But there is still a sickness in this country, a sickness where the first and best answer to so many of our problems is to squash the other. To kill, to blame. A story from a friend:
My mother used to teach 4th grade. She made the students write short fiction stories. She stressed that the key to a story is a problem that the hero must solve. Her only rule was that the hero could not use a gun to solve that problem. This stumped a surprising number of her boys. This is the problem our country is having.
This story has been haunting me since I read it. We've got to show our children that the first solution to almost EVERY problem is something other than to pull out a gun and kill it. If someone breaks into your home, what is the solution? Someone cuts you off in traffic, what is the solution? When we teach that all we need is good guys with guns to stop bad guys with guns, what are we really saying? We're saying, that with all of our God given talents this giant mass of humanity we call the United States of America can't come up with solutions to its difficult problems other than force and more violence. And then we wonder, why when chicken shit assholes think the gays are the problem, or the other students at their school are the problem, or their coworkers are the problem, we wonder why do they pick up a gun and solve their problems thusly? Take a look around folks; it's how we solve problems here (both the good guys and the bad guys and the guys who have a hard time telling who is who in that equation). As a so called Christian country we need more Sermon on the Mount and less Dirty Harry.

I know, you think I'm a coward. You think you're better off dying surrounded by a cartridge's worth of brass shells and a smoking barrel in hand than to let the worst of society run over you and your family, and that only a liberal, weak, cowardly man wouldn't protect his family so. To many eyes I imagine I'm a loathsome and fearful creature, something that will deserve to be trampled under the boot of some terrible example of a human being one day. You imagine my fear and trembling; but I see your fear too. You hide behind the ability to pull a trigger as if such an act makes you a man. You fear so much you can't help but cower in your home surrounded by weapons to keep humanity at bay, or the only way you'll leave your house is with that same feeling of safety, with a little piece of death obscurely tucked away in your pants. That my friends is fear. And in the end maybe my home and family will be ransacked, but if guns were in my home more likely my friends or family would be maimed or killed by the tool meant to defend them. So I'll play the odds, because those odds also allow me to live a life that assumes better of mankind. Every stranger and every person that doesn't look like me doesn't have to be a threat, and I won't live my life as if they were. I don't want the fear gun advocates are embracing. It's not only dangerous to others but to the gun owner and their family as well. But if I'm not scared then why do I want to take your guns away? First, go back and read everything I said if you can't answer this yourself. I'm only talking about assault rifles here. You keep your other guns. Second, it isn't fear for myself that makes me want to act. It's fear for all the innocent people dying for no reason; it's because I can look at my children and know the heartbreak those other parents must feel, and I want no one to suffer like that. And regardless, fear is healthy. I fear things. It's an important human emotion; just don't delude yourself into believing that you lack fear because of you're willing to shoot someone who breaks into your house without asking questions. Therein lies fear, too.

So am I pissed about Democrats doing a sit in to get a vote on the suspected terrorist list stuff? No. It's politics, but more importantly it's action. It might be the wrong direction. (And it's infintely better than another Benghazi subcommittee or 300th vote on Obamacare). It might never pass. It might be a lot of things, but what it isn't is more of the same. We have a problem to solve. I like to see my representatives at least trying to solve it. I wouldn't vote for the particular measure and I wouldn't encourage my representatives to either, but I spur them on to action, even if it's just an action of voting, it says we're ready for little children and otherwise peaceful citizens to stop being killed like this.

And lastly, I don't know what the solution is. But I know what the solution isn't: do nothing. Democracy and self governance is an experiment, even 200+ years later. We have the intellect, the curiosity, and the goodness in us to fix this problem. We just need the will. That sit-in is a symbol of the will, and thus it is also a symbol of my hope, my hope for a future where psychopaths exist in smaller numbers and have less access to do harm. End rant.