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Thursday, August 09, 2012

America's "Gun" Problem

I've said before that shared consensus reality is a lot more complicated than most of us admit, and that our personal point of view probably contributes as much to what we perceive as "what's really going on" does. That's why the following two statements both seem true:

A) Guns don't kill people, other people do.

B) If you want to kill a bunch of people, a gun is a more convenient tool than a stick.

I'll get this out of the way now, and say (almost verbatim) what has been said over and over for the past few weeks: my most true and heartfelt sympathies go out to the victims of the movie-theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado; and the Sikh Temple victims in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and their families and loved ones. These are the most stupid, pointless tragedies I can imagine. I can't imagine the hell these folks must be going through. In fact, call me overblown and melodramatic, but my heartfelt sympathies go out to everyone and their families everywhere, for all time, that have ever been killed by a gun. What a horrible, pathetic, worthless way to go.

But I've lived around guns all my life, and I've never been threatened by one. As a child I was shy and somewhat fearful of the world, but I was never afraid of guns, probably because I saw them every day (my dad's collection of antiques) and when I was old enough, I was taught to use them safely. I was on my high-school rifle team (imagine! loaded guns in the hands of teenagers... in a high school... safely!) and was the team captain when I was a senior. I'm a good shot. We were the league champions. I have participated in historical reenactment (a large component of which is the shooting and appreciation of antique firearms) for years. When my father died I inherited the cream of his collection (much of which he sold to buy me musical instruments, Goddess bless him!) and have delighted in its pleasures ever since. 

Antique muzzleloaders - relatively unthreatening to almost everyone - are my cup of tea, but I have close friends who are into assault rifles and tiny, highly-concealable handguns, and one acquaintance who has a license to own and shoot fully-automatic machine guns. These are all good people, responsible people.

Still, I'm not willing to debate that guns are incredibly dangerous... they're supposed to be. With the possible exception of flare guns, they're specifically designed to kill something. Apparently somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000 people die by the gun in America every year. (That's a very rough estimate based on a bunch of different websites I looked at. I've done no original research in this area, and could be - in fact I probably am - a little "off" with this number. Furthermore: that's not just murders, but also accidents and suicides.) (Also: my numbers may be slightly off, but downplaying that this occurs is one of the places the gun lobby goes wrong, for my money...)

There's millions of words worth of debate about the second amendment, but for me what it comes down to is that it says the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. Yes, my fellow pinko-commie-gay-atheists like to point out that it also says "well-regulated militia," which implies both organized (and presumably state-sponsored?) militia groups that are, in fact, regulated. But to my way of thinking "the people" trumps the admitted ambiguities.

But I also think it's important to recognize and admit that there's already regulations in place limiting what armaments I can possess. I can't legally own a bazooka. I can't legally own an atomic bomb. So it's been established and upheld that there are limits even to the 2nd amendment.  

Besides, it's almost a moot point in this political climate. You might convince me that we'd all be better off without guns, but you'll never convince me - at least not this year! - that we'd be able to actually make it happen. Fear and ignorance rule the land, people. This is a country were gun sales go up after a mass murder. This is a country where the Texas school board wants to discourage critical thinking. This is a county where evangelical Christians think Barack Obama (who's not from here, you know...) is going to institute Sharia Law. This is a country where poor people approve of spending their tax dollars to bail out banks that are showing billions in profits but won't approve universal health care for everyone because it might lead to "freeloading" or a state-funded abortion or "death panels for grandma." This is a country where a huge proportion of the population believes that Adam and Eve rode dinosaurs, and in the literal existence of angels. Get it through your heads, my fellow pinko-commie-gay-atheists: these people are never going to willingly give up their guns.

And I'm not sure that I want them to.

I'd give up mine - I really would - if I thought my example would make any difference or do any good, but it seems like if we're going to have legal gun ownership in America, I'm exactly the type of person we want owning them: I'm law-abiding, I'm safe, I'm responsible. I don't even own the type of guns that liberals think "look scary," that is: the sleek, black, pseudo-military-type "assault rifles," even though I think it's my indisputable right to do so if I wished. If the president of the NRA publicly gave up his guns that would really be something, and would really make the news, and might be a possible example of altruistic sacrifice for the common good we could all look up to. Anybody out there think that's going to happen?

Michael Moore, the pinko-commie-gay-atheist that gun owners most revel in hating, recently posted a thoughtful blog on his website, wherein he tacitly admitted that though guns are a problem they might not be the problem. Go read it; I don't want to misrepresent what Mr. Moore is saying, nor do I want to deny that it seems indisputable that Mr. Moore would approve of at least somewhat more severe gun control laws. But the way I read his essay is this: We don't have a gun problem as much as we have a violence problem. Americans are fearful, and we're really good at killing stuff. It's in our culture, and maybe if we fixed some of the other problems like (for instance) race relations and economic inequity our violence / gun problems would fade away, or at least diminish. 

However: many liberals need to stop pretending that every gun in the hands of every citizen, as well as every media depiction of a gun, or violence perpetrated by a gun-wielding person is going to destroy the most basic fabric of our lives. Just stop it. Other countries have (per capita) almost as many guns as we have and they don't behave like slavering dogs. Other countries watch just as much violent media as we do and don't mass-murder each other. The guns may make it easier, people, but they are not, in and of themselves, the problem.

On the other hand, if the NRA (National Rifle Association) would stop pretending that a 13-year-old gang-banger with an Uzi in south-central L.A. was the same thing as a hunter in Montana feeding his family with a Winchester, and stop acting like reasonable limits to the amount of firepower we could privately amass in our basements was some totalitarian conspiracy to take away great-grandpa's musket (unfired for seventy years) hanging over the family fireplace, I'd send 'em some money and carry their card. As things are, I will not.

In 2000, the book "Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture" by Michael A. Bellesiles, Ph.D., was published by Alfred A. Knopf. Bellesiles argued that what we call America's "gun culture" didn't exist in colonial America the way the romantic myths proclaim, and that it didn't rise until after the Civil War when tens of thousands of surplus factory-made guns found their way into the hands of the population.

I bought the book in first edition and read it. (I'm man enough to read the literature of my philosophical opponents.) Knowing history the way I do, something seemed fishy to me, but I figured: "This guy's a Ph.D. and he's done tons of research... hmmm. It sounds weird to me, but... I'll give him the benefit of the doubt."

The book won the Bancroft Prize for writing about American history, but it's the only case of the prize ever being revoked. As it turns out, Bellesiles made most of the stuff up. Anti-gun activists felt horribly betrayed. Fellow historians felt betrayed. Bellesiles disputed the findings that questioned the veracity of his book, but he nonetheless resigned his professorship at Emory University. Knopf did not renew his publishing contract.

In his dishonesty, Bellesiles did monstrous harm to his cause, and gave false credence to tons of wingut whackos and ammunition (if you will) to his opponents. 

Yet, on average, 25 people a day in America die by the gun.

We need to be honest about what's going on, y'all. 


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