Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Guns in America (part 6)

One of the things that I keep reading is that some decent percentage of gun owners, NRA members, and Republicans support certain elements of increased gun control. But, while I hear about that support, it doesn’t appear to be manifesting itself in efforts to convince legislators to do something. Or, perhaps that support is there, but subsumed within other gun control organizations rather than making the pro-gun organizations and politicians cognizant of support for increased gun control.

Moreover, during the past few weeks I’ve had a number of conversations about gun control in various online (and, oddly, in person) venues. A few things have become apparent. In an apparent corollary to Godwin’s law (the longer an online discussion continues, the greater the likelihood that someone will be compared to Hitler), the longer a gun control discussion goes on, the greater the likelihood that a gun rights advocate will claim that gun control proponents want to disarm people and take away their guns. No matter how often you say that disarmament isn’t the goal, the gun rights advocates (see, I’m avoiding the pejorative “gun nut” phraseology) will not concede the point. To them, it’s an all or nothing, black or white proposition. Any restriction is just the first step to a slippery slope that inevitably must lead to a total ban and disarmament.

Furthermore, it appears, that the discussion has become one about gun control or mental illness, violence in the media, and violent video games. Gun rights advocates can’t seem to grasp that we can discuss all of these things and take action in many areas at the same time. The nuanced idea that we could take broad action now and then research and examine and tweak and we observed and learned is just too … nuanced.

I’ve also seen the repeated use of the “but look over there” sort of defense to discussing gun control. By this I mean that gun rights advocates will point to particular situation and say, “But how would your gun control ideas have stopped that shooting,” in order to criticize broader gun control measures and draw attention away from the horrific examples that demonstrate why gun control legislation is required.

Another observation that I’ve made in these discussions are the crazy and hysterical scenarios presented by gun rights advocates to explain why certain forms of gun control are bad ideas. For example, during a Twitter conversation a few days ago, a gun rights advocate, when asked why people need a 30-round magazine for an AR15, actually said:

Great. We’ll tell people fighting packs of violent wild animals that they’ll just have to make due with 10 shots.

Seriously. Packs of violent wild animals. (In a pique of snark, I responded that I was more concerned with zombies and Martians.)

Or, as I discussed in Guns in America (part 2), the gun rights advocates will talk about their fear of tyranny and the need to be able to protect themselves from the government. Or the UN. Or the New World Order. Or whatever it is that they’re afraid of. But if you really drill down into what the gun nuts (and yes, here I’m going to use that pejorative) are claiming, what you’ll discover is that they’re talking about using (and needing) their guns to kill American police officers and American soldiers. They need their guns to kill Americans who might come to take their guns. Or something.

But what I’ve found really interesting is that the gun rights advocates, when questioned about specific gun control measures, usually either vanish from the discussion altogether, or take a sort of absolutist view that the Second Amendment doesn’t permit regulation (never mind the “well-regulated militia” clause). Or they just make shit up. For example, I’ve seen a number of gun rights advocates explain that the Second Amendment prohibits government from restricting people from owning weapons except military weapons. Um, which phrase in the Second Amendment includes that exception? The guns that 18th Century American colonists used to fend off the British were no different than those that they used to hunt or to protect their families. So “military” application doesn’t seem to be a real distinction.

So query then what lines we can draw. Does the right to bear arms include the right to an rocket propelled grenade or bazooka? What about claymore mines or hand grenades? Why do we have to fill out forms and so forth before buying fertilizer that can be made into bombs? Am I allowed my own personal tank? Can I drive it on the highway? What about an armed drone? Chemical or biological weapons? Why can’t I have my own personal nuclear weapon. You know, just in case of tyranny. Or zombies.

But seriously, where are gun rights advocates willing to draw their lines in terms of which types of arms Americans can and can’t have in our possession? And what is the basis for the line that they’re willing to draw. I think understanding the answers to those two questions is critical to a real discussion about gun control.

It’s also important, when talking about arbitrary line drawing (why is it that we can’t outlaw semi-automatics, but we can outlaw full automatics, for example) that we recognize that we’ve drawn all sorts of arbitrary lines when it comes to virtually all of the other rights protected by the Bill of Rights. But apparently, the position of the National Rifle Association (NRA) is that the right to bear arms is a God-given absolute right. More on that in Guns in America (part 7)…

One comparison that I’ve encountered is to the First Amendment. I’ve heard gun rights advocates say that improper use of a gun is similar to defamation; both the ownership of the gun and the speech itself were constitutionally permitted, but there is a punishment or remedy for the consequences of action associated with the exercise of the rights. But there is one very, very important difference. Defamation, no matter how egregious, doesn’t kill someone. Guns do. An award of damages to the person defamed may help alleviate some of the damage caused. That same award of damages to a person killed by a gun won’t bring that person back to life. Moreover, it’s hard for a depressed man to exercise his First Amendment rights and defame his wife and children to death or to walk into a theater or classroom and defame dozens of people. Guns, on the other hand…

As a nation and as a society, we’ve come to terms with the fact that there are and must be limits on rights and on the conduct associated with the exercise of those rights. It’s time for gun rights advocates who believe in this simple proposition to stand up and make their voices heard. If the only voices echoing through the halls of Congress are those of gun opponents, then the likelihood of reasonable reform will be diminished. We need to hear the voices of people who want their guns, but who are willing to live with certain reasonable restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms.

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