Following up on gun ownership in the United States…

On December 14, I was cleaning my dining room in preparation for home construction to come. I ran late, got distracted and spent more time than I should have doing the work, which meant I ran late getting up to meet my friends for lunch.

Heading back to the office, I turned on the radio and switched to NPR. That’s when I first heard about Sandy Hook.

Since then I’ve written a post here about handling the onslaught of grief and I’ve fielded a bunch of questions on Facebook as well. I’ve noticed some trends since then, aside from the outpouring of sympathy and all sorts of ways to recognize those who died (symbolized most recently by “26” – the number who died, not including the shooter or his mother, who also died in the attack).

Apparently Aurora wasn’t enough. Sandy Hook wasn’t enough either. On Christmas Eve, another deliberate gun-related tragedy took place, just a few miles from where I grew up, which cost us two First Responders.

People still insist glibly that we should outlaw spoons or cars if we’re going to outlaw guns. Or that classic training (as promoted by the National Rifle Association) is sufficient to keep these tragedies from happening.

I beg to differ, thanks to some perspective (with the help of a few friends) on just why all those claims and howls are no longer valid.

It all comes down to this: there is no better time for us to pursue gun control and to change the way we view both mental illness and the safety of our schools. Here’s how we are viewed by the rest of the world.

Why should we worry?

Because of this:

As much as possible, I will back each point up with something you can follow for further research. I know a number of my readers here on WordPress and elsewhere are looking for answers. I seem to know how to summarize the questions effectively. You can judge for yourself whether I’ve gotten it right or not.

Many thanks to both Mark Barker and Aaron Gillespie for their thoughtful and insightful posts, which I’ve used as springboards for this one.

Here goes.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

(With thanks to Mark.)

The victory of our colonists over the British in the Revolutionary War was only eight years in the past when the newly formed US Congress ratified and adopted both the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

These individuals were charged with creating an infrastructure that would allow a newly-formed nation of disparate ex-colonies to retain their independence. They recognized the simple and pragmatic necessity of empowering a citizen military for defense of that shiny new country.

The text of the Second Amendment is as follows:

“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.”

By the time the Amendment was ratified, the Revolutionary Army had already been disbanded and almost everyone had returned home. There were no standing military forces and no resources to recruit, train, and maintain such forces. Our Founders didn’t want to maintain standing militia just to keep uppity colonials [sic] in line during peacetime.

The Founding Fathers had enough trouble dealing with that same bunch of ex-colonists who (frankly) didn’t think that much of each other and didn’t much want to cohere if it meant giving up what THEY thought was the correct way to live and govern themselves in favor of what those other idiots thought was a good idea.

The Second Amendment was primarily enacted as a way of ensuring that, should England, Spain or France decide our new country was a soft target, Americans could mobilize again quickly to protect ourselves, by having militias available. Since the government couldn’t afford to arm or equip those militias, it was important to ensure that able-bodied potential militia members were able to keep their weapons handy, and that no state would opt out of having a cadre of potential recruits available by restricting people from owning weapons, as was common practice among the major superpowers of the era, who DID have standing armies.

It was a practical measure to ensure we all had the right to defend ourselves and our new nation against anyone who might want to attempt to assert control over any of our sovereign territory. That’s why the Second Amendment STARTS with the words “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State…”

It’s also important to remember that the Bill of Rights represented two key concepts essential to the building of our nation:

1) The establishment of common ground among some very disparate colonial cultures and beliefs;

and

2) the assurance that our central government could protect that common ground for all citizens regardless of their home state.

Most of those protections were aimed not at protecting citizens of the new nation from their own central government but from the encroachments of STATE governments which had different traditions and practices regarding which powers were appropriate for them to exercise over their citizens. It was a way of saying, “In every state in America, you have these certain basic rights. You don’t need to worry, if you move from Virginia to New York, that their Governor might decide to quarter troops in your home or appoint a gigantic unpayable bail if you’re accused of an offense. You needn’t worry, if you’re a Catholic from Maryland, that the Protestants in Virginia are going to be able to restrict your access to public office based on your faith.”

If you look at the the Bill of Rights in the context of a new nation struggling to weld together diverse notions and traditions about self-government, and at the same time empower themselves to stay viable as a nation, the second amendment makes sense. If you look further into our Bill of Rights, you will begin to understand how these Rights can be framed for individual protection.

We now have a standing military force but it remains, in essence, a citizen military; controlled by civilian elected representatives and comprised of all citizens regardless of gender, ethnicity, religious belief, state of residence. We still have militias, in the form of National Guard units, available for immediate response and our states are empowered to train and arm those militias.

This is the real spirit of the second amendment.

REGARDING CURRENT EVENTS

(With thanks to Aaron.)

Second, some points,  with material to back them up. You will hear every single one of these comments in a heated discussion about gun control:

1. I’ll lose my legally purchased gun(s)!

No one is talking about banning all guns. We are talking about smarter, reasonable gun laws. Even when we pass gun control, no one is going to come to your house and “take your guns away” unless your guns are used to commit a crime.

You would be foolish to expect that your previous gun purchase entitles you to a free pass for future restrictions, or to assume that you will somehow be immune from future rules and regulations for proving that you know how to own and use a deadly weapon or acquire ammunition.

2. Guns Don’t Kill People…

When you shout about your right to own guns only days after 20 small children and seven adults were murdered with one, you sound like an insensitive ass. The argument is for stricter guidelines for gun owners and operators and stiffer penalties for misusing a gun.

3. I need it for protection from my government, because they’ll come to get me otherwise…

If you honestly think that owning guns is going protect you from some kind of government takeover, with the size and power of our modern army, think again.

4. The Founding Fathers put the Second Amendment there for a reason.

The Constitution is a living document. Our forefathers were smart enough to include methods for changing it because they understood that times change. Assuming an amendment can’t be amended again is ludicrous. (See Prohibition.)

5. This wouldn’t happen if we kept God in our schools.

If you think that school shootings happen because God isn’t allowed in school, think again. Contrary to popular Christian myth, God IS allowed in school. Children can pray, have prayer groups, wear crosses, headscarves or other religious symbols. They may not be FORCED to do so in public school. Stop pretending that respecting everyone’s rights is somehow infringing on yours.

If God allows children to be murdered because he “isn’t in the schools,” then he’s vindictive and I don’t need that sort of God. I prefer the God of love, not the God of hate.

6. We just need armed guards in our schools.

If you think school shootings will stop when we have armed guards in every school, you’re wrong. Armed guards didn’t help at Columbine, either. Arming everyone is not going to make the streets safer.  You’re just as wrong as the NRA.

7. These things didn’t happen in MY day.

There has never been a time in our history where mass shootings haven’t happened. School shootings were happening before public prayer was removed from school. Stop pretending that this is another sign of our society’s decline.

The media’s desire to stay relevant means that they will do anything to keep violence in the forefront. This illusion gives us a false sense of insecurity and fear. Violence is far rarer than you might think, in most areas of the country.

8. If only someone had a gun. Concealed carry laws would make these people think twice.

It’s extremely unlikely that you will get caught in a situation where you can shoot your way out and save the day. Real life is not a  video game or a Western movie. Most people know this, but few realize just how unprepared they are for real fight or flight situations.

9. If we’re going to ban guns we should ban cars (matches, knives, spoons, pencils, box cutters) because they kill people.

All of these tools have a main purpose that is something other than killing. Humans are tool users and can find all sorts of creative ways to exceed a tool’s original design and purpose.

All, that is, except for guns. Guns are designed to put holes in things. That is their primary purpose. Guns are most often used to put holes in people or animals. Often, by accident. Sometimes on purpose.

10. High capacity magazines are necessary for protection.

If you don’t know what you’re doing under pressure,  in the event you need to protect yourself, you are no safer with a 30-round magazine than you are with a 10 or 15-round one. Long gun battles between law-abiding citizens and criminals don’t happen. If a criminal breaks your door down and it takes you 30 rounds to kill him, you should not own a gun.

Most of the guns used during killing sprees in recent memory were purchased legally. It’s not the gun that’s the problem here. It’s how the gun is used and how easy it is to get both the gun and ammunition.

11. States with Conceal Carry laws have fewer gun related homicides.

False. States with stricter gun laws have fewer gun related homicides. The District of Columbia is not as violent as it once was because urban renewal has begun to have the desired effect. The worst of the areas are finally starting to recover from the riots of 1968. Gun laws are a part of the recovery process.

12. It’s just a few isolated crazy people. Get them off the street and the problem goes away.

For far too long, we have treated Mental Illness as taboo, alien, a subject to shove under the rug.

Insurance companies treat people who suffer from depression, psychosis and other mental health problems as if they can simply be cured by a few visits to the outpatient psychiatrist and some pills. If patients aren’t well by the time insurance thinks they should be, that’s just tough.

The fact is, mental health is a HUGE problem in this country, not because so many people suffer, but because so few know what to do about it.

In another post, as I clarify my thoughts on the subject, I’ll address our mental health crisis.

Leave a Reply