"The second amendment is there for a reason."

"The second amendment is there for a reason." A professor at my school said this with a straight face today.

I'm not annoyed because I think the second amendment is pointless (even though I do) -- I'm annoyed because this is a terrible way to discuss politics, and it dominates the dialogue.  The thing that pisses me off most about the gun debate, apart from all the people dying, is that pretty much everyone agrees that if we can just find the right interpretation of the Holy Second Amendment, which was so important that the Blessed Founding Fathers put it right under freedom of speech, then everything will be okay.

The fact that Americans so frequently act like the Founding Fathers' vision is more important than trying to govern effectively in the present, based on contemporary values, is easily one of the biggest drags on progress here.

But fine.  It's here for a reason.  Whatever.  Here are the reasons I know:

1. We need guns to fight off the government if it goes too far.

Okay, we're not going to beat the government.  If (a.) the American citizenry revolts, (b.) the military stays loyal to the government, and (c.) that fact doesn't dissuade the revolution, the military and the government wins.  No question. The only way the citizenry wins that fight is if the government decides they should -- and we don't need guns for that.  In fact, it would probably be more effective without them.

2. People have a right to protect their homes.

No, people have a right to a government that protects their homes.  People living in a society, especially a society with a police and judicial system, implicitly give up their right to self defense.  We are defended by our government, because our government can be fair and impartial.  That's the goddamn point of police and judicial systems -- it lets us sidestep the hundreds of horrible, anti-civilization side-effects of the standard of self-defense.

3. But a well-armed militia!

Are you going to take up arms when Canada attacks?  Or are we going to leave the fighting to the organized military?

4. Guns are fun!

Fine, whatever.  Here's an idea:  Guns are legal, but you have to keep them at your local, registered shooting range or hunting lodge.  You can use them at the range, or in the woods during designated hunting seasons or if there's another good reason, like self-defense against bears.  Your shooting range can give you a sticker to put on a box that vouchsafes a specific date on which you're transporting your guns in your trunk to and from a hunting trip, and in absolutely every other context people with guns who are not in the process of turning them in get arrested for it and put in jail.  Because you don't need a gun in your house.  Because the police.

5. If we outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns!

See above: arrest everyone seen with a gun.  Let the courts sort out the fringe cases (I left the sticker in my coat pocket!, en route from shooting range to lodge = shouldn't have been an idiot, now you have to deal with the judicial system before you get your gun back.)  People who break the law do not unduly expose themselves to arrest.  Heroin addicts living in countries that will arrest you for having needles choose instead to share needles to minimize risk.  Prostitutes living in countries that will arrest you for having condoms on you choose instead to have unprotected sex.  We can leverage those same depressing realities to a good cause:  criminals who know they're going to jail if they're caught with a gun aren't going to carry around their gun.  And some segment of the ones who do will get arrested, and their guns will be taken off the streets.  Every arrest = one less gun out there.  Every dealer bust = dozens fewer guns out there.

Anybody got any other reasons? I'd love to hear them.  Otherwise, can we stop canonizing the Founding Fathers and the Constitution as the Christ and Bible of American politics?  I would very much appreciate it if we could start having a cultural discussion about the present day instead of the 1700's.

SourceFed on gun rights

I don't love SourceFed's coverage of events like the recent shooting.  Like most American media, they tend to be a little too both-sides-no-matter-what for my taste.  But their latest video on the topic, Obama's Plan for Gun Reform, contains one of the most important points that mostly fails to be brought up in this debate:

I'm not quite sure where I stand on guns.  I think a person should be able to protect his or her family.  But I don't think he or she needs a semi-automatic weapon to do so.  I also don't think owning a piece of metal that hurls smaller pieces of metal at high velocity is an inalienable right.  It's a legal right, and I think people tend to get those two things confused.  It was a legal right that was created when our culture was in a much different place.

(emphasis mine.)

The thing about the right being created when our culture was in a different place is usually brought up in these conversations, but it's usually not accompanied by anyone highlighting the point that the idea of 'rights' is a complicated set of philosophical and legal premises, not one individual position.

Guns in the US

There was an ad before a YouTube video I watched earlier today,  unfortunately I didn't have the presence of mind to save the link -- I think it's safe to assume that they would have already paid for the advertising, that they didn't (a.) throw up the ad after hearing about the shooting this morning, or (b.) have the ability to pull it from airing for a respectful period of time.  My point isn't that the ad was in poor taste.  Just that it exists. It was an ad for a company in California, that sells kits to assemble guns at home.  The ad featured (in fact, entirely consisted of) a man explaining that it's not illegal to buy the parts of a gun, even if you can't buy the gun itself, how to machine those parts to create the gun they're parts of, and in what ways you can avoid registering the gun.  Apparently, registration has to happen at the point where the gun is sold, at least in California, so if you make it yourself, nobody has to know that you own it.

It's not hard to qualify for a gun in the United States.  But apparently, that's not enough -- there are also companies whose business is helping people who don't qualify get around the law with loopholes, so they can have guns without letting anyone know.

I'm angry.

I'm angry because I know how many times in the next few weeks I'm going to hear people say that this couldn't have been prevented.  And because I know I'm going to hear that, even if guns were substantially more controlled, this kid would have gotten them anyway.  Or that he would have done just as much damage if he had some other weapon.

After the Aurora, CO shooting, PolitiFact responded to Facebook claims that the United States has the most gun violence in the world:

According to data collected by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, several other countries had more gun homicides than the U.S., and perhaps 17 countries had a higher rate of gun homicides than the U.S. when population is factored in. However, when comparing the U.S. to its most direct equivalents -- affluent nations in Europe and Asia -- the U.S. has far more gun homicides than they do. We rated this one Half True.

Emphasis mine.

So, we have less violence than countries like Somalia.  We're outdone in gun violence per capita by the nation states who are constantly at war with themselves and each other.

And I'm angry that people will say "If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns."  First of all, because it reduces a complex legislative discussion to all-or-nothing, and secondly, because other developed countries clearly illustrate the reality that more gun control means less gun death.

The UK is widely acknowledged to have some of the strictest gun laws in the world.  Wikipedia has a list of world nations by firearm related death rate.  The United States is twelfth, at 9 deaths per 100,000 people annually (data 2008-2010).  The UK is sixty-fifth, at 0.22 deaths per 100,000 people annually (data 2009).  That is, eleventh from the bottom of the list.  That is, about 41 times more gun death in the US than the UK.

And to the point about people just finding other ways to kill people, the US rate of murders per 100,000 people is 4.2; the UK's is 1.2.  As for the discrepancy with the numbers, a lot of gun death in America is by suicide.  The American suicide rate per 100,000 annually is 12.  UK; 6.9.

Now, correlation does not prove causation.  But it offers a fracking big hint.  And this correlation absolutely disproves the premise that more gun laws = more gun violence.

Plenty of people will say that we shouldn't make this political.  That it's a tragedy.  That we have to wait a respectful amount of time before we start the argument about gun violence.  They said that after the Aurora shooting.  And the shooting before that.  And the shootings before that.

We didn't ever get around to changing the rules last time.  We won't, this time, either -- if we pretend that gun control legislation is somehow irreverent.  There may not be a sufficiently respectful amount of time after this shooting, before there's another one.

Since (and including) the Columbine shooting in April of 1999, there have been 31 mass shootings in America.  That's close to two and a half per year.

We're over the average so far in 2012, at 3, but there are less than 20 days left this year.  Is that a respectful amount of time?

Cracked on Gun Control

I may not be very good at it myself, but there are few things I like more than an argument I think is stupid being called stupid.  Not wrong, or questionable, or inaccurate, or fallacious, but stupid. On the one hand, I don't totally like the idea of shaming people out of the debate.  It strikes me as unsavory.  But on the other hand, (a.) everyone's doing it -- no side of any large argument doesn't use mockery as a tactic, and (b.) some people really do need to be shamed out of the mainstream debate.

The thing I linked to there is called the Overton Window, a concept in politics that argues there is a range, that moves based on popular opinion, of positions politicians can have.  For example, on race: reinstituting race-based slavery is well outside the Overton window.  Segregation is also very far out.  Repealing the civil rights act is outside the window, but politicians like Ron Paul have advocated for it, and their popular support drags that window back.

When we start to get towards the other side of the window, through the acceptable range that now predominantly consists of "doing nothing," things like new proactive government efforts to break multi-generational cycles keeping white people up relative to everyone else, and keeping people of color down, have to compete with a political dialogue that challenges the legitimacy of explicitly stating that discriminating on the basis of race is wrong.

On gun control, organizations like the NRA flood the dialogue with insane, fringe, indefensible arguments that, though they hold no real weight logically, hold back the political discussion by forcing politicians to compromise with people who think that giving everyone guns would make the world a better place.

That's all to say that

Cracked has an awesome column on stupid gun control arguments.

Twitter gun rant from Jason Alexander

[pullquote align="right" textalign="left|center|right" width="40%"][T]here are the folks who write that if everyone in Colorado had a weapon, this maniac would have been stopped. Perhaps. But I do believe that the element of surprise, tear gas and head to toe kevlar protection might have given him a distinct edge. -- Jason Alexander[/pullquote] I'm going to start following Jason Alexander on Twitter, because earlier today, he delivered an amazing rant about the second amendment, and why it doesn't mean what people take it to mean today -- that everyone, everywhere is entitled to as many bullet-firing tubes they want, of whatever kind and configuration.

He tears down the argument brick by brick, first citing opinions of the founding fathers to provide context for the second amendment, like Alexander Hamilton describing what a militia consists of -- a stark contrast to the popular definition in our culture, "Anyone over 18 with a credit card."

He breaks down the problems with the arguments for banning things based on lethality (there's a difference between banning cars and banning guns) and the psychotic argument that individuals are ever going to be genuinely prepared to violently overthrow the US government.

The quote to the right illustrates his criticism of the "No one would get shot if everyone had guns" argument.  The whole rant is awesome, and you can see it compiled on Salon here.  You can find Jason Alexander's Twitter here.