"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.

Gun owner on gun control

Former(?) critic of gun control legislation James McMurtry discusses, in his article More Than Just A Tall Order, some ways in which the Sandy Hook shooting has made him rethink some of his former positions.  I like a lot of what he says, and want to post some of what I think are the more important bits, here.

Another aspect of the Clinton Crime Bill that I used to think was silly was its restriction of a firearm's magazine capacity to ten rounds. I didn't see what good such a restriction would do. If we assume, however dubiously, that the shooter abides by the law and only carries legal magazines of the proper capacity, what's to stop him from carrying a satchel full of extra mags with which he can shoot all day? Nothing's to stop him, of course, but he will have to re-load more often, and here is where that silly old gun bill might finally have a practical application due to the evolution of police tactics. [...] If a school shooter is not extremely well trained and has to change magazines under duress, he's out of the fight for a second or two, and the highway patrolman, or the deputy sheriff, or the city constable who just happened to be there will have a second or two to fire at the shooter without risking return fire. If I were any kind of a cop in that situation, I would sure appreciate those seconds. The tragedy would still have happened, but the body count might be lower.

It's nice to see a gun owner admit that small steps that might help a little bit are important, that when it comes to killing, less killing is a change worth making -- it doesn't have to be all the killing or none of it.

If we are to call ourselves a society, we will have to behave as a society. We will have to pass laws and make deals, and none of us are likely to be satisfied at the end of the day. This is a symptom of a condition known as Democracy.

I wish that this were a bigger part of the national dialogue.  Nobody getting their whole way is a lot better than the inability to deal with anything at all that the US currently has to settle for.

The thread that runs through Tim McVeigh, Adam Lanza and Charles Whitman is not just mental instability, but rage, pure unfathomable rage. And we are an angry people these days. I don't know why. I suspect that our world is changing faster than we are capable of changing. Some of us feel left out; some of us feel outnumbered; so we're fearful and angry. Our societal anger needs to be acknowledged and addressed, perhaps diagnosed and treated, as do our individual angers.

I don't like the "It's a mental health issue" argument.  I mean, I'm not unhappy about the added attention, funding, and efforts at de-stigmatization that come out of these debates.  But I don't think it's going to help much with the US's gun violence problem -- because our gun violence problem isn't about individual mental illness, it's about an attitude at the societal level, that when your back is against the wall, killing a whole bunch of people is a good response.

I disagree with McMurtry that America's anger comes from rapid change.  I think it's the same cultural anger that fueled the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, McCarthyism, religious radicals, Wall Street, the Tea Party, and the NRA.  It's anger fueled by entitlement -- the idea that, in America, a small group of people with strong feelings about something are allowed to do whatever they want to try and get their way.

I'm not sure anything good has ever come of that anger.  But it's part of our national character, and I'm not sure that America can change that while staying America.  We'd need a new set of myths, a more civil origin story, a less hyperbolically defensive constitution.  And maybe we'll get the chance -- maybe the gridlock in Congress will push America off the cliff, and out of necessity we'll have to accept the aid of the rest of the industrialized world to get us back on our feet.  Maybe then we could have a cultural narrative of humility and gratitude.

Jon Stewart's awesome gun video

Pretty often I forget to keep watching the Daily Show.  Fortunately, I sometimes see awesome gif sets that let me know there's an episode I need to see.  Last week, I saw one of those.

This video is eight straight minutes of awesome points, but here's my favorite one:

Jesse Ventura: Do we go to the ford motor company and tell them, stop making these automobiles because people get drunk and kill people in cars?

Jon Stewart:  No, but we do enact stricter blood alcohol limits, raise the drinking age, charge bartenders who serve drunks, and launch huge public awareness campaigns to stigmatize the dangerous behavior in question, and we do all those things because it might just help bring drunk driving rates down, I don't know, by two thirds in a few decades.

Ron Paul's pithy response to school shootings, and related problems

ThinkProgress reports on Libertarian/Republican Congressman Ron Paul's comments suggesting that armed guards in schools would create an Orwellian police state:

Furthermore, do we really want to live in a world of police checkpoints, surveillance cameras, metal detectors, X-ray scanners, and warrantless physical searches? We see this culture in our airports: witness the shabby spectacle of once proud, happy Americans shuffling through long lines while uniformed TSA agents bark orders. This is the world of government provided “security,” a world far too many Americans now seem to accept or even endorse. School shootings, no matter how horrific, do not justify creating an Orwellian surveillance state in America.

(Selection and emphasis by ThinkProgress)

This is an awesome point.  But ThinkProgress follows it up with many of the problems with Ron Paul's connected views -- which I think reflects the overall problems with Ron Paul's politics.  He's good at identifying major problems and standing up to them.  He's not so good at providing reasonable, evidence-based solutions to those problems.

Unfortunately, Paul also repeated several myths about guns in an attempt to equate calls for regulation of gun ownership with the NRA’s lunacy. His suggestion that “more guns equals less crime” is belied by the most recent research; the reverse is most likely true. Likewise, Paul’s claim that “private gun ownership prevents many shootings” is not supported by any real research. And the idea that gun control can’t work because “criminals don’t obey laws”misunderstands the several policy proposals on the table that would almost certainly save lives.

Paul appears to simply oppose any action to address gun murders, saying somewhat bizarrely that “our federal government has zero moral authority to legislate against violence.” His conclusion is the same as that of the editors of National Reviewmass murder is the price of freedom.

(Emphasis mine.)

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.

The Arrogant Worms: If Everyone Had A Gun

In the wake of all the gun-related news lately, I remembered a song I liked in High School, the Arrogant Worms's Wouldn't It Be Great if Everyone Had A Gun?  This appears to be a more recent filming of it, and points out the absurdity to the argument that more guns = less gun violence.

Depressing realities of gun proliferation

The Christian Science Monitor published a piece today addressing the reasons that gun sales tend to spike after tragedies like the one in Colorado last week.  I said spike.  They go up.  Way up.

Self-protection is part of the reason. But a bigger factor, say gun dealers, is fear of something else:  politicians -- specifically, their ability to enact restrictions on gun ownership and acquisition of ammunition.

People are, apparently, afraid that the government is going to outlaw guns soon, but if they get them right now, with licenses and everything, they'll somehow be grandfathered in and won't have to face the consequences of having, and not wanting to turn over, now-illegal objects in their possession.

It's not just silly for the bad logic.  There's also the bad political estimating:

Never mind that few members of Congress, or the Obama administration, are willing to stick their necks out on gun control. With Election Day drawing near, and gun advocates on edge that President Obama will end up being “the most anti-gun president in American history,” as theNational Rifle Association says, that’s all the more reason to buy now.

Gun dealers, in fact, owe a lot to Mr. Obama. Before his election in 2008, gun sales spiked in anticipation that he would promote a gun-control agenda - even though he did not campaign on the issue and the Supreme Court had just handed down its landmark Heller ruling, which asserted an individual right to keep and bear arms.

I wanted to refer to episode 3 4 of the Newsroom, in which Will McAvoy quotes a scorecard from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence on President Obama's gun control record (he got all F's).  Unfortunately I can't find that scorecard anywhere online, and so can't with confidence claim that it exists. EDIT Jul 26 5:32: Commenter Albert responded to this post with a link to the report, which you can find here or in the comments below. 

I've emailed the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence asking about that report, and will update this post if/when they respond.