There’s been another highly-publicized and highly-political bit of firearms violence in the news this week. As always when this happens, I find myself approaching the issue from a couple of different angles at once.
I partially agree with my friend Larry Correia, in that I think a lot of anti-gun legislation is a feelings-based exercise. Not a rational thing, per se. We seek to restrict firearms because of how we feel about them and because of how it makes us feel to know they’re out there and because we feel better if we think someone is “doing something about the problem,” even if what’s being done is neither necessary nor effective from a statistical standpoint.
But, is the alternative to do nothing? Take no action? Simply accept that gun violence is part of the cost of “doing business” as Americans?
I grew up around guns, so guns never bothered me. But a lot of people didn’t and don’t grow up around guns. And there a lot of people who believe guns are simply too dangerous for civilian ownership and use. The natural instinct of the gun-fearer is to restrict or ban — where and when and how we as private citizens are allowed to purchase, carry, and use guns. Because guns are “scary” and people simply won’t tolerate scary.
I am not a “banner,” and I never have been.
I look at guns the way I look at a circular saw. Useful. But also potentially very harmful or even lethal if handled stupidly. Otherwise, no more or less dangerous than any other power tool.
And of course nobody makes you take or pass state exams to use a circular saw — though I betcha maiming from circular saws is 100 to 1 more frequent than maiming or killing from gun accidents.
I think the big difference is that guns are symbolic. They are written into the blood of the American people at a cultural level.
On the one end of the spectrum, firearms represent liberty: the power to defy with force any form of oppression. On the other end they represent random terror: the unconscionable thought that some stranger could “cap” us at any moment (ergo, highly-publicized spree shootings) and there’s nothing we can do about it.
Spree killers don’t use circular saws. They don’t even use chainsaws, despite what the movies might have us think. They use firearms. In nearly every case. Any spree killer you’ve heard or read about in the last 40 years has used pistols, shotguns, rifles, etc.
And because we can’t read minds and identify the spree killers before they kill, we (collectively) tell ourselves that spree killers won’t be as dangerous to us if we take away their tools of choice.
Now, I personally don’t think that makes any logical sense, historically. Banning firearms won’t prevent their import, manufacture, or sale any more than banning booze in the 1920s prevented its import, manufacture, or sale. We’ll merely criminalize law-abiders while doing little or nothing to hamper the law-breakers. And we’ll turn gun manufacture and black market sales into a booming criminal enterprise. Just like the current ban has done to marijuana.
But the emotional argument is that since guns are scary and used in spree killings, if we get rid of guns we’ll be safe from scary spree killings.
A similar emotional argument can be made against cars. I was in a serious car wreck last week. I didn’t get hurt, thankfully. But if we banned cars, thousands upon thousands of Americans’ lives would be saved every year.
But cars aren’t scary. Cars are awesome. Everybody has them. They make life possible for most of us who don’t live in urban metro areas. Hence we tolerate random car-on-car mayhem more easily, because we look at the car and we see immediate practical benefit. Not so for firearms. At least not so for those with little or no experience with firearms.
Like I said earlier, I grew up around guns, so guns don’t frighten me. Nor do gun owners. Out here in Utah everyone has guns, and most everyone can trace his or her knowledge about firearms usage and safety to family: uncles, brothers, fathers, cousins, even moms and sisters. Virtually everyone learns (or has learned) from an early age how to shoot, and how to handle a gun.
I remember very clearly when I was in Webelos (scouting) they took us to a thing in the Uinta mountains called Camp Tracy, where (in the mid-1980s) there was a former USMC drill instructor running the .22 rifle range. He put the fear of God into us boys about proper firearms handling and discipline. I remember very clearly how the DI nearly made some kid piss himself when that dummy cracked off a round by monkeying with his rifle in the middle of the DI’s intro PMI routine.
That particular individual was stupid with a gun once, and it didn’t hurt anyone — thankfully. I would bet money on his never, ever having been that stupid with a gun again. Because the DI looked and sounded like he was gonna eat the kid for lunch. It was R. Lee Ermey time.
If everyone who wanted to own or operate a pistol or rifle got that kind of basic-level-very-young-fear-of-God training and discipline, I’d not bat an eyelash at the no-training-required-to-buy-guns mentality. But because not everyone gets this kind of from-the-roots training and instruction, I can see where some of the worry (by people who fear gun accidents and random gun violence) comes from.
Not agree with it at all levels — I just think I get where it comes from.
And just because I was raised in a culture that understands, respects, and owns guns, not everybody has that same luxury.
Would it be the end of freedom and the American civilization for us to require that people who have never handled a rifle nor pistol before, be required to get the kind of rudimentary training and indoctrination that many of us who did grow up with guns, take for granted?
I think that’s what I am putting on the table.
But . . . I also see how the language ” — shall not be infringed — ” can be taken quite literally, and how a government capable of denying its citizens their right of firearms ownership (for any reason) is also potentially the same government capable of denying its citizens all their other rights too.
In many places like New York City we’ve already seen the (more or less) suspension of the 2nd Amendment. Which is one reason I am glad I live in a state where such restrictions have not come to pass. I don’t see that New York’s policies have done much more than punish the law-abiding, while doing little or nothing to curb crime or gun violence. Just like in the UK, where similar restrictions have seen a corresponding rise in home burglaries and crime.
Of course, New York City’s culture is about as different from Utah’s culture as one can get in the United States. Especially if we’re discussing urbanized up-scale New Yorkers vs. rural, farming-community Utahn’s. Might as well be Venusians vs. Plutonians.
So maybe my real beef is: how do you infuse a culture which is ignorant of or averse to gun knowledge, with gun knowledge? Or do you even try? Is it worth it to allow a certain percentage of gun accidents and gun crimes, because the alternative — restrictions, licenses, permits, bans — is too antithetical to the United States Constitution, and our founding liberties as a free people?
If I must pick, I side with liberty. Firearms ownership.
But then I look at my driver’s license, and I think about how few people complain that we have to go through that particular rigamaroll. And if we did require similar licensure and training to obtain and operate a firearm, after an initial period of moaning and groaning from staunch 2nd Amendment activists, wouldn’t things just settle out — and life would go on more or less without significant problems for current or would-be gun owners? I can think of all kinds of things the state makes me prove I am qualified to do. Like a food handlers permit. I had to go get one of those before I could work at McDonalds when I was 16. Why would shooting guns be any different?
Yes, I am a science fiction writer. You might say I get paid to think about this stuff. I am not trying to piss people off. I am trying to consider the angles and ramifications. Looking at it both ways. Seeing it from both the POV of the firearms activists and the firearms restrictionists.
Again, if forced to pick a side, I have to pick unrestricted. I believe the U.S. Founders were far smarter and more wise than many modern Americans realize. I think they were canny and inspired and if they say firearms ownership and operation shall not be infringed, I want to trust their judgment.
All the same, I am not sure the Founders ever imagined spree shootings in movie theaters or high schools.
Plus, I can’t own “military grade” weaponry despite the fact that I am in the military and have had experience and training operating weapons like the M249, the M240B, and even the M2 heavy machine gun. None of these are available in the local sporting goods store. I can get a 21st-century version of the M1 or M14, but not a civilianized SAW. Why? Is the SAW not covered under the Founders’ desire that firearms ownership not be infringed? We seem to be rubbing up against some arbitrariness, in terms of what we’re willing to allow, and what we’re not willing to allow — and why.
I think where I have the most trouble is that I am not all on one side or all on the other. But many people are. For many people you’re either a 100% 2nd Amendment absolutist, or you’re a government stooge who wants to throw the Constitution into the ash heap and bring forth tyranny onto the American public. For many other people you’re either a gun ban absolutist, or you’re cruel and heartless and you enjoy seeing dead bodies on the news from the latest school shooting or spree killing. Shame on you. Shame, shame shame!
I’m kind of in the middle — albeit over towards the firearms defenders. I think law-abiding citizens should have the right to own and operate firearms, as the Founders intended. Up to and including something like the M240B. Provided they are trained and licensed to operate these things. I cannot, with my regular drivers license, climb into a tractor trailer and drive it. Assuming I could even get the thing out on the road, I’d be a menace to myself and everyone else around me. So too (I believe) are untrained firearms owners with no experience and, perhaps especially, no cultural underpinning for that ownership. I think it’s reasonable and perfectly within the Constitutional framework to have people properly trained on equipment which can be very hazardous in untrained hands. And I don’t think this spells the end of the Republic, nor presages the end of firearms rights.
Though I understand fully the fears of those who believe that allowing government restrictions, even a little bit, merely allows the government to take a mile where an inch was initially given.
It’s a tough, nutty subject. And every time we have a highly publicized event involving firearms and innocent deaths, we (as a nation and as a culture) launch into a brief period of recrimination and reevaluation — with predictable calls for restrictions and bans, countered by predictable calls for no restrictions or bans, otherwise it’s tyranny.
If we must take steps, let them be both objective and effective. But can we do that in America? Or are gun rights simply too highly charged for anyone to look at them without having a bias one way or another?