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  • With Guns A'Blazin...

    In the wake of the Sandy Hook killings, there's been a flurry of activity on the activist front, from all over the spectrum. I've engaged in gun rights debates in assorted venues prior, and many of my friends and acquaintances were quick to want to revisit the debate as soon as an hour after reports began filtering in. At the same time, it scarcely took days before the various media talking heads and politicians began clamoring for more gun control, allowing teachers to carry firearms, or looked at those events as an excuse to promote their desire for a theocratic state. (In fairness, that last bit may have a touch of hyperbole to it.) I have largely held off commenting because, frankly, no one would be willing to have a serious discussion about it that wasn't infused with raw emotions and passions. Even now, as the debate continues at a rolling boil some weeks after the event, we have the wingnut brigade screaming "CONSPIRACY!!!" every chance they get. But, you know, it's been a while, and I've been getting into the discussion a bit more here and there, so I figure having one place where I can make my stance largely known would be useful, rather than having people have to play "Guess what he thinks" and piece it together from various clips and snippets. I also refuse to lump all of the pro-regulation crowd in with all liberals, because frankly, my stances on abortion, gay rights, and free speech have near-nothing to do with my stance on gun rights, and by the same token, I can't lump all conservatives for much the same reason. And in the end, you probably came here with an opinion on firearms and firearm rights, and what I spout off isn't too likely to change your mind. That said, I wanted to try and talk it out a bit.

    Probably the first thing to put out there is to say that most of the complaints, worries, and fears about firearms are horsepucky. (Turned off yet?) Mother Jones attempts to put together the most common discussion point together in this article. At the root of the article is the discussion of whether or not more guns have made America more safe (attempting to debunk the claim "if more people had guns, fewer tragedies would have occurred!"). Pro-regulationists generally pull assorted statistics from a variety of sources to offer the image that there are more guns in America, and more gun deaths, and so on. As best as we call, though, the numbers don't support these claims. (The article has some of its own internal inconsistencies, but my goal is to discuss gun rights and whether or not they ought to change, rather than just pick apart a poorly-researched and written article.)

    To start with, as a whole, homicide has been on the downward turn for a number of years. Just tracking 2007 through 2011, homicides went down 15%. Homicide by firearms, using the same table, also display roughly the same downward trend. More interestingly, homicide by rifles (a group which, ostensibly, includes a majority of "assault weapons") went down 28%. So, we should put to rest the myth-perception that "gun deaths are on the rise!".

    Another argument offered by the Mother Jones article is that gun ownership is on the rise, which has led to more killings. Having dispensed with the "more killings" bit, we can at least look at the other half of the claim - are more Americans armed?

    No, apparently. There have been more gun sales, so that implies that while fewer households own guns, those that do tend to own many of them.

    So, to be clear, your odds of encountering someone who actually owns a firearm (of any sort) is lower now than it has been in three decades. If you do encounter someone who has one in their household, though, likely they own two or more. As someone who has fired guns for target practice off and on through the years, I can certainly see a reason that has nothing to do with fear or gun "lust" - different firearms present their own sets of challenges. A handgun is distinct from a rifle is distinct from a shotgun, and so on. And I suspect, much as with my disc golf collection, each model has its own nuances, joys and obstacles. It is outside my experience that people who own multiple firearms do so because they feel a "need" for multiple guns in their underground Bunker o' DoomŪ.

    By the same token, I think it's necessary to cut through some of the bullshit on the side of gun owners as well. For starters, anyone whose reason for buying a firearm doesn't include the phrase "killing" is likely either lying to themselves or wasting their money. I'll grant that there may exist some subset of people who own guns strictly for target shooting and have no intent to kill either man or beast, but I would further have to extend that such people are so far and few between as to be inconsequential to the discussion. Whether you intend to buy a firearm to go hunting, for self-defense, or in case you need to repel invaders foreign or domestic from your soil, the sole intended purpose of a firearm is to kill. If you train in using a firearm for self-defense, you learn to aim for the center of mass. They're not going to teach you to "try and wing 'em a little" (and your odds of succeeding are less than the end of my Doogie Howser). You can't just wear it on your hip like an expensive piece of jewelry. A threat is only as good as the will to see it through, and that is no different if you're a military superpower or a little old lady on her porch in a rocking chair.

    There's been a big flux of "if blacks had had the right to own firearms, slavery would have ended sooner". This is a stupid argument. Go sit in a corner and think about what you just said. While we wait, let's also dispense with the "if Jews had had guns, Hitler wouldn't have curbstomped them!". As Jon Stewart eloquently put it: ""I wish armed Jews in the ghetto could've stopped Hitler, but my feeling is: France couldn't, and I'm pretty sure they had guns. Russia has kind of a lot of guns, and then couldn't stop Hitler until you factored in the wind chill. It's an awful lot to put on an oppressed minority when it took the free world 5 to 6 years of all out total war to stop that motherfucker." If I can take a moment to harness my inner Stephen Colbert: "Exactly! The French couldn't have beaten the Nazis, so they shouldn't have had guns to begin with!".

    So, lo and behold, terrible arguments exist all around. Yay for diversity?

    The suggestions for bans on weapons have generally been poorly thought out and based on a gross misunderstanding (perhaps itself based on a gross misrepresentation) of just what has been involved in the killing. The first thing people want to ban are "assault weapons". Their arguments are generally two-fold: 1 - who really needs to fire that many rounds of ammunition anyways? and 2 - they're responsible for so much killing.

    Our handy-dandy chart from above, however, tells a different story from point 2. Rifles (as a whole) amount to fewer than 1/20th of all firearm-homicides. While we can infer that "assault rifles" will be some group smaller than "rifles", it's helpful to note that hands and feet consistently rate about twice as many deaths per year as rifles. The usual rejoinder is "yeah, but that didn't happen all at the same time". This is where I feel like people stop seeing the larger picture. We're okay with twice as many people getting choked, kicked and beaten to death because we think "well, they probably really had it coming", and we assume that the number of people killed by rifles is tragic because surely they couldn't have all done something to piss someone off. But back to point 1 - who really needs to fire that many rounds?: people who miss. Or people who have a lot of killing to do. That's kind of what technology does - it gives people who aren't good at stuff more chances. When it's used to kill people we think need killing, we think it's grand. When it's used against people we don't think need killing, it's a tragedy. We don't really try and narrow in on the technology being used to do it. (Side note: the serious concerns for debate regarding the use of unmanned drones is focused on who gets killed, rather than that we're killing people at all.)

    And I think that's what is at the root of the issue for me. As a society, we don't really have a problem with killing, so long as "the right people" are getting killed. We don't really have much issue with how many bad guys die, or how we go about killing them, as long as we feel that we are in the moral right to do so. It's the contention that death is morally justified that things start to get gray; we have to start parsing out who is in the moral right for each situation. "I was afraid for my life" is usually considered sufficient grounds for killing, even if no actual threat to life was manifest. As a people, we generally agree that there are times when killing is either morally-justifiable or in some sense a duty to your fellow man. We agree that defense by killing another is a fundamental right - we just don't want the wrong people killed in the process.

    My feeling is that the discussion of reducing ammunition clips, or what types of guns people have, or who gets to have "The Guns" and who doesn't, misses the larger picture. People generally don't wander around shooting one another for no reason. The causes of violence are, if imperfectly, broadly understood. In simplest terms, it's bred out of competition for scarce resources, be they material like wealth, shelter, or food, or immaterial like love, pleasure, or safety. Sure, there are outliers to even that group - people we might term "crazies", but the overall culmination is that we generally feel it's easier, and therefore more desirable, to change how we let one another kill each other than it is to try and solve things like scarcity, insecurity, and mental stability. There's something to be said about the fact that the incidence of violence and even homicide is lower than it has been in thirty years, yet the fear of violence and homicide is greater than ever. We want to solve a problem that is actually going away on its own, because the reasons for it happening are less and less prevalent. We're focused on the wrong things, and spending time, energy and resources on flashy actions of grandeur that would, as far as I can tell, be better spent on actually solving problems.

    I'm not claiming to have all the answers. I'm not really even claiming to have the right answers. But the ones being bandied about don't seem to want to look at what is actually happening in our world. Removing guns from an evidently less and less violent society seems an awful lot like painting a rusty bike. To paraphrase Randall Ballmer, I'm not interested in making weapons illegal. I'm interested in making them unthinkable, because the need for them ceases to exist.

    Zombies are at an all time low level but the fear of zombies could be incredibly high. That doesn't mean we need to have government policies to deal with the fear of zombies. - Dara O'Briain
    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Someone's Avatar
      Someone -
      Rather than just the killings, I find it interesting what guns do with society. I saw an interview with this Texan fellow on a Belgian documentary who was asked how he measures in the guns when he's for instance at a bar, and could potentially get into a heated discussion. He said because they are aware of the guns, they simply avoid arguments altogether. Well that's nice, being imprisoned and having your freedom of speech compromised by your own society's guns. I laugh when I hear the same people claim they feel a lot 'safer' because of their guns. Though I don't think numbers are as important in this discussion as people are cracking them up to be ('overall' decrease of violence doesn't help any of the victims) I'd love to see the number of cases where guns actually prevented deaths - taking into account that the guy causing the gun fight happened to have a gun on him, whereas if he didn't, he couldn't have started it anyway. Yeah, you can kill people easily through other means, but hear this. It's not an experiment we'd be able to do, but give one psycho an assault rifle and another a knife, and send them into a school. Who would get the most kills? Which school would you rather be in? Which guy would you have the best chance of disarming, or running from? I think the choice is easily made. Guns, no matter what other views you have on them, are certainly the easiest way of killing large amounts of people. Yes, there are people who use their guns 'responsibly'. But who needs them? Who really needs them? Is these people's gun ownership really worth the lives of the casualties that will surely follow when you allow everyone to have guns? Well of course it is, to them, because they don't care about the victims. At all. Hence their poorly constructed 'arguments' such as 'teachers should have guns!' Hence, their apathy .