Friday, December 14, 2012

More intrepid than I am intelligent: now IS the time to have a discussion about guns in America

Yes, I am quite aware of what's happening in Newtown CT right now, but no, I don't subscribe to the idea that we should wait for things to calm down before we discuss the role of guns in America.

Doing so, however, requires some intellectual honesty if you intend to participate.

(Side note:  this is not an exceptionally high-traffic blog at the moment, so, hey, this could be a giant fizzle.)

So there is buy-in and then there are two rules:

To participate, you need to answer the following questions in your first comment:

1.  What, ultimately, is your preferred end situation with regard to guns in America?  (In other words, who should have them, what should be allowed, etc. etc.  You don't have to give an in-depth plan--unless you want to--but people having the conversation have a legitimate interest in knowing your end goal.  As much as possible, no hidden agendas.)

2.  In getting from here to there (with there being your answer to question number one), how do you intend to deal with the (literally) hundreds of millions of firearms already in circulation, legally and illegally, in the US today?

3.  What do you actually think the 2nd Amendment means?

4.  (Maybe this should have been a higher number, I don't know)  What do you consider to be the legitimate uses for civilian-owned firearms in our society?

So, answer those questions (you will find my answers in the first comment) and you can play.

Here are the rules (because for this thread alone I am using different rules than this blog normally uses):

1.  Make your points about positions, not about the other commenters as much as possible, and avoid the generalization "people like you."  You can call each other names if you want, but if you offend my sensibilities, which change unpredictably, I will either edit or erase your comments.  Nope, I'm not answerable to anybody on that.  (On the other hand, if you are thin-skinned, you probably should not play.)

2.  Everyone is welcome to their own opinions, but not their own facts.  If you make a "factual" assertion without a specific link or reference, be prepared to back it up if challenged, or it reverts to the "opinion" category.

OK, unless you are reading this within the first two minutes after I post it, my own answers are in the comment section below.


Steven H. Newton said...

1. What, ultimately, is your preferred end situation with regard to guns in America? (In other words, who should have them, what should be allowed, etc. etc.

All adult US citizens who are not (a) diagnosed as mentally ill; (b) convicted felons of violent crimes; or (c) under a restraining order of the courts have the constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Private institutions have the right to permit, prohibit, or regulate the presence of firearms for whatever reason they so choose (as you have the right not to patronize them if you don't like their rules). Public institutions also should have a reasonable power to permit, prohibit, or regulate the presence of firearms based primarily on valid issues of public safety, and I would tend to argue that the majority of such laws affecting that should be state or local ordinances, not Federal directives. I do not believe that it is necessary or even desirable to have completely uniform laws in this regard across the nation.

Steven H. Newton said...

2. In getting from here to there (with there being your answer to question number one), how do you intend to deal with the (literally) hundreds of millions of firearms already in circulation, legally and illegally, in the US today?

You cannot unring a bell. Those millions of guns are out there, and even if I were so inclined I do not see any practical way of removing them short of a dictatorship so powerful it would be worse than the problems we seek to prevent, and would probably only occur after a fairly bloody civil war. What I would do is make the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony into grounds for something like (a) life imprisonment without parole and/or (b) the invocation of total forfeiture of assets owned by the individual to compensate the victims and/or their families.

3. What do you actually think the 2nd Amendment means?

I believe that the 2nd Amendment was intended to safeguard the ownership and use of firearms as a counterpoint to political oppression by the State. Most of the "well-regulated" militias that existed in 1787 and earlier were local militias formed without any sanction from above, and were specifically intended as a counterweight to the existing State (which was why the British did not like colonial militias any time other than times of outright wars with the French, Dutch, or Indians). It is interesting to note that when militias began to be taken over by the States in the 19th Century, as State organizations they were often used to suppress dissent or keep minorities in their places. State militias were used to police, torture, and execute slave; to put down the renter rebellions in central New York; to suppress the labor movement before and after the Great Railroad Strike; to enforce Jim Crow laws; to "relocate" Native Americans; to suppress anti-war protests; to intern Japanese-Americans. Ironically, armed militias became far more of a danger to our freedoms as agents of the State than they had before.

I believe that the right to bear arms for self-protection or for hunting or just for the hell of it as individuals was so firmly entrenched in post-Revolutionary America that it never occurred to them to spell it out.

I also believe that, as with slavery and several other items, the framers of the Constitution never realized that they were on the cusp of paradigm shifts in the use and production of force. They wrote that document less than thirty years before mass production of firearms became feasible, and before individual weapons (and even cannon) had progressed into the realm of "weapons of mass destruction." Intellectual honesty requires us to deal with that fact: they had no idea that machine guns, cruise missiles, or the like would come into existence very, very quickly, because from the layman's perspective the technology of firearms development had been either stalled or advancing at a snail's pace for several centuries before they wrote.

4. What do you consider to be the legitimate uses for civilian-owned firearms in our society?

Personal protection of self, family, and property. Sporting use. Collecting. And--in a controversial but honest statement--serving as a counterweight to the idea the State should control a monopoly on deadly force in a free society.

Hube said...

Good thoughts, Steve. I don't have much to add, other than this reaction to the usual kneejerk moonbats.

NCSDad said...

I would agree with your #1prediction and admit ignorance on the other three. Maybe a minimum barrel length in public without a license?
I don't see gun control as much of a solution. Maybe fewer dead but not a solution.

Delaware Watch said...

I will play later when I have time, but I think it is fascinating that none of your questions explicitly address what can be done to best maximize public safety while recognizing some right to gun ownership. I guess public safety is incidental when liberty is the only primary value.

Steven H. Newton said...

I was trying not to presuppose an answer. I assumed question 1 would allow anybody to state their own priorities; for example, I assume yours would read something like, "The role of guns in America has to be absolutely subordinated to maximizing public safety."

If you think it is easy to try to write questions that do not presuppose an answer on this subject, be my guest and offer a replacement question.

But quit trying to play "gotcha" and actually talk about the topic.

Miko said...

1. I'd like it if no one had guns. (And "no one" includes civil authorities such as police officers.)
2. I'd do absolutely nothing. Any action towards this would require more violence than it's likely to prevent.
3. It means absolutely nothing. Using law to restrict lawmakers is a fool's errand.

@Delaware Watch: Looking at the contradictory research on the issue, the question of whether having more guns around makes the public more or less safe is so complicated that I would expect that fewer than 1 person in 1000 could give an intelligent answer to your question. Strangely, pro-gun people always seem to think that "public safety" demands more gun ownership while anti-gun people always seem to think it demands the opposite.

kavips said...

Sorry I won't play by all the rules here, but just wanted to put in two cents.

For me, the 2nd amendment is primarily to keep our government less powerful than its people.

On a smaller scale, one can see in Michigan where a small group of elected officials, overturned a standard of Michigan labor law to serve their supporters interests.....

If they were worried about snipers retaliating, such a coup would not take place. I saw a poster showing a line of riot police guarding the Capitol steps, with the heading, if you need this to sign a piece of legislation, you are signing the wrong legislation.....

Proof that through random occurrences a body of representatives can get in and make changes not sanctioned by the state's citizens themselves....

All that background is to explain why we need open gun buying and selling in our country. We are the only country to do that. That charge I will answer as thus. Every other nation can look to the US if it gets in trouble for our moral if not physical assistance. But we can't count on our government to do the right thing especially if it is not listening to us....

Our guns, are what make it responsible to us.... Our guns, are our democracy...

Put in the vernacular, it is as if some politician comes over to a yokel and says, "why should I listen to you?" Oh, you have a gun. How can I help you now?"

The entire security of this system is just as with our minuteman missiles on railroad cars.... we know you have guns, we don't know where they are.

Once knowledge of where they are becomes available, their effectiveness is compromised....

That said, the killing needs to stop. It is ironical that most of the killings seem to be from people 20-22 who grew up having their mental health insurance funds cut off, either on Medicaid or by private vendors....

Yet despite these killings, it seems like society is far more safer now than in the 60's, 70's, 80's, 90's..... Back then we too feared random killers, and right now I'm thinking of Steve Martin being attacked in the Jerk.....

I think where we need to go is towards a culture where it is ok for children to come forward and say they were abused, and instead of being rebuffed, be taken in and honored by society....

It is repression that is pulling the trigger. Not the triggers pulling the repressors into public places and forcing them to open fire.

And the reason we can't reach out to all these kids growing up.... is because we are too concerned about our wealthy having to pay a tiny percentage more in taxes than we are about our nation imploding....

NCSDad said...

Thank you for that. I don't follow all your leaps in logic, but appreciate your position. My wife and I , in discussing this, recognized many of the same correlations.

Hube said...

"Leaps in logic" is being quite generous. More like "leaps in insanity."

pandora said...

Believe it or not, I am not anti-Second Amendment. My concern has more to do with the weapons that can fire so many bullets they leave dozens dead within minutes.

Who needs these sorts of weapons? For what purpose? These are serious questions, btw.

IMO, we have an unhealthy relationship with guns. I feel they should be viewed as a tool, but many (not all) seem to worship them. It strikes me that many gun owners (usually the loudest, so not the majority) do not view their guns pragmatically, but emotionally. Too many allow their guns to define them.

The biggest problem I see is the NRA - who refuses to even discuss any problems with guns - and their complete silence yesterday was noticed. They simply are an irresponsible group - a group that as a supposed professional organization should be demanding and upholding standards.

The night before the shooting, the Michigan legislature moved on a bill that would allow guns in schools, Day Care Centers, churches and stadiums.

Again, why? What is the rational for this? And why stop there? Why not in courtrooms and State and Federal Buildings? Perhaps that is coming, but right now we have drawn the line around these locations. We have decided that guns in certain places are a bad idea.

No one is claiming to be able to stop all violence, and NCSDad cites the incident in China. Truly horrific, but not one of those kids died. There's the point.

So... I guess I'm saying that while I support stronger laws, concerning automatic/semi-automatic weapons and magazine size, the problem is really with us and our love affair with guns. Toss in mental illness and you end up with what happened yesterday.

But if we really want to stop a lot of this we need to stop referring to these events as tragedies and start holding gun owners responsible. If your gun is stolen (like the Oregon Mall shooting) then you are responsible.

Details are now emerging about yesterday. It seems that the shooter used his mother's guns - a mother who knew her son had mental problems. Had she lived she should have been held responsible. Hell, she probably still should be since she brought together a mentally ill young man with weapons.

Start really making gun owners responsible and you'll solve a lot of problem.

In closing, it really is our mindset. Almost every time a gun owner discovers my feelings about guns I end up hearing the same thing. What if someone broke into your house? What if someone tried to mug/rob/rape you? What about carjackers? What if someone like Jared Loughner walked into your neighborhood meeting?

That’s a lot of fear, as well as a lot of expecting the worse. IMO, it borders on paranoia, and paranoid people shouldn’t own guns.

So now that I completely ignored your rules, Steve... have at it.

NCSDad said...

Related t your why not question.

delacrat said...


OK. I'll play.

Q. 1. "What, ultimately, is your preferred end situation with regard to guns in America?"

A. A nation where no wants or feels the need to own firearms or maintain "militias".

Q 2. "In getting from here to there (with there being your answer to question number one), how do you intend to deal with the (literally) hundreds of millions of firearms already in circulation, legally and illegally, in the US today?"

A. Implement the Green Party platform

Q "What do you actually think the 2nd Amendment means?

"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."

It means the citizens of a state ("the people") have the right to a "well regulated militia", for "the security of a free state". The operative word being state. The militia is intended to protect the state, not the individual or groups. This is evidently the case as you've pointed to numerous instances where militias were used "to put down the renter rebellions in central New York; to suppress the labor movement...etc" or anyone denounced as a threat to "the security of a free state".

Q"4. What do you consider to be the legitimate uses for civilian-owned firearms in our society?"

A. That's a tough one. Apart from robbing the banks that are robbing us, I can't think of one.

Steven H. Newton said...


A serious question (to save me having to go look it up since you did not link): What is the element of the Green Party platform that would address guns already in circulation?

kavips said...

To put it pithily, I was saying if we change the way we do guns, away from where they can be bought and sold anonymously, we damage the very underpinnings of our freedom. Democracy only works where the government fears its people. One academic example. If the government voted to make all our property it's own, telling us its emissaries would be by shortly to take ownership, how could we stop that, without lots of guns?

delacrat said...

"A serious question ....: What is the element of the Green Party platform that would address guns already in circulation?" - Steve Newton


This year, I looked up the Green Party platform position on guns.

Unlike, the two corporate parties, the Green party has explicit positions on every issue, except guns. Check for yourself. You won't find one.

This puzzled me, until I ran across this article on by M.G. Piety at Drexel University.

I'll skip to the concluding paragraph which I believe explains
my point.

"If we are serious about reducing gun violence, we need to figure out what’s driving masses of people to want guns and then begin working to eradicate that.

The body of the GP platform works to "eradicate that".
Once the root cause[s] of "what’s driving masses of people to want guns" are eradicated, the symptom of "(literally) hundreds of millions of firearms already in circulation" won't matter.

Steven H. Newton said...

First, thanks for looking that up.

Second, that seems to me like a shorter version of what Pandora (and even Miko) said above.

But third, to be honest it strikes me as more improbable than a libertarian or green presidential victory, in that guns are directly associated in our traditions with the existence of the US as an independent nation, with the use of force to end slavery, and a number of other minor historical events. So what you all seem to be calling for is a nearly total psychological re-orientation of the American people.

Spotting you, for sake of argument, that such a re-conditioning would be desirable, I'm not sure it would ever be practical. As an historian I would come across two examples that would seem to highlight the difficulty: (a) the eradication of racism and (b) the eradication of smoking.

While progress has been made with both, that progress has been measured in terms of multiple decades, not years.

I'd be interested in knowing if you agree with that assessment.

(Again, I'm arguing process here--I don't think I agree with you about the end, but if the means to that end is impractical then I don't think that matters.)

delacrat said...


Your pessimism that "a nearly total psychological re-orientation of the American people" "would ever be practical" is not borne out by history.

I'll grant you that "(a) the eradication of racism and (b) the eradication of smoking" "highlight the difficulty" and are still works in-progress.

However, "psychological re-orientations" with respect to women's suffrage, child labor, contraception and, most recently, gay marriage and marijuana, demonstrate that while they can take "multiple decades", they are neither impractical or impossible.

pandora said...

NCSDad, I sincerely hope you aren't advocating armed security guards or armed teachers in schools. That article you linked to is quite frightening.

I do not think the answer to these shootings is more guns. I also can't imagine a gun in a classroom with 27 kids. And I would be 100% against armed security guards/rent-a-cops in schools.

(The article you linked to is fatally flawed from the very beginning because it assumes that everyone would be okay with armed security guards in schools so why not armed teachers.)

As far as changing public opinion towards guns (which Delacrat and Steve have been discussing), that is a serious solution. As I've been saying, it isn't really guns - they are a tool - it's the romanticizing of guns and all the black helicopter talk that makes people believe they are the last line of defense against their government. Utter nonsense, and one drone attack on an armed community would be put to bed that silly fantasy.

We have a gun safety problem in this country - and we are becoming a global embarrassment. We really need to stop acting like these mass shootings are completely out of our control like a hurricane or tsunami. If bridges started collapsing all over the country killing people in the same numbers guns do we, as a nation, would be working nonstop on a solution. We would instantly declare bridges collapsing and killing people as unacceptable. And yet when Twenty children are murdered we shrug and say... Freedom.

There has to be a balance. Right now the right to own a gun is trampling on the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - Not to mention insuring domestic Tranquility and promoting the general Welfare.

I'm just sick to my stomach over this. Surely, we are better than this?

NCSDad said...

As the article says, it's a thought experiment. Imagine a rent a cop who could only gain access to a firearm if an alarm was pulled (you or similar). Not so bad.
The comments illustrate some interesting takes on your objections.

NCSDad said...

Oh, and the rash of knife attacks in China are designed to slash and maim, not to kill. No stabbing. (per contacts in Taiwan - YMMV)
Different culture, different MO.

Hube said...

t's the romanticizing of guns and all the black helicopter talk that makes people believe they are the last line of defense against their government.

Of course, as is so predictable, you focus on the conservative boogeyman. Just don't tell Hollywood, videogame makers, and musicians who routinely glorify death and violence that they don't bear any culpability for the culture's view of guns and violence. Then, you'll be engaging in anti-1st Amendment censorship!

Hube said...

I suggest you read this, pandora.

pandora said...

What concerns me is the segment of the gun culture that seems to function on paranoia. As a cops kid, guns were part of my every day life. They were simply there, but not really a topic for avid discussion - beyond safety. They were part of my life, not my life.

In fact, we had/have friends and family who own guns for hunting and recreation. I never really thought much about guns until later in life - that's when gun lingo started to change.

I came across this post, and this guy says it better than I could. Here's the pertinent (at least to me) part:

" They talked about gun ownership primarily as a function of hunting; the idea of “self-defense,” while always an operative concern, never seemed to be of paramount importance. It was a factor in gun ownership - and for some sizeable minority of gun owners, it was of outsized (or of decisive) importance - but it wasn’t the factor. The folks I interacted with as a pre-adolescent and - less so - as a teen owned guns because their fathers had owned guns before them; because they’d grown up hunting and shooting; and because - for most of them - it was an experience (and a connection) that they wanted to pass on to their sons and daughters.

And that’s my point: I can’t remember seeing a semi-automatic weapon of any kind at a shooting range until the mid-1980’s. Even through the early-1990’s, I don’t remember the idea of “personal defense” being a decisive factor in gun ownership. The reverse is true today: I have college-educated friends - all of whom, interestingly, came to guns in their adult lives - for whom gun ownership is unquestionably (and irreducibly) an issue of personal defense. For whom the semi-automatic rifle or pistol - with its matte-black finish, laser site, flashlight mount, and other “tactical” accoutrements - effectively circumscribe what’s meant by the word “gun.” At least one of these friends has what some folks - e.g., my fiancee, along with most of my non-gun-owning friends - might regard as an obsessive fixation on guns; a kind of paraphilia that (in its appetite for all things tactical) seems not a little bit creepy. Not “creepy” in the sense that he’s a ticking time bomb; “creepy” in the sense of…alternate reality. Let’s call it “tactical reality.”

The “tactical” turn is what I want to flag here. It has what I take to be a very specific use-case, but it’s used - liberally - by gun owners outside of the military, outside of law enforcement, outside (if you’ll indulge me) of any conceivable reality-based community: these folks talk in terms of “tactical” weapons, “tactical” scenarios, “tactical applications,” and so on. It’s the lingua franca of gun shops, gun ranges, gun forums, and gun-oriented Youtube videos. (My god, you should see what’s out there on You Tube!) Which begs my question: in precisely which “tactical” scenarios do all of these lunatics imagine that they’re going to use their matte-black, suppressor-fitted, flashlight-ready tactical weapons? They tend to speak of the “tactical” as if it were a fait accompli; as a kind of apodeictic fact: as something that everyone - their customers, interlocutors, fellow forum members, or YouTube viewers - experiences on a regular basis, in everyday life. They tend to speak of the tactical as reality."

And that's what's been bothering me about recent gun culture - This idea that you are, or will be at any second, in danger.

Anonymous said...

My opinion - this isn't a gun issue. It's a societal issue and the gun is a means to an end. If there were no more guns would people still kill? He'll yes! They'd find other ways. It's pretty easy to make a bomb that can inflict a lot more damage then guns can.

The government abolished alcohol. How'd that turn out?

Guns for many are for hunting. Guns for many are for competition. Guns for many are for recreational shooting. Guns for many are for collecting. Guns for a very few (mostly gangs) are for murder, not self defense. And as we know, anything illegal in this country is easily obtained.

I don't have a problem with hand guns or rifles or shot guns. The vast vast majority of those are owned by exceptionally responsible people. What I don't understand is the availability for assault weaponry. The fact that there are tv shows that promote and make those weapons boggles my mind.

But maybe it's all coming to fruition - the self fulfilling prophecy that violent video games and violent movies are creating an aura of killers desensitized to violence. Maybe they really are as much to blame as the gun.