Saturday, July 21, 2012

Gun Violence, Personal Choice, and America in an Election Year

OK, we know what happened...

So, I won't go into the details. There.



First, I would like you to watch this video about the Winnendon school shooting in 2009. I found it in Patton Oswalt's Facebook feed (I freaking lurve Patton Effing Oswalt). Pay really good attention starting at 1:34.

Now. I will let that point sit on its own. Please don't go all 24-hour-news-cycle on us. We don't need to see his face. We don't need to hear nonsensical eyewitnesses give their side of the story using hyperbole and incorrect gun terms. We don't need news readers making comments of a technical nature.

We do need facts. We do need what happened (as far as we can tell). We do need who did it (as far as we can tell). We do need to know what we need to do next (lock our doors, pack our bags, hug our families).

We do need restraint. 

We do need to get on with the other things going on in the world. This may sound callous, and my heart does go out to the victims, their families, and their friends, but I am glad I have the internet so I could see if there was something else going on in the world.

First Response

I guess you know how I feel about the network coverage. Between the inane rambling of people still on an adrenaline high after surviving the worst shooting since the Va Tech Massacre and the inane rambling of a news anchor who knows next to nothing about guns (I love you, Robin Meade, but you need to get to the range sometime), I was boggled. The only decent eyewitness account I felt was legitimate was that of a combat-experienced Marine who was with his wife. He calmly described what he saw and heard. He didn't exaggerate. He didn't make guesses. He told what he knew.

Sadly, I believe the best journalistic effort of the day came from the Onion, citing an imaginary person as saying "Nothing really surprises me when it comes to this kind of thing anymore. And that makes me feel terrible" and "In exactly two weeks this will all be over and it will be like it never happened."

Yep. This.

The United States of Guns

I'll let most of the pundits go into the facts and figures.

TL:DR - There are more guns in the hands of fewer people now than there have been historically. Violent Crime has been decreasing rapidly. Concealed Carry is available in almost every state (several without permitting).

Let me use my golden, reassuring voice to scare you into buying something.
Since Senator Obama was nominated as the Democratic Party Candidate in 2008, sales of guns and ammunition went up in the mistaken belief President Obama would take all of our guns away because of his following a European socialist who was attempting to ban our guns. I was there and I watched it happen. The last four years saw the gun industry as one of the only recession-proof areas of the economy other than the gold sellers advertising via Glenn Beck. (I do have to admit, I expected the bottom to fall out of the gold market by about 2010-2011... I was wrong)

I like my guns. I like being able to shoot them. I like being able to teach people about the role of firearms in American and World history. I like teaching museum people about firearms (reaaaallll small slice of the Venn diagram there...). I like talking to Gun Guys (and Gun Gals).

However, I also can't stand talking to Gun Guys.

Most Gun Guys I know are great people. Some are religious, some aren't. Most are on the right, some are on the left. Some are active shooters. Some are collectors. Some just buy guns. Most are the salt of the earth. Most are white. Most are upstanding members of their communities. Genuinely nice folk, for the most part.

Sometimes, though, being around guns has placed me in the company of some people I really did not like. Racists, White Supremacists, Anti-Government Conspiracy Theorists, Separatist movement folks, and a few Aryan Nation folks. Real great crowd. Shining examples of a group of otherwise great people. Also, the folks who will easily get on camera because they fit the stereotype.

Stuck on the NRA

Then there is the mix. Good people who are believing everything the NRA is telling them. When pundits mention the core of the Republican Party, they are talking about these people. I have written previously about my feelings on the NRA. I will reiterate that I appreciate the non-lobbying activities - firearms use and safety training, youth shooter programs, and grants for ranges to make improvements, to name a few. As I am happy to share, I am a life member of the NRA. However, I have to admit I giggled when I saw the Onion giving Wayne LaPierre a dig.

Over the last couple of decades, Wayne and his people have been pushing Social Security off of the third rail of the political subway and replacing it with Firearms. For the last 10 years especially, they have made the life of our Congresspeople harder than it already was. Vote the wrong way on a bill and every gun owner in your district will find out. nice.

The NRA, as usual after a situation like this is lying low. They did the same after the Gabby Giffords Shooting - smart move on their part.

Some folks, however, are pointing to a decline in the power of their organization. There are different reasons behind why this may be happening. One is that they are outliving their utility as a result of one success and one failure. The success is that they have pushed back or removed many gun restrictions across the country (including hamstringing the ATF through limiting their investigative power). The failure has been in catching the graying of the gun community too late. The retirees with guns are passing away. The greatest Generation is all but gone. The youth are in single-parent homes with no dads (This is what happens when you believe "Only boys shoot guns"). The majority of our population lives in an urban setting. On the one hand, you have one of the most liberal environments for gun usage. On the other, the percent of the population that does own guns is decreasing.

Worshipping at the Altar

The result of this is that those with guns see themselves surrounded by those without. Tie this with the belief in family, church, and country shared by many of these folks and you get an almost religious fervor that has spread among the gun-owning public.This was best shown through the Pat Robertson-esque comments made by Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert. Referring to our Founding Fathers and asking repeatedly, "Where was God in all of this?" he is searching for ties that aren't there. In asking why no one in that theater was carrying concealed, he is making an assumption of your typical concealed-carry permit holder and the situation in the theater. My money is on Representative Gohmert never having a concealed carry permit.  

I have. After arriving in Wyoming in 2003, I applied for and received my concealed carry permit. That permit allowed me to carry concealed in more than 1/2 of the United States. I regularly did. Even in Cody, Wyoming, I would carry to Wal-Mart, to restaurants, and, yes, to the movies. Why? Because I knew then what some folks are just starting to understand. This can happen anywhere. Statistically, you have a better chance of getting cancer, but there is always that chance.The best training doesn't just teach safety and how to shoot. It teaches you when to shoot and how to determine IF you should shoot. Many was the time at Wal-Mart when I knew that I would not be shooting - I would be grabbing my kids and doing my best Franco Harris impersonation.

Part of the reason I support legal carry is simply that I have met too many idiots with guns. Most of them, fortunately, do not get the concealed carry permit. Sitting in a class for 16 hours (in a lot of states), filling out forms, writing a check, and then waiting is too much for some. Others aren't legal residents of the state in which they live. Some get refused because of a past crime. Some have "issues." These folks decide to carry concealed for reasons unknown. These are the people I worry about. 

And then there are the people like Aurora (I won't call him by name). He picked out what he wanted to do. He picked a great place to attack. He chose a good time to go "in costume." He chose some good weapons for the job. The guns were purchased legally. There were no warning signs (that have been reported). He was not going to be stopped.

Weapons in the Hands of Private Citizens

Even if someone had been carrying (like that Marine I mentioned earlier?), I would expect that their first and best response would have been to get the hell out of Dodge and keep your eyes open. This is due to the stories of the smoke grenade (if that is what it was) and the combination of the Remington 870 and AR-15. If I have a handgun and the other guy has a rifle or shotgun, I am finding hard cover. Why? Because they can do more damage and are more accurate over range.

The larger firearms (and the ones folks tend to freak over) have historically been designed and used for hunting. Even the venerable AR-15 uses a round very similar to small game cartridges. I have an 870. I've shot trap, grouse, and rabbit with it. I would likely own an AR if I had the spare cash. Why - because they can be so heavily modified. Otherwise, there are other firearms that don't look so scary that are more dangerous because that can fire larger ammunition just as fast.

Whether or not we should have these firearms is, to me, not an issue. I believe we have the right, but I would give them all up for a happy peaceful world (this is why I am damned to be a Liberal). The more I have thought about it, though, the more I am surprised the Democratic Party is not on the side of gun rights. This is one of the only rights issues that the Democratic Party does not support. We support the right to choose, the right to love who we want to love, the right to vote, the right to think and worship (or not worship) as we wish. We should be the gun rights party.

The Upshot

I'm just rambling now, but there are bigger issues than gun rights and bans. There is the issue of our society. There is the issue that we have a nation that does not pay attention to mental illness as it should. There is an issue in that our society does not engender more empathy and respect for life. It's not guns, it's not video games, it's not kids underlining 'Eskimo' in their copy of Moby Dick. It's responsibility, it's family, and it's love.


Peace, out.


Nathan Jones said...

A truly sad counterpoint to the peaceful lives we live here. It makes me glad I don't live south of the border where violence like this is all too common.

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