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Gun pride

Something else I heard on the news in the last couple of days stuck with me. The Connecticut school shooter’s first victim was his own mother, who was found dead at her home. It was (at least partly) her guns that Adam Lanza used to take another couple of dozen lives, and she was quoted as being “proud” of her gun collection.

I don’t want to make this particular comment about gun safety, as such. I have no idea how responsible this lady may have been with her collection. I have zero information on how securely the guns in her house were kept, and no reason to start criticising the way she went about trying to keep herself and her family safe.

What I do want to comment on is the use of the word “proud” when people describe their gun collections.

I think it’s a bad idea for that to be something to take pride in.

Well, maybe not in everyone’s case. There are no doubt enthusiasts of history out there, and people with an interest in their technological development, and so forth, whose interest in guns is sincere, learned, and intellectual, who find an appeal and satisfaction to studying their function, recognising and categorising them, understanding the details of their safe and proper use. That can be all well and good. It doesn’t do anything for me, but I know people who go birdwatching to a degree that bewilders me. There’s no accounting for taste, and that’s fine.

But there’s a different flavour of pride some people take in their guns, where it becomes a macho, posturing thing. In many cases, it’s a distinctly masculine way of bragging about how powerful you are, how dominant, how much harm you could do to others if you chose.

That’s an attitude that worries me.

I’m not saying you should be ashamed, or feel like a bad person, if you own any guns, or even if you enjoy owning them. And I’ll even stipulate, for now, that you’re perfectly entitled to own whatever weaponry you’ve got your hands on so far. You want to protect your family from potential threats, intruders, attackers. Sure. There’s a noble sentiment motivating what you do, I’ll give you. This isn’t about shaming anyone.

But the fact that you need, not just guns, but a gun collection to protect your family? That shouldn’t be a point of pride. If such things really are necessary for you and your loved ones to be adequately defended against the world, that’s deeply regrettable. It should be an unfortunate truth, against which you grit your teeth and grimly accept the tragic nature of reality.

At best, a gun collection should be seen as a necessary evil. I can’t see a good reason for it to inspire pride.

Would you feel as proud of your guns as you do now, if you had to use them? If a twenty-year-old tweaker broke into your home in a desperate frenzy one day, wanting to grab something he could sell to get a fix that afternoon, and you shot him dead because you legitimately feared for your family’s safety – would you be proud of what you’d done?

Or would you feel sad and shaken by something like that? Even if you were sure you’d done the right thing, the only thing you could have done in the situation, would you regret the necessity of it? Would you agree that the outcome was a terrible one, even if there was nothing else you could do to prevent it in the moment?

If it’s the latter case, I think that’s understandable. And I think you would do well to extend that attitude toward the ownership of deadly weapons in the first place.

If not… well, if killing someone who broke into your home and attacked you is something you reckon you’d feel positive about, you’re probably such a different person from me that you don’t read this blog a whole lot. If you are, I’d strongly urge you to reconsider your feelings on the value of human life.

There are also those with concerns, not about personal defense against individuals who wish us harm, but about the increased power of centralised authority, if we vote to let them take everyone else’s guns away (which, let’s remember, is not the only thing that “gun control” means, by any stretch). The gist of the argument seems to be that living in a country where the only firearms are in the hands of the government-run military and police forces is a scary notion.

And there’s a lot of truth there, but I’m also deeply unnerved by the blithe acceptance of a police force who need to be stood up to with armed violence. I mean, if the police and the army are such a threat to citizens of their own country, that those citizens need to defend themselves against them with guns… then why the hell do you have such a scary, power-mad police and military?

It’s not that I don’t think abuses of police authority are a serious worry, but surely there are other methods of recourse to deal with the problem. I’m not sure I want a police force or a military around at all if I’m going to have to carry a gun to make sure their behaviour doesn’t get out of hand.

I guess that’d be the right-libertarian ideal, where everyone is no more than a quick-draw away from ending the life of anyone who might pose a threat, so that we can all live in perfect peace under a comforting omni-present blanket of mutually assured destruction. But I’m willing to bet that, if I bothered to do the research, I’d find that the safest places in the world aren’t the places where the most people are armed and ready to shoot each other if anyone else tries starting any shit. I suspect the safest places are those where people don’t tend to own guns, and don’t think about guns all that much.

Things need to change massively before they’re going to stop being awful. I’m rarely crazy about government intervention, but I’m having a hard time seeing the idea of state imposition of gun control laws as a more sinister prospect than the condition of the US as it currently is.

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So, a horrible thing has happened.

That’s nothing new. Horrible things of one sort or another are always happening. Often, the most horrible things happen on such a scale you can’t even really understand them, or react appropriately.

This particular horrible thing isn’t on that scale. This horrible thing was something we can all understand and react to. And perhaps we should be more outraged about the horrible things in Rwanda and Syria and Darfur and Pakistan and Somalia than we generally are. But this horrible thing isn’t made any less horrible by its not being the worst thing in the world.

I don’t have too much to say about this, and if I don’t cover the obvious bases in much detail – that this is unspeakably tragic, that everyone involved deserves as much compassion and help and respect and privacy as we can give them – please understand that my own words are intended to be supplemental to these facts, not to supplant them.

With the proviso, then, that these are far less important than many other things to be said, I have some scattered thoughts related to the recent school shooting in Connecticut.

Gun control. Some people want it, some people don’t. Some people on both sides of the argument in the States are talking about it more loudly now than they had been before. I’ve talked about it in the past, without coming to any particular conclusions.

But there’s one thing in particular that I wish people who are deeply pro-gun, and have been vocally so in the time since the shooting, would understand:

You know that other lot who you don’t like, who are calling for more gun control laws right now? They’re not doing it because they’re liberal fucking assholes. They’re doing it because eighteen children just got shot dead by a gun.

Trying to get someone to truly and sincerely understand where another person’s coming from, when they’re politically at odds, is always a challenge. But this really should be an easy one for you guys. Someone broke into a school and just kept murdering people with the guns he owned, and many liberals responded by proposing legal measures to curb gun ownership. It should not be that difficult to take a charitable view of these liberals’ motivations, and to understand why they might be suggesting such a thing.

You don’t have to agree with them, but they’re not fucking assholes for thinking that way. A bunch of kids are dead. It doesn’t make someone a moron or an authoritarian ideologue if they come up with “not letting people have all the guns they want all the time” as an idea which might conceivably stop so many kids from dying in the future.

And yes, yes, the government imposing limits on the rights of citizens is a dangerous precedent and a slippery slope, blah blah blah. Sure. But eighteen children just got shot and killed. And what that means for you right now is that you need to work pretty goddamn hard not to seem unforgivably petty, if you’re going to spend more time talking about protecting your right to own guns than about protecting children’s right not to get shot dead by those guns.

The other guys are sincerely trying to act in the interests of innocent people. You’re spending most of your own effort defending your right to own the weapons that just massacred them. I’m not saying you’re entirely without a point, but have some perspective on the argument and be aware of how you sound.

Would it even work? The point of gun control is to reduce gun crime and save lives; the only point in supporting it is to achieve that end. But the correlation between lax laws and more deaths isn’t necessarily as straight-forward as all that.

Someone observed on Twitter earlier (I’ve got to stop half-remembering people’s tweets and failing to credit them) that many conservatives, who oppose gun control laws on the grounds that they wouldn’t even be effective in reducing gun ownership and crime, nevertheless support such demonstrably counterproductive endeavours as the war on drugs. A draconian set of laws is clearly doing nothing to seriously reduce the drug problem over there, and the frequent right-wing hypocrisy is clear.

But the argument goes the other way, too, and I’ve not seen any liberals giving the corresponding syllogism its due. If, like many on the left, you recognise what a dismally failed effort the drug war is, and the extent to which it exacerbates many of the problems of drug use and creates scores of new ones of its own… then why assume that restricting gun ownership will be drastically different?

Whatever the answer, it’s not too soon to have the conversation, about gun control or anything else which could help. If eighteen dead children doesn’t make it a good time to start seriously examining our options, I don’t know what will.

– Final point. Fuck the Constitution.

Seriously, you colonials over there. Get over the fetish for this ancient piece of paper.

Okay, maybe that’s harsh. I guess I don’t have a massive problem with much of the document. It’s got some good ideas and some stuff which was reasonable at the time. And I’m not saying I think it’s terrible because any particular part of it does something I don’t like, or there’s any specific legal principle within that I find disagreeable.

But it was one bunch of people’s ideas of how to run a country, which they came up with in the 1780’s. Smart people with a positive vision for a glorious and thriving egalitarian democracy, they may very well have been. Their ideas should be given due consideration. But you’re allowed to move on.

If you’re trying to decide what laws you should have in your country, have laws that are good laws. Don’t have laws solely because they seem to line up well with what some guys two centuries dead thought would be good laws.

You’ve had nearly a quarter of a millennium now, as a country, to consider and reflect on the original Constitution, and think about how its contents might best be updated in the face of an ever-changing set of societal requirements and conditions.

Particularly, say, in the case of the rather significant advances in handgun technology that have come along since the invention of the musket.

There was much to admire about Thomas Jefferson but we might, collectively, be able to make better decisions than him on the subject of waiting periods and background checks before people are allowed to purchase an M1941 Johnson Rifle and set of armor-piercing .30-06 Springfield cartridges. The founding fathers had some smart ideas, especially about the importance of freedom, and it’s true that many politicians are too keen to second-guess them and assume they know better… but I really think us 21st century folk are in a better position to make the call on this one.

It’s a really, really good time to have a conversation about guns, and about any possible ways we might be able to minimise horrible things that happen because of guns in the future. An honest conversation needs to consider all the options, including gun control, no gun control, or just somehow persuading the entire USA to be a little less batshit insane about firearms.

And a worthwhile conversation about gun laws actually needs to be about gun laws, and not – please, for the love of bacon – about the placement of fucking commas in the Second Amendment. For fuck’s sake.

More not unrelevant things about this can be read here, and here, and it may also have come up in conversation elsewhere on the internet.

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Gun control

People kill each other with guns quite a lot in America. (Though not, according to Wikipedia, as much as they kill themselves.) One particular cluster of such events recently has got everyone talking about guns again.

Some people want more legal restrictions on the ownership, possession, and the right to carry certain types of gun. Others think that outlawing guns means only outlaws will have guns, and that maybe there’d be fewer gun-related deaths if some of the victims had been armed and able to defend themselves.

Now, my libertarian sensibilities get a bit twitchy when liberals talk about the government enforcing rules about gun control. But something I’ve learned which many libertarians don’t seem to have picked up on is that my twitchy sensibilities are not that fucking important in this conversation.

And if my political ideology demands that I insist that any infringement on our liberties is a bad thing, it’s on me to explain why the freedom of this guy to buy an assault weapon and several thousand rounds of ammunition, with which he later murdered ten people in a cinema in Colorado, is worth protecting.

I was trying to remember a quote from The West Wing about gun control, and found it here:

If you combine the populations of Great Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark and Australia, you’ll get a population roughly the size of the United States. We had 32,000 gun deaths last year. They had 112. Do you think it’s because Americans are more homicidal by nature? Or do you think it’s because those guys have gun control laws?

But as the accompanying analysis on that site points out, that’s not really a fair dichotomy. Looking at the effects of gun control laws on the countries mentioned doesn’t support the idea that all those countries are only holding back a state of continuous pan-global massacre by some rules that make it a bit harder to buy guns.

But those statistics should still fucking appal you, and they still demand explanation. I’m not sure where Toby got his data exactly, but a 2002 UN survey also puts the USA’s firearm murder rate alarmingly far ahead of almost everywhere else, and vastly disproportionate for its population. So what’s going on? Are Americans just naturally more homicidal?

Well, I’d be bewildered if there turned out to be any genetic element to it. But culturally speaking, does anyone have trouble imagining just how murderous growing up in the US could make you?

Have you ever watched a movie, or a TV show, or a news broadcast, which comes out of that place?

Have you ever met a cop, or seen any of Google’s top image results for “police”?

The USA is a really, really gunny place.

And that’s not just about people’s ability to get their hands on guns. In Switzerland, men undergo basic military training by default, and there are estimated to be at least 1.2 million to 3 million firearms in private homes, including hundreds of thousands of assault weapons, in a country with just under eight million residents. The number of “killings or attempted killings involving firearms” in Switzerland in 2006 was thirty-four.

In a recent Swiss referendum, a majority of voters rejected stricter gun control laws. What would be the point?

In Switzerland, gun control doesn’t seem to be necessary. In America, I doubt it’d be effective. Because being issued instructions from some authority about what you are and aren’t allowed to do is not the sole defining factor in people’s behaviour, or even the most significant. Prohibition of alcohol and the War on Drugs were catastrophic failures; if anything, they both only exacerbated America’s troubled relationship with the problems they were trying to solve. Gun control laws could end up doing the same thing, if Americans remain determined to own and carry guns.

So no, I don’t think passing laws against gun ownership is the one true way to fix the problem.

But at least the people on that side of the argument are addressing the real problem, albeit in an inadequate way. I feel like, ultimately, I share some of their goals. I want fewer Americans to shoot each other. I want fewer Americans to own, carry, think about, obsess over, and use guns. I want the world to be less gunny. I just don’t think that trying to take people’s guns away, while they still really want guns for some reason, is the best way to get there. It’s going to take a cultural change which can’t be forced like that.

Maybe this is how I know I’m not really an anarchist yet, but I do find that camp much more relatable than the other side, which seems to have little more to offer than to go on about freedom and how the answer is MORE GUNS.

And if “If only more people had been in possession of deadly weapons on that terrible day” is all you have to contribute, you are making everything gunnier and worse.

ETA: This post at CounterPunch has similar things to say, and ties gun crime more directly to social and economic conditions, and wealth polarisation. It also makes a large part of my point, much more pithily than I managed: “[T]he problem is not the supply of guns, but the demand for them.”

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Almost every debate in American politics, about the law and what things it should or should not allow, brings up the issue of constitutionality.

The US Constitution, drawn up in the late 1700s when little ol’ America was just starting to cut loose of the apron strings and make its own way in the world, has formed the bedrock of its legal system ever since, and provided vital and unassailable decisions on how hundreds of millions of people’s lives should be run.

I’m not really a fan.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s got some good ideas. It’s just weird how reverentially it’s treated sometimes. A lot of major political players and law-makers seem to act like it’s the unquestionable be-all and end-all of every legal dispute that can be imagined. If what you want to do is unconstitutional, no dice, end of.

And I don’t get it. If you share the values it espouses, then by all means embrace it for that, but… You do know that whether or not something matches up with what some guys 250 years ago had in mind isn’t as important as whether it’s actually a good idea, right?

I’ve seen this a number of times with regard to gun control. People who like their guns point to the “right to bear arms” guaranteed by the Constitution, while those on the left often claim that this was only intended to refer to the 18th century weaponry that existed at the time it was written. The country’s founders couldn’t have predicted the range of pistols, assault rifles, and the like available today, and wouldn’t have condoned their unchecked possession.

It’s hard to imagine what could be less useful to the gun control conversation that the imagined and hypothetical opinions of some people two centuries dead on the subject of modern technologies of which they had absolutely no knowledge. Can’t we try to be smart and figure out how it makes sense to act, based on what we know now?

Actually, you don’t even have to go as far as the Second Amendment to find a good example:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This is generally about the government staying out of people’s way, which is largely a good thing. But the question of exactly what constitutes “freedom of speech”, against which no law shall be made, is a notoriously knotty one. There’s no mention of fraud, libel, or shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre anywhere in the clause. There have been numerous legal decisions since the Constitution regarding these subjects, as well as on things like obscenity and campaign finance, and the law itself acknowledges a good deal of nuance to an obviously complex issue.

But it still tends to be framed around whether certain harmful or undesirable forms of speech or expression are “constitutional”. It always seems to be about whether something “counts” under that part of the Constitution. Surely a decision to restrict or punish certain types of behaviour should stand on its own?

In practice, I imagine it usually does. The law is trying to reflect what behaviours are actually desirable or should be punished, and it probably doesn’t make a lot of difference that technically this takes the form of contrivances and qualifications being continually added to those important, constitutional principles. It just seems a strange obeisance to continue making.

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