…he will use it.
Last week (late December, 2012) 26 people were mercilessly gunned down in a Newtown Connecticut elementary school by a 20-year old “man” whose name will not be mentioned in this blog (lest we gift him the recognition he undoubtedly wanted). Of these 26 victims, 6 were adults (mostly educators), and the remaining 20 were kindergarten children and 1st graders. The aggressor was wielding a LEGAL, semi-automatic assault rifle and multiple, high-capacity magazines.
This is perhaps the most gruesome and spineless mass-shooting our nation has encountered, but it is not the only one, not by far. Nor will it be the last. In fact, over the past 30 years, there have been 62 such murderers. And as troubling as this is, perhaps what is equally disturbing is that just shy of 75% of the guns used in these killings were LEGAL. I think that fact says something about people who fight to make (or keep) these types of weapons, modifications and magazine-capacities available to the public. It also says something about people who lobby and vote to remove all restrictions on possessing weapons in places like schools, hospitals, churches, movie theaters and other public spaces and government buildings. This is so offensive that I cannot help but to view such people as unwitting accessories to murder every time one of these semi-automatic, high-capacity guns is used for a shooting spree.
Nevertheless, I know that mine is not the only opinion on the matter, so I am briefly going to consider the most predominant arguments I have heard for unrestricted access to these murder weapons, and I will address each of them.
1) “Guns don’t kill people.”
2) “If everyone had guns, this sort of thing wouldn’t happen.”
3) “If we outlaw guns, then only outlaws (criminals) will have guns.”
The first statement, that “guns don’t kill people,” is perhaps the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard, not because it isn’t technically true, but because the people that say it are either delusional or oblivious to the relationship between guns and death (which I seriously doubt), or because they want to try and bypass the obvious truth that guns have a direct relationship with body counts. What is doubly ironic about people who chant this mantra is that, at some point, most of them will also lean on the argument of self-defense to try and justify their possession of guns and ammo. But when they do so, they tacitly admit that guns DO in fact kill people and that this killing is exactly what they intend should an intruder inspire them to open fire. Would these gun-toting “self defenders” have us believe that they only intend to wound or scare intruders? Are they really going to aim for a leg? Are they of the mindset that a gun is merely designed to “scare” someone apart from the threat of death? Again, I am not sure who we are kidding here. I suppose that if we wanted to get technical about the situation, it is the bullets that do the killing, so if we can’t muster the moral will or political power to rid ourselves of military-type guns, then I suppose that banning their respective bullets would be just as good. Even on my best days, every time I hear someone repeat the pithy political propaganda that “guns don’t kill people,” it inspires contempt and an eye-roll. I honestly don’t know who they are trying to convince, other people, or themselves.
I have the same type of criticism for the militia-type wannabes and ex-military conspiracy theorists who just “know” that the commies (or even worse, the Liberals) are going to invade their town, round everybody up for re-education camps and/ or kill everyone. Well, everyone except the washed-out, overweight, gun-toting Chuck Norris fan who is itching to go Red Dawn on the Russians (Oh wait, now it’s the Chinese who we’ve been taught to fear), and single-handedly start a resistance movement with his AR-15 semi-auto rifle and Rambo knife. Please. And once again this demonstrates that the only reason such wannabes have these types of weapons is because those guns do, in fact, kill people.
2. “If everyone had guns, this sort of thing (mass-shooting) wouldn’t happen.”
This sort of argument is almost as ridiculous as claiming that “guns don’t kill people.” Perhaps the strongest argument against this line of reasoning comes in the form of an argument reductio ad absurdum which my friend, David Manning, succinctly penned on the issue:
“I’ve totally figured out how to accomplish world peace. Instead of nuclear non-proliferation, let’s have nuclear ubiquity! Give nuclear weapons to every country, tribe and militia that wants them. When everyone has nuclear weapons, everyone will be safer. Any country that goes crazy and tries to start something will promptly be taken out by its nuclear-armed neighbors. It’ll be much better this way. Trust me.”
David went on to suggest that, to maximize safety, we could require an application process and waiting period or even nuclear weapon safety-training courses for those who want to obtain such an armament. Personally, I can’t think of a more frightening world. Knowing that every hot-headed and easily incited idiot I have ever met is packing heat is almost as scary. I am embarrassed that many people have a driver’s license, and now we want to arm them? Dear God!!!
Drawing a parallel with nuclear weapons ought to point out the silliness of arguing that everyone ought to be armed, but I would also like to consider a few other things. First, I would like to remind everyone that 20 of the 26 recent school-shooting victims were between the ages of 6 and 7. Are we honestly going to assert that these children should have been packing heat, and that if all children (and everyone else) did this, that there would be LESS gun violence in our nation? I am going to assume that people who argue that “everyone” should have guns are not completely insane and don’t mean to include children (or the mentally unstable) when they say “everyone,” but as soon as they allow for the caveat, then their initial argument falls apart. If everyone else has guns, then any single class of restricted people (like children) have become easy targets, and this is precisely why the recent school shooter picked an elementary school in the first place. Arm everyone? Fail.
Any good gun-defender will surely then shift to argue that it is the teachers in the classrooms who ought to be armed. This is also stupid, for it assumes first, that teachers will never go insane (a poor assumption), and second, that students will not get access to the weapon (either by force or by teacher negligence). I can’t imagine my 64-year old, dainty, junior high science teacher, Mrs. Jones, wielding any type of firearm, much less keeping our over-hormoned bodies and underdeveloped brains away from it. And let’s not forget the Columbine school shooting in Colorado. There was an armed security guard at the school that day. That didn’t stop the massacre.
Third, the notion of arming “everyone” leans on the inherently befuddled notion that having guns will deter gun violence. As a collective, I think it only fair to observe that humans have proved that they are incapable of handling firearms in a responsible way. Thus arguing that we merely need to arm more people suffers from serious cognitive dissonance. If having more guns in the general populace meant that people were safer, then the USA (with the highest per-capital level of civilian firearms on earth) would be the safest nation on the planet. It isn’t. Not by a mile. Arming everyone (or at least a lot of people) has made us less safe, not more.
3) “If we outlaw guns, then only outlaws (criminals) will have guns.”
First, this is demonstrably false. No one is arguing that law-enforcement officials relinquish their weapons. Law enforcement needs deadly weapons at its disposal.
Second, tell the parents whose children were slaughtered this week by a LEGALLY obtained assault rifle, that only outlaws will have guns if we outlaw guns. The idiot shooter who massacred those children had no prior criminal record and had neither the mental capacity nor the resources to obtain banned weapons on his own. Even so, it is likely that if he possessed the money, he would have passed a background check and waiting period to buy the assault rifle he used anyway.
Third, this argument leans on a false dichotomy which wants to press the issue to one of two extremes, namely, that we either have a total elimination of all firearms or a total elimination of all restrictions on all firearms. Very few people argue for either extreme, myself included. I am merely advocating that all semi-automatic firearms be banned, as well as magazine capacities that hold more than 3 bullets, armor-piercing rounds, sniper and assault rifles of all types. Such weapons are only for one thing: killing people, and cops in particular when it comes to armor-piercing rounds. There is simply no reason to sell these types of weapons and upgrades to the public unless we want to engender exactly the sort of tragedies that we are experiencing with increasing frequency.
Deer hunters won’t need more than 3 shots at a time, the same can be said of other types of prey, bird hunters in particular. Squirrels and other small game can even be had with a good pellet gun, and I seriously doubt that “self-defense” will require more than 3 shots either. Yes, this may be mildly inconvenient, but that is a laughable price to pay for the safety this will bring to our society as a whole. Get over it.
There is much more to say on these initial three arguments, but I’ll let that suffice for now. However, there are three additional protests that merit a brief evaluation:
4) “We’ve outlawed drugs and look how well that is working out.”
This argument is confused. First it implies that banning drugs has had no impact on society, an assumption I categorically reject and will continue to do so until evidence can be marshaled by the opposition. Pending that evidence, the analogy is a broken one.
Second, this protest tacitly suggests that if there is a strong correlation between the gun issue and illegal drug issue, then illegal drugs ought to be made legal just as fire arms ought to be unrestricted. Once again, I question the wisdom of this and suspect that even those who try to use protest #4 have not thought through where their argument leads, and that very few politically Conservative, pro-gun types are actually in support of legalizing all presently banned drugs. It is a faulty analogy.
Third, while I admit that abuse and neglect are certainly part of the culture associated with using recreational drugs, it is nevertheless true that, if a life is going to be destroyed by using them, it is usually the life of the user himself or herself. This is not the case with mass-shootings, and at that point, attempting to draw a parallel between guns and recreational drugs completely falls apart. It’s a broken analogy.
First, this is a poor excuse for an argument on restricting semi-automatic assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, amor-piercing rounds and sniper rifles etc. Unlike the items I just mentioned, cars and knives have purposes beyond killing people. I think that any normal adult can see the difference. Of course I recognize that anything and everything, even a paperclip, can be a potential weapon, but to use them in such a way is beyond their purpose. I recognize that the world is not safe and that we cannot legislatively or practically prevent paper clips and other seemingly benign items from being used as weapons, but this is not the case with the kinds of firearms and upgrades I mentioned. We CAN prevent them from carrying out their intended function (killing humans), and the first step to doing so is banning their sale, trade, manufacture, transportaion and use, as well as the bullets that are fired from them. It is impossible for a civilian to use a weapon that he or she has no access to and can procure no bullets to fire from.
Second, this argument fails to consider that many things like cars, cribs, toys, medicines and foods etc. ARE, in fact, banned, decommissioned, recalled and destroyed when they prove to be dangerous to people. Similarly, manufacturers of such products can be (and have been) held to account for their irresponsibility. If 100+ public shootings and hundreds of thousands of our dead citizens do not demonstrate the lethality or inherent problems with firearm “products” then what does?
Finally, suggesting that products like unsafe cars be banned does not constitute an argument against the banning of unsafe guns.
6) “Education and Safety Technology would have stopped mass-shootings.”
This argument sounds wonderful, but it fails on several points, not the least of which is that gun education and safety devices are ALREADY easily available, affordable and widely promoted. None of theses things stopped the recent shootings.
Second, education itself will do nothing to prevent people who want to go on a death-dealing gun-rampage from doing so. Safety devices stand a slightly better chance, but only if they are used universally, and clearly they are not.
Be that as it may, in the original Facebook thread that started this discussion, my friend, Brad Steinman, suggested that we develop and use some sort of software and ID recognition device in all guns that prevent them from being discharged in certain places (like schools) and keep non-owners from using them so that stolen guns would be little more than elaborate paperweights. I think this is an interesting idea that has potential, although it would do nothing to prevent snipers from firing bullets at protected zones from afar, and it raises a whole set of other issues in an age of digital piracy and hacking efforts. Don’t tell me that this yet-to-be-created “gun software” can’t be overridden or circumvented and that militaries the world over wouldn’t be able to figure out how to do so.
This gun software device would also do nothing to prevent shootings outside of these special protected zones, and I can only imagine the types of liabilities that would ensue if businesses could, but did not, install such anti-gun devices/ networks. Talk about rising insurance rates and consumer backlashes and lawsuits! Brad’s proposal sounds wonderful, but I think it suffers from too many problems (even if it existed) to be practical at the moment.
Nevertheless, the idea might have potential, so I am willing to compromise and make a deal with my friend, Brad, and like-minded individuals: Until these software safety devices are developed and implemented with 100% accuracy and 100% saturation, all firearms NOT having/ using this technology must be relinquished and confiscated, and there ought to be a full ban on all additional semi-automatic weapons, high-capacity magazines, sniper rifles, armor-piercing rounds and the sale, trade, manufacture and transportation of all such weapons and upgrades.
Until that moment arrives, there simply IS no way to lessen the chances that guns will continue to be used for killing people. As such, we must rid ourselves of these types of weapons. When we purchase them and vote for candidates because of their pro-gun positions, we are nothing less than accessories to murder. I have no other way to see this. When we continue to sow seeds of violence and allow for military grade and military capacity weapons to flow through our society, it is no wonder that they are used for their intended purposes: to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible. We are merely reaping what we have sown, and I for one, am sick of it.
We are not helpless, are we?
We are not helpless, we CAN refuse to buy these sorts of weapons. We CAN vote and speak out against these sorts of needless weapons. We CAN call on our local sporting good stores to NOT carry them, and we CAN divest ourselves from guns and ammo corporations and encourage our businesses, schools and churches to do the same. This is the United States of America, and if we want something badly enough, we have proven that we can accomplish it. The question is:Do we want more gun violence and mass-shootings in our nation, or less? The choice is up to us.
UPDATE 1/4/13: My friend Ben (who has posted below), has suggested that my recommendation of 3-bullet magazines is too small. Another good friend (Reynolds) who is pro-guns suggested that we limit magazine sizes to 10 bullets. I think that 10 is too many, but I can see his and Ben’s point that 3 may be too few. Not that I am in a policy-making position, but I would be willing to concede to a 5 or 6 bullet capacity if absolutely necessary for legislation to be possible.
Furthermore, Reynolds also suggested that any deer rifle could be labeled as a “sniper rifle” which I spoke out against. While I had guns like my brother’s M-60, military sniper rifle in mind, I can also see Reynold’s point, so I think that exemptions for standard deer (30-ought) type rifles is reasonable, especially if they are subject to a 3 to 6 round maximum capacity.
Most of the comments below (but not all) have been imported from 2 of the Facebook discussions I took part in regarding this subject.
Thanks for reading,