Saturday, July 25, 2015

About Gun Deaths: Best Solution

Another mass shooting, again at a movie theater this time in Lafayette LA. Another angry guy with a gun, and yet another moment in America where NOTHING WILL GET DONE BECAUSE OUR POLITICAL LEADERSHIP HAS THE COLLECTIVE MORAL COURAGE OF A SLUG.

"Now is not the time" to talk about gun safety, says Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Okay fine, boss.  WHEN will be the time to talk about gun safety you sonofabitch?  Because these mass shootings are becoming so commonplace in the United States that if we go by your rules of "oh we can't talk after a tragic shooting" we will never find that time, because it's happening pretty much once every day: people tracking mass shootings this year have found 204 such shootings over 204 days!

This is madness.

It has been madness for ages, but we crossed the moral event horizon just a few years ago with the Sandy Hook massacre.  One of the most horrific mass shootings since Columbine, one in which there was mass outcry and a concerted effort to even talk about gun safety as a necessity...  And then nothing.  We moved on to another tragedy.  The Sandy Hook families were mocked by the gun-worship crowd of the NRA, we even had people denying the shooting even took place.  Nothing else happened, we moved on, and now we're at yet another public place defiled by an angry gun-wielding madman.

We are piling up the dead as though we are a war zone.  And in a way, we are.

We are at war between the average American citizenry (hi there!) versus the very few but very noisy and very angry gun-worship crowd (the National Rifle Association is the most prominent).

Just on one topic alone the vast majority of Americans are speaking out: Universal background checks.  A Quinnipiac poll in 2014 found that roughly 92 percent of Americans favor a universal background check for gun purchases, and that's roughly the same number of gun owners who support it.  The Pew Research Center has polling from 2013 showing about 81 percent of Americans favoring universal background checks.  We can infer at the least there's 80 percent of Americans favoring this one law: and yet Congress fails to pass any such legislation because the NRA - which opposes such background checks because they fear a federal gun registry - browbeats most other politicians - Democrats as well as Republicans - into submission.

If we're talking numbers, there's roughly 29 to 34 percent of Americans who claim to own at least one gun.  Out of 310-plus million Americans that's about 105 million Americans at most.  And then consider the NRA membership: there's no specific numbers but at most it's around 5 million.  That's barely a tenth of total number of gun-owners themselves, nowhere near the numbers able to claim that they speak for any majority at all.

And if we're talking about numbers: there's 80 percent of Americans who would want expanded universal background checks.  That's about 248 million Americans.  Who the hell speaks for them?

That's where the problem sits: we don't have the political will to do anything about gun safety because the politicians aren't paying attention to 248 million Americans who are spread out and unfocused over 100 other issues, and they pay attention to the 5 million Americans who focus singularly on guns and worship their guns and indulge their ability to open-carry their death-toys wherever they want. (am I being a little biased and demeaning here? Yes.)

We're stuck because the NRA has spent the last 40 years re-writing the interpretation of the Second Amendment away from "states requiring the well-regulation of militias to serve the states' needs" and into a "gun owners shall not be infringed on their urge to shoot everybody they can."

It doesn't help that the Second Amendment is an awkwardly worded amendment.  It hurts that people don't see the historical value of it and why such value has diminished: back when that amendment was created, we didn't have much in the way of law enforcement or the ability to defend our open borders.  When the Founders passed the Constitution and focused on the Bill of Rights to address specific issues, they nearly all focused on the "militia" aspect of the Amendment as a necessity for the national defense.

The Founders preferred militias over an organized standing army as they 1) viewed standing armies as a threat and 2) didn't have the money to pay for a standing army of sufficient size.  Militias and state defenses made more sense in the 18th Century because back then it took days if not weeks to receive news: a foreign incursion into the frontier wouldn't have been known about until it was too late.  Letting the states manage those affairs as local matters - with men and material closer at hand - was the way to go.

It took the War of 1812 - where the state militias performed miserably, forcing the nation to forge a stronger and trained federal army - to prove otherwise, and even then it took almost all the 19th Century to move away from state-raised armies - the Civil War in particular - to an organized national force we pretty much have today.

The need for state-run militias - what we'd call the National Guard, although certain states still maintain separate guard forces - isn't as important due to massive improvements in communications and technology and armaments.  Our borders are now closed: there is no open frontier, and we've got the means to spot enemy forces from miles away with minutes' worth of response times.  Given the nature of the modern United States as a global power with a regular standing Army, our government and our citizenry are comfortable with such an army standing at the ready.  In that regard, the need for the Second Amendment as a defensive measure for militias has diminished.

What remains is the second half of that Second Amendment, the one that the NRA obsesses over to everyone else's hazard: "the right of the people to own firearms shall not be infringed."  Back when the Second Amendment was written, firearms were useful and in trained hands deadly; but they were also inaccurate, hard to prep, technologically primitive.  As far as weapons went, they were relatively low-risk.

That War of 1812 had almost laughably low casualty rates from actual combat: most troops died from illness that war.  It took technological advancements in the Civil War to turn guns into more lethal weapons, and the mechanization of the rifle from single-shot to repeating fire to increase such lethality.

Historically, during all this time (19th Century) gun control laws were common-place and common-sense.  The Wild West wasn't that wild: most towns imposed gun check-in requirements.  While owning a gun to keep yourself safe traveling across the vast vista made sense, it also made sense for the towns to put a cap on the risk of gun-fights erupting in their shops and saloons.  The individual right to bear firearms were infringed on a regular basis.

Blame the myth-making of the Western movies and TV shows of the 20th Century that made it seem shoot-outs between gun-toting good guys and bad guys happened once a week on the dusty streets of Dodge City.

Yet thanks to the NRA's constant campaigning to relax gun safety laws across the board, we're less-regulated today with firearms than those mythic days of yore.  And the firearm the NRA promotes today bears little resemblance to the firearm of our Founders: where our ancestors had single-shot rifles that took minutes to reload and was inaccurate as hell, we're facing semi-automatic (if not full auto) rifles carrying 50 bullet magazines.

These are the weapons that Jefferson and Washington and Adams wanted us to carry?  These are the weapons that shall not be infringed?  A solid argument can be made that the Founders did not intend the average American to carry such firepower with them wherever they went: that the firearm was to be in service to the militia, which was supposed to be under the regulation of Congress.

And yet the NRA has convinced the courts of just the opposite, arguing the second half of the Second Amendment in ignorance of the first half (as well as ignoring Article I Section 8 of the Constitution enumerating Congressional powers to regulate militias for training and federal oversight).  As long as that Second Amendment is there with that poor wording - and yes, the two halves of that amendment conflict with each other - we as a nation are hampered in our ability to protect our public places from gun-worshiping death-dealers.

So that's what has to change.  Not just the mindset that guns are needed - they're not, and most Americans don't own one and don't WANT to - but also the Constitutional Amendment at the heart of the debate.

Good thing the Founders gave us - their descendants - the power to amend that Constitution when able, when there are enough of a shared agreement among us that laws are broken and need fixing.  It's messy, it's difficult, and even with good intent there can be consequences, but it's doable.  We as a nation can and should look at amending the Constitution to replace that Second Amendment with a better worded, more modern law.

That means everybody who has a stake in this debate - that is, the 80 percent of Americans who want at least universal background checks - need to follow what I'm recommending here:

1) Get every American who wants gun safety laws put in place to drop from the Republican party - official party of the NRA - and switch to No-Party-Affiliate.  This is the cheapest - FREE to do - and easiest - it takes minutes to fill out the form and submit it to the county elections office - thing to do.
I'm arguing for people to quit the Republicans because that's the party most beholden to the NRA.  If needed, people can easily drop from the Democratic Party too.  Hell, switching to Democrats may simply make the NRA put pressure on them once they figure out what's happening, so don't even sign with the Dems.  Just go full Indy.  This move alone would signal to the party leadership - on both sides - that there are many disgruntled voters and many of them no longer hewing to the party dogma (of either side).
Current voter registration is about 36 percent Democrat, 34 percent Republican, 26 percent Independent.  What level of panic do you think will hit the Republican leadership - and also Democrats - when the numbers of registered voters switch to 33 percent Democrat, 25 percent Republican, 38 percent Independent when enough voters switch to NPA?  That's what the goal here should be: a clear warning flag to the GOP that they're losing the American voters.

2) Get every American who wants gun safety laws to publicly insist on voting only for state and federal candidates for office who will ignore the NRA and pass those much-needed laws.  Put this in letters to the elected officials on a daily basis, put this in letters to the editors at newspapers and local TV stations.  Actively interview and confront political candidates during election years and let them know: this is a problem they cannot ignore, and this is a solution they need to support.

3) Remind the NRA that they are only 4.5 million members out of 100 million gun owners - meaning they do not represent every gun owner - and that is out of 310 million Americans - meaning they sure as sh-t do not represent all of America.  They'll likely put their fingers in their ears and shout "La-La-La" and then accuse all non-gun owners of being wimps or Commies, but 248 MILLION AMERICANS ARGUING FOR BACKGROUND CHECKS CANNOT BE WRONG, and they need to speak for themselves.

4) If enough elected officials at the federal and state level are on board, pass a new amendment that abolishes the OUTDATED Second Amendment and replaces it with an amendment that allows for gun ownership but with strict, clear and enforceable limits to ensure gun safety and the protection of the many millions of Americans who DO NOT WANT GUNS.
A better worded amendment could go like this: 1. An American citizen can register to bear firearms for personal defense, 2. that the state license the citizen, and ensure proper training, public safety, and personal safety to protect others from any abuse or improper firearm handling, 3. that firearms are manufactured and sold under strict federal guidelines under the enumerated powers of Congress, 4. that Congress regulate and ban all offensive / assault firearms to ensure the public's right to peaceably assemble.
The need for militias is already stated in the Constitution (Article I Section 8), the Second Amendment was meant as a clarification. With this new amendment, such clarification isn't needed (and in this day and age, militias are irrelevant to the national or state defense thanks to the establishment of National Guards).

That is a lot of work, I admit.  There will be a lot of screaming - mostly by the NRA, who will have a conniption if these ideas are even breathed in the public forum.

But we are at the point - from Sandy Hook to today - where gun violence MUST end.  We MUST stand up, we MUST do something about the spread and easy access of weapons - The Gun - of mass death.

WE must.  Okay, America?  Otherwise WE will keep dying in the streets, and the malls, and the movie theaters, and the churches and the schools and the office spaces and...

1 comment:

dinthebeast said...

Guns are a thorny issue, but they are killing us. I grew up with them, but had the good sense to leave mine at my father's house in Eureka when I moved to Oakland. I have now lived in (all the most dangerous parts of) Oakland for 31 years without ever having or needing a gun. In fact, there were a few times when it would have gone very badly indeed if I had one on me.
I agree with your take on the laws concerning guns, but even if we succeed there, there are still the hundreds of millions of guns already in circulation that need dealing with. And Bernie Sanders was right about one thing: guns mean different things to people in different areas. Like I said, I grew up with them. I took the hunter safety exam to get my first hunting license when I was nine. We had a hundred yard shooting range right outside the kitchen door where I grew up. Guns weren't a malevolent force then and there, they were just something everybody did.
In Oakland, however, even aside from the killing, they are a force for bad. Kids growing up here (some of them, anyway) see them as a power symbol. Why learn the social skills needed to live around this many people, when you can win any argument just by pulling your gun out of your pocket? Also, I am just really sick of them.
The gun worshipers usually win by just being louder and more tenacious than the rest of us. How can we beat them? Because we really need to. A lot.

-Doug in Oakland