Thursday, January 24, 2008

On Guns—An Ode in Prose

In an epic battle of good (gun owners, gun manufacturers, gun merchants, gun swappers, gun lovers, gun users) against evil (gun haters, gun victims, families of Virginia Tech victims, namby-pambies, enemies of freedom, those who can’t understand what “shall not be infringed” means, friends of al Qaeda), the gunnies have carried the day. Yesterday a Senate panel joined a House of Delegates panel in killing for this legislative session a bill that would have required private gun sellers at gun shows to run criminal background checks on their customers. I don’t know about you, but this maven is already feeling much safer now that this dastardly attempt to crush our freedoms has been repulsed.

Dear reader, there is something you must know. As a teenager, I was a card-carrying member of the National Rifle Association. To the NRA I owe my ability to handle firearms safely. I know that I should never point my weapon at any creature, either animal or human, unless I intend to kill it. I also know that I should always assume that my weapon is loaded when I start playing with it. I also know that I should keep all my firearms in a safe place where young ‘uns can’t get to them. Thank you, NRA, you have taught me well.

Back in the day, of course, the NRA was an organization for sportsman. It provided information, training and a wonderful magazine for people who enjoyed shooting at targets both animate and inanimate. Some time after I let my membership expire, however, the NRA mutated into an organization dominated by gun manufacturers, dealers and others for whom guns were a business. And that is when the whole question of guns started moving toward a zero sum, I win-you lose conflict.

Early on the new NRA started with its slogans. The first was a beaut. “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.” This tautological statement was, with the exception of law-enforcement and military personal, obviously true. But, what did it really mean? Did it mean that if guns were outlawed law abiding gun owners would surrender their weapons and that only criminals would still have guns. Or, did it mean that even heretofore law abiding gun owners would refuse to surrender their weapons and would therefore become outlaws? The statement contained the germs of disobedience to law.

The second slogan was, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Not quite a tautology, but clearly a very powerful half-truth. The true part was that no gun has ever been seen loading itself, aiming and then blowing away someone’s head. Clearly people kill people, but a whole lot of them use firearms to do so. Thousands of people are murdered with guns every year. Yet, this NRA slogan would have us believe that even if their were no guns the number of murders would stay the same. And, of course, they are right—not a week goes by, in which we don’t read about drive-by stabbings and battles in the streets, in which members of one gang wipe out members of another by throwing arsenic on them.

The most dangerous of NRA slogans, made particularly popular by the late Charleston (Moses) Heston, is “I'll give up my gun—when they pry it from my cold, dead, hands.” Now the NRA incitement to lawlessness had become quite open. The message was quite clear—if you want to take my gun away, you will have to kill me first. Or the flip side, I will use my weapon against anyone who tries to disarm me. I am a firm believer in the First Amendment, but I have strong objection to an organization that teaches insurrection to its members.

The trouble is that for a very vocal segment of gun proponents any suggestion that the Commonwealth (or any other government) take action that could possibly provide an ounce of extra security for society but at the cost of even a minor inconvenience to a few individuals is greeted as an attack on their right to bear arms, which they insist is absolute. For these people there can be no compromise; for them there is no minor gun regulation. These people portray even an innocuous gun restriction as a call to Armageddon.

My suggestion last week that the Second Amendment might have a different than absolute meaning drew some nasty comments. There was even the suggestion that the right to possess and bear firearms was one that transcended the Second Amendment. This natural rights type of argument is that the right to own guns does not come from any government or from the Constitution. It is a right that is natural to all humans. The right to bear firearms even preexists the invention of gun powder.

Now, I don’t think that the proposed restriction that was killed in the General Assembly is a particularly big thing. Certainly, had it been in effect last year it would not have prevented the Virginia Tech disaster. The mass murderer at Tech bought his firearms and ammunition from licensed gun dealers, not at a gun show. On the other side, had it been enacted by the General Assembly this year it would have caused only the slightest inconvenience to a few people.

You know, reader, guns sure stir up a lot of sentiment in the good ol’ US of A. I’m not sure I understand it, exactly. When the state decides to regulate the use of automobiles does it lead to screaming crowds in front of the Capitol? The Commonwealth of Virginia makes me take a written test. It makes me take a road test to prove that I can handle my car safely. It forces me to wear eyeglasses when I drive. It posts restrictions that prevent me from driving too fast and make me stop at intersections. It forces me to inspect my vehicle periodically at my own cost. It charges me to register my vehicle before I can use it. It even threatens me that “Speed Limits are Enforced by Aircraft.” Yet, when it is suggested that a seller of a weapon first make sure that the person to whom he is selling is not a criminal, all hell breaks loose.

The gunnies have drawn a line in the sand when it comes to any limitation on gun ownership or use. The line is drawn so close to “absolutely no controls” that they must resist with all their righteous indignation any measure designed to make the public safer. Inevitably, this position will make these people more and more unpopular in our country. Eventually, their refusal to accept even the slightest restrictions on their “rights” may lead a large number of citizens without guns to question whether we can still afford a Second Amendment in our violent times. That would be a shame because there are millions of responsible gun owners out there that would suffer.


Matthew said...

I was with you until the end. But still, nice to have some sanity injected into this virulent debate.

Cargosquid said...

Supporters of the 2nd Amendment have seen a resurgence in the support of "gun right." We have also seen renewed efforts to restrict those rights. Proposed laws, such as this one, are always touted as "saving lives" or "promoting safety." The government states that no private sales, outside of a gun show, would be affected. Then why have it? Private sales of weapons would happen elsewhere. And if a law is proposed that mandates background checks on all sales of guns, how is it to be enforced? How would it be enforced? Must one provide paperwork on demand, showing where one got the weapon? How about gifts? And would a gun dealer want to take on the liability of running background checks for 3rd party transactions? Of course, there would be a fee involved. And regulations initiated by the BATFE. Gun dealers are being shut down by the hundreds because of inadvertent paperwork errors.

Does not the right of self defense predate the 2nd Amendment and the invention of gunpowder? The right to bear arms includes all arms. One is armed when a weapon is carried. Yes, gang members kill each other. Yes, firearms were invented to kill their target, whether animal or human. Gang members that kill each other are criminals. They are abusing their rights. The right to bear arms is one of our most serious responsibilities. We have a duty to to be law-abiding citizens that take our responsibilities seriously. Because there is an argument that guns were designed to kill people, we should restrict them. We have a 2nd Amendment BECAUSE weapons are designed to kill. The 2nd Amendment is the final defense of the other rights. Just because some citizens abuse that right, or do not believe that it is appropriate, does not abrogate that right and responsiblility.

You talk of disobedience to the law. Defense of our civil rights is NOT disobedience. If the government wished to disarm you, they must force you to give up your 2nd Amendment rights. Some supporters of the 1st Amendment have died, albeit in other countries, in defense of THAT right. The right to bear arms is SUPPOSED to be a check on an overreaching government. Civil rights supporters react this way because the government and other citizens ARE attempting to take away our rights. And they don't do it (well, most don't) by calling for a total ban on weapons. Its done incrementally. For safety reasons, for our own good. And none of it works. See Washington DC, New York, and Chicago. For that matter, see England.
Criminals do not pay attention to gun laws. Every gun law is considered a "first step" towards more gun laws. Supporters of this one have said as much.

Your analogy of driver laws and car regulations does not apply, as you do not have a right to a car. You do a right to freedom of movement, which, in that case, one could present a right to a car. However, no one is trying to restrict your right to car because someone misused their car or because of the thousand killed on our roadways.

If a state regulates something, it can take away that thing. Local, state, and federal governments constantly want to regulates, well, everything. The government is not there to allow you your rights. They do not come from the government. The government is supposed to be there to enforce and protect your rights. The Bill of Rights does not give you the rights listed. It recognises them under the rule of law so that the government has to protect them.

We gun owners have accepted great restrictions on our rights. The gun industry is the most regulated industry in America. Many areas completely ban the ownership of weapons. We are trying to educate the citizenry on the fact that gun laws do not work. Background checks work only on the law-abiding or the rare stupid criminal that goes through proper channels to get a firearm. Cho went through the checks. Instead of needing a check, Cho should have been involuntarily institutionalized. It is THAT failure that needs to be fixed. There are citizens that have come forward that want to carry on campus. That is the only way to add security. The state and police cannot protect you without draconian measures. Police can only catch a predator because the predator has to first commit the crime.

Yes, it might seem to others that 2nd Amendment activists "overreact." But we have seen this before. Little steps to "protect" us. We've heard it before that "oh, this law won't apply to you." But then, a precedent has been made, so new laws are made. Laws that do nothing but make the politician look good and feel good. Laws like the "assault weapons" ban. Laws like registration. Laws like local governments and courts arbitrarily deciding who should be allowed to carry a weapon. Or waiting periods that force battered wives to wait for needed protection, as an example. We have drawn a line. Make laws that protect all rights. Stop using weasel worded language like "gun show loophole." That makes us suspicious. We know that there is no gun show loophole. There are private citizens selling their guns. If you wish to restrict that, say so. If THAT won't get passed, then that is the will of the legislature. If that does get passed, that too is the will of the legislature. And we will continue to support our rights.

Mike said...

What strikes me about this debate is the failure of cooler heads to prevail over the reactionary politics of extremists. It’s unfortunate that despite significant concessions on the part of the supporters of this legislation, no compromise was reached. In fact only more negativity was created, leading to an ugly confrontation ( between those whose lives have been affected by gun violence and a group who time and again push a tired rhetoric of “constitutional rights” while simultaneously impeding by proxy the rights of life and the pursuit of happiness that all Americans are entitled to.

Perhaps this video of the protest can remind us all that while the right to “bear arms” deserves further debate, the importance of compromise and mutual understanding are the only means by which we can ensure both public safety and the spirit of our constitution in writing and intention.