Monday, January 14, 2013

Time to get serious

Read this op-ed carefully, and there are more than a few problems with it:

When I was about to start eighth grade, my father almost shot my mother. It was another of their many ugly fights. I got between them — literally — and tried to grab the gun.

It starts there, then veers off in this direction:

My husband, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), is a former board member of the National Rifle Association and a lifelong supporter of the right to bear arms. My stepson believes even more strongly than his father in that Second Amendment right. They are two of the most responsible, safety-conscious gun owners anyone could ever know. Their dedication to the right to bear arms, to hunt, to compete in rifle and skeet matches, and to protect themselves and their families has been passed down from generation to generation.

This belief is as central to them as the freedom of speech and religion. As a result of knowing them, I have come to respect and understand the importance of this right to gun owners in ways I did not used to understand, certainly not as a scared child. The ability to defend one’s self is a human right that ensures the protection of other basic rights.

Which is an interesting place to go, because nothing in her story of that horrible night in her home, of the fight between her parents, has anything to do with self-defense.

Let me stop there a moment, in fact. A new round in the "guns don't kill people" argument is that hammers and hatchets would be used if guns weren't available.  Well, only a knife was available at an assault at a school the same week as the Newtown shooting; but it was in China, where guns are banned, so several people were wounded, none seriously.  But 30 people were not killed.  It helps to keep that in mind, especially as that story is already disappearing from the public "conversation."  The other fact is, I can defend myself very well against an attacker, any attacker, with a baseball bat.  Having a gun won't defend me against someone with a gun, however.  Body armor might, but unless I'm going to do everything but shower in the stuff, I don't see the point.

There's also the issue that, in nearly 60 years, neither I nor any family member nor friend I know or know of, has ever needed a gun to defend themselves.  One relative found a burglar in her home, but he ran off (her husband has guns, but keeps them locked up).  My mother was mugged years ago, but the assailant hit her from behind; she never even saw who it was.  That's it for my "self-defense" stories, and frankly, the only time I've ever felt the need to defend myself was in junior high, in the locker room after P.E.  But I wouldn't advise arming 13 year old boys because of that.

The next part of Ms. Dingell's argument is perfectly predictable:

Demonizing the NRA or gun owners in general gets us nowhere. A fresh round of old proposals for gun-control laws won’t work and will be followed by the renewed frustration of different factions going to their respective corners to fight instead of seeking real solutions.
Honestly I think Wayne Lapierre and David Keene have done a good job of making the NRA look demonic all by themselves.  Arm school teachers to prevent another Newtown?  Isn't that rather like saying we should build shelters over every building to keep the flying rocks out?   How many school shootings have we had in 30 years?*  And the answer is more guns?  Seriously?  Or better yet, since we can't stop all murders, why bother to police murderers at all.  That's the logic Mr. Keene recently offered. Not that anyone in America would apply that logic to any topic except guns, but who is the demon here, and who is doing the demonizing?  Is any discussion of gun control really about taking guns away from people?  Why can't we own RPG's and fully automatic weapons, then?  Remember the tommy guns of yore?  You can't own weapons like that anymore, even under the 2nd amendment.

We, as Americans, need to be willing to acknowledge that we have serious social problems and have to get at the root causes for so many of these horrific scenes: mental illness, failing educational systems, lack of job opportunities, the disintegration of families. We need communities more willing to identify behavior problems early on, to express zero tolerance for bullying, to implement processes that protect individual liberties yet flag potential problems.

Yes, we do.  And blaming our current gun problems on the mentally ill is the worst kind of demonizing, yet both Mr. Lapierre and Mr. Keene have done it repeatedly.  Besides, our gun problem is that we have all these other social problems, and we have almost as many guns (according to official estimates) as we have people in this country.  Since I don't own any guns, and the only people I know who do only own a few guns, some small percentage of the population owns an arsenal of weapons per household. Turn those guns into cars, and for every citizen of New York City or Philadelphia who doesn't own a car at all, someone else could fill a large used car lot.

That isn't demonizing.  But it is insanity.

 Most important, we must remove the stigma of mental illness so that those who need help get help. We need law enforcement agencies that understand problems when they are identified, along with systems that support parents, teachers and employers in intervening and getting help to those who need it.

And then what?  Take the guns away from Adam Lanza's mother?  If not, what?  Lament the fact Mr. Lanza is mentally ill and has access to an arsenal and then tell the community to arm themselves and wait for him to go walkabout?  Is that more sensible and less damaging than "demonizing" gun owners?

If this is a "complex" issue, it is so only because there are too many guns in America already, and there is no reasonable way to retrieve them.  Even if the federal government wanted to confiscate every firearm in America, it would be easier and safer to recall every automobile on the road.  We can't get them back, but we can't blunt their usage by taxing the ammunition that they fire.  Is there a constitutional right to fire a weapon?  No.  If there were, there would be no need for "stand your ground" laws, or self-defense claims of any kind.  You may have a right to carry a rifle in public; you don't have a right to point it at anyone, much less the right to pull the trigger when you do so.

Tax the ammunition.  Control it as tightly as we control prescription drugs, as carefully as we control pseudoephedrine.  The ammunition is doing as much, if not more damage, than all the meth labs in America combined.  And we can do something about that without demonizing the NRA or gun owners or violating even the broadest, most ridiculous reading, of the 2nd Amendment.

Tax the ammunition.  Take it out of circulation.  Control it so we know who has it and when.  Let's put an end to this nonsense.

*The answer is:  9.  Which is 9 too many, but the proper response is not to put armed personnel in every classroom of every school from pre-school to university in the country.  That way lies madness.  If having a gun prevented shootings, all wars would cease tomorrow simply out of rational self-interest.  But people with guns do not always act in rational self-interest.  And people with guns can do far more damage than people with knives; or with hammers.  Besides, I can't build a building or prepare a meal with a gun.  So let's stop speaking as if they were comparable.


  1. drkrick9:54 AM

    The link is a Paul Krugman piece calling Jon Stewart names. A few problems with that one, too.

  2. Fixed that. Thanks.