Monday, January 17, 2011

Guns . . . and Those Who Use Them

America was shocked when 18 people were shot at an "On Your Corner" community political event on Saturday, January 8. Six people died that day, including a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl. U.S. Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, who seemed to be the initial target, was critically injured when she was shot in the head. She has survived as of this writing and seems to be recovering incredibly well, but she may never be the same whole person she was. This event was a tragedy of monumental proportions.

From all reports, the gunman, Jared Loughner, was a disturbed and mentally unbalanced individual. He was interested in political intrigues and conspiracy theories and centered on Giffords as a part of a larger problem of government control. The irony of his situation is that while he misguidedly thought his act would help remove government controls, it may have done more to enact what he feared most.

Many on both sides of the political spectrum believe he should never have had the Glock pistol he used to commit this crime in the first place. For the record, I am in full agreement. But this leads to the current, raging, debate. How can we prevent these situations from occurring and what level of gun control is acceptable? Further, will gun control solve the problem? This debate was inevitable. Every time there is a Democratic president, some situation or tragedy becomes fodder for a new push within the Brady Campaign and the media to control guns, which must be seen as "spin" for eliminating guns. It has also become an opportunity for politicians to attack each other over language, campaign symbols, and ideology. Most notably, several politicians and political pundits have specifically "targeted" Sarah Palin because of some crosshair symbols she used in her campaign strategy map (one of which happened to be placed over Gabrielle Gifford as a DFL'er). The crosshair symbols have since been taken down. Now we are told that national "civility," or lack thereof, is the problem. These are all things to examine.

Gun Control

The Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence has said that the situation could have been prevented by having stricter gun rules and lower capacity magazines for pistols. Brady president, Paul Helmke issued the following statements.

"The 30 round clip that the shooter used allowed him to kill more people in Tuscon [six] than were killed in the gunfight at the O.K. Corral [three]. The Brady Campaign whole-heartedly supports the legislation . . . to restrict the sale of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds."

"The Tuscon gunman was tackled when his 30-round magazine emptied and he attempted to insert a new one. If that had happened after 20 fewer bullets had been fired, more lives could have been saved."

These statements are only partially true and are highly charged pieces of rhetoric. In Helmke's first statement, he uses a gun battle (one that is deeply emotionally ingrained in the American consciousness, but one that also is not well-known -- Gun battles flush up images of death and destruction and are highly sensationalized) to emotionally charge the topic. The O.K. Corral did not end in an especially great loss of life (three dead gang members). Even with a ten round clip, a trained shooter should be able to kill TEN people.

Helmke's second statement is not much better. There is no real correlation between the amount of bullets discharged and the amount of people killed. Six people died (a very real tragedy) but that is out of 30 rounds discharged. His logic is far more elementary; fewer bullets being fired means fewer deaths. There is no argument there. But why set the capacity at ten? Why not five? Why not one? Really, Helmke is making a half-measure concession. He wants all guns to disappear, but he wants gun owners to meet him half-way.

We must notice also that in his first statement, Helmke says "restrict" the sale of magazines that hold more than ten rounds. "Restrict" is not "eliminate". Who would have access to the higher-capacity magazines. The answer would be police and military organizations. The implication is that the government and their enforcement bodies know how to help and govern the populace than its own citizens. That reasoning is not democratic at all, but something closer to either Fascism or Communism.

Another writer, who the Brady Campaign supports, Frank Cerabino, used more problematic reasoning to scare South Floridians.

"A 3-year-old Sun Sentinel analysis of concealed weapons permit holders found that among the approximately 410,000 licensed Floridians: 1, 400 pleaded guilty or no contest to felonies, 216 had outstanding warrants, 128 had active domestic violence injunctions and six were registered sex offenders."

Sounds pretty bad doesn't it? In fact he sums up the bleak reality, "I've come to believe that the
allegedly law-abiding citizens among us are as apt to be ticking time bombs as the guys looking to steal your wallet to feed a drug habit." Guilty until proven innocent. But the numbers don't add up to the same scary picture if you think through them. .004 (rounding up) of concealed permit holders became felons. That's not anywhere close to one per cent! Further, the statistics don't differentiate gun related felonies from other felonies like white-collar crime. What is more problematic is that 216 permit holders had outstanding warrants, 128 had domestic injunctions, and six were sex offenders. What that tells me is that there is a problem with the system of background checks and permit issuance.

The problem comes home in a specific sense when we look at Jared Loughner. He was never formally diagnosed as mentally disturbed. There was nothing in any file that the police could look at to deny him the right to purchase a firearm. Also there has been no discussion of whether or not he had a concealed carry permit. This is where his parents and school officials should have stepped in to help him get the help he needed. This is not to say that the situation that occurred was their fault. Jared acted alone and he should be rightly punished alone. I am sure this will be very hard on his family. Enforcing the current laws, rather than creating stricter laws seems to be the answer, but in the case of Jared Loughner, even this probably would not have helped.

The Second Amendment
The Second Amendment seems to be an inconvenient truth for the Brady Campaign and for other Liberals who would love to see all guns removed from the populace. Yet I'm not sure many Conservatives really understand the Second Amendment or its purpose. Usually it is assumed that the Second Amendment to the Bill of Rights was written to protect free keeping and use of firearms for recreational use. The wording, however, leads to another conclusion. "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." This means bearing arms for the sake of a State Militia. Most people I hear supporting the Second Amendment seem to divorce the first half from the second. The same seems to be true in government. In fact, this amendment has been so confused, for so long, that this amendment was hamstrung about over 100 years ago. The Second Amendment requires a well-regulated state militia. These state militias were disbanded and recreated as the National Guard by the Militia Act of 1903.

The Second Amendment is not so much about individual rights as it is about a fourth balance to the democratic system. The other three branches of federal government; the executive (President), the legislative (House and Senate), and the judicial are corruptible, and when all three are corrupted, it is up to the populace to change the system. Thus the Second Amendment is solely about safeguarding the populace's ability to rise up and remove a dysfunctional political establishment by force. Because the federal government controls the regular Army, the states were to control the militias, keeping them equipped enough to overcome the federal army. This is no longer a possibility. Does this mean we should get rid of weapons then? No. It means we should elect members of the House and Senate who will return states' rights to them and establish state-run militias with the firepower to take-on the federal government if cause should arise.

In the current debate surrounding Giffords, most of the rhetoric is completely lacking in understanding. Both sides have misunderstood the Second Amendment which has led to the angry tug-of-war between gun-toters and gun-fearers. Both have missed the point that the federal government has already gained all the power and the states have little to none.

Specifically, Sharron Angle's quote was taken way out of context. It was very difficult to find her actual statements online that had not been twisted or used inappropriately by her opposition. She said that it was "a little bit disconcerting and concerning" that sporting goods could not keep ammunition in stock. She then interpreted this phenomenon. "The nation is arming. What are they arming for if it isn't that they are so distrustful of their government? They're afraid they'll have to fight for their liberty in more Second Amendment kinds of ways." She then interpreted her political race against Harry Reid in light of her previous comments. "That's why I look at this [winning the race] as almost an imperative. If we don't win at the ballot box, what will be the next step [implication of conservative uprising]?" Later, in another interview, she qualified some of those statements. She described her view of the Second Amendment largely the same way I did above. Then she said, "I'm hoping that we're not getting to Second Amendment remedies. I hope the vote will be the cure for the Harry Reid problems." Nowhere in any of her statements did she ever suggest that anyone should murder anyone else. Neither did she liken the Second Amendment to political assassination. Lastly, she was saying that she wanted to avoid a popular uprising, expressing worry that it may, indeed, happen. At no point that I have found was she the least irresponsible with her language. The truth appears to be far different from the Liberal media hack-job that has been performed against her.

Civil Debate
Paul Helmke of the Brady Campaign, along with many others, has called for a return to civil discourse. I can't help but find the humor in this call because of its disingenuous character. The Liberals have blamed the Giffords shooting on "heated political rhetoric" coming solely from the Republican and Tea Party camps, have lied about their statements, and are calling them to change. Yet at no point do they admit to similar activities or accept any blame for the current conditions within political debate. Further, Sarah Palin, whom I don't offer overwhelming support, was correct when she said it was irresponsible to "apportion blame" to other sectors of society, rather than to the lawbreaker. She was also correct that there has been no time when there was no political violence. Isn't it curious that her fine speech was ignored and one phrase, "blood libel," was brought to the fore. She was absolutely correct when she said that these media representatives and political pundits were seeking to "muzzle [political] dissent with shrill cries of imagined insults."

Could a more civilized debate process really have saved those people in Tuscon? I doubt it. Loughner never said or showed indication that he was right-wing or that he was particularly against left-leaning politicians. This was not a political assassination in the sense of taking out someone with whom he disagreed. This was a murder to destroy a process and to give himself a sense of power. Civilization does not touch insanity.

So what's the answer? How can we lower the frequency of these events? I believe we can start with self-awareness, vigilance, and care. We must be aware of our own sinful natures and how easy it is to twist another person's words, simply because we disagree with them. We should be very careful not to demonize when we disagree. An example of societal demonization: Before WWI, my great-grandfather was a sought-after professor of German at the University of Minnesota. When the War hit, no one wanted to be associated with the Germans or the German language, so he was out of a job. No one thought that it was especially then that German language skills might be advantageous. Rather, no one wanted to be thought of as a possible traitor. The Minnesotan ethnic German cities, like New Ulm, were very hard hit economically.

We should be vigilant to see problems exhibited by our neighbors. Is someone struggling with mental illness, depression, anti-social behavior? Are they threatening terroristic action over perceived slights? These are red flags to the rest of society.

Lastly, I think we can show love and care to many of these individuals, especially before they lash out against the rest of society. We can befriend the friendless, we can suggest help for the mentally ill, we can assuage anguish caused by societal ignorance and ostracism. We can also call tip lines to report and prevent terroristic plots. In short, we can take responsibility for ourselves and our neighbors. I wonder if things might have been different if someone had done that for Jared. Sadly, it is easier to make government "fix things" and make more laws (which can't be adequately enforced anyway) than to dig in and help each other. But if the hard work is never done, we will only face more of these tragic events.

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