It's no different than outlawing hard liquor in an attempt to stop alcoholism and drunk driving, which kill more than twice as many people as guns do every year
If you're going to blog every day--and I think you have to if you expect readers to patronize your page faithfully--there are going to be days when you have to stray off topic at least a little in order to write something interesting. People reading your blog presumably would like to know something about you personally, whether they agree with you or not, so I don't view this as a complete abrogation of the blog's purpose. And so, with nothing new on the book(s) since yesterday and since gun control is in the news lately, and my view on it doesn't seem to fall neatly into the mainstream positions being articulated, I'm going to share my thoughts on that.
There is a tie-in to the books, by the way. In The Just Beyond Michael Chandler is assailed or threatened by gun-wielding enemies more than once, he is even handed a weapon to use for good purposes at one point, but it is made clear he personally abhors them and not only can't shoot, but doesn't want to learn. This isn't meant to convey a moral judgment; for one thing, Michael's bacon is saved a couple of times because his allies do use guns, and for another, I don't share Michael's disdain for them. I do however, hold deep respect for his tendency to use finesse instead of force to solve his challenges.
The right to bear arms expressed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, at the time it was written, was a countermeasure against the founders' experience with the British government it had broken away from. In Britain then (as largely today), guns were mostly restricted to the constabulary and the military. This reflects the political maxim that citizens only have the rights the government gives them. While in a way that can be interpreted as true of any nation, America was founded on the opposite principle--that the government has only the rights granted to it by the people. The flip side is that the citizenry retains unfettered freedom in all respects not expressly outlawed. It certainly comports with the founders' conviction that as a general matter, the government should never be able to subjugate its population by brute force.
Times have changed. Today there is no risk of a British attack or that the U.S. government as a whole will turn on its people. Weaponry has come a long way too. In 1776 and for much of the century that followed, firearms were clumsy, inaccurate, and only capable of a single shot between tedious loadings. Modern small arms can fire dozens or even hundreds of rounds in seconds. What would the founding fathers have done with this scenario?
I don't think it would have mattered. The premise that government should be hands-off to the greatest extent practicable is not strained by these developments. Besides, in those days men often carried multple pistols so they could fire in quick succession, and the government didn't outlaw that.
CNN's Piers Morgan (not surprisingly a Brit) likes to ask why people need guns, impliying that in the absence of need (as he defines it) the government should prevent their having them. He's hit the nexus of the issue and the key difference between the British and American philosophies. The Constitution does not reserve to the government all powers not expressly conveyed upon the public. It does the reverse. And this is what infuriates me most about gun control: the notion that law-abiding citizens, which include the overwhelming majority of gun owners, should be denied some right--any right--in an attempt to prevent criminals, societal outliers, and the mentally ill from doing bad things. It's no different than outlawing hard liquor in an attempt to stop alcoholism and drunk driving, which kill more than twice as many people as guns do every year. Freedom is not free, and these are unfortunate but unavoidable consequences of a society with individual liberty at its foundation.
The current debate came as a direct result of the Newtown school incident, fortified by the Aurora theater massacre, the Oregon mall shooting, and the Gabrielle Giffords assault. It follows that any gun control measure should face this litmus test: would it have prevented these tragedies?
I lean toward gun owners' rights, although I could support a ban on the most advanced military weapons and magazine capacities, and I definitely support gun show checks provided a fast, practical electronic system is put in place that doesn't unduly delay the purchase. But let's get real.
Congresswoman Giffords and the other victims of that incident were shot with a pistol bought by a mentally ill man whose purchase was possible because he had never been declared mentally incompetent by a judge and so passed a background check. An assault rifle ban would have been irrelevant and the background check was ineffective. Ideally a check with accurate results would have prevented the sale, but where was accurate information about his mental state supposed to come from? He had never been medically diagnosed nor clashed with law enforcement. How could any background check, even a more robust one, have turned this up?
The suspect in the Aurora movie theater was also mentally ill, had stolen the weapons, and used a pistol, a shotgun, and an assault rifle, only the last of which might have been banned by current proposals. No amount of background checking can prevent weapons from being obtained by theft, nor would proposed magazine limits have reduced the carnage. Unlike a pistol or rifle, a short range shotgun blast creates a wide area of damage like a hand grenade, so an assault weapon ban wouldn't have worked; every point in the theater was within effective shotgun reach, and he could have carried two of them if denied his AR-15.
The Oregon mall shooter also had stolen his weapon, and left no indications of why before killing himself except having seemed detached and listless during the week before. It's not clear whether he was mentally ill, but he clearly was in some kind of altered mental state and over a month later, following an intensive investigation, the police have found no motive. What in any of the proposals is supposed to be able to prevent this?
Paradoxically, the Newtown attack, whose horror was the specific trigger that unleashed the debate, is the definitive demonstration of the ineffectiveness of the most commonly proposed gun control measures. He stole his weapons; he was mentally ill; the owner of the guns he used had passed a background check; in addition to an assault rifle he had two pistols with numerous backup clips, which by themselves could have killed every victim slain without reloading or by reloading with smaller clips between the principal's office and the classroom; and the school had extraordinary, robust visitor entry measures in place which the shooter easily overcame. Which of the current gun control proposals would have unwound this attack?
What strikes me most about the discussion is that while it's universally acknowledged that the perpetrators in each of these cases was mentally ill--only the Oregon mall case being a possible stretch in this regard--yet the solutions they offer are targeted at sane, clear-thinking and law-abiding citizens. Stop right there! Banning military slaughter gear and requiring gun show checks sounds great, it feels like doing something about the problem, but IT HAS NO EFFECT AT ALL ON THE BRAIN DISEASE THAT ACTUALLY CAUSED THESE MASS MURDERS. THE PROBLEM IS MENTAL ILLNESS.
These measures wouldn't have prevented these killings. In the Newtown case, a raft of similarly serious measures FAILED. So are the proponents serious about addressing the issue, or are they just using these tragedies--perhaps unconsciously--as an opportunity to promote a slightly oblique agenda?
And another thing, as they say :) --the supposed tie-in to electronic games is utterly, infuriatingly bogus and I will debunk it in tomorrow's post. Stay tuned! - Mark