American Crime: Analyzing the Case for Guns

The tragedy of the UCC shootings yesterday had a morbid familiarity to it. Like President Obama said in his impassioned response, “somehow, this has become routine. The reporting is routine, my response here at this podium ends up being routine, the conversation in the aftermath of it… we’ve become numb to this.” And he’s right.

  1. Horrific news reports out of the affected area that there is a shooter loose, with wild speculation about who the shooter is, how many victims there are, and whether the shooter is still active.
  2. Law enforcement officials make a statement to the press confirming the details of what happened, including a specific statement urging, out of respect for the victims and their families, that the shooter’s not be made a household name by the media, a request usually violated as soon as the press can get their hands on the relevant information.
  3. Political figures make their statements, sending their “thoughts and prayers,” the president advocates gun control, talking heads on the right decry his politicization of a national tragedy.
  4. Wayne LaPierre says that if everyone’s birth certificate doubled as a concealed-carry license, things like this wouldn’t happen, because obviously the answer to seeing people who shouldn’t have guns owning guns is saying that gun ownership should be easier.
  5. Everyone blames some outside factor, be it mental illness, the loss of our Judeo-Christian values, or video games (my personal favorite),  Fox News uses the phrase “murder simulator” to refer to an award-winning recent game.
  6. Some good-hearted junior Congressman introduces a bill with modest federal gun control measures, and, in a rare display of bipartisanship, it is totally and completely shut down by his colleagues on both sides of the aisle.
  7. Opinion pieces and blogs (exactly like the one you’re reading right now) make arguments for, or against, gun control, with passions briefly inflamed before cooling back down pretty quickly.
  8. Wait a few months, rinse and repeat.

I think, once again, The Onion might have said it best:

‘No Way to Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens

I know a lot of you fundamentally disagree with me and my perspective. And you have a point. I was raised in a very safe neighborhood, by foreign parents, in a house totally free of guns. Hell, my parents never let me own Call of Duty (Battlefield, on the other hand, was “totally different,” I promised them), and getting an airsoft pistol to play with my friends in high school was an enormous struggle. Point being, I’m not at all a part of America’s obsession with firearms. Sure, there are times when I think they’re cool, and that it might be interesting to shoot one someday, but never in the context of ownership. And a lot of it really ranges from puzzling to full-on depressing. But here’s my perspective anyways.

Let’s start with the Second Amendment. In its totality, it states that, “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.” It’s tempting, to be sure, to see the Constitution and Bill of Rights as infallible, immortal records of how things ought to be, maybe brought down from Mount Sinai via stone tablet by Moses himself or composed on a napkin as the Founders, Abraham Lincoln, and MLK got really high and found divine inspiration in The Dark Side of the Moon. The reality is that the Constitution was written by people (cray shit indeed) who lived in the 18th century, had just come out of a protracted struggle with a foreign power that had seen the successful implementation of militia tactics and recruitment (although not exclusively, as the Continental Army was a much more “regular” army than popular culture gives it credit for, but I digress), and who were very uncomfortable with the idea of a standing army. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution says that Congress has the power to “raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years,” while the Declaration of Independence, as legally non-binding as it might be, says that King George “has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures,” which they evidently weren’t huge fans of. The point here is that the founding documents were pretty sketchy about the idea of a standing army, as they saw the levying of militias as the need arises a much more sustainable long-term solution. The Second Amendment, especially the all-important first part fits rather nicely into this historical narrative; because “a well regulated Militia” is so important, especially when you’re not so hot about having a national army, then of course Congress can’t infringe on the right “to keep and bear arms,” otherwise your militias, especially as primary form of defense, would be pretty toothless. Remember, the British didn’t try to seize the weapons at Concord in 1775 because Paul Revere and co. had failed their background checks, they were trying to disarm a possible rebellion against British colonial rule.

As much as it pains me to inform you, the United States does indeed have an active military. Our primary mode of defense are the 1.3 million Americans who are currently on active duty. Unless you have a swastika tattooed on your scalp, chances are you’re not part of any type of militia or similar organization. The realities of modern life and geopolitics have caused us to basically forego the first part of the Second Amendment and the heavy militia focus of the Framers. While some might argue that they keep their weapons to protect against an eventual government intrusion, first, that’s really paranoid and pretty irrational, given the likelihood of something like that happening, and second, MQ-9 Reaper drones exist, and can blow both you and your AR-15 sky high faster than you can say “hey, maybe using small arms as a means of resistance against the most powerful and well-funded military on Earth isn’t the best move I’ve made today.” Most gun owners would say they keep their weapons for sport, for food, or for protecting their homes, none of which are actually mentioned in the Second Amendment. I would suspect (and hope, really) that gun owners are not in favor of the level of private weapons ownership required to fight against such an invading force, be it anti-air missile systems, missile defense systems, helicopters, military drones, offensive missiles of your own, or tactical nuclear devices. That’s what resisting the entire might of the US military would take, and the idea doesn’t really exist outside of an inconspicuously named folder on Ted Cruz’s hard drive.

What I’m trying to say here is that the Second Amendment doesn’t provide for gun ownership we see now, and isn’t a failsafe fallback for conservatives and other folk who use it as a blanket response to gun control measures. The spirit of the laws is another thing, but it certainly seems like the spirit of the Second Amendment is primarily about using militias for the common defense and not for everyone to be able to carry a gun to class every day.

Another argument I see floated, from time to time, is that gun control is equivalent to banning cars because sometimes people die in crashes, or banning bridges because people might jump off of them. First, you don’t need a gun to get to work, or to live in society today. Billions of people across the globe live perfectly happy, safe, fulfilling lives without owning firearms, while basic infrastructure and methods of locomotion are much more important parts of day-to-day life. Second, cars aren’t designed to cause massive trauma to living beings, or don’t market themselves based on “stopping power,” which is to say, their ability to incapacitate a moving target through said ballistic trauma. Guns are weapons, not tools. No matter what you use them for, save perhaps target shooting, for which you really don’t need much in the way of bullet caliber, the use of guns lies in the threatening and causing of tremendous physical harm. If you’re hunting, that’s to your advantage. If you’re protecting your home, as legitimate an argument as that might be, it’s important to realize that the entire utility of having a weapon is so that you can threaten or use deadly force. When people say guns, don’t kill people, they’re wrong. Guns are made and specially designed to inflict physical damage with as much precision as possible. I don’t have the statistics on hand, but it’s common knowledge that introducing a gun to a conflict situation dramatically increases the likelihood of one of the parties dying, and that gun ownership in the home make suicide a much easier possibility. To those who say that someone who’s suicidal isn’t going to care what method they use, you’re just wrong. The ease and proximity of a household firearm makes an impulsive suicide a very real possibility, while other methods require much more planning and are less effective.

Just about as fun is the argument that, even if you make firearms more difficult to acquire legally, criminals won’t care, they’re gonna be outside the law anyways. This has a couple really troubling assumptions. First, it’s that the illegal sale of firearms is totally unrelated to the legal sale of these same firearms. If guns are made more difficult to acquire legally, they will also be made more difficult to acquire illegally, as people who illegally resell legal guns will be under increased scrutiny. In Australia, the cost of illegal guns has increased dramatically in the aftermath of tough gun laws, with illegal weapons now costing in the tens of thousands of dollars, which is realistically a significant barrier to entry for many would-be criminals. Additionally, the above claim hits on the assumption that criminals are fundamentally different, psychologically, than you or me, which is a pretty unfair thing to say. I don’t mean to make every felon sound like Jean Valjean here, but crimes are frequently committed out of extraordinary circumstances, whether economic hardship that make criminality more worthwhile than any alternatives, or temporary lapses in judgment. Just because someone commits a crime once does not mean that they are immoral animals who can never have a place on the right side of the law. Criminals are people, and like you or I, if an option becomes too difficult to opt for, they won’t opt for it. By making legal weapons more secure, you can have significant impacts on illegal gun ownership.

Now, one can’t make a convincing argument for gun control in a single Friday morning blog post. I’m aware of that. Notice that I haven’t posited any policy solutions, nor do I know enough to do so. That said, I think we can still have a productive discussion about this, especially by getting rid of the empty talking points I listed above.

Who knows, maybe this time we’ll be able to do something about it.

 

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