Friday, May 10, 2013

Guns are bad. Evil Evil guns. Thoughts on gun control part nine: Summary

I've been laying out the information and thinking that has shaped my position on firearms over the last decade, what changed in my mindset and what changed in my actions.  I had been planning for the last several months to finish this series with an essay tying it all up neatly.  I was trumped this week by a post by Barry Snell in the Iowa State Daily.   If you want to just skip all the rest of this and go read that, I'll understand.  Barry did a better job than I can, and honestly, I'm going to be pull-quoting a lot of it in this post.  Still, there's doubtless a benefit in writing my own summary, even if only to make sure I have this all straight in my mind.

Guns are Bad

Snell explains why all the data, all the personal stories, all the analysis failed to move anyone during the recent gun control debates in Colorado and in the U.S. Senate in a single paragraph:
I’ve come to realize after the Sandy Hook shooting that the reason we can’t have a rational gun debate is because the anti-gun side pre-supposes that their pro-gun opponents must first accept that guns are bad in order to have a discussion about guns in the first place. Before we even start the conversation, we’re the bad guys and we have to admit it. Without accepting that guns are bad and supplicating themselves to the anti-gunner, the pro-gunner can’t get a word in edgewise, and is quickly reduced to being called a murderer, or a low, immoral and horrible human being.
That's the money quote from the piece. People who own and use guns can't have a discussion with anti-gun people because before we can have one, we have to accept the basis for agreement: "Guns are bad." We might be able to accept that there are uses to which "bad" things can be put; Dexter may be a serial killer, but he only kills the bad guys, so he has a socially useful role, but really, he's a serial killer and thus "bad." Same for guns.  Police may need to have them, except that British police get along without, soldiers need them, but it would be better if we didn't have soldiers,  same thing for guns.

The problem is, if you start with that presumption on one side, and the idea that guns are fun or that guns are tools or guns are like safety belts, and provide protection from evil, then you can't come to a common ground with an anti-gun person because for them, those ideas are simply insane.

This makes their call for "common sense gun control" make more sense doesn't it? Much of what they propose is perfectly reasonable common sense if guns are bad.

Consider Donald Kaul's piece at the DesMoines Register in which he calls for the second amendment to be repealed, the NRA to be declared a terrorist organization and its headquarters raised and the ground sown with salt and dragging congressional republican leaders on a rope behind a truck.  No, I'm not exaggerating, and no, he isn't kidding.

Of course, we don't have to go that far, it's really easy to find posts all over the net that blame guns and gun owners for violence in society.   (I avoided linking to editorial cartoons and the endless youTube videos that are more pointed, but frankly offensive.  I'll restrict just mentioning one that I refuse to actually link to, Jim Carey's anti gun polemic. Google it for yourself.)

Consider the Colorado legislator who was chairing the hearing on the "concealed carry on campus ban" bill, who in response to the moving story of the CCL holder who was raped within site of the CSU campus police department said that as moving as it was, she had promised her constituents that she would vote to ban guns on campus. If nothing will move you, why have a hearing?

Or, consider the Slate piece by Emily Yoffe, the "human guinea pig," in her piece Guinea Get Your Gun: How I learned to love guns:
So anathema are guns among my friends that when one learned I was doing this piece, he opened his wallet, silently pulled out an NRA membership card, then (after I recovered from the sight) asked me not to spread it around lest his son be kicked out of nursery school.
That position, that our children are somehow contagious and evil because they've been contaminated with guns, bring you to the thought that no common ground exists.  We can't talk about it. Guns are like nuclear waste.

We Need Experts

Then, once you realize that the people who want to ban guns are starting from this completely different place, that guns are bad and need to be controlled, the second barricade in the road to compromise and discussion with pro gun control people appears: the issue of experts.

After the Newtown shootings, the President called on Joe Biden to empanel a group of experts to plan a gun control program for the U.S. If you were putting together a panel to plan an immunization program to eradicate polio, you would bring on virologists, vaccine production specialists, pediatricians, and perhaps sociologists who had expertise in public acceptance, or perhaps media specialists who know about designing public acceptance programs.  If you were planning to reduce deaths from hurricanes and tornados you would include engineers and contractors and weather specialists.

So, when V.P. Biden was told to convene a task force to address gun violence, who attended the meeting?

  • Attorney General Eric Holder, 
  • Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, 
  • Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, 
  • Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, 
  • and top White House aides
So, an attorney, a school administrator, another attorney, and a public administrator.  Which one is the gun expert? Perhaps it's one of those top white house aides.

Did Biden's group of senior administrators call on top experts in the field of gun violence?  Did they call in Massad Ayoob, or Mike Baker the president of Gun Vault?  Did they call in John Lott? Perhaps they went international and called on Peter van Uhm, the Netherlands’ chief of defense? Nope.  How about the traditional US gun manufacturers: Colt, Ruger, Mossberg, Remington, you know, hundreds of years old companies with roots in the US manufacturing field and who make many of not most of the guns sold in the US today?  Surely meeting with the manufacturers would have a benefit to discuss what could be done?  Nope. How about dealers or a representative of dealers who have extensive experience with actually performing background checks and recording firearms sales, that would make sense, right?  Nope. 

They did meet with representatives of the NRA, the NSSF and the SAF once, for less than one of their full two-hour meetings. The meeting can be summarised simply: Biden asked the NRA official if his group could back a ban on assault weapons. James Baker’s reply was no. They were done.  Biden & Co. didn't want to hear any of the data or suggestions from the NRA and others. They wanted them to concede, they wanted the discussion to start with the admission that guns are bad, and need to be controlled, and the discussion then is simply how best to eliminate them. No other option need be brought up. 

Over the course of 22 meetings, the task force consulted with 229 groups. How many of those represented gun experts? How many represented the literally hundreds of millions of gun owners in the U.S. who have never committed a crime, who will never assault someone with their guns, and who may well be required to use their gun for home defense?   Eight groups involved with hunting, Four groups who represent gun importers or dealers, and two groups who represent firearms owners.  All during that one less-than-two-hour meeting.  The parents of the Sandy Hook children got more time.  Can anyone realistically suggest the parents of the Sandy Hook children are experts about guns and gun violence?  Nope.

So, first, assume guns are bad, then choose your experts so that you only hear from people who already agree with what you want to do, and who agree that guns are bad.  

Call giving in a compromise

Snell uses the term "death by a thousand cuts." Other firearms people talk about dominos or feet in the door, but it all means the same thing. The pro gun control people assume that guns are bad, that our experts are bad because they know guns, and that reasonable people exercising common sense would agree to the gun controls they propose.  That's the starting point for them.  Therefore, any limit they make beyond taking away all the guns is "respecting the second amendment" and a compromise or a concession. From the perspective of gun people, they start out with a lie, that they respect the second amendment. They don't mean it. 

An example? The Colorado and New York and California and the Feinstein "assault weapons" ban include what they call a concession: grandfather clauses that exempt firearms you already own.  The problem is, they don't exempt them for your grandchildren.  There's no provision for passing those guns down to your kids.  It's only ones you own, today.  Grandfather clauses are a sneaky way of saying "we're banning this, but we don't want you to actually notice."  And God forbid that you want to recruit new shooters for your hunting group or your three-gun team or your IDPA club, because they can't get new guns, those aren't grandfathered in.  There's any number of other examples, but let that one stand for all.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

We've been over this before, but what the heck, one more time.  The gun control folks say that guns kill around 30,000 people in the US each year, and that they want gun control in order to effect crime control to prevent things like Aurora and Newtown.  They conveniently ignore several things about those issues: 
  • Most gun deaths aren't crime deaths, around 60% are suicides. 
  • Violent crime rates have been falling since the early 1990's.  
  • Gun homicides and accidental gun deaths have been falling since 1993 despite around a hundred million new guns in private hands in that time. The rate is now about half the 1993 rate. 
  • Gun crimes and gun homicides have been falling since 1993 despite the fact that during that time well over seven million Americans have gotten concealed carry permits, presumably resulting in more guns out and about on the streets.  
  • The various assault weapons bans will have essentially no impact on crime since assault weapons are used in less than 2% of all crimes involving a gun. 
  • And don't forget, the deadliest school shooting in the U.S. was committed by someone with two pistols, one of them a .22, and a backpack full of ten-round magazines.  
  • Of course, the deadliest school mass killing in the U.S. was committed in 1927 with no guns at all. 
  • But then, he was a piker compared to the Chechens in Beslan
  • Don't forget that if there are 14,000 gun homicides in a year (or so) that even an anti-gun team chosen by the Clinton Justice Department came up with the lowest possible number for defensive gun uses annually in the U.S. of nearly 200,000.  Other studies range upwards from there into the 1 to 2 million range.
But those numbers don't matter.  Guns are bad.  

My Analogy is valid. Your Analogy is idiotic

The first amendment's free speech and press clauses are celebrated and treasured. Despite the fact that the founders couldn't have conceived any of them, the first is understood to include radio and television and telephones and color printing and the internet and who knows what else.  It is an individual right as is your right to not have soldiers quartered in your home under the third, or your rights under the privileges and immunities clause of the fourth, or your several and various rights under the fifth.  

Never the less, anti-gun people frequently contend that the framers could not have possibly imagined modern fire arms and that even if the second amendment is an individual right, which many of them do not accept, despite it being stuck in there with all those other individual rights, still, the second ought to apply to muskets and black powder dueling pistols, The framers couldn't have meant you can have an AR-15.  And even if you could, it would be in the service of the militia, and we don't make militia folks bring their own guns any more, the government supplies them, so you don't need one.  

The idea that the framers, who were great wonderful intelligent men meant the second to be analogous to the first and the third, fourth and fifth is simply silly.  After all, guns are bad.  

And in regard to the idea that the framers couldn't have conceived of anything more advanced than a musket, remember that the puckle gun was patented in 1718 and commercially produced beginning in 1722.
Yes, that's a crank operated flintlock machine gun designed, built and sold commercially fifty years before the American revolution.  Of course, the founders couldn't possibly have imagined anything more advanced than muskets.  They also couldn't know about Philip V's 1715 breech loader.
Or the Ferguson breech loading rifle invented in 1720 and produced in the early 1770s. Two hundred of them were used in the American revolution: 
Yep, those poor founders never ever could have envisioned modern firearms any more than they could have envisioned television or the internet.  

And of course, it doesn't matter. Guns are still bad.  
Where I ended up
So, after a long series of blog entries, after many many hours of pulling statistics from web sites all over the world, after hours of listening to gunners and anti-gun people, after sitting with people I really care about and hearing their fears and concerns, where am I?

I've formed some conclusions about guns and crime:

  • The presence of guns doesn't cause or increase crime. 
  • Having more law-abiding citizens keep and carry guns doesn't increase crime or accidental death. 
  • Having guns present in a confrontational situation decreases the risk of the confrontation escalating to violence. 
  • A person having more guns doesn't increase the risk of bad things; crime or accidents. 
  • The type of guns people have is unrelated to the use of guns in crime.  
I've formed some conclusions about the relationship between guns and myself.
  • Shooting guns is fun. I am particularly fond of shooting trap, sporting clays with shotguns and steel targets with pistols.  
  • Shooting guns is meditative. Like Zen archery, shooting concentrates my focus and stops the chatter of the monkey brain. After a session at the range I am both calmer and more able to address issues that I face.  
  • Carrying a gun daily helps me be advertent. With the Glock on my hip, I can not move through the world without attention to what's around me. 
  • Carrying a gun daily helps me be polite. Since I know that escalation is bad, and since I am paying attention to what people are doing and saying, I much more successfully avoid confrontation. I might have done that eventually without the gun, but with it, I am forced to think before I act or speak.  
  • Working on guns is fun. I particularly like taking old beat up, rusted, rotted, broken guns and turning them back into something pretty and functional. 
I've formed some conclusions about the second amendment.  
  • The founders were very smart.  
  • The second amendment embodies both a collective duty and an individual right. Collectively, citizens bear the duty of being "well regulated." A well regulated clock keeps good time. Collectively, the citizens should be able to perform the duties of the militia.  Thus the second phrase that "the right of the people to keep and bear arms." provides the individual right. A person must have the right to keep and bear arms in order to be prepared to be a part of the militia. 
I've formed some conclusions about "common sense gun laws." 
  • It is reasonable and proper to prohibit felons from buying guns.  Felons have violated the social contract, and rightly lose many of their rights as citizens.  
  • It is reasonable and proper to have a second tier of investigation for people who are buying certain classes of weapons. It is perfectly legal for a private citizen to own and operate machine guns and artillery in many states, but those citizens have to pay an additional tax and pass an additional background check.  That's fine.  (The fact that you have to do it for each and every item, and that it takes six months, and that for some silly reason suppressors (silencers) are included is not reasonable.) 
  • Gun rationing (waiting periods, x gun a month purchase restrictions, etc) are not reasonable and serve no social purpose.  
  • Gun registration is the constitutional equivalent to printing press registration. The function of the free press and the function of the militia are similar in that they serve to place limits on the idiocies of governments.  
  • Government policies which make gun ownership more expensive and difficult for the poor is evil and racist. Universal background checks should not impose unreasonable cost or time burdens on the poor.
  • Concealed carry is good for the nation and for the carrier.  
  • Operating a gun in public space on the property of other people, on public roads, in public buildings can reasonably be required to pass tests proving competence and an understanding of the laws regarding the use of deadly force.  This is equivalent to the requirement that you pass a test of your competence and understanding of the laws to operate a vehicle on a public road.  There's no restriction on who can drive or what they can drive on private property. Children drive racing go-karts at highway speeds on tracks.  Similarly, there should be no restriction on who or what a person can shoot on private property.  To carry a gun in public adds additional responsibilities and requiring licensing is reasonable.
Essentially, the position I've come to is: buying and keeping and shooting guns should be essentially unrestricted beyond a simple background check.  Carrying in public can, and in my opinion should, be subject to licensing similar to drivers licenses.  

Thank you for putting up with this.  I'm sure that there will be more gun posts eventually, but I'd like to get back to programming and writing science fiction. 

-_ Rick 
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