First off, thanks to Jesse “Doc” Sweeny from Gun Control=More Crime Connecticut for responding to my first post on gun control. I’ve been reading and rereading his very thoughtful and sincere comments. If you haven’t had time to sort through our viewpoints yet, please do; we would love for you to join the conversation!
Right now, I will respond to each of his arguments below. Then I’ll diverge a bit, arguing against what we’re hearing in the media at large. Finally, you’ll see that I’ve changed my original stance on the assault weapons ban, thanks to none other than Stephen King.
Thanks again, in advance, Jesse, for helping me to learn more about this important issue!
The Changing Legislative Proposals
I will admit I didn’t adequately research the proposed laws from a few weeks ago when I originally wrote about them. At this point (3/25/13), the federal assault weapons ban is off the table. I’m sure there’s still a lot of work to be done at state and federal levels before we’ll know exactly what the laws will become.
But I needed to compare some of the remaining proposals–better background checks, smaller ammo clips–to what measures are all ready in place. So I took some time to educate myself on federal and state gun laws. Here’s what I found . . .
The NRA quick guide to federal firearms laws shows that laws are not too restrictive! Outside of keeping firearms out of the hands of minors, and outside of banning weapons from prohibited persons (criminals, drug users, mentally incompetent) pretty much anyone can own a gun as long as they don’t trade them illegally across state lines.
The state of Connecticut, where Jesse and I live, has some additional restrictions. The state:
- Requires a background check prior to the transfer of a handgun between individuals other than licensed firearms dealers;
- Requires a background check for all firearm transfers at gun shows (but not for private transfers of long guns elsewhere);
- Requires handgun dealers to obtain a license, and handgun purchasers to first obtain an eligibility certificate;
- Prohibits the transfer or possession of assault weapons and certain 50 caliber rifles, but not large capacity ammunition magazines;
- Imposes a two-week waiting period on long gun transfers from licensed dealers;
- Acts as a “point of contact” state, conducting its own background checks, rather than relying on the FBI;
- Requires the reporting of all individuals prohibited from possessing firearms to the database used for firearm purchaser background checks;
- Requires firearm owners to report the loss or theft of their firearms;
- Allows local governments to regulate firearms and ammunition; and
- Allows local governments discretion to deny a concealed weapons permit.
Consequently, Connecticut has the fifth lowest number of firearms deaths.
There’s no denying that smart, well enforced laws protect all of us. Here are some Gallup results. This is what the public thinks. It seems as though assault weapons are slightly losing favor among Americans. However, stricter laws for the sale of guns and high-capacity magazines are popular.
Fact: The overwhelming majority of people surveyed are in favor of tougher gun control laws. It’s also clear that they’re not interested in restricting gun ownership–even the ownership of assault rifles. There seems to be a strong, silent majority that would like to improve gun control–not eliminate the Second Amendment.
While the politicians may not have decided to focus their reforms where they really count–on improving our mental health system and the safety of our schools–their job is to represent the will of the people. And improving gun control in an attempt to hinder those who would obtain guns illegally and fire limitless rounds at innocent people seems like a popular (and good) idea.
These restrictions should pose no threat to law-abiding hunters and target shooters. You know, the vast majority of American gun owners! In fact, not one of the changes to the Second Amendment since its inception have impinged upon the average gun owner in any way. Have a look!
The changes do seem reactive and instituted in response to particular kinds of crimes. They’re very specific and are by no means sweeping. The one exception is the 1994 assault weapons ban. Which, of course, is no longer in play.
So why not concede a few things for safety? If you could do whatever you want whenever you want to at your job, chances are not much work would get done. Instead, you give up some of your personal freedoms for the sake of productivity. Does expanding background checks and limiting ammo capacity really threaten your liberty? It sounds like a small thing to do in the name of safety.
Believing that only the eighth (!) minor change to the Second Amendment in about 222 years will lead to you completely losing your right to bear arms is truly a slippery slope fallacy.
Speaking of believing the media unquestioningly, the NRA and ILA, propped up by gun manufacturers, are whipping up fear just as much–if not more so–than the gun control crowd. On to the next section . . .
Being Critical of Media
As a teacher, I encourage my students to always be critical of the media. If you believe what you see about teenagers on TV, you’d know for sure that all they do is text while driving, smoke pot, and try to get pregnant all day.
The Sandy Hook tragedy raised public consciousness about psychology, school safety, and, yes, gun control. Did gun control advocates seize an opportunity after Sandy Hook? Of course they did. Should people who disagree push back? Of course they should. That’s how our system works.
That Piers Morgan interview I originally posted stuck out in my mind. I don’t watch his show except when my baby son can’t sleep at night. That night Morgan interviewed Alex Jones my strategy backfired. This guy was so fired up, and, frankly, so irrational, that I couldn’t help but laugh.
I’m sorry, but gun rights need better reps. Admit that Wayne LaPierre is out of touch at best. The NRA just started making telemarketing calls to Newtown residents encouraging them to speak out against gun control. Let me repeat: the NRA is calling NEWTOWN, CT. If that’s not poor strategy, I don’t know what is.
And as much as we all love The Nuge, he is often a poor spokesperson for gun owners. If you want people to respect your position, you have to take the mic away from people like him. He even makes a lot of good points, but you can’t shout and says things the way he says them if you want to be taken seriously by most people. I’m sorry, as impassioned as pro-gun folks may be, that’s just the way it works. If you’re investigated by the Secret Service for making threats about the President, it detracts somewhat from your credibility.
Mind you, Ted Nugent is not you typical gun owner. He’s a wealthy hobbyist. Here’s the least inflammatory video I could find on him. For the most part, he’s right on target. But does he really represent the will of the people?
The work that Sweeny’s doing with Gun Control=More Crime Connecticut is a lot more realistic and effective, if you ask me.
And while we’re shopping for famous pro-gun representatives, why not consider Kim Rhode? It worked for the RNC!
Sorry, but what follows is another Piers Morgan interview. It does show how good a rep she it though. Thankfully Morgan doesn’t say much, and Rhode hits a bullseye with her comments.
The Battle Against Tyranny
I disagree most strongly with anyone who thinks the Second Amendment defends us against tyranny. Maybe because it was originally meant to enable colonists to fight off the British. Maybe because the law seems a bit antiqued in the 21st century. Gun ownership, for the vast majority of people, is a hobby, not a necessity.
Maybe it’s because my heroes don’t carry guns. I think people like Ellen Degeneres and Eric Schlosser, and have done more to enact social change over the past decade than any patriotic gun owner or local militiaman could in a lifetime.
Let’s be realistic here. This is not Libya. This is not Syria. America is a superpower. With all the changes occurring in Russia and China, do any of them involve guns? No. That’s because in modern, First-World nations, the people have no realistic chance of “taking back” their government by force. No chance. Unless you plan to raise an army and an air force, unless you command a swarm of drones, unless you have a stockpile of nukes . . . there’s no chance.
Look at China and Russia. The people have suffered the most violent oppression since Communists came to power. No amount of firepower could help them. But change–for better and for worse–is happening as citizens wield the power of money and influence. The Russian oligarchy helped end the USSR and filled the power vacuum. China’s emerging middle class is earning increased freedom from tyranny as their buying power improves.
In The People’s History of the United States, historian and social critic Howard Zinn argues over and over that democracy is yet another form of tyranny because it allows the wealthy and well connected to form special interest groups that wield power over the masses. Sound familiar? From Columbus to the Robber Barons to the Bush-era, it sounds like a broken record to me. Social and economic tyranny are the repeated reality of this nation; if the public actually realized the soft despotism we suffer under, we’d stop the cycle of mindless consumption . . . and the powers-that-be would really be powerless.
In America, like other modern nations, the only real way to fight tyranny is with your wallet and your voice. And the work Jesse does through Gun Control=More Crime Connecticut is the right way to do it.
Also, isn’t it ironic that Jesse, a National Guardsman, and I, an public school teacher, both work for the government while simultaneously distrusting it? I guess the best thing to do is work within the system to see change throughout!
The Beauty of Weapons
A lot of what Jesse said regarding the aesthetics of guns like the AR-15 struck a cord with me. He spoke with the affection of a martial artist discussing his or her craft. The beauty and grace of kata (form), for example, are undeniable, and it’s easy to forget that what appears to be an intricate dance is really a series of potentially deadly self-defense techniques.
Compare the clean look and craftsmanship behind the AR-15 pictured above. Imagine the amount of work that went into designing and engineering this rifle! It’s impressive to say the least. Now compare that to the design of this kata and its masterful, expressive performance.
It’s hard to deny that violent actions can be seen as beautiful. Like anything else, the intentions are what matter. After all, isn’t Judas’ kiss an act of evil disguised as love? Not a bad token for the mafia to co-opt as “the kiss of death”!
Here’s another Kim Rhode video. I’d say it’s incredibly beautiful shooting with the best of intentions.
Am I a Hypocrite?
After reading Jesse’s comments, and upon further reflection, I began to feel a little like a hypocrite. After all, how would I like it if someone seemed to be threatening my ability to practice the martial arts? A way to defend myself and my family. A way to practice something expressive and beautiful? Something I grew up with. Something I hope to share with my son?
I posed this question to the martial arts folks on Reddit. Here are their responses.
Some of the highlights, I think, remind us that guns are an essential part of modern self defense. But, at the same time, it’s pretty hard to commit a massacre using martial arts skills. Unless you’re defending your national pride in a foreign dojo!
In all seriousness, this fight scene is actually a powerful and dramatic expression of Bruce Lee’s Chinese heritage. And using your body, mind, and spirit to express yourself and your beliefs in a positive way are what the martial arts are all about. While I’m not interested in using firearms as my vehicle for self expression, I respect the rights of those who chose to do so in a safe and constructive way.
After considering how my fellow martial artists feel about guns and the thoughts of others like Jesse, I’ve revamped my own opinions a bit. Read a little further; we’re almost done!
Common Sense Debate
Let’s circle back to where this all started: the call for some discussion over the real problems of mental health and school safety. Needless to say, the pros and cons of gun control are distracting us from what we really need to do. I agree with Jesse that the gun debate is a little rushed and a little out of place. Legislation should not be rushed. However, historically, the only gun control legislation that ever passes in America follows shortly after high crimes and national tragedies (think about stopping Al Capone and Lee Harvey Oswald). To call politicians and gun control advocates opportunistic may be true, but it is the ONLY way to make any headway against those who would actually abuse the protections of the Second Amendment. Pro-gun interests, mainly the NRA and the manufacturers that back them, will not give up and inch (or dollar, really) to gun control because it will ultimately hurt their business. It’s unfortunate that so many law-abiding gun owners get wrapped up in the polemics. Their voices do need to be heard, and their rights do need to be protected. However, the slippery slope argument repeated by the most extreme pro-gun proponents–that minor changes to an antiquated law will strip the “good guys” of every last chance they have to enjoy their hobbies and to defend themselves–is rubbish. Gun rights have changed very little in over 200 years. We can debate whether this is a good thing or not, but that matter stands that nearly half of US citizens own guns, and no one will be confiscating them anytime soon.
Not that my say matters, but I’m willing to concede the assault weapons ban. The good guys who want these guns pose no harm. The bad guys who would circumvent the weak system of background checks and who would cache huge ammo clips need to be put in check. If adding a few restrictions to a very permissive set of laws is what it takes to at least slow down would-be shooters, then we need to take the necessary steps to stop them.
Maybe Stephen King isn’t the leading authority on gun rights or crime prevention, but I think his call for common sense discussion–not rabid party politics–is our best solution to the gun control debate. Then maybe we can stop shooting off out mouths and really get to work!
Look, most Americans want these simple laws, so let’s make them. If they run counter to the Second Amendment, the Supreme Court will eventually overturn them. If they stand (they probably will), the hunters can still hunt, the target shooters can still shoot, and homeowners can still have a weapon or two at hand for defense and protection. The rest of us will be a little safer.
There are no guarantees in life; nothing’s a lock. I think we all understand that. You can outlaw AR-15s, but you can’t outlaw crazy. The next Adam Lanza is out there somewhere, the next Seung-Hui Cho, the next James Holmes. The job we all have, as responsible Americans, is to make it as hard for these loonies as possible.
Can we at least find a middle ground on that? (http://bangordailynews.com/2013/03/20/opinion/stephen-king-speaks-out-on-gun-violence/)
There is certainly a lot to learn about this topic. I like all the points you made.