Sunday, April 22, 2007

Guns in a Less Simple Time

The political carrion beetles feasted following the Cho massacre at Virginia Tech. Right, left, libertarian, pro or anti-gun, and on and on grasped single grains of information and grew huge plants, no whole orchards, from them.

Disclaimer: I had one and then a second post on my eldest son headed to the campus the evening of the murders. That was not what a parent wants to ponder. In mine, you won't find blame for anyone.

Reading buckets of ink or electron coverage of it, I find myself reacting to the excessive and multi-directional gun-control comments, as well as the lack of musing on the class issues.

I claim fair-use to the Rosemary Wells phrase from her Max's First Word early reader. I also strongly recommend this series. Both the kids and adults involved in reading them can tolerate the hundreds of repetitions.

I am also sorry if a cartoon image seems inappropriate in relation to this horrific occurrence and its aftermath. Yet, this reflects the self-absorbed and comic nature of gun debate that has already followed.

A future post deals with the obvious class undercurrents. First though, the arguments about guns brought Max to mind. Throughout the book, despite the entreaties and guile of his sister Ruby to speak other words, Max will only say, "Bang!"

Indeed, on the early afternoon following the Blacksburg tragedy, wing nuts, reactionaries, righty pundits and their ilk were filling the internet and broadcast pipes with screeds about how gun ownership has nothing to do with mass murder using guns. Browning forbid that they found anyone suggesting tighter restrictions on handguns.

Even some not so berserk chums, like here, give reasoned apologies for handguns, tying ownership to libertarian ideals. No discussion of the standard, moot arguments follows. You can find those in internet searches in general or Technorati ones in particular. You can find the National Rifle Association comic-b0ok treatment of in-school murder by guns. Also, likely the guy most in need of asbestos underwear this month will be Salon's Washington bureau chief, Walter Shapiro, following his call to Repeal the Second Amendment.

Pertinently, Australia had a very similar massacre by guns that led precipitously to a fix that seems to have worked. In addition. they had a similar wild-west type of mentality even in city dwellers that they faced and overcame. Europeans quickly had to drop Aussies from their ridicule about a gun culture and concentrate exclusively on us among first-world nations.

An overview of mass shootings in the United States is here. About a third of the way in, you find this as well:
Australia had a spate of mass public shooting in the 1980s and '90s, culminating in 1996, when Martin Bryant opened fire at the Port Arthur Historical Site in Tasmania with an AR-15 assault rifle, killing 35 people.

Within two weeks the government had enacted strict gun control laws that included a ban on semiautomatic rifles. There has not been a mass shooting in Australia since.

Yet, in the same this-but-that article, some folk including a criminologist say that gun availability is no biggie, certainly not a cause. This seems to be an abortion-level hot button.

Thus, we return to the American stalemate. Well over half of the population in every poll favors more gun control and fewer guns. They are not the loud ones that politicians hear or from whom they get contributions. That's simple enough.

Supposedly we now have more handguns than Americans. In itself, this suggests that were we to implement vastly stricter gun licensing, permitting and punishment for violations, it would take decades to reduce the number of guns to even the number that would accommodate one or two rifles or shotguns per hunter and a handgun for domestic protection.

It is difficult to seriously consider the extreme anti-gun-control types' arguments in light of U.S. death and injury figures due to handguns. Consider the graphic in today's New York Times. Nearly 30,000 Americans die annually from being shot, and over 64,000 are injured. From 18 to 40, the most common deaths are black men being murdered. Over that age, it is white men killing themselves with handguns.

The wheezing argument that the violent types would use a knife, club or whatever is not convincing, particularly so for mass murders by gun, easily available gun.

Short of having walk-in or drive-in psychologists on every corner like convenience stores or gas stations, migrating from a bullet-centric culture seems the most workable. Clearly, this is not a simple or politically popular solution, even with the poll figures favoring gun restrictions.

I rather doubt that the Cho massacre will lead to the national soul searching and directional change that Australia experienced. It may more such horrors to tip the debate.

I think of my own family and friends. My beloved grandfather did not kill animals for sport (although he ate them). His son and his son's sons did. My many great-uncles did too, but I think more for the fraternal experience and beer instead of the 14-point buck they stalked. Several of their sons and one long-term friend were life-long law enforcement types -- county or state police or sheriffs. None of them would be without a pistol in the bedside table drawer.

Yet, at the same time, they each and all have faced the calls for adults, teens and even toddlers who died from accidental gun discharge. While they all favor having a gun for that extremely unlikely home invasion, they decry when someone is enraged or otherwise temporarily out of control, has access to a gun, and uses it on another. Those people shouldn't have had guns. Then all of the good intentions of proper training and weapon storage become meaningless, and, of course, undercut the NRA positions.

Yet, even I was not prepared to see some of the right-wing articles and blog posts postulating the all-American gory glory if only every student on the Virginia Tech campus has been armed and trained to use guns. Boy, or boy, some wrote, that murderer wouldn't have stood a chance.

As a boomer, I grew up on such westerns. Those were simple times for my immature mind and emotions. White hats, black hats, good guys, villains...that was simple and satisfying. The good guys had to win, even if they took one to the shoulder and even if they had to shoot it out with the bad guy.

I confess that I understand the appeal and feel the emotional pull of such binary theatrics. However, most of the world has evolved beyond the wild-west drama. Most countries, except for a few Asian ones and numerous non-democracies, have also outlawed or not used capital punishment for decades.

Many of the libertarian bent deride those who would reduce handgun ownership and restrict acquisition and require registration. Some say those folk are anti-Constitution and pseudo-progressives.

I confess that there are status quo components I would defend and keep. As you might imagine from this blog, Massachusetts same-sex marriage is one of those.

I understand that those who want to retain the privilege, or as they say right, to a handgun in every nightstand see that as a status quo worthy of fighting to maintain. I disagree strongly. We really don't need to look beyond the tiny number of folk who claim to have prevented a crime because they carried a handgun versus the daily murders and accidental firearms deaths -- nearly 100 Americans a day.

In an ideal world, every gun owner would be of pure heart, sound mind, excellent marksmanship, and not susceptible to the emotions that would have him turn his weapon of protection to an tool for murder. Then again, in an ideal world, we'd have no criminals and no need to anyone to own a handgun.

No one should wait patiently for either ideal.

Over the past several years, I have noted numerous areas in which we as a nation are socially slow. Gay rights and same-sex marriage are among these. Handguns for all is yet another.

It may take 30 years for us to accept the need to moderation and act on it. Hmm, that may be the same time period for same-sex marriage.

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Uncle said...

I rather hope someone follows that link to my post. I did: read it three times just to make sure.

Apologies for handguns? Nope. I wondered aloud why certain types of knowledge don't qualify as protected speech when this issue comes up.

Libertarian ideals? I suppose if an idea of harnessing to the successful 50-state strategy is libertarian, I'm guilty. If the suggesting a co-opting the right's ownership of the mother of all wedge issues is libertarian, I'm guilty.

I'm much obliged that you made one of my other points, that very few people can think (or even read) straight when this issue comes up. I believe you anticipated that I would offer an apologia for handguns and (for whatever reason) libertarianism, and inferred what you needed. You can do better than that, but the siren of gun control mania has hold of your senses.

We do need moderation. Progressives do need to wrest some portion of this issue from the right. These cannot happen unless enough people free themselves from the liberal canon to start exploring common ground with the people in the centre of this issue: not those on the far right, who are pretty much past reason.

Neither extreme has had a new idea on gun control in 40 years. I asked for some new ideas and a willingness to set aside stereotype in favour of pragmatism.

Asking for that is not libertarian. It's worse: I fear it's damned foolishness, and to that I plead guilty. Even the most sensible followers of the canon seem to hesitate on the threshold of realpolitik. You almost crossed it, but couldn't manage the journey, laden as you were with a large bag of the usual arguments.

Is it fear of the unknown quantity of compromise that causes this hesitation, or are most progressives simply accustomed to noble failure? I'd like to see progressives realistic enough to win, but that's more damned foolishness.

It seems the Democratic candidates are right: just shut up and give up. If someone as fair as you can do no better than distort and mock the words of a friend, progressives probably have lost on gun control forever.

massmarrier said...

Well, you're too prickly on this, says I. I'm not mocking, but I come by and at this differently.

As my post notes, there were no arguments laid out there. I see no chance of convincing any rabid 2nd Amendment sorts and didn't try (besides, I view you only as slightly to the right of moderate on this). Their positions are self-parodies anyway -- well lampooned in today's This Modern World comic. Now, there's ridicule!

No, what I was getting at is that this comes to the liberal and progressive solution, the one that only works when you have a cultural shift and commit to it for a long time. The Europeans and now the Australians are well ahead of this in their successes in such. We all have numerous failures, largely failures of will.

We don't need new ideas to start reducing the overabundance of handguns and the resulting crimes of passion as well as considered lawbreaking.

What we need is the critical mass to say, "This shit has to stop!" Only from such a national mentality does deep and lasting change arise.

That's my disorder, the liberal one. Treat the underlying causes; don't pass a new law and smack your lips in satisfaction.

Sure, stricter licensing, permitting, punishment and such help, but they don't solve the problem solo. That comes when it's not 55% of us demanding change, but 75% or more.

I say it is worth screaming about now to get there. Whimpering and muttering have no practical effect.

Within our lifetimes, we'll be at that tipping point. Then local, state and national legislators and other leaders will get with the program. Then we'll see the specific ideas and procedures and policies. The shift in politics and culture can never come from one good program. No social change ever has.