Friday, December 21, 2012

The obligatory thoughts-on-guns post (sorry.)

(Author's caveat: This post contains just a couple stupid, but well-intended bits of esoteric humor I'm naively leaving in. It is in no way intended to reflect a light-minded treatment of recent tragedies.)

Just an estimation: It takes about 500 hours of well-rounded research and experience to have a valid 60-second opinion on most topics. Most people don't want to put in the work, but they want to take part in the discussion. This is why the discussion is nauseating to those who at least realize that they don't know what they don't know, and why those that don't realize that they don't know what they don't know also don't realize they are a part of the downward spiral.

If I didn't just lose you with that last sentence, thanks for sticking with me. 

I know a young man with a blog titled "The Experience-Free Opinion." I like the name of his blog even if I don't have time to read it most of the time, because he caveats his right to rhetoric with a healthy dosage of self-awareness. 

I'm building up the courage to post some thoughts and I think I'll start it with: I have no idea what I'm talking about because I don't know what I don't know. That said...

It is possible to not support a ban on "assault weapons" or "high-capacity magazines" in America, but at the same time to wish that they were never desired or easily provided for purchase by just anyone in the first place. (I write this with the understanding that the modern legislation defining what constitutes an "assault weapon" and "high-capacity magazine" was largely based on emotion and hollywood and mostly a symbolic gesture, not practical. More on that in a link below.*)

Just as it's possible to not support the prohibition, but not be a drinker myself and wish that others could find a more uplifting way of unwinding before they get into their car, or get angry at their spouse, or neglect their responsibilities and inconvenience others, or pickle their liver and cause their family and friends distress. (Not that all drinking results in these things, just all excessive drinking.)

And just as it's possible to not support large soda bans, but to certainly regret that far too many of our fellow country(wo)men are passing along bad health habits to children in their care; Children who already think that a sedentary lifestyle is "normal" and obesity-caused illness is probably just genes wreaking havoc.

Just as you wouldn't as an adult steal lunch money from a child, but you are baffled and saddened that s/he chose to spend that money on a "Black Eyed Peas" CD instead of eating. And then s/he sits through a live London Symphony Orchestra performance wearing noise-canceling headphones, listening to the CD over and over and over again.
People become exposed to, attracted to, and then dependent on unhealthy things, be it assault rifles or Coke. It seems as though they reach a state where they would be unhappy without those things and they tend to surround themselves with like-minded peers that enable and support their habits. Ideally, the goal should be to A) never reach that state or B) advocate self-awareness and replace the bad with something that is good/better for you and those around you. 

I will assume that you know stealing is wrong, bullies are bad, and people need to make their own choices until such time as they try to illegally take choice away from others. But if we ever have a chance to prevent something bad from becoming popular or "good" in the first place, let's give it a shot. Because once the people fall in love with it, then you're just the bully taking away their freedom of choice. Don't ban what you disagree with, however tempting as it may be. Rather, lobby and educate against what you disagree with lest it ever be widely perceived as desirable. If you care, and if you have a good case, make your case for a change of will, not a ban on choice. 

None of this will change the fact that using your choices to steal freedom from another (e.g. ending another's life via murder, or loudly singing along to the Black Eyed peas during the middle of a beautiful LSO performance for which people paid to hear the LSO and not you) is wrong, and rightfully illegal.

That's what makes a great society: People who have a choice, but make good choices. 

All that said, some places have reasonable preventative laws/restrictions/bans that are in place to prevent bad things from happening on accident: i.e. mandatory gun safes, trigger locks, speed limits in bad weather, school and construction zones, fire bans in public high fire danger lands, or FAA regulations for who is allowed to pilot a charter of children through the air. I just made that last one up, but it's probably real. You get it. 

Where do you draw the line? Can you own a functioning tank in a downtown area? An RPG Launcher? Are you allowed to take it anywhere? Should adults be able to do whatever they want as long as it only potentially harms him/herself?  Okay, but not children, right? Minors need to be protected from some choices for optimal development, right? Who decides who are children? Who decided that 18 years old is "adult?" Yet drinking age is 21, so for three years you're an adult, but not completely? (I guess there's an argument for gradual, tiered freedom granting, like in parenting.) Should there be exceptions to some freedoms for adults that act like or are stupider than some children 1/4 their age? What about adults with mental illness? What about mental illness that isn't easily detectable, but latently dangerous? Where do you draw the line, and is a 51% majority the only thing required to define the placement of the line?

Here's a question that requires more self-awareness, personal responsibility and civility, so it's appealing to me: 

What outlier "rights" are worth voluntarily sacrificing because it will make it harder for those less responsible than you to access the same "right" and abuse it to the detriment of innocents? Military-style assault rifles and high-capacity magazines easily fall into that category for me, the same way that I am not offended that I need a special government issued license to purchase or make C4 explosives. I am not offended that the Safe Explosives Act of 2002 and laws that existed before it make it very difficult for me to possess and use explosive tools. So why would I feel like a tyrannical government was infringing on my civil liberties if they made it equally as difficult to legally possess an assault rifle and high-capacity magazines? I'll tell you why: Because by now many people are used to being able to own them easily and freely. They've grown accustomed to the freedom. They ostensibly stand under the protective banner of the 2nd Amendment even while they are not equally offended that the 2nd Amendment doesn't grant them the right to stock up on regulated explosives. 

It's clear to me that the 2nd Amendment was inspired and should be protected at some level. I mean, just watch "Red Dawn." (To be clear, was a joke...kind of.) What is not clear is why many tools intended for taking massive amounts of life in a very short time should be allowed to any adult. In my "experience-free opinion" there is little room for that argument in this country. Some make a solid case that James Madison's 2nd Amendment was written for a different time, different circumstances and different weapons.

Now, for those that are somehow still reading, in addition to the link in the previous sentence, here is my recommended weekend editorial reading on the topic. A range of differing positions and opinions on both sides of the issue. I've collected these all in one place for your study and pondering:
  • A non-paranoid, level-headed, somewhat libertarian view.
  • The conservative case for an assault weapon ban, by the Republican-appointed federal judge that just sentenced Rep. Gabbi Gifford's shooter.
  • *A long, not very expertly substantiated editorial, but if most of it is true, still interesting read from a leftist that claims to also be a gun enthusiast. He ends his article with some food for thought.
  • What at first seams like a radical suggestion by Seattle's former police chief - repealing the 2nd Amendment - explains itself to be a fairly level-headed segue into simply regulating and registering the guns that people can and do own.
  • And the first informative, data-centric set of facts I read after the Newtown school shooting:
From the last link we see a clear link between gun control and drop in gun crime. Nobody is arguing that stiffer gun restrictions would eliminate 100% of premeditated gun violence, or even 50% of premeditated gun violence, but all the other developed countries in the world have already proven this is true: Stricter gun restrictions severely diminish the amount of gun violence. The only argument against it is that those countries may be "less free." That is likely a valid argument, but it's a broader argument.

That said, this is the USofA, and nobody is pretending that UK-esque laws would go over well here. (But we do love us some London Symphony Orchestra. Especially with an American at the helm.)

You may or may not be interested enough to study the data objectively. If you do, then there can be a discussion about measuring "free" vs. "not as free" societies and what the price of freedom is (the unit of measurement sometimes being liters of children's blood).

In closing, I acknowledge that this is largely a societal mental and moral health issue, more so than a gun issue. That doesn't mean there isn't a gun issue, it just means I believe underlying mental and moral health issues are what exacerbate what would otherwise be a smaller gun issue. 

This is all I currently know. I have no idea what I'm talking about because I don't know what I don't know. Then again, neither do you.


Andrea Forsyth said...

well said. i agree - to both sides. i think both sides make good points. where is that line to be drawn? and don't even get me started on the mental health issues. oh boy. there are arguments on boths sides of that one, too. then again, maybe the mayans will be right and we won't have to worry about all this.

also, your red dawn reference made me laugh. i get the point, but ha. what an awful movie. (at least the old one - i haven't seen the new one.)

Taylor said...

I appreciate the thought you put into this. Unfortunately, the internet seems to inspire knee-jerk vitriol. I read an article recently that talked about how opinion-forming has changed in the last 20 years or so, moving from something fairly private, well-reasoned, and thought-out, to something we feel inclined to shout at the masses, and form without much consideration for the "other side." Thanks.

Personally, I tend to agree with those that call for diminished access to weapons in general, and for an increase in access to medical help for those who suffer from mental illness (which I know from personal experience is very real, and very much stigmatized).