Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Guns and American Entitlement

When I was a little girl, my dad sometimes took me shooting. We’d go someplace near the edge of town, set up a row of cans, and use bullets to punch holes in them. On those days, I imagined myself putting every bullet where I wanted it to go (and sometimes it happened that way). I wanted to be Annie Oakley.

I enjoyed spending time with my dad, but somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought the whole exercise was rather pointless. There are lots of ways to hit targets—with arrows and darts, for example. I wondered then, as I wonder now, why so many people are passionate about heavy, noisy, expensive, and dangerous weapons—people who, like my dad, didn’t hunt and had no enemies against whom to defend himself.

I married a man who grew up on the prairie and whose father had some good reasons to carry guns—mostly to defend against coyotes, as well as making a little money on the side selling pelts. My husband’s father was a mechanic who loved anything made of metal that had moving parts—the more complicated the better.

My husband inherited his love of gadgets and became a mechanical engineer, as well as a locally well-known expert on guns. When his first child was a girl, someone asked him if he was disappointed not to have had a son. Bemused by the question, he responded, “Why would I be disappointed? I can teach her to shoot just as well as I can a boy.”

About three years ago, my husband and I went with my oldest stepson and daughter-in-law to an event at a gun club shooting range. Hundreds of automatic weapons were laid out on long tables, and anyone could shoot them for the price of the ammunition. Hundreds of people, mostly men and boys, lined up at every table to take a turn pummeling targets with streams of bullets. I took my turn, and at almost every family gathering since then, someone says, “You know, Mom has shot a Thompson submachine gun.” Only in America would that be a badge of honor more worthy of mention that any of the hundreds of other quirky things I’ve done in my life.

Last 4th of July, my husband and I went with three of our sons and a family friend to a local shooting range. The men in my family all top six feet (some by several inches), and I thought even the range master looked a little concerned as we started unloading armfuls of armaments from the car. He soon relaxed, however, when the shooting started. My husband has seen to it that all his sons learned early how to handle guns, and very few of the hundreds of rounds shot that day missed the bull’s eye (except the ones I fired).

So I understand how integrated guns are in American culture. And I say something has to change.

The slaughter by guns of innocent people is so routine in this country that, unless the victims are famous, it takes at least several deaths to even make the national news. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 30,000 people every year in the U.S. are killed by gunfire, not to mention the additional thousands who are wounded and maimed.

Thanks to the relentless, radical, well-funded defense of weapons by the National Rifle Association, it has been politically incorrect for many years to even mention common-sense controls that might keep guns out of the hands of violent and crazy people (not to mention children). Thanks to the national paranoia created by extremists and conspiracy theorists, a good percentage of Americans hold the irrational belief that the government wants to disarm its citizens in order to control them. Right-wing politicians have succeeded in making issues regarding “gun control” pretty much synonymous with burning the American flag and killing babies.

Enough. This ridiculous, emotional, all-or-nothing mentality with respect to guns in America needs to be examined in the cold light of reason.

Americans, we have to talk.

7 comments:

The Tarquin said...

I can get into this at greater (much greater) length if you would like, but I have four points, one link, and one quote that I think sum up everything that I want to say.

1.) A great deal is made of "30,000 deaths a year.
a.) Most of these are suicides. If they didn't use a gun, they would use another means.
b.) Guns kill far fewer than several other things in our culture (e.g. automobiles).
c.) No one stops to consider the hundreds of thousands of defensive gun usages that occur ever year in this country, many of which save lives.
d.) Many countries with much tighter restrictions on gun ownership have much higher rates of violent crime. (e.g. South Africa, Great Britain).

2.) As gun ownership is either not correlated with or negatively correlated with both crime and firearm deaths:

http://www.wallsofthecity.net/2010/12/graphics-matter-year-the-second-part-two.html

and

http://www.wallsofthecity.net/2010/06/graphics-matter-year-the-second.html

3.) From here: http://thelawdogfiles.blogspot.com/2010/09/ok-ill-play.html

"I hear a lot about "compromise" from your camp ... except, it's not compromise.

Let's say I have this cake. It is a very nice cake, with "GUN RIGHTS" written across the top in lovely floral icing. Along you come and say, "Give me that cake."

I say, "No, it's my cake."

You say, "Let's compromise. Give me half." I respond by asking what I get out of this compromise, and you reply that I get to keep half of my cake.

Okay, we compromise. Let us call this compromise The National Firearms Act of 1934.

There I am with my half of the cake, and you walk back up and say, "Give me that cake."

I say, "No, it's my cake."

You say, "Let's compromise." What do I get out of this compromise? Why, I get to keep half of what's left of the cake I already own.

So, we have your compromise -- let us call this one the Gun Control Act of 1968 -- and I'm left holding what is now just a quarter of my cake.

And I'm sitting in the corner with my quarter piece of cake, and here you come again. You want my cake. Again.

This time you take several bites -- we'll call this compromise the Clinton Executive Orders -- and I'm left with about a tenth of what has always been MY DAMN CAKE and you've got nine-tenths of it.

Then we compromised with the Lautenberg Act (nibble, nibble), the HUD/Smith and Wesson agreement (nibble, nibble), the Brady Law (NOM NOM NOM), the School Safety and Law Enforcement Improvement Act (sweet tap-dancing Freyja, my finger!)

I'm left holding crumbs of what was once a large and satisfying cake, and you're standing there with most of MY CAKE, making anime eyes and whining about being "reasonable", and wondering "why we won't compromise".

I'm done with being reasonable, and I'm done with compromise. Nothing about gun control in this country has ever been "reasonable" nor a genuine "compromise"."


Hope this information helps.

Citizen Jane said...

Tarquin, I can see that this topic certainly touched a nerve.

Since you obviously have some expertise, would you kindly tell me which parts of the "cake" are now missing? Almost anyone can go almost anywhere and buy guns and ammunitions from guns shows with no restrictions. In some states, including Arizona, it's legal to pack a gun in a bar. (Is it unreasonable to suggest that alcohol and guns don't mix well?)

Is it your position, then, that there should be no regulation of guns whatsoever? We regulate who can drive a car and how. We license dogs. But there should be no public discussion about how to ensure public safety, as much as possible, where guns are concerned?

As for "my side," what makes you think you know what "my side" is? All I said was that we need to talk. If we can't do that as a nation, then all is lost--and I'm no longer talking about guns.

Idna said...

CJ, I enjoyed reading about your life-long history with guns. And I would guess that none of your relatives would ever commit an atrocity like the one in Arizona (you, I'm not so sure about!) OK, none of you ... despite access to and frequent use of firearms.

The politization of this tragedy is mind boggling. From blaming Sarah Palin to bringing up the gun control issue, this knee-jerk, emotional response needs to give way to sane investigation of actual facts.

As more and more is learned about the killer it is evident that he is mentally ill. People who knew him in the neighborhood, at school, and even the police, all knew there was something seriously wrong with this individual. But our laws don't allow anything to be done until "he does something." Crazy behavior does not allow the "community" to commit someone until he/she does some damage to someone else. THAT is the problem, not legal gun ownership.

There is an excellent article by Dr. E.F. Torrey today in which he argues that this tragendy was bound to happen because we emptied state mental hospitals starting in the 1960s without providing adequate treatment alternatives.

He says: "The solution to this situation is obvious—make sure individuals with serious mental illnesses are receiving treatment. The mistake was not in emptying the nation's hospitals but rather in ignoring the treatment needs of the patients being released. Many such patients will take medication voluntarily if it is made available to them. Others are unaware they are sick and should be required by law to receive assisted outpatient treatment, including medication and counseling, as is the case in New York under Kendra's Law. If they do not comply with the court-ordered treatment plan, they can and should be involuntarily admitted to a hospital. Arizona has such a provision in its laws, but it is almost never used."

To me this is the most sane and unemotional, apolitical discussion I have read/heard so far on this issue. Let's try to focus on the actual problem and not bring in everyone's pet political agenda.

The Tarquin said...

I didn't mean to paint you with a particular brush with regards to your views, rather I just wanted to present some information on my views.

Do I think there should be any restrictions on firearm ownership? Possibly, but they should be limitations on WHO should own guns not WHAT guns they should own.

A law-abiding citizen, after all, is equally safe with an AK-47 as he is a flintlock. A criminal is dangerous whatever his weapon.

Add in the fact that criminals, by their definition, are unlikely to respect laws regarding what guns are legal and which not, and outlawing particular kinds of firearms does nothing but put good, law-abiding citizens in jail.

Six said...

Well said The Tarquin.

CJ - What would you like to talk about? What would you suggest as a 'compromise'?

Citizen Jane said...

Hi, Six!

First, I'd like to see an end to the kind of either-or thinking that brings out rage and hostility by gun enthusiasts (and fierce opposition by the NRA) to any mention of gun legislation, no matter how trivial or reasoned.

Next, I'd like to see rational public discussion about proposed regulations. For example, would limiting access by the general public to high-volume clips (which were illegal prior to 2004) really be much of a problem for the average gun owner? (In the case of the Arizona shooting, the shooter would have had to reload after 20 rounds rather than 31. Is that really such a problem for the average hobbiest?)

In a rational world, not all improvements to gun legislation would necessarily be more restrictive. For example, Tarquin says it's okay to regulate WHO can own weapons. In many states, anyone convicted of a felony is prohibited from owning or carrying firearms. That certainly makes sense when the felon in question has been convicted of a violent crime--particularly a gun-related crime. But people who commit crimes against property often are no threat to any person, guns or no guns.

There are many types of guns, ammunition, and related devices, and technology keeps changing. It's important to keep open minds about what's best for society. (For example, what about teflon-coated bullets that can piece body armor: is there any earthly reason why anyone should be able to buy them at Walmart?)

Those are the kinds of things I think we should be able to talk about without getting defensive or resorting to illogical tactics, such as shot-gun argumentation or straw-man fallacies. (The tactics used by close-minded people in any sort of discussion.)

Citizen Jane said...

P.S. Idna brought up an excellent point about another issue we need to discuss--mental illness. We'll talk more about that in the days to come.