Tag Archive | guns

Today’s Readings 1/8/2013

1. A Military Man Denounces Guns.It’s worth the read for the neanderthalic comments. The presence of the poorly worded 2nd Amendment to the Consitution doesn’t not preclude criticism, nor does the color of the subject’s passport (he’s a Brit) compromise his views on guns. Comments are always to be avoided, but this particular set is a ridiculous and unnecessarily hostile expression of jingoistic stupidity. (HuffPo)

2. Part of Obamacare came unceremoniously into effect on January 1st, namely the part where insurance companies have to actually tell you what you’re buying within four pages, using the language of an 8th grader. (HuffPo)

3. Chinese bloggers have to provide their names.. or else. (Bloomberg) Liberal newspapers are fed up and taking to the streets to demand an end to meddling censors (NYT)

4. The US Government is not only NOT a household, its also NOT a small business. It is frightening how ignorant Americans (particularly elected officials) are of the differences between business and government. “In the news release announcing his bill to derail the platinum coin effort, Republican Representative Greg Walden says something really stupid: “My wife and I have owned and operated a small business since 1986. When it came time to pay the bills, we couldn’t just mint a coin to create more money out of thin air.”” I’m glad the US government isn’t a small business. They tend to fail, and provide poor returns on labor and investment. (Bloomberg)

5. An interesting take on the austerity debate. Latvia was more austere than Greece and is now experiencing growth. Given the differences in other factors, such as tax evasion, corruption and past growth, I’m skeptical. (Bloomberg)

6. Japan is dumping some of its reserves to buy European bonds in order to devalue its currency. Let’s hope it works. (Bloomberg)

7. Should we tax people for being annoying? The arguments for taxing negative externalities, like traffic jams and public noise. (NYT)

8. Rape is horrible, but not because women shame their families. That women are still praised for killing themselves following rape in India is reprehensible. (NYT)

Guns and the Polite Society

jesus and a hand gunNot to beat the gun discussion into the ground, but I’m rejoicing that we’re having this discussion at all. It’s far, far overdue.

Firmin DeBrabander, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the Maryland Institute College of Art, had an interesting column today that summed up my feelings on the possession of guns in public:

Guns do communicate, after all, but in a way that is contrary to free speech aspirations: for, guns chasten speech. This becomes clear if only you pry a little more deeply into the N.R.A.’s logic behind an armed society. An armed society is polite, by their thinking, precisely because guns would compel everyone to tamp down eccentric behavior, and refrain from actions that might seem threatening. The suggestion is that guns liberally interspersed throughout society would cause us all to walk gingerly — not make any sudden, unexpected moves — and watch what we say, how we act, whom we might offend.

There’s a reason why we don’t speak frankly in front of police officers, and that silence is wholly undemocratic. I have always maintained that Americans, despite their image worldwide as brash, opinionated braggarts, are actually hemmed in by their great capacity to do violence to one another. Despite Japan’s image as a country of deference, in my experience, the Japanese are mostly frank with their opinions and happy to share, no matter how controversial the topic. Granted there are exceptions, but the trends are there. It worth mentioning that Japan is quite polite, even without personal arms.

I was imagining what a classroom would be like where the instructor openly carried a weapon. Would there be discussion? Would students feel compelled to speak their mind and contribute? I think not. It is for this reason, that guns have no place in the classroom, despite right wing calls for arming school principals with M4’s. Classrooms, particularly on college campus, are the essence of democracy. Classrooms are places for sharing ideas and mutual respect. The power dynamic produced by weaponry violates this basic facet of education. It should be pointed out, that the parties which scream the loudest for universal ownership of guns, spew the most vitrol against formal education.

Cass Sunstein, Professor of Law at Harvard University wrote a brief history of SCOTUS interpretations of the Second Amendment, arguing that the present one, namely that individuals have a Constitutional right to possess individual firearms, is a radical one, and without precedent in American history:

It is striking that before its 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court had never held that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to have guns.

For almost seven decades, the court’s leading decision was U.S. v. Miller. The 1939 case involved a ban on the possession of a sawed-off shotgun. Sounding like Burger, the court unanimously said that the Second Amendment’s “obvious purpose” was “to assure the continuation and render possible the effectiveness of” the militia. Without evidence that the possession of a sawed-off shotgun was related to preservation of a well-regulated militia, the court refused to say that the Second Amendment protected the right to have such a weapon.

For decades, federal courts overwhelmingly rejected the conclusion that the Second Amendment protects an individual right. It wasn’t until the 21st century that lower federal courts, filled with appointees of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, started to adopt the individual-rights position. And, of course, the Supreme Court itself adopted that view in 2008, by a 5-to-4 vote.

In other words, the present commonly held interpretation flawed, and the result of a series of right wing SCOTUS appointments and a well funded disinformation campaign funded by the NRA and the gun industry. I have long suspected this. Though the Second Amendment clearly seeks to disrupt state monopolies on violence (tailored toward British rule), it takes a bit of gymnastics to believe that individuals are guaranteed the right to individual weaponry, when the Amendment itself refers to citizen militias in its preamble. Moreover, at least in my reading, there is nothing in the Second Amendment to suggest that states and localities can’t regulate individual ownership.

An article from the Economist today had the following to say regarding the necessity of guns to prevent tyranny:

As for the National Rifle Association bumper stickers arguing that only an armed citizenry can prevent tyranny, I wonder if that isn’t a form of narcissism, involving the belief that lone, heroic individuals will have the ability to identify tyranny as it descends, recognise it for what it is, and fight back. There is also the small matter that I don’t think America is remotely close to becoming a tyranny, and to suggest that it is is both irrational and a bit offensive to people who actually do live under tyrannical rule.

I couldn’t agree more. Americans scream and cry about the evils of government, but the reality is that the American system of elections runs mostly without problems. We can argue about whether the presence of money impedes the process of fairly electing representatives but compared with Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, Putin’s Russia or even the one party state of China, we’re doing pretty damn good.

Where Guns and I Part Ways

Firearm deaths, US population and gun policy events.

Firearm deaths, US population and gun policy events.

I will admit, I don’t get guns at all.

As readers of this blog know, I grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, where owning a gun is seemingly mandatory (for white people, at least). It would seem that guns are as important to life as Jesus, fried food and philandering.

Some white metro-Jacksonians are so afraid of black people, that they won’t enter the city limits without carrying one. I always thought this was rather odd way to stave off muggers, particularly if one were attacked from behind. Better to provide some poor kid looking for drug money with $10 than a loaded gun. (To be fair, Jackson is one of the most crime ridden cities in the US.)

I’ve seen three people shot in my life-time. Once, I was behind a line of cars in Brooklyn, NY coming back from a show. A man on the street fired 12 shots into the car in front of me, possibly killing both of the people inside. I can’t verify whether the victims survived, but it didn’t look good as I passed.

Another time, I saw a man shot in the head on the street in New Orleans. I learned that all of the arguments over concealed carry are bunk. Shootings happen really, really fast. So fast, that if you blink, you’ll miss it. More disturbing is that manner in which people fall when they’re shot. It’s nothing like the movies and something one doesn’t ever forget.

I am convinced that the many gun rightists have never seen someone shot.

Much of what I know of guns, comes from my drug-addled, socio-pathic step-father. Most Mississippi households have at least one firearm, and mine was no exception. In the darkest days of my childhood, they would be placed haphazardly around the house, in plain reach of anyone who wanted to grab one. Every once in a while, he would pick one up and wave it around for dramatic effect, to punctuate whatever insanity he was spewing at the time. My step father loved guns, presumably because they made up for his own figurative, and possibly literal, impotence.

My father would tell tales of having killed a cocaine dealer in downtown Jackson by shooting him in the chest. The man was so full of lies, that it was difficult to know whether to believe him or not, but for me it was unsettling to know that I might be sharing a home with a murderer.

Which is where guns and I part. That my step-father was able to easily obtain guns is a travesty of public policy. That gun retailers and manufacturers seemingly actively target mentally unstable, paranoid and psychologically weak people like my step-father is unforgivable. That profits are made off the sale of guns to people like him is patently disgusting.

I advocate that America needs to reign in the gun industry, who have distorted the conversation from a discussion of public safety, to one that borders on the religious, uses fantasy, anecdotal evidence and misinterpreted realities to further justify the addition of more weapons to our already massive personal armory. Moreover, in the name of a poorly reasoned political ideology, large amounts of industrial money from non-transparent entities is sloshed at Congress to support a thankfully dwindling minority.

I won’t pretend to be an expert on gun policy. While I would love to live in a gun-free world, it would be wholly impractical to round up all existing weapons in the United States. Moreover, the presence of law-abiding and harmless gun owners make this radical step unnecessary.

If we are going to continue to allow personal stockpiles of weapons, we should follow the model of Switzerland, where, lacking a formal army, citizen gun ownership is almost universal. Intensive training, yearly re-certifications and household inspections, such as that of Switzerland, should be the norm. For well meaning and honest gun owners (which I maintain to be the majority), this will not be a problem.

The American government, as a representative of its people, needs to pull the conversation of guns away from the paranoid nonsense so often peddled by gun profiteers. We need to, as Switzerland does, hold all gun owners to this standard to promote responsible use and attitudes toward gun ownership. Gun ownership should be promoted as a hobby and as a means of reasonable self-defense.

There were 31,347 firearm related deaths in 2011. That’s almost the same as all deaths due to automobile accidents (34,485). Yet, owning a gun is easier than owning a car and requires less training in most states. We would also note that cars are used more frequently than guns. Any regulation that drops that number by even a quarter would be welcome. There would be at least 7,500 more people alive today than otherwise.

John Stuart Mill spoke of the tyranny of the majority, but here, a vocal and well funded minority has dangerously forced the conversation on guns into the world of delusion.

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