Myth 3: Enforcing Existing Laws Would Eliminate the Problem of Gun Violence

November 18, 2017

Existing laws on the purchase of guns will not eliminate gun violence. The Las Vegas shooter purchased his arsenal legally. The devices he used to transform his weapons to automatic were legal. It is legal to purchase assault weapons. The NRA has argued for decades that not enforcing existing laws is the real problem, then lobbied to defund enforcement of the laws. For example, the funding to establish a database on people with convictions for violent crimes has never been adequate. The loophole to allow purchases of guns at gun shows without a background check still exists. Second- and third-hand sales of privately owned weapons without any background check (or even documentation) still exists. In other words, the argument of the NRA on enforcing existing laws is cynical.

The reality is that the country is flooded with guns of every type, making it virtually impossible to enforce existing laws on gun ownership. There is another less visible force at play in this regard. Since the end of WWII the “industrial-military complex” has controlled a significant share of our economy. The so-called “masters of war” have flooded the world and the country with weapons because there is a profit to be made. Since the Viet Nam War, waging war has become a permanent, structural element driving our economy. Non-ending wars have been the result and until we disentangle our economy from war, easy access to guns will remain an essential part of our lives. This is one reason why the defense budget for the development and purchase of new weapons always increases. Congress even funds purchases of weapon systems that our own military doesn’t need or want.

There is no economic incentive to restrict gun ownership, and that may be the fundamental reason why we are incapable of stopping mass shootings, or any form of gun violence. In this sense, the argument that violence is the basic problem does resonate. For us to accept the fact that making violent deaths easier and more efficient is necessary for our economic prosperity is reflecting a form of violent character that is both lethal and immoral. Building weapons is more important to our society than building roads, and that is a moral sickness of our national character. It is the reason why we are more likely to allow children to bear arms in schools before we outlaw weapons in schools. The NRA simply is a tool that the real masters use to justify their existence, and normalize the madness.

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Myth 2: The Founders’ Intent Was Unrestricted Right to Bear Arms

November 17, 2017

Many gun advocates argue that the founders of our country recognized that the right to bear arms was intended to protect individuals from the government. This idea is nowhere to be found in the Federalist Papers or other contemporary documents. The wording of the Second Amendment was no less carefully constructed than any other right delineated. “A well regulated militia…” means a regulated militia.

Let’s set aside the idea that a militia is a group of people (not individuals) organized for defense, and that this definition may, or may not, be interpreted to mean that individuals have the right to bear arms. It’s arguable, but that argument was settled legally by the Supreme Court a few years ago when Conservative activists on the court read between the lines of the Constitution and invented the right of individual gun ownership. The idea is that the right to bear arms is restricted as are all other rights, such as speech, such that the exercise of the right does not cause harm to the collective rights of others (e.g. not allowing speech such as yelling “fire” in a crowded theater).

The context of the Second Amendment being articulated in the Constitution is important. At the time, we were less a country than a collection of states. The country was wilderness with dangerous animals, Native Americans resisting the theft of their lands, and a continuing threat from imperialist countries such as Great Britain and Spain. We had no national army. Forming and regulating local militias was a concept for the collective defense. It is doubtful that the Founders intended for individuals to possess weapons of mass destruction, and even the most ardent gun rights advocates concede that some restrictions should apply. The purpose of militia in the Constitutional debates was for states to be able to protect themselves from attack by a foreign power. For example, the National Guard is the intended form of a well-regulated militia.

Some gun advocates argue that we need weapons to protect us from the “government.” Let’s think about that for a moment. What they are saying is that we need weapons to protect us from law enforcement, which is why they also say we need to have weapons and ammunition that can penetrate protective armor and kill police. Of course, they never admit that fact, even though law enforcement agencies all over the country know this to be true (the NRA types allude to the specter of the men in “black helicopters” as if they really did exist). Is that acceptable to society?

They argue to protect us from the “Government” we need weapons to match the firepower of government. Since our government applies a strategy of deterrence by maintaining say, ICBMs, are they advocating individual rights to have a similar nuclear deterrence? It’s a silly notion and they have no response to that argument. How reasonable is the fear of government agents going door to door confiscating our guns? They do argue that the government (Democrats) are coming to get our guns and ammo, and every attempt to legislate gun control measures is considered the beginning of that process. They were openly suggesting that this was Obama’s agenda during the 2008 election. If the government is coming for our guns then they will get them, no matter what weapons you have. No one reasonably believes that individuals should possess thermonuclear weapons.

Having guns for self-defense, hunting or even collecting is a concept even most gun control advocates accept. It’s when those guns involve military assault weapons and ammunition that the issue gets as absurd as it is dangerous. The only purpose of an assault rifles and ammunition is to kill as many people as quickly as possible on a battlefield. Which Founding Father articulated that intent when debating the Constitution? None. Restrictions on the right to bear arms are clearly Constitutional, the only issue is balancing a concern for preserving the right with common sense. The problem is less rhetorical than emotional.


Myth 1: Gun Control Laws Do Not Work

November 16, 2017

The reality is that gun control laws do work to significantly reduce mass shootings, accidental shootings and suicides. (In my world reality is defined by demonstrable reproducible facts.) Australia is probably the most recent source of data on the issue. Canada, Great Britain and other industrialized countries have had long histories of severely restricting gun ownership, and their rates of gun-related murders were a fraction of those in the U.S.

Relaxing gun ownership laws in countries like Great Britain and Scandinavian countries has led to an increase of gun-related murders and (in the case of Norway) the first documented mass shootings in their history. On the other hand, Australia is an example of a country where gun ownership was widely accepted. After a couple of mass murders, Australia implemented strict gun control laws. The result has been the virtual elimination of mass murders in Australia, whereas in the U.S. we average 1 mass shooting a day.

Total restriction of guns logically would have to reduce gun-related violence. Gun violence apologists argue that if we took away guns from law abiding citizens then only bad guys would have guns. They forget about law enforcement, but there is a point to be taken from that argument. Criminals will ty to get access to guns and use them. However, the vast majority of criminals who use guns in the commission of a crime such as robbery rarely fire their weapon, and most people who are violently murdered are not killed by robbery, they are killed by someone they know, usually a family member (the only significant exception to this tendency is gang related violence, with criminal gangs murdering each other).

People who use guns in the commission of murder, probably would use another weapon if access to guns were not so easy. Most murders are “crimes of passion” and access to a gun just makes their action easier and more likely fatal. In fact, this notion is also applicable to suicides where the act is more often impulsive. It has been proven that access to guns increases suicide rates. Without easy access to a gun, suicide rates, accidental fatalities, and murder rates go down. Your odds of surviving a knife attack, or physical attack are much greater. The likelihood of a mass murder (defined by law enforcement as three or more deaths from a single incident) are nominal.

The problem is not just a problem of violence, or of a violent culture in America. Other industrialized Western countries have roughly the same rates of violence, and the incidence of attempted murder would be about the same. Our society is not much more violent than other countries. The number of violent attacks, even attempted murder, are about the same in most industrialized Western countries, yet the murder rate in the U.S. is far above any other country. It is not so much a problem of violence as it is of easy access to lethal weapons. Arming more people has the effect of increasing the murder rate, not preventing it. It is small consolation to those murdered in that church that someone stopped the shooter after they were all dead. Is there any doubt that if the murderer walked into that church armed with a knife, then less people would have been killed?

Granted, the idea of implementing Australian type gun control laws here is unreasonable. It is unreasonable because the culture of guns is woven into the fabric of our country, and the right to bear arms is a Constitutional right. How necessary is that right to bear arms in 2017 compared to 1778, and what did the Founding Fathers intend by codifying this right into the Constitution? What restrictions, if any, did they intend to allow on this right?  Let’s talk about that in the next blog…


Thoughts and Prayers: Reality and Myths

November 15, 2017

The depressing news of yet another mass shooting in Texas (the 301st mass shooting this year alone), produced the usual reactions from both sides of the issue. On one side is a desperate plea from law enforcement, activists and ordinary citizens to do something, anything, to control the proliferation and use of guns. From the other side are activists who argue that guns don’t kill people, evil people kill people and we need more guns to protect the good guys. In this case, a “good guy” with a gun was able to stop the “bad guy” with a gun — after the carnage, which some consider a validation of their argument. That argument… in fact every argument against gun control defies facts and logic, but it hardly matters because it does not overcome the pro-gun lobby money and appeals to emotion that prevents Congress from doing anything.

Especially galling was the response of our current leadership. Paul Ryan told us that prayers really do work, oblivious to how stupid that sounds when referring to a mass murder in a church during prayer service. Trump argued that this was a mental health issue, not a gun issue, which apart from the obvious irony of him mentioning mental illness, is also just as ludicrous. Others argue that if current laws were enforced then the murderer wouldn’t have had guns. Every nation has mental health problems in nearly equal measure, but only one has a problem with regular mass murders using guns.

In other words, the same stuff from the same people, with a slight pretense of empathy.

What is needed is moral leadership in Congress. The gun culture in America is too ingrained to change significantly, and any effort to stop mass murders, children accidently killing themselves or others and lowering the suicide rate through gun control laws may seem to be doomed. Maybe if more people knew facts they would be less swayed by fear. Too many Americans who own guns are sub-cortical when the issue of gun control is discussed. They hear “reasonable, common sense measures to reduce gun violence” as a threat by government to confiscate all guns. Fear is the underlying cancer behind most of our cultural and political ills, and guns are seen by those who own them as a solution for the fear of those others who own guns. It’s insane. Most people know it’s insane, but there is a lot of money to made through fear. Right now, the fear of being a victim of a mass shooting will prompt the typical flurry of discussion in the media, and the predictable response to every mass shooting is an uptake of gun purchases.

Knowledge is a salve for fear, so I plan on taking the next week to blog on facts and logic on the issue, in the hope that anyone reading the blog will be equipped and motivated to do something to stop this maddening cycle of slaughter, outrage and inaction. Here are the most common myths:

  • Gun Control Laws Do Not Work
  • The Right to Bear Arms Was Not to Be Restricted
  • Enforcing Existing Laws Would Solve the Problem of Mass Murders with Guns

What Terror?

November 7, 2017

The terror attack in New York City was a terrible tragedy for the people killed and their families. It was not the first terrorist attack during the reign of the Twitter twit, nor will it likely be the last. The response to the attack by people of NYC were illustrative and revelatory. Contrast the response to a terror attack in NYC by President Bush and Trump. Bush united Americans in the struggle against the enemy and defended Muslim Americans. When Bush said a united America would be calling on Terrorists, Al Qaeda fled for the caves in Tora Bora. Say what you could about Bush allowing the neo-cons to hijack his triumph with the war in Iraq, but he displayed real leadership in the moments after 9/11. Trump identified immigrants and Democrats as the enemy, further dividing Americans and terrorists were probably encouraged that their attack would further weaken America by dividing it.

As shameful as Trump’s response was to the attack, the response of New Yorkers was a revelation worth dwelling on. They carried on with Halloween festivities as if nothing happened. Or even better, they carried on in defiance of what happened. It was America at its best, even as Trump displayed himself as America at its worst. Terrorism works only when people and governments are terrorized and respond out of fear. When the people of France suffered devastating attacks this past year their response was similar – they took to the streets in open defiance of fear. In NYC there were no Tiki torch marches on Mosques, or expressions of division and distrust. There were families trick-or-treating and more than a few extra adults taking to the streets to display defiance (not fear). That is the social solution to terrorism. If only we could find the political leadership to reflect the better angels of the American character.


Dangerous Speech

October 23, 2017

I had a “discussion” recently with a friend who describes himself as a “proud supporter of Donald Trump” concerning the NFL protests. Not wanting to have the conversation devolve into yet another experience of parallel conversations, I tried to keep it simple: the players have a 1st Amendment right to protest. The response was unexpected. Some of it was the usual diversionary blather about dishonoring the military, sacrifices of patriots, etc., etc.

I kept reminding him that the 1st Amendment applies, even then. Ultimately, he voiced what I believe is really behind the agenda of Trump in creating the controversy. He said “the 1st Amendment shouldn’t apply to the flag.” That was the first disappointment – the realization that this intelligent man, who had heroically served in the military, reflected a substantial number of Americans who define their patriotism in direct opposition to the values that have defined being American for centuries, not to mention the oath he swore to defend the Constitution. Trump clearly wants to attack the freedom of the critical press – of free speech – using Stalinist phrases to describe them as “the enemy of the people” and threatening to put them out of business. His ignorance or disrespect for the Constitution is being blindly mirrored by his followers who believe only their version of patriotism is true and acceptable. Then came the second disappointment.

Trump followers not only mirror his disrespect for the Constitution, they mirror his pathological and personal attacks on anyone who disagrees, or is critical. You cannot have a conversation with a Trump follower on the merits of the issue. If you present a logical challenge to their argument, it quickly becomes a personal attack. In this instance, my friend began cursing at me and said “if you hate America so much, why don’t you leave it?”. It genuinely surprised me. The only thing I had argued was that the Constitution guaranteed their right to protest. I think that because he had been deceived into believing that the protest was against the flag (the players’ protest is for criminal justice reform) and that if anyone protested the flag (or defended the rights of those protesters), then they must hate America. Defending free speech now means hating America? That is what they are saying to us. This is a fundamental socio-political change and a very disturbing one. The kind that leads to civil unrest.

There are two kinds of America’s evolving now, split apart by a divisive demagogue in the White House and mutating quickly apart. One America is the “love it my way or leave it” America. They shroud themselves with the symbols and ornaments of patriotism: the flag, solemn postures during the national anthem and standing ovations at ball games for veterans. They are the cult of the “America First.” Freedom has a cost – it must be the way they define it. It is an emotional patriotism devoid of substance and knowledge or appreciation of the Constitution. You must stand when they want you to stand, shut up when you disagree, never criticize Trump. Ironically, the same “America first” Americans are now beginning to suggest that colluding with the Russians to win an election is acceptable (e.g. Sean Hannity), further illustrating the schizophrenic nature of Trumpism. The other America is confused and reeling from that movement. Nearly all Americans (including NFL players) love America and are loyal. So, they find things like burning the flag or dishonoring the sacrifices of veterans disagreeable. Yet they are also Americans who believe in the principles of the Constitution and are faithful to them. We feel uncomfortable being on the side of defending acts that we would not do, or defending media that we find objectionable, but know that real loyalty… real patriotism is standing with the Constitution and not with a demagogue who happens to be President.

Perhaps the consolation is in knowing that defending the rights of people to free speech, even that speech which we deplore, is the true meaning of patriotism. Remember the phrase oft cited reflecting the intent of our Founding Fathers, the quote from Voltaire “I disapprove of what you say, but will defend with my life your right to say it.”

 


Iran Primer

October 18, 2017

There are two areas of the world where many people in many countries believe catastrophic wars are becoming increasingly likely: Iran and North Korea. Iran has been a near boiling teapot ever since the disastrous Bush invasion of Iraq catapulted Iran into being the lone Moslem superpower in the area. Prior to the destruction and dismemberment of Iraq, it had been a check on Iran’s hegemony. Trump has managed to make this problem much worse by de-certifying the agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear weapon ambitions. Iran, like North Korea, view the development of nuclear weapon capability as a guarantee against regime change – a defensive last resort against what they perceive as American interest in destabilizing the regime. The concern is certainly valid. Here are the historical and contemporary reasons why Iran has sought to develop a nuclear weapon.

We could start in 1953, when the U.S. engineered a coup to oust the democratically elected Mohammed Mossaddegh. The reason why the U.S. overthrew the legitimately elected Prime Minister is that he threatened to nationalize the oil industry threatening profits of U.S. and British Oil Corporations. We installed the Shah, whose brutal and despotic rule alienated much of the population by the mid-seventies. Then came the storming of the U.S. Embassy which, among other things, revealed secret documents detailing the U.S. complicity in executing opposition leaders, mostly Muslim Clergy. Since then, there has been a constant state of hostility between us, including proxy wars using Iraq and other Sunni Muslim countries to oppose the rising power of Iran. Iran’s concern that the U.S. will try to cause regime change is valid based on history since 1953.

Contemporary causes of hostility include the significant expansion of Iranian influence ever since the U.S. essentially destroyed Iraq, the only power in the region with the financial and population capacity to oppose them. Iran now controls the politics of Iraq and has military units operating openly in Iraq, attacking the U.S. allied Sunni and Kurdish militia. Iran now also controls a significant part of Syrian territory and political influence in Lebanon, and has been fighting a proxy war in Yemen. They also fund a number of terrorist organizations that have successfully targeted our European allies.  Israel’s Prime Minister has been openly calling for a military strike on Iran for years, and in Trump seems to have found an ally.

The prevailing speculation among our allies is that Trump is making the Iran agreement a domestic political issue, which is doubly disturbing for them. Even members of Trump’s administration agree that Iran is complying with the agreement, which however flawed it may be in many regards, has stopped the development of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The refusal to recertify and refer to Congress has destabilized the situation, however the radical Mullahs in Iran seem to have responded with restraint to Trump’s decision, which says more about the President than it does about the crazies in Iran. If Congress acts as irresponsibly as Trump and ends the agreement, then Iran will no doubt have a nuclear weapon in 2 to 3 years, our allies will be further alienated, no country will be able to trust any agreement with the U.S., and Israel has already declared that they will go to war rather than allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.

Secretary of State Tillerson may have been correct in his assessment of Trump’s intellectual capacity, and we may well be heading towards a catastrophe as Senator Corker of TN has publicly warned. In this recent development even our own allies believe that the U.S. is the problem that makes war more likely.