05 January 2013


For My Gun Friends

I posted a link to the previous post, "A Conversation on Mental Health and Guns", to Facebook, and got a set of wonderful responses from my Facebook friends there. Many thoughtful replies along several different trains of thoughts. I'm grateful for everyone who took time to write.

I've spent a lot of time since that post trying to absorb what people were saying there, what they were saying elsewhere. I've read a good bit on the subjects, but probably not enough, although I have avoided content from institutional media more than I have blogs of various political stripes. One of the best pieces, one I commend to you all here, is Maggie Koerth-Baker's post at Boing Boing, "What science says about gun control and violent crime". Short answer: a mix.

But there is a salient theme in what she points to: That how our various groups/tribes/cultures think about guns makes having a discussion about them difficult. Since differing attitudes towards guns are a core part of several USAn social, geographical, and political groupings, it's easy for us to talk past each other [1]. The geographical framing is well known to most—the south, as an ensemble, is distinct in its attitudes towards guns from most of the rest of the USA, excepting parts of the southwest—but the individuals who make up various cohorts expressing points of views about guns, gun control, mass shootings, crime, etc., shouldn't be considered easily pigeonholed into one or two tidy packages. Instead, we have to accept the messiness of our several identities and how that means any one person's opinion isn't necessarily the same as what someone lining up for the same proposed policy's is.

That said, let me get where my recent reflection on this issue has left me. In my opinion, arrived at after reading what friends wrote, what I could find online, and driving alone for some good drives, while it makes every bit of sense to me to protect the right of individuals to own guns—handguns, rifles, and shotguns in particular—I can't find that the joy of target practice with a rapid-fire semiautomatic weapon having a high-capacity magazine makes the availability of these weapons justifiable. I do find that in other countries that have adopted policies banning or restricting access to such weapons that the policies have worked as intended: mass shootings stop [2, 3].

What I think ought to happen is that my friends in the gun community ought to entertain this idea: that their and others' access to rapid-fire weapons is the major reason we have mass shootings in this country. I think they also ought to examine the degree to which their Guns! Guns!! Guns!!! attitude is also a big part of that same problem. There is a lot more evidence of moderate Muslims taking down the points of views of radical Islamists than there is of moderate gun owners taking down the shoot-first points of views that are widespread in the USA. Bumper stickers like "Keep honking, I'm reloading" and Facebook memes like "The ammo shortage means there won't be a warning shot" are part of the problem, and my gun friends need seriously to entertain the idea that you, my gun friends, need to publicly tell those people to shut up, that they're part of the problem.

There is a substantial cadre of gun owners in this country that are just bullies. They think they can have their way at everything from whether someone cut them off in traffic to the outcome of political races, if not by whipping out a gun, then by whipping out gun imagery. The kinds of political ads during the 2010 midterm elections, with candidates targeted in sights, isn't something without impact, or those paying for the ads wouldn't put them out there. And one of the impacts is making violence against politicians more likely to happen. Whether the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords and folks at her town meeting was directly correlated with those ads doesn't matter to me: I think the implication of those ads that political violence effected with guns is okay is pretty clear.

So, likely to the consternation of my gun friends, I think the onus is on you to reflect on what you can do to make this a country where there is next to negligible likelihood that a bunch of people—citizens at a political meeting, folks at a movie, kids in the first grade—are going to get shot up. If your answer is the same as it's always been—i.e., more guns—then I'm going to take that as face value evidence that you're not reflecting on anything, you're just regurgitating the same thing you've taken as gospel for years and years. I'm sorry, my friends, but it's time for you to have an epiphany that your giving up your access to rapid firing weapons with interchangeable high-capacity magazines is not an infringement on your Second Amendment rights.

Can I help you understand that there are very few of us who are interested in taking away your Second Amendment rights to own the kinds of guns that American's have owned over most of our history? What can I do to get that across to you? What kind of evidence of good will on the part of those of us asking you to give up your access to assault weapons would convince you that no one is coming after handguns, rifles, or shotguns? If you want me to take up a public education campaign among those of us who believe that humans can create tools and by and large use tools wisely—including pistols, rifles, and shotguns—I'm happy to help. Long arms have and will be used for hunting and target practice; people will have revolvers and other pistols for target practice and self defense. Slinging hot lead from a semi-automatic is fun, but it's time to let that go the way of chewing tobacco.

How's this: I'll sign something expressing my support for your Amendment II rights if you'll sign something saying you understand that those rights don't extend to assault weapons.

By the way, this whole business about standing one's ground against tyranny is played out, so you need to give it a rest. The Tom Toles cartoon below captures that about as accurately as I've ever seen. And there's not ever going to be a zombie apocalypse. There's simply no non-military context where you need an assault weapon for safety or freedom, and your desire to access one for fun doesn't justify the kinds of mass killings we've seen too many of. That's all this proposal—ban high-capacity magazines, ban assault weapons, buy back the ones already out there—is determined to address: mass killings of people who had every right to expect that some yahoo wasn't going to shoot them up.

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