Saturday, January 5, 2013

Some Random Thoughts on Gun Laws

Because of the Newtown tragedy, the ever-divisive issue of gun regulation has consumed all of the oxygen in our public discourse. Well, that and the fiscal cliff. My thoughts on the fiscal cliff come later. For now, let me say a few words about guns.

You know me, I really try not to get too ideological about stuff. I want to see and read the evidence, come up with an opinion, try not to cling too hard to it, and hopefully evolve as I learn more. I believe most of these issues are larger than we realize, with enough room for reasonable people to have different points of view. I think this is true for gun laws.

A few points:

I really think we should avoid writing broad affecting laws based on one extremely rare on-off event. Here's one example:

In this video, Suzanna Hupp describes an incredibly tragic incident where she was involved in a mass shooting while eating at a restaurant with her parents. Her parents end up dead while she survives. As a result of this incident, she has made it her life work to enable people to carry concealed weapons as a means of protection.

It's a powerful story, but it's only one event that will never be repeated again in its exact detail. We should always consider the effects of our laws more broadly, realizing that an individual law may have less-than optimal consequences in certain circumstances but still provide a higher level of safety and societal benefit overall.

Similarly, suggestions to arm every elementary school or better arm every kindergarten teacher or banning the exact weapon used in the shootings at Newtown is equally wrong. We need to look at the data broadly.

My second point is that I find it rather frustrating how hard-lined and reactionary the pro-gun movement has been on this issue. They will not compromise one iota, taking the most extreme interpretation of the second amendment possible. These people are against all gun regulation, all of it, so reasonable ideas are shutdown, ideas that may save many lives. Obviously the same criticism can be said of the gun-control movement.

One extra point to add to the NRA's stridency on gun control is their willingness to wrap themselves (and their bad arguments) around the second amendment of the constitution. Friedersdorf makes some good points here.

Even if we presume that the 2nd Amendment exists partly so that citizens can rise up if the government gets tyrannical, it is undeniable that the Framers built other safeguards into the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to prevent things from ever getting so bad as to warrant an insurrection. Federalism was one such safeguard; the separation of powers into three branches was another; and the balance of the Bill of Rights was the last of the major safeguards.
Yet the conservative movement is only reliable when it defends the 2nd Amendment. Otherwise, it is an inconsistent advocate for safeguarding liberty. Conservatives pay occasional lip service to federalism, but are generally hypocrites on the subject, voting for bills like No Child Left Behind, supporting a federally administered War on Drugs, and advocating for federal legislation on marriage. (Texas governor Rick Perry is the quintessential hypocrite on this subject).

And on the Bill of Rights, the conservative movement is far worse. Throughout the War on Terrorism, organizations like the ACLU and the Center of Constitutional Rights have reliably objected to Bush/Cheney/Obama policies, including warrantless spying on innocent Americans, indefinite detention without charges or trial, and the extrajudicial assassination of Americans. The Nation and Mother Jones reliably admit that the executive power claims made by Bush/Yoo/Obama/Koh exceed Madisonian limits and prudence informed by common sense.
My issue with people who wrap themselves with the Constitution is that they do so conditionally, when it serves their ideology. The same can be said with the use of data to back up their points.

I think we should avoid reactionary, stubborn ideology especially when the issue is as complex as the appropriate amount of gun control to apply. Friedersdorf actually links another article that is also worth quoting here:

If you really dig into it, what NRA advocates are really arguing for is the right to commit treason at least in this article.
Freedom is the product of orderly democratic governance and the rule of law. Popular militias are overwhelming likely to foster not democracy or the rule of law, but warlordism, tribalism and civil war. In Lebanon, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Colombia, the Palestinian Territories and elsewhere, we see that militias of armed private citizens rip apart weak democratic states in order to prey upon local populations in authoritarian sub-states or fiefdoms. Free states are defended by standing armies, not militias, because free states enjoy the consent of the governed, which allows them to maintain effective standing armies. Like every other free country apart from Costa Rica, the United States has a standing army in times of peace, and has since 1791, when the founding fathers realised a standing army would be necessary to fight the irregular popular militias of the continent's Native American peoples. (Guess who won?)
I'll close this post with a link from Ta-Nehisi Coates on why he doesn't own a weapon.
But I also believe that one does not simply do violence -- or live prepared for violence -- and remain the same. I carry all of West Baltimore with me, and I am in constant conversation over the fact that that part of me is wholly inappropriate for this world. That part -- the part that is analyzing every person who walks up on me, who is trying to figure out every angle, who sees a crowd and walks the other way -- is fit for a world of violence. That pose is totally draining. (It has no time to go off and learn French.)
I honestly don't have a strong opinion on guns. I'm not sure it's practical to ban assault rifles. Too many people currently own them or want to own them. And we tried a ban once, but the law was so riddled with loopholes it proved counter-productive. I think there are some good suggestions out there. I'm partial to Douthat's suggestion to hire more police generally while locking fewer people up. More security equals more safety.

I think there are other things to be done around gun safety. If people were a little more pragmatic and a little less ideological, I think we could move the needle a little bit and we could all be safer. Granted wishful thinking.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


First, let me say that you have a history of tossing around the word 'ideological' to describe the opposition. This is a known tactic among politicians as well. In fact, they pass around memos with a list of adjectives to help describe their opponents regardless of the subject and this word is on the list.

I agree with you that the Republicans have turned their back on other parts of the Constitution. But I'd rather they awaken now with the 2nd Amendment than not at all. The 2nd Amendment is our last safe guard to protect the Constitution.

Funny that the author picks examples from parts of the world that do not have a history of Democracy. Our roots are in Democracy so I fully expect that our rag tag militias would reform the country rather than make Pakistan 2.0.

The author makes no mention of Japan invading China, Hitler invading Europe, and Great Britain ruling India as cases where a well armed country could have defended themselves. And look at the recent headlines in India about a woman getting ganged raped. Had that woman been armed, she may still be alive today.

The real issue in this who Sandy Hook debate is about mental health care. Talk with mental health care people and they will tell you there is a crisis in this country for people getting the help they need. If a father has a young adult son who is having an episode, often the only help he can get is an adrenaline filled cop with a taser. Cops often don't have the mental health training so our mentally ill are treated like criminals. There are less beds available for the mentally ill today than there was 20 years ago as well.

Obama's vision of gun control is Chicago. Over 500 gun deaths last year yet they have some of the strictest gun control in the nation. Obama and those like him have yet to solve this problem with their ridiculous bans and limitations. It's time they go back to the drawing board and come up with a new idea -- hopefully one that involves mental care.