Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Mini-Rant: Gun Violence and the 2nd Amendment

While I try not to jump into media feeding frenzies, I feel like the Zimmerman case (and its verdict) is a good context for posting my opinions about gun violence in America.

So let's begin with the basics. I interpret the second amendment as a guarantee of the ability to purchase guns and be armed. This is a right, just like free speech and the pursuit of happiness. The purpose of this right is to allow citizens to form a militia when needed. As a result, I do not support bans on the purchase of any types of guns.

Let's also get done with limp response I often hear given to those who are against banning gun purchases: "I bet you wouldn't say that to the parent of a child who died in Sandy Hook!" Actually, I would. Any day of the week. While I sympathize with such a parent's loss, I do not allow someones emotional response to my views to deter me from holding them. (If they can convince me I'm wrong with well-reasoned arguments, that's a whole 'nother ball of wax.)

The basis or justification for my beliefs on this subject is that the US was founded through a revolution in which people ousted an unwanted tyranny, and the people succeeded - in part - because they could stand up to that tyranny with firearms. Naturally this occurred a long time ago and we're not in imminent danger of another such invasion, so some might argue that the second amendment no longer applies and is therefore obsolete.

The second amendment is not obsolete and never will be. To understand why, we need to look at the Declaration of Independence. We all know this oft-quoted phrase from it: 

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." 

All well and good. But what's just as important is the text that immediately follows: 

"That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

In other words, it is the right of the people to overthrow a government that becomes inimical to our inherent rights and so tyrannical that it cannot be altered. The obvious intent in a democracy is to affect change through our rights to: vote, practice free speech, assemble, protest, and access a free press. However, if this fails, then we have the right to overthrow the government. To preserve and protect this right requires access to firearms. Not just hunting rifles and handguns, but real weaponry.

While I'm not about to move to some Montana mountain compound and get trained in guerrilla warfare, I do believe people have just cause to be concerned about our government:
  • It's much bigger than was ever intended or than is beneficial.
  • It often places self-interest and political party agendas above the good of the country.
  • Our voting rights are being manipulated to control election outcomes and secure political power.
  • Our right to protest is routinely trodden upon, protesters are treated like criminals, and the government is investing in weapons technology that would allow it to disperse assemblies.
  • The government - without accountability to courts or the people - has secured the right to spy on every thought its citizens share via phone, text, email, and blog. They even have the balls to refer to this as a 'Patriot Act'!
  • In George Carlin's words, the press often acts as "a kind of unofficial public relations agency for the US government." 

 So I believe there is a need for citizens to retain the ability to access arms, and the second amendment grants us this right. Under it, I can buy a sub-automatic machine gun and all the ammo I can afford. And I believe this fact gives politicians some healthy pause as to how far they push their greed for power.
Now, all that said, it's important to note what many gun owners in America believe: guns should not be used irresponsibly. Long ago a friend of mine who owns a gun took me to a shooting range, and I was glad he did. At the time, I believed guns were dangerous and I didn't want one in my home. A lot changed that day, as you can't truly understand the power a gun provides until you hold one  in your hand and fire it. While I didn't budge about having one in my home, the experience taught me two things: 1) guns by themselves do not hurt anyone; it is irresponsible people and criminals using guns that hurt people, and 2) to have very low (maybe zero?) tolerance for people who misuse firearms.

So while I do not support bans on the sale of guns, like most Americans I do support having background checks on anyone buying a gun and harsh penalties for gun violence. Criminals and people with mental illnesses, for example, should not be allowed to own weapons. By committing a crime the former prove they lack the responsibility required to be armed, and the latter group lacks the discipline to be armed. Additionally, I believe in harsh penalties for gun violence, because the kind of power one has when armed should not be abused for any reason, nor justified under any circumstances. I believe that if we implemented these two controls that a great many tragedies we face in the US related to guns would not occur.

I'm also against banning the sale of guns because I do not believe society has done enough to sensibly deter gun violence. For example, I'm always annoyed the way many Americans gloss over the same key fact at the heart of many school shootings. The perpetrators are almost always children who have been bullied and ostracized, not only by their peers, but often with the gleeful acceptance of that bullying by adults and teachers. Kids that are bullied and ostracized this way feel trapped, and they lack the emotional maturity to handle that kind of pressure. Appallingly, the issue is brushed under the carpet again and again. Perhaps, when we find a school shooting is the result of bullying, we should charge the most visible instigators of the bullying with a crime too. After all, they helped create the ticking time bomb that exploded.

I would add that banning gun sales will not solve most issues of gun violence, since most of these incidents are related to violent crime. There's very little we can do from a legal standpoint to disarm criminals, nutcases, or desperate individuals, since these people are perfectly willing to obtain their weapons outside the legal channels where our laws have an impact. However, having background checks and holding people and communities accountable for the behaviors they engage in would do much more to cut back on the problem. And it would do so without robbing us of our second amendment rights.

Should this really own a gun?
This brings me to the Zimmerman case.

I agree that - based on the existing laws in Florida - Zimmerman had to be found 'not guilty'. However, I have a big Big BIG problem knowing a man with a criminal record was allowed to carry a firearm, play ersatz cop, and pointlessly kill someone. The combination of weak background checks (Zimmerman would not have been allowed to carry a gun under my scenario) and the 'stand your ground law' (which told him he had a right to kill someone in certain situations) resulted in an irresponsible moron playing make-believe cop, trailing someone who was minding their own business, and creating a confrontation with that person despite police warnings not to do so. 

The entire incident should not have happened, and it would never have resulted in a death if the simple measures I propose above had been in place.

While I believe in the second amendment and our right to bear arms, guns cannot be allowed to fall into the wrong hands. Nor should we ever appear to encourage their deadly use. We should not ban guns or destroy our second amendment rights in an attempt to solve gun violence, we should do more to address the issue through far less drastic (and likely more effective) measures.

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