Category Archives: Gun violence

Speak Your Mind, Unless We Don’t Like What You Say

Journalism professor David Guth of the University of Kansas is at the center of a controversy over a tweet that he made on Monday in reaction to the Navy Yard shootings in Washington, D.C. This is the tweet:

#NavyYardShooting The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be your sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you.

Professor Guth has been put on leave by the university, and legislators in Kansas are calling for him to be fired. His Twitter account, @DWGuth, doesn’t appear to be available at present, so I can’t speak to him directly, and his webpage offers no contact information, so here’s my message to him:

Dear Professor Guth,

As a supporter of gun rights and as a human being, I find your comment revolting. The idea that those who stand up for basic rights deserve to have their children die as a consequence leaves me pleased that you are not in a position of much power. The NRA is no more responsible for the D.C. shooting than the NAACP is responsible for the gang violence in Chicago recently. Those of us who stand for rights recognize that each person is responsible for himself or herself.

At the same time, as a supporter of freedom of expression and of academic freedom, I deplore the actions of the University of Kansas and of some of your state’s legislators in putting you on leave and demanding your firing. Academia cannot function unless its members are free to speak their minds, no matter how vehemently the rest of us may disagree with what is said. In no way do I support the content of your comment, but I do defend your right to say it.

Greg Camp

God, guns, and gays

I’ve written many times before on the question of gun rights and gay rights. Sometimes, I’ve even put the two together. Today, since both subjects are drawing the attention of America, I’m joining them to show the common thread.

As I’ve said many times, if you’re not hurting me (or an innocent person), do as you will. The Wiccans use that saying as the basis of their ethics, and it’s a good summary of the libertarian philosophy. It is also at the heart of the American way of doing things.

At the same time, Americans have a Puritan strain running through our collective consciousness. Recall H. L. Mencken’s line about Puritanism–the haunting belief that somewhere, someone is having a good time. It’s the reason that our missionaries wandered the globe making women wear woolen dresses in the tropics. It’s the reason that we forced a change of governments in Iran in 1953 and in Chile twenty years later. It’s tied up in the reason that we removed Saddam Hussein from power. In all of those, we had the belief that people were doing things in a way that we didn’t approve.

In our nation and in any society, there will always be a tension between the individual and the group. It’s been my observation, both as a student of history and by keeping my eyes open, that while individuals screw up from time to time, to make a royal mess of things requires the idiocy of crowds. That being said, I generally favor regulation to increase in direct proportion with size. Individuals deserve wide liberties, while groups often need to be restrained.

At the same time, I recognize that actions do have consequences and those consequences at times demand a response from the rest of us. When that’s the case, we have to balance the harm that could be done against the rights that we all should value.

Consider, then, the two issues that I named above. Take gay marriage first. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal considers the evidence of harms and benefits. The conclusion given, based on a review of the literature, is that there is evidence toward looser unions when same-sex couples are allowed to marry, and those same-sex couples have a lower concern about monogamy. That being said, children raised in same-sex couple households do as well as children in other relationships, and the time a relationship lasts and the number of partners tolerated in a relationship reflects overall changes in society in general.

What about guns? About 30,000 persons die in a given year from gun fire, and a couple hundred thousand are injured. The majority of deaths are suicides. Accidental deaths come in around 600. Contrast that with the number of defensive gun uses in the same period–in other words, cases in which someone uses a firearm to defend against a lethal threat–run anywhere between 108,000 and 2.5 million, depending on which study you accept. We also see that over the course of the last two decades, as gun laws have loosened and more states have allowed citizens to carry guns, the rate of violent crime has dropped. While cause and effect are hard to link, the evidence does show that more guns in more hands doesn’t result in more violence.

In other words, both gay marriage and gun ownership and carry have a mixed bag of results for society. This is where I have to fight against that Puritan yearning that so pervades American thinking. It is not the job of society to sweep in and right every wrong. A world in which no wrongs can occur is a soulless existence. Human beings are born with the power to choose, and that includes choosing right or wrong. It also includes a vast territory of grey, even presuming that our understanding of the two opposites is as good as we wish to believe.

I come back to my original idea. The fundamental principle of a society must be that each member is entitled to as much liberty as can be. The limits of liberty are defined by what would destroy the society or harm its members unduly. I realize that these terms are vague. To introduce clarity, look at the data that I cited above. Despite the mixed results, we see no evidence that either freedom will destroy us all. In fact, on balance, both freedoms create more good than harm. That being the case, I ask here a question that I often raise when the subject of control vs. freedom comes up:

Give me a reason to support control that does not depend on the theology regarding your favorite deity.

That means, obviously, the Christian God, but it just as well applies to pronouncements from social theorists in the absence of proof. Yes, the Bible in a literal reading is against homosexuality. Yes, a number of political philosophies are against private citizens having firearms. But America, a Constitutionally defined secular and agnostic nation, cannot base its laws on theology. Understand that by secular, I mean the law must be independent of any reference to an outside power, and by agnostic, I mean that without evidence and in the presence of speculation, the law must admit to not knowing.

We in this country have made the extraordinary choice to build our law on that principle. It was a good choice, both in terms of utility for the individual and the society as a whole. It was the correct choice if we believe that we all are born with rights. It is a choice that each generation has to make again and defend again.

Reducing Gun Violence

Regular readers of this weblog will know that I am a believer in the basic right of all human beings to own and carry firearms. I have as much right to be armed as I do to have my tongue and my opinions with me wherever I go. I may be justifiably asked to keep my mouth shut and other matters concealed, but no one has the right to require more than that.

That being said, I do recognize that we have a problem of gun violence in America. Every year, around 30,000 of us die by gunfire. More than half of those deaths are due to suicide, but regardless of the cause, the number is too high. So what do we do?

Some propose restrictions on ownership and carry, while wanting to ban some types of firearms altogether. This approach makes no sense, given the more than 300,000,000 guns in private hands in this country and our long and porous borders. But there are things that we can do:

1. Create a functioning and available mental healthcare system. This ideally would be a part of general healthcare reform for everyone. I don’t have much faith in Obamacare, given its lack of a public option and the weak and mealy-mouthed manner of its passage and implementation, but that’s a step in the right direction. More–specifically the public option–needs to be done. Note that I don’t mean involuntary commitments or the violations of privacy. What I’m suggesting here is healthcare available to all who need it.

2. Reduce poverty. In my previous article on Alexandria, I named an educational system as a necessary element of any working democracy. I add to this the idea that education, such as I discussed here is a way out of poverty. Other intelligently run programs would have the same effect. We can debate at length whether poverty causes crime, but certainly living in poverty puts a person at greater risk–both for being a victim and an offender of violent crime. (Being wealthy brings a whole different class of crimes to commit, but that’s not generally related to guns.)

3. End our foolish drug laws. Much of our violence is related to illegal drugs. Treat drugs as a health problem, not a crime problem, and that motivating factor goes away. Al Capone didn’t sell beer nuts, after all.

We often hear from the gun control freaks that Europe is a model for good gun laws. Most countries in Europe have strict gun control–the Czech Republic being a shining exception for the moment–and those countries have lower gun violence than America. The difference is not actually that great, especially compared to other parts of the world, but the fact remains that Europe has fewer acts of gun violence than we do. But let’s note that Europe also has the three items that I just proposed. Certainly, it’s in doubt whether the Europeans will be able to afford the first two much longer, but in many cases, the problematic countries have chosen the California approach to government–lots of goodies, paid for by borrowing. Effective work for the first two can be done without requiring deficit spending–provided we are willing to pay for it. The third item would in fact save us money, both in prison and court costs and in expendatures for public health.

My three solutions have the advantage of not infringing on the rights of those who did nothing wrong in the vain hope of restraining those who make a life of doing bad acts. My answers also would show benefits in a variety of areas unrelated to gun violence. They are measured responses to a problem that has been getting better over the last two decades.

Perhaps they lack the quality of breathless bloviating, but I see that as a feature, not a bug.