Category Archives: Second Amendment

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.

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Happy Days in Wisconsin

As of today, Wisconsin joins the list of states that shall issue a handgun carry license. Any resident of Wisconsin who passes the background check and demonstrates training will receive. For the rest of us, many states have reciprocity, meaning that if you have a license from such a state, you get to carry in Wisconsin. Arkansas is on the list. To check whether your license is recognized, look here

Let the celebration begin..

Playing Twenty Questions

I ran across this site

http://www.commongunsense.com/2010/09/where-there-is-open-mind.html

the other day and tried to submit my own answers to the twenty questions, but it appears that comments on that article are closed. My comments on recent articles only elicited requests for me to use logic and plain English. That being the case, submitted for your approval are my answers:

1. Do you believe that criminals and domestic abusers should be able to buy guns without background checks?

I believe that rights are inalienable. Once a criminal is restored to full citizenship (i.e. full humanity), that person should get everything back. (I presume by domestic abusers, the author means someone who is convicted.) Under our current system, licensed firearms dealers are obliged to run a background check, and the named categories of people are ineligible. I don’t believe that the government has any business regulating private sales.

2. What is your proposal for keeping guns away from criminals, domestic abusers, terrorists and dangerously mentally ill people?

I carry my own guns whenever and wherever doing so is legal, and I encourage the expansion of legal areas. This is not a joke. Unless we want a police state, we cannot keep bad guys from getting guns. My solution is for the good guys–that’s you and I, folks–to have our own and be ready to use them.

3. Do you believe that a background check infringes on your constitutional right to “keep and bear arms”?

Yes.

Expanded answer: The First Amendment ennumerates rights in the same manner as the Second. Do you want a background check at your library or bookstore? How about for writing articles on a weblog?

4. Do you believe that I and people with whom I work intend to ban your guns?

The author of Common Gunsense is apparently associated with the Brady Campagin. Perhaps she has forgotten the Assault Weapons Ban of the 90s? Yes, I do believe that the Brady Bunch wants to take my guns.

5. If yes to #4, how do you think that could happen ( I mean the physical action)?

Let’s see–refer to the law named in #4. Also, if one more anti-liberty justice gets appointed to the Supreme Court, the balance tips the wrong direction.

6. What do you think are the “second amendment remedies” that the tea party GOP candidate for Senate in Nevada( Sharron Angle) has proposed?

I don’t know. I observe that she lost.

7. Do you believe in the notion that if you don’t like what someone is doing or saying, second amendment remedies should be applied?

That depends. First, define what such remedies are. If Second Amendment remedies mean using arms to fight a tyrannical government–such as what happened recently in Libya–then yes, I do agree with that application.

8. Do you believe it is O.K. to call people with whom you disagree liars and demeaning names?

O.K. in what way? We do not have a right to go through life without ever being offended. Free speech means just that–free. I don’t have to like it or agree with it to support the right to say it. Besides which, some people are lying sacks of shit.

9. If yes to #8, would you do it in a public place to the person’s face?

I don’t generally speak to people that way, but if the situation called for it, then yes. I don’t say one thing on-line and another in person. That being said, as someone who carries a firearm, I have a higher duty to avoid a fight, so I don’t instigate violence.

10. Do you believe that any gun law will take away your constitutional rights?

As I’ve written elsewhere on this weblog, I don’t think that I have a right to artillery pieces or an unrestricted right to dynamite. But laws banning small arms or restricting my carrying of the same do diminish my exercise of my right.

11. Do you believe in current gun laws? Do you think they are being enforced? If not, explain.

Do I believe in them? Yes, they do exist. I don’t support most of them. Are they enforced? I have to fill out a background check form every time I buy a gun, so apparently they are. On the other hand, the BATFE seems able to send weapons to Mexico without following the rules. . .

12. Do you believe that all law-abiding citizens are careful with their guns and would never shoot anybody?

All? No. The vast majority? Yes. (I presume that by never shoot anybody, the author means never shoot anyone who isn’t threatening an innocent person.)

13. Do you believe that people who commit suicide with a gun should be included in the gun statistics?

I don’t like statistics. In this specific case, I also have to state that suicide is the right of all adults without minor dependents.

14. Do you believe that accidental gun deaths should “count” in the total numbers?

“Count” for what purpose? If the study is counting gun deaths, lumping all kinds together just produces a meaningless number. I don’t believe that we should ban guns just because a few people are silly with them.

15. Do you believe that sometimes guns, in careless use or an accident, can shoot a bullet without the owner or holder of the gun pulling the trigger?

Modern firearms designs make that exceedingly unlikely. My blackpowder revolver will fire if the hammer is resting on a live cap and receives a blow, as will my Peacemaker clone. Those are old designs. It is broadly true to say that firearms sold today cannot fire without the trigger being pulled.

16. Do you believe that 30,000 gun deaths a year is too many?

It depends on the circumstances. Are we talking about persons who are in the commission of violent crimes? Then no. If those are innocent persons dying, then yes. The number is irrelevant to the right, though.

17. How will you help to prevent more shootings in this country?

See my answer to #2.

18. Do you believe the articles that I have posted about actual shootings or do you think I am making them up or that human interest stories about events that have happened should not count when I blog about gun injuries and deaths?

As I read recently on the Internet, the plural of anecdote is not data. For every one of your stories about an innocent person being killed by a gun, I’ll raise you accounts of good guys saving themselves and others. But again, rights aren’t subject to quantitative analysis.

19. There has been some discussion of the role of the ATF here. Do you believe the ATF wants your guns and wants to harass you personally? If so, provide examples ( some have written a few that need to be further examined).

I’m not important enough to have gained the attention of said bureaucracy, but I am deeply suspicious of a government agency that monitors an area of my rights.

20. Will you continue a reasonable discussion towards an end that might lead somewhere or is this an exercise in futility?

That depends. As I wrote above, the author of the site told me that my arguments are illogical and are written in difficult wording. Apparently, she doesn’t wish to continue a reasonable discussion with me. If by getting somewhere, the author means further restrictions on gun ownership and carry rights, then hell no.

Speaking of futility, though, have a look at the Brady Campaign’s state scorecard some time. Notice how, with a few dismal exceptions, the trend is going in the direction of individual liberty. The Brady Bunch must be feeling the futility of their efforts.

The lines are now open for comment.

A Debate on the Second Amendment

Last Saturday (2 April 2011), I attended a debate held at Temple Shalom in Fayetteville, AR on the subject of employees of colleges who hold licenses carrying concealed handguns on campus, moderated by Doug Thompson, editorial page editor for Northwest Arkansas Newspapers. Supporting this proposition were Charlie Collins, Representative for the 89th District of the Arkansas House and Wesley Stites, professor of chemistry at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. Collins originally advocated the proposal during his campaign for office in 2010. In opposition were Thomas Kennedy, emeritus professor of history at the U of A, and Stephen Sheppard, professor of law at the same. Kennedy had written a letter to a local newspaper that criticized Collins’s call for concealed carry on campus, and the exchange between the two led to this debate.

Kennedy and Collins presented the usual arguments against and for carrying concealed handguns. Kennedy named automatic weapons and cop-killer bullets and observed that the recent rulings of the Supreme Court allow for limitations on gun ownership and use. He said that he has no objection to sport shooting and hunting, but does not include self defense as a reasonable cause for owning a gun. Collins, by contrast, stated that calling a campus a “gun-free zone” in no way restrains someone who has made the decision to commit mass murder. The bill that he introduced in the Arkansas House of Representatives would have allowed full-time employees of colleges who also have concealed carry licenses to carry their handguns on campus. He saw this as an incremental approach to expanding gun rights.

I’ve seen these statements many times before. Those who oppose gun ownership raise the terror of bullets that will penetrate the vests of police officers and of automatic weapons without being clear about what they’re talking about. The fact is that any centerfire rifle round will punch through the standard ballistic vest that the police wear, but those same vests usually block handgun bullets. The definition of automatic depends on the context. Historically, automatic was used to mean self-loading. In other words, an automatic pistol was the kind that loaded a new round after the last one fired. We’re not talking about machine guns that fire until the shooter releases the trigger.

Collins’s statement about a campus as a gun-free zone was challeneged by the President of the Temple, Joel Freund, professor of psychology at the U of A and a member of the audience. Freund said that the atmosphere of a campus would change if handguns were allowed. As a college instructor and a supporter of gun rights, I do find this to be the challenging part of the discussion. Just as gentlemen in days gone by removed their hats indoors as a sign that they were not going to do battle in that space, it would be best if college campuses were areas in which the only fighting that takes place is on the intellectual level. That sounds lovely, and I’m not being sarcastic here. Since the middle ages, the university in its ideal was a place of freedom from the church and the state. Unfortunately, reality does insist on intruding. The academic world depends on rational behavior, and by definition, the insane and the evil are not rational. In addition, as easy as handguns are to conceal, we in colleges have no guarantee that everyone is unarmed, and I’d prefer that at least some of the weapons be in the possession of those whose backgrounds have been checked.

The most interesting part of the discussion for me was what Sheppard had to say. He went through the history of the writing and interpretation of the Second Amendment, observing that of all the Bill of Rights, that one amendment has almost nothing said about it in its early days. He suggested that anyone on either side who claims to know what Madison originally meant in the Second Amendment is simply wrong. This was something of a challenge to the claims of Stites that our Founders were radicals in their thinking and saw the Second Amendment as defending a right of the people to overthrow an oppressive government.

More can be learned from court cases that came later. Sheppard told us about a ruling in Kentucky in the 1820s that took an individualist interpretation of the Second Amendment and one in Arkansas in the 1840s that favored a collectivist model. The general pattern of court rulings throughout much of American history has been that the amendment limits the power of the Federal government, but leaves the states free to regulate firearms as they see fit. The question that the Supreme Court addressed in the Heller and MacDonald decisions was whether the Second Amendment was incorporated under the Fourteenth Amendment, just as was done with the First Amendment in years gone by.

What is important here is to see how our understanding of rights have evolved in the years since the founding of America. Sheppard pointed out that our modern notions of the natural rights of the individual are a recent idea and that the Founders of our country were not nearly as radical as we like to believe. Perhaps I’m revealing my sympathies as a teacher of literature, but a well-chosen mythology is good for our national culture. I’m willing to acknowledge that I’m reading my modern ideas into writers like Jefferson and Madison, but just as we have come to understand that blacks and whites and all other races are included under the beautiful ideas of legal equality, I think that we can find a belief in free citizens as members of the general nobility of America in their words without doing too much violence to the texts.

What I am referring to here is the idea that in Northern European societies, free persons possessed the right to arms by virtue of their status. (This includes having a coat of arms for the family.) Now who was a free person differed from one tribe or kingdom to another, to be sure, but whoever was meant had a right to personal weapons, and the society expected such a person to be armed.

The mythology of America, something that I believe we can read in the works of our Founders, is that each one of us is a free person. It has taken us a long time to work out what we mean by that. We now include those of African descent. We include women and those whose ancestors lived here when Europeans arrived. We no longer require a person to own land to participate in government and rights.

My argument here is that we are more secure and freer when we look for as many individual rights in our Constitution as we can possibly find. The fact that the First Amendment originally only limited the U. S. Congress shows the danger that arises from only finding a state’s right or a corporate right. Stites reminded us that Mao Tse-tung once wrote that all political power flows from the barrel of a gun. I hope that we don’t have to accept that thinking. The American myth is that political power flows from the individuals who make up the population of the nation.

Society must balance the rights of the individual against the stability of the whole and must depend on the responsibility of the actors within. That having been said, the prerequisite is a recognition of the rights that each of us has because we are alive. I prefer groups–businesses, states, the Federal government, and so on–to have to beg permission from individuals. I want all of us to stand up for ourselves, even as we gather together. A personal right to own, carry, and use firearms is one example of this.