Postscript For a Tragedy: Gun Control for Idiots

I originally wrote this article in response to a post on Open Salon about the shooting in Connecticut but I deleted that entry to honor my pledge not to post on OS until they get their shit together, so I am posting it here instead.

Another shooting incident - one even more heinous than the previous ones because of the ages of the victims - has once again spurred spurious outcries for increased gun control and, once again, everyone is playing out the same sad scenario, using a public tragedy to advance their personal interests.

The news media plays up these incidents with round the clock coverage to build up their ratings.  It's a well-known fact that CNN's ratings shoot upward whenever one of these events occur because people have been trained to tune into CNN when major tragedies occur....and CNN is using the most recent incident to re-inflate their sagging numbers.

Cynical political figures jump on the gun control bandwagon demanding more stringent gun control laws that would ban, for example, so called assault weapons, even though they know full well that their gun control proposals aren't really addressed to real combat weapons,  will never get congressional approval, nor would they pass constitutional scrutiny.  Since they absolutely know that this is true from every previous incident of a similar nature, calls for increased gun control measures are really about their political ambitions.  (Michael Bloomberg may be the sole exception to this rule.  He doesn't appear to be running for anything any more.)

On the other side of the issue, gun owner organizations will once again ramp up their fundraising efforts to protect their vested interests in the Second Amendment by using the outcry against gun ownership to spur new enrollments in their organizations by gun owners, while raising increased donations from their existing members.

Fact:  the guns used in this most recent incident were legally owned and were not military grade assault weapons.  They were common, garden variety firearms, not automatic weapons.   None of the weapons used would have been interdicted by any gun control measure passed or proposed in recent years.

Calls for more restrictive laws that would reduce the number of rounds in a given firearm magazine are ridiculous for any magazine-fed weapon because it takes no more than two or three seconds to insert a fresh magazine into a modern weapon.  What difference does it then make if you have a ten round magazine or an 18 round magazine?    All magazine-fed weapons are technically semi-automatic weapons by design and function.  Calls for restrictions on semi-automatic weapons are really calls for the elimination of this class of firearm from public possession. (And, no, it isn't possible to restrict the number of magazines that a civilian could possess because there's no mechanism for tracking them.)

Even if such a ban could be enacted, this would still leave us with revolvers that can have up to ten rounds in the chambers (depending on the caliber.)  Speed loaders are available for every revolver on the market that would enable a well-trained shooter to reload a revolver in the same two or three seconds it takes a less skilled shooter to reload a magazine-fed weapon.

These few facts point out the reality that the hue and cry about gun control skirts meaningful discussions about the real issue: untreated or under-treated instances of mental illness in our society....but, once again, that's a different subject.

There is no point in discussing firearms control because it is impossible to control firearms.  The mechanisms for firearms control simply do not exist.  You can interdict the manufacturing of firearms in the United States, but that would not prevent gun runners from importing firearms from other countries.  You can shut down every gun shop in America, but that won't stop anyone from getting firearms by stealing them from the people who have them.  You could even collect every firearm in the country, and that wouldn't stop clever people from manufacturing their own firearms.  I could build a credible single shot pistol in a single day using only the tools in my garage, and so could millions of other people....and there is no way to interdict the tools that I would use to make that firearm because all kinds of people use them in their occupations.  (I inherited mine from my father.)

People have been going on rampages like this since the beginning of time, and they will continue to go on rampages until the end of time because rampages are a basic part of human nature. The weapons aren't the problem.  The problem is that we have broken people among us who are compelled to do these things by their personal psychology.  The presumption that you can reduce the number or severity of rampages by controlling the distribution of firearms is based on a false assumption that, somehow, these rampages have something to do with the availability of firearms. 

Before firearms were around, rampagers used bows, before bows,  swords, and before we had swords, they used clubs, and before we  had clubs, they used rocks.  You can't ban rocks.  Al Capone's favorite weapon wasn't a gun or a knife.  It was a baseball bat.

There's a false presumption that firearms make people do these bad things.  That's a false assumption.  The only reason that rampagers use firearms instead of swords today is that firearms are more readily available....but I could go to just about any mall in America and purchase a very lethal pair of swords, and I guarantee you that I could kill just as many people with those swords as this young man did with his pistols in the same amount of time.  Anyone who doesn't believe that doesn't know anything about either guns or swords.

The fact of the matter is that most unarmed citizens don't stand a chance against an armed person....and the only solution to this dilemma is to arm everyone....or accept the fact that these things will happen because it is part of human nature.  (My son, who is highly trained in martial arts, probably could disarm either a gunman or a swordsman, but most people haven't had his training....and he would prefer to use a firearm in self-defense himself.)

The false belief that these attacks are rare aberrations encourages us to believe that we can prevent these things from happening, but there are ten thousand people who think about doing these things for every person who actually does them.  As a matter of fact, there's some evidence in the literature that suggests the excessive coverage received by these events actually encourages other to do the same things.

You may think this is a very dark, pessimistic view of life in the 21st century, but the real problem is the belief in the fallacy of safety, which causes us to let our guard down in the false assumption that, somehow, society can protect us from ourselves and from each other.

The truth is that the police exist to enforce the law, and that means a law has to be broken before the police can enforce the law.  The police powers do not extend to protecting citizens from the potential for harm because, if that were the case, we would need one police officer for each citizen, which raises the question of who protects the police officers.

If I thought for one second that passing draconian gun control laws would have the desired outcome of preventing such tragedies from happening, I would support them....but that's not the case.  On the other hand, there are an unknown number of incidents each year that are prevented from happening because the intended victim was armed and able to defend himself.   We don't know how many such incidents take place each year because most of them go unreported, and because it is difficult to extract the data referring to reported incidents since they aren't typically listed as self-defense shootings.  If you take the lowest estimate from the published studies on the subject, it appears that firearms are used around 100,000 times a year in successful self-defense efforts.

Is that enough data to support the contention that carrying a firearm, or even keeping one in your home, is a credible means of self-defense?  That depends on whether you've ever been in that situation or not.  Over the past thirty years, I have been in three such incidents and never had to fire a shot, so the incidents were never reported.  (Technically, I should have reported the incidents since, in most jurisdictions,  you are required to report any instance in which you have "brandished" a firearm in self-defense.)

Anyone with actual field experience, however, knows that the possession of a firearm is only going to have an effect on the outcome of a criminal act in a very small percentage of cases because, in most cases, the assault is over before you knew it was about to take place.  There is, therefore, no credible evidence to support the value of being in possession of a firearm in terms of the deflection of a violent crime....and some evidence that the possession of a firearm encourages people to feel secure in situations where they aren't secure at all.

The fact remains that interdiction has never had the intended effect of preventing people from obtaining proscribed substances.  Prohibition resulted in an increase in both crime and alcoholism.  The current drug laws are causing tremendous havoc throughout society, but they haven't done anything to reduce the instances of substance abuse. Draconian gun control laws would have the same effect, as would insane regulations against abortion or birth control:  they won't work because they are all attempts to control the supply of the interdicted substance instead of addressing the underlying problem, which is the demand for the interdicted substance.

The only way to absolutely guarantee public safety is to have an absolute totalitarian state that controls every aspect of civil life and, even then, you would have no protection  against the abuses of the government itself.

The traditional gun owner's defense referring to the constitutionally guaranteed right to bear arms as a necessity in a free society skirts the fact that the firearms in question, the firearms permitted by the US Code, consist of a military grade musket....not a modern weapon.  The statutes have never been updated to reflect the changes in firearms technology.  Technically, then, the Constitution and the US Code only protect the right to own and carry a single shot, muzzle loading rifle or  musket, rather than a semi-automatic rifle with a high capacity magazine.

The bottom line on this subject is very personal.  I am Jewish.  I can read history.  I have said this before and I will say it again now, even on this dark day:  any Jew who can read history and doesn't own a firearm is a blithering idiot.

Of course, there are many Jews who - being Jews - will disagree with this assessment.  Almost to a person, however, these same people will visit Israel and feel reassured when they see Jewish teenagers going out on a date,  each with an Uzi hanging from his or her shoulder.  Israeli parents, on the other hand, shudder at the sight.

The ultimate fallacy is the fallacy of personal security.  No such thing has ever existed from the beginning of time to the present moment.  Natural disasters, animal attacks, disease,  personal animosities, accidents, vendettas, drought, famine, war,  ecological collapse....there's an endless list of threat we have faced throughout history down to the present moment., and no one fate is any better or any worse than any other. 

Every child ever born was born as a hostage to fate.  We would like to think that we can protect our children but the day always comes when we realize the error in that thinking.  No one can assuage the sorrow of a grieving parent.  I won't even try. 

The hard truth is that we live in a dream world of illusions of security  within the fragile bubble of the present moment and no one, not a child in school nor the president himself, ever knows what will happen from one moment to the next.

The philosophical problem we face as human beings is the false belief - the controlling illusion - that we know what destiny, time or nature have in store for us from one moment to the next.

No one does, but we all think we do, until we find out otherwise as the course of events unwinds around us.

This analysis will provide no comfort to the bereaved families of the deceased but, then, there is no way to comfort the bereaved and anyone who thinks otherwise has never been in their situation.  Some will want to address firearms as the issue.   Others will point to the problem of mental illness as the cause of the problem.  The fact remains that we all want to be able to assure ourselves and each other that there is some order in our world when the truth is that we live and die in chaos and the belief in order is only the delusion that makes chaos - and life - palatable.

Views: 362

Comment by MarkinKentuckiana on December 15, 2012 at 11:55am

A well written statement!  I expect there will be a number of people who disagree it.

Comment by Alan Milner on December 15, 2012 at 12:01pm

Assuredly there will be disagreement.  The point of discourse is disagreement.  I learn nothing from people who simply agree with me.  I am relatively cut off from the current hoopla because I no longer watch the news stations....but I did last this morning before I left for work, and the coverage was terrible, the same repetitious bullshit.  The news media believes that repetition is equal to commiseration.  They should ask the victim's families how they feel about it. I don't believe in pandering to emotionalism.

Comment by I wooden DoDat on December 15, 2012 at 12:34pm

I've always thought it was clever that your avatar included the word "sage" as an alternatively Botanical or intelligence referent- This is the "Sagest" piece of work I've seen in a long time. Thank you for saving me from having to spend the time writing something similar but less trenchant.  There are some minor points of clarification, but altogether, you sum up the situation sagely.

My comment of the day:

Investing in heavy metal

William Devane in Rosland Capital commercial:

 “I even like the feel of gold-”

I can only afford to invest in lead for the coming apocalypse.

I'm not at all feeling like a piss fight this morning, so please take my comments as serious experience and not as provocation, I'm just trying to set the premises for a reasonable discussion ( NB- NOT debate- we have a problem, not a sock puppet prize awarded for points)

Off the top of my head:

No new gun legislation would have affected the killer, because he STOLE the guns.

You could make it impossible for his mother and people like her to own guns, and he would still be able to buy one at the

same place he buys pot and coke.

If no civilians owned guns, I can think of several places where they are available with minimum effort from local Barney Fifes ( The real danger of giving Barney an automatic weapon and no bullets isn't that he will find bullets, it is that someone will take it away from him- or he will sell it)

Check the internet. Guns aren't that hard to make.

Talk about a stimulant to new cottage industries.

If I couldn't get a gun and felt nasty , water heaters, propane tanks and space heaters can be made to produce spectacular explosions.

I can't imagine what sort of “gun Control” ( Find you with a gun, you die?) is in effect in the middle east, yet they manage to put together homicide bombing rigs.

All of this brings us back to the real problem- How should we have a) secured the school

b) predicted the killers actions and headed them off? c ) not made his act seem like a glorious way to exit the planet?

I was debating this with a liberal lawyer friend of mine, and the thought occurred to me that he had never been in a serious fight ( someone trying to kill him) in his life. I've been in a few- and I'm still here. If even one of the adults in the situation had had martial arts/military training, he would have stopped the gunman . ( we can debate the effectiveness of the 9mm as a weapon if you like, but the point is that if you know what your doing someone who is close enough to shoot you with a 9mm pistol, is too close to prevent you from killing him.( ask our troops in the Philippines in the early 1900's)  - extreme,- but kids brought guns to class all the time when I was going to school, the WWII trained teacher took them away from them, and kept them til after class.

Long day ahead, back later

ps- this grew into a post, I'm not cross posting

Comment by JMac1949 Memories on December 15, 2012 at 1:22pm

I've worked in Southern California and worked with and known many Jews and Muslims over the past fifty years, none of whom, so far as I know, owned any firearms... and while we've all suffered through our share of meaningless violence over the years  (I've been robbed at gunpoint twice in LA and I was stabbed in the chest while trying to keep someone else from getting shot by my landlord, but that was in Texas.), the only weapons I own are some kitchen knives and a Chinese sword... maybe it's climate or maybe we're just idiots. 

Comment by Alan Milner on December 15, 2012 at 1:23pm

In a comment on another post, I made the serious suggestion that perhaps all schools should have controlled entrances with metal detectors so that no one could get into a school building with a gun.   This isn't just do-able, it would also be highly effective.  We could do the same thing with malls, movie theaters, and other public buildings.  After all, they already have detectors in place to prevent shoplifting.  The point is the cost, of course.  The cost of retrofitting an entire society with controlled access points with metal detectors would be astronomical.  Then, there's the staffing problem.  A metal detector without an operator isn't going to prevent anyone from getting into a scho0l, unless you use an automated access system with double doors fore and aft.  All you have to do wire the system so that when a firearm is detected, both the outer and inner doors lock down and the system calls the cops.

This would work in 100% of the cases....except for one thing:  WINDOWS.

Of course, we could refit every public building window with Lexan, which would prevent incursions by all but the most determined intruders....and then what you would have is a locked down society in which every public building would be under constant scrutiny and surveillance in which no one could get in or out without having to be scanned and approved.

Someone wrote a book once about such a society.  He called it,  "1984."

Liberals and conservatives alike would think this unthinkable....but this is where we are heading and, in the final analysis, because it is do-able, it is better to agitate for this approach than it would be to agitate for control control, because one is possible and the other simply isn't. 

Maybe it is time to give up the wishful thinking and actually try to do something that really will make a difference.

Comment by Alan Milner on December 15, 2012 at 1:30pm

JMac, this is something I learned a long time ago:  You don't really know who has firearms and who doesn't.  Most people who do are more circumspect about it than I am.   In the Muslim world, in which I lived and worked for many years, gun ownership was quite common, but it wasn't discussed casually because Muslims - in the United States at least - are so concerned about possibly being labelled as terrorists that they are VERY circumspect about owning firearms. 

Comment by koshersalaami on December 15, 2012 at 4:42pm

I'm about to post with a different take.

I don't think we should necessarily regulate firearms, but I do think we should regulate firearm owners, like we issue drivers' licenses. Anyone with an ounce of training would have had those weapons locked away, particularly with mental illness in the house.

Comment by Matt Paust on December 15, 2012 at 7:56pm

You shall learn nothing from me, as I agree with everything you said and admire your skill in saying it. 

Comment by onislandtime on December 16, 2012 at 8:44am

Interesting post and perspective. It is true that there is no iron clad "safety". There will always be crime, and there will always be deviants in society. I tend to look more at the reports that personality issues such as anti-social (sociopath), narcissism, and negative issues that rise from entitlement thinking (like abuse and battery) have risen in our society and seem on trend to continue to rise.  Until Americans want to step back and examine the worship of the individual that promotes that type of behavior and treats people that abuse as "victims" instead of criminals I can't see how we can make real progress. Since that will take decades, don't we owe it to ourselves to look seriously at what other countries have done to control violence, and model the successes? If your argument about gun ownership not being the issue were true, the United States would not be so statistically different. 

Comment by Alan Milner on December 16, 2012 at 10:43am

The United States isn't so statistically different.  The US ranks 108th out of 207 nations in terms of the overall homicide rate, with a rate of 4.2%  per 100,000 residents or 12,999 in 2010, right between Martinique and Turkmenistan, and next door to Palestine.  That twice the homicide rate of Israel, at 2.1% per 100,000.  This gets very interesting when you factor in gun deaths, where the US ranks 13th out of 76 nations in 2010, with a rate of 9% per 100,000....but only 2.98% out of that 9% were actual homicides.  In other words, firearms were used in only 75% of the homicides recorded in 2010.   The suicide by firearm rate is twice as high as the murder by firearm rate, which substantiates the frequently repeated canard that you are in more danger from your own firearms than you are from anyone else's.  However, these statistics make it clear that even the complete disarmament of the American people will not stop these events from taking place.  While it's true that a firearm makes wholesale slaughter easier to accomplish, numerous attack with knives and swords have taken place in countries where firearms are not available.   So, on the basis of our overall homicide statistics, we're really not so different from the rest of the world.  We just use firearms more often because we have more firearms.  I haven't drilled down to compare the availability of firearms to the death rate because the availability of firearms is a highly fungible statistic.  

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