Tuesday, October 3, 2006

The Right to Bear Arms

I always liked the columbine flower. I've always been about the flowers, instead of inheriting Ma's adoration for colorful foliage. Until April of 1999, all I thought of when I heard the word "columbine" was those sweet little flowers, bobbing in their soft blue-purples and deep pinks. On April 19th of 1999, I never thought about the possibility that someone could come into my school with a gun for the express purpose of shooting me or someone else I went to school with. It just never occured to me, even though we went to school in a small town where guns were definitely around, particularly for hunting. There used to be a stag statue in front of the high school, but eventually it needed to be taken down since so many people shot at it, either because they were dopes or they were bored. No, on April 19th, I was worrying about the stupid MCAS, and pissing and moaning about the dress code.

On April 20th, two boys walked into a high school in Colorado, and everyone forgot that a columbine was a flower. Fifteen people were dead at the end of the day.

Those two boys had amongst them a 12-gauge Savage-Springfield 67H pump-action shotgun, a Hi-Point 995 Carbine 9mm semi-auto rifle, a Tec-9 9mm semi-auto handgun, a 12-gague Stevens 311D double-barrelled sawed-off shotgun, and a variety of knives, homemade bombs and ammo.

There are a million issues surrounding the Columbine shootings, and those that followed it. Some of the outcry was sensible, some was crazy. A lot of it reflected the current trend (at least as far as I can see) of shifting responsibility for individual actions away from...the individual, which - what? Anyway. Whether or not Marilyn Manson, Doom or The Basketball Diaries caused those two kids to shoot up their school, the guns themselves present a considerable issue. All of those guns listed can be bought from legal firearms dealers. In fact, all of those guns WERE bought legally by a friend of Harris and Klebold's, through something called a "straw purchase," wherein a purchase is made by a third party so as to disguse the true owner of the item (this happens a lot with cars, too...bad credit, etc.). Do we really need access to that kind of firepower?

My parents have an exchange student living with them who is from Norway. She's astounded by the fact that people can just buy guns whenever they feel like it here. It really makes me think - we talked about this pretty early on in her stay here, and I've thought about it ever since. There's so much going on in the Second Amendment. You have the right to bear arms, fine. One of the things I like about the US Consitution is that it is so adamant about defending the people's rights - the right to recall, repeal, take by force the power granted to our elected officials if they misuse said power. But would we really raise militias to depose someone we didn't like? I honestly can't imagine anyone hating a President or a government enough to want to take on our military, which by the way is one of the largest and most technologically advanced in the world. We can't even get people out to vote, for chrissakes. Also...wouldn't that kind of be a complete disaster? I can tell you that from my experience just firing a Glock 9 and a .45 of No-Ex-Marine's, if you told me to pick up a Tec-9 and hit ANYTHING, much less oncoming US military, it would not go well. The number of people to whom guns are so familiar that having said guns would actually help them defend against a violent government/external enemy is so small, compared to the population at large and the military itself, I don't really believe that it would get the job done.

Here are some figures from a University of Washington study - "an estimated 35 percent to 50 percent of all homes in the United States have firearms, accounting for an estimated 200 million privately owned firearms." Consider the firepower of the US Military...there may be less than 200 million people in the military, but a.) I have to believe that at least half of said military folks are issued more than one type of gun, for handling different ranges, etc., and b.) all of their weapons are specifically designed for killing people. Not hunting, not display, but killing other people before those other people can kill them. And that's only considering small arms, not the rockets, tanks, and other military trappings that would face any militia that chose to take on the US juggernaut.

Plus, you have the armor aspect - from that same study from U-Washington, 38 percent of gun owners purchased a gun for protection, 16 percent for display, and 40 percent for sport or hunting. (Bear in mind that this is a study done in Washington State, so it's not indicative of the whole country, but the points are the same.) Now, of all those folks, I think at best you could expect that 38 percent who bought weapons for protection would have body armor suitable for any combat. Obviously , the display folks are out, and the hunting people may have light protection, but nothing that would stand up effectively to military combat.

I also think that the Second Amendment's time of conception is important...bear in mind that when they started this whole "making a new country" project, no one was 100% sure it would work. A lot of things in the Constitution and in state and local law have taken on a certain archaic air as the country has worked various issues out, but those issues were really important back then. America was a loosely connected bunch of...outposts, really. Now that we have government watchdog groups and international monitoring bodies like the UN (not that the UN is a huge force, but still, it discourages bad behavior a little), some of the American citizens' responsibility has shifted from being prepared to march on Washington armed to the teeth to making sure that they find out about problematic individuals or policies in the government BEFORE you need to don a bandolier, throw a knife in your teeth, and start hiking to DC. Government is not as rough and ready now as it once was, nor is it lacking for oversight. We've reviewed the construction, made changes, and now we have a system that runs slowly but relatively smoothly.

There's always the fear of bad guys as well...most people don't buy guns for protection against the government these days, they buy them for protection against the bad guys, and in that sense I can sort of see an argument. Globalization has made the world with all it's good and bad very accessible, and as such, you can begin to see how drug lords in Colombia might be game for shipping some semi-auto guns along with their shipments of drugs to help their men on the ground with enforcement. So if a bad guy then wants to hurt you, shouldn't you also be able to lay hands on a semi-auto to defend yourself equally?

Well, I personally don't really think someone robbing your house needs to be killed to defend it. Even if the mugger/burglar/whatever has a 9mm handgun on him, and you have a 9mm in your bedside table, if one of you winds up dead, that's where the equality ends. If I thought every gun owner could be trusted to shoot to disarm rather than kill, then I wouldn't mind so much, but that's not how it goes.

I think that the "keeping up with the Mansons" concept is misguided...there is a great exchange in either a movie or a book that I can't for the life of me remember (may even have been Law & Order) but basically, there are two guys, at least one of whom is a cop, discussing escalation, to wit: "We buy semi-autos, they buy automatics; we buy kevlar vests, they buy armor piercing rounds. Where does it stop?" (I am starting to think that it was Batman Begins, which was an awesome, awesome movie that rocked my pants off.) Where DOES it stop? Or more specifically...where does it begin? At what point do you acknowledge the problem in this escalation and see it as an argument for more stringent gun control and limitation? Doesn't that make it more important to make owning a gun through illegal means or for nefarious intent carry harsher punishment? Why isn't there more incentive for turning in guns?

Why not apply the psychotically strict and overwhelmingly USELESS penalties attached to drug use and possession to illegal use and possession of firearms? Drugs were the big thing with Nancy Reagan and that exciting little clan...it got to the point where Newt Gingrich actually suggested that people be put to death for having in their possession TWO OUNCES of marijuana - as Dave Barry once brilliantly put it, "the botanical equivalent of two bottles of vodka." Put to DEATH! Ridiculous. Anyway. There are mandatory minimum sentencing requirements now for drug related offences. Now, I think that the entire thing is stupid, for a couple reasons...first, there is no rehab happening in (the majority...you should be watching that show) of prisons, so once the prisoner has served out their mandatory sentence, they'll just be back in again, and secondly, it just jams up the system with stupid college kids and minor offenders without making a distinction between big-league thugs and dealers and kids who suck at hiding their weed.

Not that drugs don't create violent crime, because they do, but that violence is much less certain than it is when someone obtains an illegal firearm. I have no complaint with those who go to the store, get the training, use their own ID, get licensed, go through the waiting period and act as responsible gun owners, but it seems to me that someone buying an illegal firearm, be it a .22 or a bazooka, is probably not doing it for a good reason, nor can they be expected to behave themselves. If you can't even bring yourself to BUY the thing responsibly, how can you be reasonably expected to USE it responsibly? The gun ownership rules in the US are relatively low-key, considering the gravity attached to what guns have the capacity to do. What do you need a gun in such a hurry for? Why is your need for a firearm such that you don't feel you need to bother with getting licensed?

I don't know what my final opinion on guns in America is (not that the country is waiting with baited breath for it or anything, I'm just saying is all), but I do know that there's a lot to it. I used to be adamantly anti-gun, but then two things happened - I lived in a city, and I went shooting with No-Ex-Marine. I would trust him with a gun of any size while holding everything important in my life, because I know he is a responsible, well trained gun owner. And in the city, I had my share of those Scary Big City Moments that everyone has if they actually leave their home once in a while, and I understood why I might feel a little safer walking home from the Metro if I had a handgun. It's just to hard to decide.

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