Sunday, February 3, 2013

Pro Common Sense

In the interests of full disclosure, I am not anti-gun. I spent almost 9 years in the Air Force and qualified on two handguns and an M-16. When I was growing up, I hunted with my grandfather, and even owned my own double barrel, 20 gauge shotgun. I was also responsible, as a kid, for dramatically increasing the copper content of the soil around our house, as well as a few trees (sorry again Mom!), due to heavy BB gun use.  I've been a military history buff since I was a little kid and I love me some Quentin Tarantino. So I'm hardly a frothing crusader for repealing gun rights. But having said all that, I fully support some common sense gun regulation.

No, I'm not looking to take everyone's guns away. In fact, almost no one is, so I wish the NRA and others on the 'no compromise' side of this argument would stop whining like 2 year olds whose ice cream just hit the floor. Look, guns exist for only one reason: to kill. You can talk up target shooting and skeet shooting, etc. But the truth is that firearms were not invented and perfected to shoot clay pidgeons. They were invented to kill human beings. And over time, they have become more and more efficient at ending lives. I'm not saying that a gun is evil, but let's not pretend they are holy relics or talismans of liberty either. Guns are as likely to support tyranny as they are to protect freedom. Guns are not the cornerstone of Democracy. The cornerstones of Democracy are governmental checks & balances, freedom of expression and our judicial system, not who has the most, or biggest guns.

It's important to remember that there are two different spheres of life where guns exist; military and civilian. The military has much different needs than does a convenience store owner down the street. For the military, it's all about killing people in the quickest, most efficient manner possible for a particular situation. Whether that's a sniper rifle to kill a single individual from a mile away or a special forces team clearing a building with FN P90 assault rifles. Fast, reliable and deadly are the key features. And these weapons are put into the hands of highly trained soldiers. Individuals who have been drilled over and over on how to operate rationally in the chaotic environment of flying bullets. These are specialized weapons in the hands of those who have been trained to be specialists in the dark art of killing other human beings.

Then we have the civilian world, where the needs are much different. Here it's about sport or personal defense. There is no need for 30+ round magazines or a high rate of fire. Neither will help you hit a target on a range or take down a game animal and neither is needed for self defense. If one standard pistol magazine isn't enough to defend yourself, you're either in the middle of a gang shootout or you're running with Officer John McLane. In either case, your problems are unlikely to be solved with a few more rounds. And for the survivalists out there, I'm afraid a larger capacity magazine is not going to help you if the government really does come for you. Your AR-15 isn't going to save you from a highly trained tactical strike team or a platoon of trained infantry.

Military grade weapons have no place in civilian society. That's why your neighbor can't mount a quad .50 on his garage and you can't pick up Stinger missiles at Walmart! Neither of you has any legitimate need for that kind of firepower. Home defense? Try a shotgun. Talk about fear factor! I'd be more scared staring down the muzzle of a 12 gauge than an AR-15 any day! The AR-15 might miss, at least with the first few rounds, but the shotgun probably won't.

The other thing that so many people seem to not understand is that owning a gun does not imbue you with magical powers. You hear it after every mass shooting. The chorus of, "if only they had all been armed this would never have happened!" Look, Rambo, owning a gun doesn't make you Jason Bourne. Shooting targets on a range or hunting deer does not remotely qualify you to be calm and rational in the middle of a firefight.  Sure, if some of the teachers at Sandy Hook had been armed, the result might have been different. Perhaps they would have stopped the gunman, but that difference could also have been that several more bystanders may have been wounded or killed as multiple 'good guys' started spraying shots down range without carefully clearing their target.

It doesn't help that the Second Amendment is so non-specific. The whole thing is one sentence with one or two commas, depending on where you source the text. You would think that might make it straight forward, but it's not. Read it for yourself:

"A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

It seems like the only part most people care about is the last section, but the whole first part seems to clearly be a qualifier, implying that it specifically pertains to militias. There are some who interpret the Second Amendment as some paranoid safety valve, put in by the founding fathers as a defense against an overreaching government. That seems like a strange thing to shoehorn into the bill of rights. Not to mention, it's like a bride calling from her wedding reception to put a divorce lawyer on retainer. It also doesn't seem to fit when you read the whole amendment. I can't get past the militia bit, personally. When I read it, what I see is a warning not to ban guns because to do so would functionally disarm the state militias, who were pretty much the entire US army of the time. But we no longer base our security on civilian militias whose equipment is provided by the individuals themselves. We now have a professional military and the militias have been superseded by the National Guard, who have their weapons provided for them by the individual states. I think the Second Amendment is actually a bit anachronistic. Remember this comes from a time when the founders never imagined that the United States would have a standing, professional military numbering more than a million men and women.

This whole issue is way too complicated to fix by just arming everyone. Just as we will never stop every mass shooting by tightening gun laws. However, there are obvious steps that can be taken to make it a little harder for some individuals to arm themselves. Making background checks universal, whether you're shopping a brick and mortar store or just browsing at a local gun show, will make it harder for those with ill intent to pick up a weapon while adding only a minor inconvenience for everyone else. It's like security at the airport. Sure it's annoying, but everyone has to deal with it and it does provide a basic barrier to those trying to do harm. Is it fool proof? Of course not. Having laws and punishments setup for murderers doesn't stop 100% of killings, but that's no reason not to have them in place. Will banning some assault rifles stop the next Sandy Hook? Probably not, but it may very well save lives among the thousands of other shootings. And it will do so without causing the vast majority of gun owners the tiniest inconvenience. All I ask is for gun rights activists to stop and take a slow, deep breath. Holster their bravado. Then listen with an open mind and think rationally about what is actually being proposed and consider the real world impact.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Constitutional Arbiter

The other day I came across a Facebook post that reminded me how crazy, supposedly responsible people can be. It was a post of a letter sent to Vice President Biden by an Oregon Sheriff named Tim Mueller. In this letter, Sheriff Mueller details his love of the Constitution and the oaths he has given for his current position, as well as a short stint in the Army and concludes by declaring that he won't enforce any laws he or his citizens consider unconstitutional. Here's the part of the letter that I find just incredible to read, coming as it does from a law enforcement officer, emphasis mine:

"Any federal regulation enacted by Congress or by executive order of the President offending the constitutional rights of my citizens shall not be enforced by me or by my deputies, nor will I permit the enforcement of any unconstitutional regulations or orders by federal officers within the borders of Linn County Oregon."

Here we see a prime example of why we can't have a reasonable conversation about guns, not to mention many other subjects. It's because so many people, who seem intelligent, some of whom hold positions of responsibility are, at least on certain subjects, idiots. Sincerely determined ones at that. Let me put it this way, if I may paraphrase what Mueller is saying in this letter:

"Vice President Biden, I, Sheriff Tim Mueller, love the Constitution. I have sworn oaths to protect and defend it as a law enforcement officer and as an MP in the Army. As such, I am an expert on what is and is not Constitutional and not the Courts, as the Constitution would have you believe. Therefore, I am telling you, the Constitutionally elected Vice President of the United States of America, that I refuse to enforce any federal law I don't agree with and will even attempt to thwart enforcement by federal authorities. 

It's irrelevant that any such law was proposed and passed into law under a Congressional framework that is explicitly laid out under the US Constitution. That very same document about which I expressed my undying love at the beginning of this letter. In fact, my adoration for the Constitution is so deep and unyielding that I am willing to violate my own oaths, to that very same document! God bless America and the Constitution!."

I wish this guy was unique, but you might be surprised how many people subscribe to this tortured line of reasoning, either personally or in support of those shrubs who do. It always breaks down to the idea that individual citizens can make a determination about what is and is not Constitutional. Despite the fact that these laws were passed under Constitutional authority. Sure, some laws have been passed and then later ruled un-Constitutional, but that was done through the Court system, as the Constitution explicitly specifies. In fact, laws are treated much like a person's innocence; we assume they are Constitutional, because they were passed Constitutionally, until such time as they are challenged and subsequently ruled to violate the Constitution. You see, that's how this whole 'America' thingy is supposed to work. 

The bottom line is that, as a citizen, you have the right to disagree with a law, call for its repeal, speak out publicly, challenge it in court and demand your representatives work to repeal it. But just because you don't like it, doesn't make it un-Constitutional! It may be unwise, stupid or even corrupt, but you do not have the right to choose what laws apply to you, based on your own, skewed interpretation of the Constitution. And if you're in a position of power and authority, such as Mueller, you sure as hell don't have the right to declare your own personal insurrection against the Constitutional authority of the United States simply because you disagree with something! And to do it under the guise of patriotism is enough to have me reaching for an Excedrin and/or a bottle of Captain Morgan. I've had enough of blowhards who think they can pick and choose what laws apply to them. If we start down that road we stop being the United States and instead become the Confederate Counties of America, where every locality has its own random, illogical laws based not on a governmental framework, but rather the simple minded prejudices of the local authorities. We all know how that works; segregation, discrimination and restrictions on the very liberties that schmucks like Mueller are so hot and bothered about. You see once you start letting individuals choose what laws should be followed, you're setting up every 'Mueller' as their own petty dictator. Put simply, Mueller is actually undermining the very Constitution he is supposedly so devoted to. Is that ironic or just pathetic? No, wait, I think it's both.