Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Our Abusive Relationship With Firearms (and Why Breaking Up is Hard to Do)

Jones' incendiary delivery managed to completely
obscure any real points he made during his appearance.  

I really didn't want to write a blog post about this, especially after so long a meaningful absence, but after watching Austin-based conspiracy-ophile Alex Jones lose his marbles on National Television the other day, I realized that while we do seem to be having a discussion about gun control, it's really more of a shouting match engendered by the lunatic fringe.

I know, I know, tensions are high, and why not take away automobiles, and only criminals will own guns, and look what Hitler did, and blah blah blah blah. Yeah, I get it. Everyone is mad. And I know so many gun owners--that I know personally--are worried about this. I'm very surprised that this fear is even on the table. Worse--Texans...TEXANS...are fearful.

Let me tell you why this is all ridiculous.


A quintessential image if ever there was one.
No other country in the civilized world has their history so inextricably tied to firearms as the United States. And Texas even more so. I mean, really...Texas became a country through open conflict, and then joined the United States. We're the only country in the world that had a wild west, one of the most romanticed periods in American History. We made heroes out of gangsters in the Roaring Twenties, gangsters who were killing one another over boolegged hootch. Our favorite war to talk about is World War II (and hey, rightfully so; Hitler was bad, and I'm glad he's dead). We grew up playing Cowboys and Indians, Star Wars, Army, and James Bond, and aside from the odd wrapping paper tube used as a light saber, the weapon of choice was always a gun. We made them with our fingers when we couldn't get a plastic one. Gun terms are in our vernacular. "Straight shooter," "the whole nine yards," "quick-draw," "number one with a bullet," and dozens of other expressions and aphorisms color our daily communication at every level. If you made one coat of arms for the entire country, one fourth of the field would have a pistol on it. We're gun happy.

Some of you are REALLY gun happy. That's great, and that's awesome, and don't think for a second that I want to take your guns away. Do you know why I don't want to take your guns away? Because you'll shoot me if I try. I know it, and you know it. You know who else knows it? The government. Believe it or not, there are gun enthusiasts at every level of government, too. Right on down to the very people that, in this imaginary nightmare scenario would be charged with taking your guns from you. I personally know a number of current military personnel and veterans. I also know a number of law enforcement officials. Local sheriffs, policemen, even a couple of constables. These are everyone from nodding acquaintances to close friends, people I've known for years. I would trust these people (and I do) with my life and my safety. Do you know what would happen if the word came down to start rounding up guns? I am reasonably confident that all of them would flat-out refuse to do it. Based on what I know of these folks, there's no way they'd turn over their own guns, nor would they take yours away.

It's a ludicrous scenario. And I hate that I keep having to hear it right now. It's all over FaceBook. It's all over the news. Every day they get some fresh chucklehead who's just come into town from the wilderness where he keeps his bunker in good order and they get him yammering on television about how President Obama is going to goose-step into our homes and remove our .22s, and then ONLY the CRIMINALS will HAVE the GUNS, and then it's off to rant-town.

You all need to see this for what it is: infotainment. It's theater, it's blood and circuses, it's misdirection from every real and genuine problem we actually have, that we need to be actually talking about. "Gun Control" has become one of those knee-jerk phrases like "Global Warming" and "Compassionate Conservatism" that seems to throw most people into a lather, where they instantly retreat to their corner where all of the prepared statements live, and start throwing them out like ninja stars in the hopes of hitting whoever is doing the talking and they'll be so stunned that they go away.

When Jesse Ventura made the comparison between firearms and gun deaths and drunk drivers and vehicular manslaughter, John Stewart countered with a compelling argument that stronger laws and enforcement and massive public awareness campaigns did in fact reduce the number of drunk driving deaths over several decades. And I think that's what people are talking about--or at least, want to talk about. Let me cut to the chase, here:

On the subject of better firearm management, I don't have any desire to take away any existing firearms. However, I do want to see a much higher level of respect for firearms in this country--legislatively, on a civic level. What would that look like? Here are my thoughts, and that's all they are.

No Guns at Wal-Mart means no break-ins to steal them.
I'd like to see the number of places you can buy a firearm shrink dramatically. I don't think you should be able to buy anything other than a hunting rifle or a shotgun at Wal-Mart or any other sporting goods store. I don't think firearms should be sold over the Internet, or at gun shows. I think firearms should only be available from licensed dealers who record, update, and forward all registration paperwork to law enforcement, or they can't do business. I think anyone who owns a gun has to keep and maintain their license, which includes an inspection of the weapon for proper safeties, handling, and shooting. Failure to do so would result in a loss of your license, until you're up to regulation again. I think the penalty for unlicensed firearms should be much higher, and I also think that if a member of your family gets your firearm and commits a crime, such as murder with it, then you are liable for that murder as well. I want the laws to be just short of draconian, because I want people to fear and respect gun ownership. It should be a big deal. Hell, let's fact it: to most of the people in this country, it IS a big deal--but those aren't the people I see on the nightly news. They aren't the ones causing the crimes, nor are they the ones yelling into cameras like lunatics.  People like my brother-in-law take it very seriously. He's got a gun safe, has his conceal and carry permit, and all of that stuff. Do I trust him? Implicitly. But I am reasonably sure that right now someone is buying a gun who has no business owning one. Maybe they are emotionally out of whack. Maybe they are just mad. Maybe they "need protection" from...whatever they think they need. Maybe it's a legitimate reason. But maybe the legitimate reason for having that weapon brings the firearm into the proximity of someone who has no business being anywhere near a firearm. You see where I'm going with this?

It won't stop shooting deaths. Of course it won't. But I firmly believe that, over time, there are some deaths that will be prevented because, over time, everyone will lock up their weapons as a matter of course, or perhaps not have as many to choose from because the licenses are pretty expensive, or perhaps will just think twice about grabbing that weapon because of the price they will have to pay because crimes committed with a firearm, loaded or not, now carry the automatic maximum sentence under the law.

Again, let me stress: your right to own a firearm and whether or not they are available ubiquitously are two very different things. If the only place to buy legal firearms was at a licensed gun dealer's shop, and you had hoops to jump through to register your firearm and so on and so forth, that some of the murders borne out of opportunity would be avoided. I could easily see where people would be proud of their licenses, and hey, knowing that they made the conscious decision to be a gun owner (which would now come with extra responsibilities and consequences) wouldn't be nearly so unsettling to me. So, no one would be taking guns away, or limiting them. Anyone can own one, provided they are willing to accept the extra responsibility.  That, to me, seems very reasonable.

As we sit here and now, we're so caught up in our own mythology about guns that we take them for granted. We need to look at the reality of the situation and ask ourselves honestly if giving American citizens another hoop or two to jump through isn't worth the potential to save lives down the line.  These are not an accessory for being an American. They are a tool with the potential to cause bodily injury and should be treated as such. But one thing I do not accept is that there's nothing to be done. In the wake of yet another mass shooting, I'm well aware that this problem is a hydra with multiple heads. But we have to start somewhere, and gun control better firearm management is as good a place as any to start. We'll deal with our failed mental health system later.

And you other guys? Out there where the buses don't run? Seriously, stand down, all right? We're all in this together, and the fear-mongers are holding us back.

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