The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Thinking About Guns

So, after the recent shootings, we have people once again screaming at each other over the legality of firearms.  While debate over issues such as this are healthy, much of what gets thrown about is hyperbole and vitriol, and as such it is just typical stupid politics. As there is alot of shouting and many people whop think that they have well-thought out positions, when they are actually just having knee-jerk reactions covered up by barely coherent figleaf justifications, this annoys me...and if it were likely to lead to any real policy changes, they would probably be bad policy cased on emotional over-reaction and vitriol more than on actual facts.

Before I get into the meat of this entry, I want to tell you where I stand on this issue, so that you will understand my own interests and biases:

As a legal matter, the 2nd amendment is vague regarding actual gun rights.  Yes, I know, you are certain that it states flat-out that the right to keep and bear arms must not be infrigned, or perhaps you are certain that it states that only a well-regulated militia should keep arms.  Go read the damn thing - see the placement of that comma?  That actually makes the phrasing vague.  And in legal terms, the phrasing being vague means that the law itself is vague.  Grow up and deal with the fact that interpreting the amendment is not a clear-cut matter.  If you believe otherwise, then you are reading what you want the text to say, but not what it actually says.

However, I am one of those people who thinks that, in cases where phrasing is vague, the law should be interpreted in the way that people are given a greater degree of freedom vis-a-vis the law. So, I am of the opinion that the 2nd amendment should be read as allowing relatively broad gun ownership rights to the average citizen. 

However, whatever my view of the law, I am myself not a lover of guns.  I do not own guns.  I do not like guns.  I will not have a gun brought into my home.  Unlike many people involved in this shouting match, I am mature enough to understand that people can have a legal right to something without me personally wanting to exercise that right. 

While I strongly dislike guns, I do like many people who themselves like guns. I have known enough gun owners to realize that the notion of the "gun nut" is mostly fiction.  Yeah, there are a few scary firearm owners out there, but my experience is that they are abnormalities and, frankly, the gun owners that I know do not scare me.  They are generally responsible, safety-minded, and not a threat to me or anyone else.

So, my position: I dislike guns, but they should be legal, most gun owners don't bother me and I even really respect the safety-mindedness of most of them, and I am of the mind that most of the vitriol regarding gun control is political nonsense either pushing or opposing an agenda that is calculated to motivate voters rather than forward policy.

Okay, on with the entry...

Much of what the people in favor of weapon bans worry about is dubious or just plain wrong (in other words, it's bullshit): firearm violence is actually much less common than it was even as recently as the 1990s, despite a growing population, and most of what is committed is gang-related and not likely amenable to control using standard gun control measures; most gun violence is committed not with "assault weapons*" but with hand guns; when one compares rates of gun ownership to number of gun homicides, while there is a relationship between the number of firearms and the number of homicides, it isn't exactly the tightest correlation around; events in Europe have demonstrated that mass-killings are not unique to the United States; and when one looks at the numbers and the spread of firearm violence around the world, the inescapable conclusion is that these massacre shootings are both abberations away from trends involving firearms and are not unique to the U.S., though that goes against much popular opinion.

At the same time, people who are opposed to gun control measures are known to spew their own particular brand of bullshit.  While there are incidents where the possession of firearms by the general public has assisted in ending violent attacks, there are many cases where the use of a gun against an assailant is most likely to have increased the body count (consider the logistics of people firing back at the Aurora, Colorado gunman in a crowded theater - the body count can only have gone up if people fired back), so the usual claim of "more guns = less deaths" isn't necessarilly true; while the precise ratio is open to debate, the data does show that firearms in the home are far more likely to result in death or injury due to mis-use or accident than to be successfully used in self defense (indeed, I myself once had a gun pulled on me by a family member who mistakenly thought that I was a burgular - and for the record, I was in a bedroom with the door closed and a light on light on and not skulking about a dark house sneaking up on people); and comparisons often used in rhetoric championed by the NRA is often completely absurd; for example, comparing gun deaths to automobile deaths - an automobile is built for transportation, and as dangerous as it can be, its principle purpose is to transport people and goods; a gun is a weapon, it is designed specifically to kill or injure either a human or an animal [in the case of hunting rifles] - these are not at all the same things and comparing them is mind-bendingly stupid.  Similarly, the phrase "guns don't kill, people do" is as sophomoric and half-witted a slogan as one can have - the tools available influence people's decisions, and that guns make killing easier and more prone to quick impulses can not be ignored.  The tools influence the people just as people use the tools.

But here's the rub.  Both sides are partially wrong, but tend to act as if they are entirely right.  The end result, both have taken up office space in a house of cards. Most people probably don't have a particularly strong view on this subject, but of those who do, there is a polarization into increasingly irrational camps, and advocation of positions that often make little sense.

If there is going to be any meaningful steps taken towards curbing gun violence, they will need to account for the legal realities of gun ownership within the United States, they will have to account for the culture of gun ownership, they will have to account for the real facts of self defense vs. accidental gun deaths, and they will have to be based on the real nature of gun violence - both the truth regarding it's prevalence (ignoring media panic) and regarding how guns play into it (ignoring the NRA's slogans). 

Until and unless we are able to ignore the noise, admit that "my side" can by wrong, and look at the truth of the matter, we shouldn't expect to make any progress regarding gun violence.

*The more time I spend around people who are into guns, the more I come to realize that the term "assault rifle" or "assault weapon" means very little in a technical sense, and as such isn't very useful in actually understanding the issues.


Lynn said...

Your email link doesn't seem to work, so I'm using the comment space to ask a question... have you read 1491 (Mann) and, if so, what did you think of it?

Anthroslug said...

I have not yet. It is on my bookshelf at my office, but I have not yet gotten into it.