Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Doing Battle Over Guns

Are gun rights wrong?  People certainly are doing wrong things with gun rights.

Yesterday we learned that yet another school shooting had taken place, this time in suburban Oregon.  Like clockwork, social media turned to questions about gun control, and whether our society is finally ready to pass new laws restricting the access of law-abiding citizens to bullet launchers.

Even I made the obligatory post on this blog, questioning the wisdom of additional legislation in the face of gun violence facts which paint the problem as being broader and deeper than simply a political one.

I'm not a gun owner, I don't plan on ever being a gun owner, and I don't know the difference between a Glock and a Beretta.  I even had to Google "Glock" to see if I was spelling it correctly.  But it seems pretty obvious to me that it's not guns killing people, but other people who are doing the killing.  Guns are simply a popular tool for that particular task.  Which means that additional legislation won't be an effective way to curtail gun violence.  By definition, "violence" is illegal, so people desiring to perpetrate violence don't really care about laws, and they probably don't care how convenient guns are.

In other words, if people are mad enough to kill - either emotionally or mentally mad - they're going to try to carry out their dastardly deeds one way or another.  As I learned yesterday while researching international statistics on gun violence, the Japanese and Chinese do their school violence with knives and cleavers.  If you're really angry, you'll find a way to vent it.

What motivates gun control advocates involves the desire to see if more laws can force wanton murderers to at least choose a weapon that's less effective.

Indeed, there's a lot of altruism, assumptions, assertions, and rhetoric on both sides of the gun control debate.  But I didn't expect to be confronted with the debate in real life, and in real time, yesterday evening!

After dinner, I decided to drive down to City Hall here in Arlington, Texas, to listen to some council business being conducted regarding a major piece of property in our neighborhood.  I didn't really have a burning desire or a critical need to attend this council meeting, but I went anyway, because it is a topic about which I'm mildly curious.

I timed my trip to City Hall so I'd technically be late, and miss all of the preliminary ceremonial activities that usually clog the start of our city council's agendas.  So when I arrived, there was no line, or group of people waiting to enter the council chamber.  But there was a metal detector standing there in the lobby of the chamber, which had never before been there in all the years I've attended city council meetings.

Now, I'm not a local policy wonk, or a council groupie, but I take my residency in this city fairly seriously, and I like knowing what's going on.  And one of the best ways of doing that is skipping the media and watching city council proceedings in person.  Sure, they're broadcast on cable, but I don't have cable.

So anyway, I stood there, assessing the new machine in the lobby of the council chamber, and I was not pleased.  A metal detector?  What is this?  Baghdad City Hall?  There were two young, good-looking police officers standing there, and they smiled broadly, inviting me to take off my jewelry and come on through.  It was all set up like any airport, with plastic bins and everything.

"I have to go through a metal detector just to watch a city council meeting?" I asked scornfully.  And the two officers, a man and a woman, both fresh-faced and earnest, were nodding and saying "yes" after every other word I said.  "It's something every other city in the area has been doing for years," they assured me.

Well, you know me - I'm not one to make a scene.  (Really - I'm not!)  So I obediently took off my metal watch, and my college ring, and put them into one of the plastic bins, along with my cell phone.  I walked through the detector, and it beeped.

"Why not try removing your glasses," the male cop offered.

"My glasses?  Seriously?" I retorted, intensely dubious that they contained the same amount of steel as a small handgun.  But they kept smiling and saying "please," so I took my glasses off, and walked through again.

And it beeped.

"Why not try removing your belt," the male cop offered.  And I balked.

"NO."  I declared firmly.  And then I laughed with incredulity.  "I'm not disrobing any further just so I can go in and listen to a city council meeting."  I collected my metal valuables, put my glasses back on, and stalked out, back to my car.

There was something intrinsically wrong about forcing citizens through a metal detector before they went in to watch democracy in action in their community.  But I know why our city council ordered it.  For a while now, some overly-zealous gun advocates have been harassing City Hall about our city's stance on carrying rifles and shotguns at street intersections.  You see, Texas has what's called "open-carry," which means as long as you're licensed for it, you can carry your rifle or shotgun in plain sight in public.  Only not many
Texans do such a thing, because, frankly, it looks a bit silly.

After things got a bit heated among some of these ardent open-carry advocates during a recent city council meeting, however, the council voted to install a metal detector to make sure other guns weren't being brought into their meeting chamber as a form of protest.

Okay.  I kinda understand that rationale.  It's simply another example of a group of people - in this case, the ardent open-carry folks - carelessly and selfishly exploiting their rights to the point that a government agency feels the need to step in with some extra rules.  Some extra inconvenience.  Some extra "nanny state" protocols.

Multiply this type of scenario over and over again, across the layers of jurisdiction we have in our country, and you can see why people complain about governmental over-regulation and the suppression of rights in the United States. 

And it's this type of nanny-state-creep that many Americans are fearing with the renewed talk, sparked by yesterday's tragedy in an Oregon school, of more gun control laws.  Sheer frustration with these repeated attacks on schoolchildren seems to be forcing a sort of nexus of social opinion regarding more anti-gun legislation, and with the President once again calling for action in Congress to curb gun violence, Second Amendment advocates are once again on the defensive.

We don't know a lot of facts surrounding this latest shooting, but we know the shooter was a 15-year-old young man who used weapons he accessed in his own home.  Which means his parents either didn't know how disturbed their son was, or they were too casual about locking up their family's guns.  But shouldn't any family that keeps guns in their home should be extra vigilant for warning signs that could precipitate any misuse of their guns?  They're not toys, after all.  Do we need to know every scintilla of evidence in this shooting before confirming that somehow, the family did not take its gun ownership seriously enough?

If we citizens don't do a good enough job of "policing" ourselves, taking responsibility for the liberties we have, and encouraging those around us to do the same, then we end up with city councils voting to have metal detectors installed, and people like me being turned away from city council meetings even though I've only shot a gun twice in my life.

And it was a BB gun.  On my second shot, I hit the empty aluminum beer can our family friend had set up as a target in the woods behind his suburban New Jersey home, back when I was in high school.  I figured hitting my target on my second shot - ever! - was a good enough record, entitling me to quit the gun-slinging business!

Hey, I have friends who hunt.  I have friends with whom I go out to eat, and I know they're packing heat.  Here in Texas, we have "concealed-carry," which is the reverse of "open-carry."  So I'm not afraid of guns, or the people who truly respect them.  And that's the key here.

You see, it's the folks who really don't take their gun ownership responsibilities seriously who should concern all of us.  They should especially concern the gun owners who are serious about guarding their Second Amendment rights, and are doing so respectfully.  Why?  Because responsible gun owners are the folks who will hurt the most if society indeed grows much more weary of school gun violence.

Violence perpetrated by a culture that doesn't understand how close it is to losing something it's not taking seriously enough.

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