Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Naughty, Naughty; You Guns, You

Perhaps you've already read the most recent New York Times hit piece on guns.

It came out yesterday, and is full of sweeping presumptions and rapid-fire conclusions about the evils of guns based on an arsenal of gun statistics from around the world.  At one point, its authors, Max Fisher and Josh Keller, actually claim that "the guns themselves cause the violence."

Wow.  And this from none other than the auspicious, venerable New York Times, which seriously expects us to believe that all of these guns - America has far more of them than any other country - actually get up, load themselves, pull their own triggers, and spray bullets from their barrels.

Kinda like a freaky form of automatic weaponry - the real "automatic" guns that work without anybody touching them.

Now, to be clear, I am not a pro-gun type of person.  I don't own a gun, have never owned a gun, don't plan on ever owning a gun, or even want to own a gun.  Of any kind!  But I have friends who own guns - lots of guns - and I'm not afraid of them, or their guns, or to be around them and their guns.  I have friends that always pack heat, and I'm never uneasy in their presence.

Why?  Because I'm not afraid of any gun.  The gun is just sitting in a holster, minding its own business, like any inanimate object tends to do.  You see, it's one of the basic laws of physics:  an object at rest tends to stay at rest, unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.  It's technically known as Newton's First Law of Motion, or the Law of Inertia.  (One would think as prestigious a newspaper as the Times would hire reporters who'd attended a school where Newton's Laws were taught.  Most ordinary, poorly-funded public schools have taught Newton's Laws for generations.)

Perhaps it's ironic that in the Law of Inertia, it takes an "unbalanced force" to change an object at rest.  And when we're talking about gun-involved violence, that's precisely what happens.  An unbalanced force takes a gun and uses it to commit some sort of crime.

So that makes it the gun's fault that it was used in a crime?

Apparently so, at least according to the New York Times' First Law of Gun Control.

"A New Yorker is just as likely to be robbed as a Londoner," Fisher and Keller report, "but the New Yorker is 54 times more likely to be killed in the process," and "the discrepancy, like so many other anomalies of American violence, [comes] down to guns."

Well, that's assuming a mugger isn't using a knife, but yes, the presumption that most muggers use guns is probably accurate.  Wouldn't you agree?  But still, does that mean the gun is at fault?

What is it about guns that makes them more likely to be used in a Gotham mugging, instead of a London mugging?  According to Fisher and Keller, it's our easy access to guns here in America.

Our intrepid Times reporters go on to explain how the more a government reduces their citizenry's access to guns, there tends to be a corresponding drop in gun-involved violence.  So I clicked on the link they provide in their article, which is to study entitled What Do We Know About the Association Between Firearm Legislation and Firearm-Related Injuries?  It was published last year and is a surprisingly easy-to-read synopsis of various other published reports on various types of gun-involved violence.  However, it includes things like suicides, which don't directly impact the general safety of the population at large.  Besides, wouldn't one suspect that a person contemplating suicide is probably going to simply use whatever gun is available, regardless of whether their selection choices have been limited by the government?

In other words, it's still gonna happen.  Is a person going to decide life must be worth living after all, 'cause they can't find the perfect gun to kill themself with?

Another type of gun-involved violence included in these studies are accidental shootings, which of course, would also probably be lowered if access to guns is reduced.

Indeed, these statistics may show a reduction in various types of gun-involved violence, but I can't see where they show a decline in mass killings.  Which is what most Americans are concerned about when they talk about gun control.  Besides, the authors of this particular study list a number of other studies that don't show much of a correlation one way or another between gun control laws and some types of gun-involved violence.  The fact of the matter remains that while law-abiding people may comply with government rules for gun ownership, that doesn't necessarily mean that people who are intent on committing a crime won't still find a way to procure a gun.

And another thing these studies fail to prove is that people who are intent on committing a crime, and discover that their access to guns has been limited, don't go and find some other lethal way to commit their crime.

Undaunted, the Times, smugly confident that it's proven that guns are the problem, regales us with a few more statistics in which they compare our broadly heterogeneous society, comprised of many people from all over the planet and all of its various cultures, with sharply homogeneous countries, like Japan, and Finland, where gun ownership rates are minuscule compared to those in our country.

I mean, at some point, how is comparing apples to oranges helpful in trying to prove anything?

But then, towards the end of their article, Fisher and Keller inexplicably unravel much of their previous work.

"An American is about 300 times more likely to die by gun homicide or accident than a Japanese person. America’s gun ownership rate is 150 times as high as Japan’s.  That gap between 150 and 300 shows that gun ownership statistics alone do not explain what makes America different."


The light is beginning to dawn.

"Swiss gun laws are more stringent, setting a higher bar for securing and keeping a license, for selling guns, and for the types of guns that can be owned.  Such laws reflect more than just tighter restrictions.  They imply a different way of thinking about guns."

Okay, they're almost there, in terms of comprehending the fallacy of their "misbehaving guns" argument.  But then they miss it again.  They deduce that the problem is that Americans believe "people have an inherent right to own guns."

The way Fisher and Keller word what they consider to be a stunning realization, however, is misleading.  Perhaps in Texas, and in other states where gun ownership is particularly a hallowed concept, the idea of guns as practically a human right runs mighty strong.  Yet across America, gun ownership is a valued right because of how our Constitution has been interpreted for decades.

America, after all, began as a rebellion, and that rebellion involved guns owned by the folks who sought to overthrow the British.  And ever since 1776, part of our national ethos has been our country's relatively unique ability to successfully reinvent itself through an uprising of the populace, not a conventional top-down insurrection led by a disgruntled government or military figure.  In other words, the "militia" language in our Constitution means that ordinary citizens have the right to protect ourselves from a government or military takeover.  It's a fairly unique aspect of America's pre-Revolutionary War history, as well as its history as an independent nation.

And it's not the National Rifle Association that's responsible for making sure that ethos remains robust in our national consciousness.  It's the many individual Americans who remain, to this day, fundamentally skeptical of over-reliance on concentrations of authority from places like Washington DC, and even their respective state capitals.

The fact that a small - minuscule, in fact - number of gun owners exploit this history and commit mass murder isn't because guns are just laying around the house, and shucks, somebody might as well put them to good use.  It's not because a gun just happened to be laying on the ground outside the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, and inexplicably mowed down a sanctuary full of worshippers.

No, the atrocity in Texas this past Sunday happened the same exact way every other mass shooting happens:  Somebody decided to kill as many human beings as they could, and a gun was the easiest way to do it.

There is no law that can stop that kind of behavior.  Murder is already against the law.  There is something else, something other than guns, or knives, or explosives, or poison gas, or any other mechanism of achieving mass murder, that's the problem.

And I've already told y'all what that problem almost certainly is.  An "unbalanced force," remember?

A guy who cracked the skull of his wife's child, physically and sexually abused several women throughout his life, beat his dog with his own fists, was a prisoner in the Air Force... violence was more of a hallmark in his life than anything else.  I mean, if you don't cringe after reading each of the ways Sunday's shooter acted on his violent temperament, you're likely as accepting of violence as the culture is that nurtured his behavior.

For some reason, the Times prefers instead to blame inanimate objects.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Guns an Easier Target than Violence

A young white guy shot 26 worshippers to death during Sunday services in a small, rural Texas church yesterday.  And it's being said that the only thing still sacred in America are gun rights.

Although this isn't America's first mass-murder in a church, it is the largest.  So far, anyway.  And it's the largest mass-murder so far here in Texas, a bastion for gun rights.

So lots of Texans are asking lots of questions today.  For example, should people be allowed to bring guns into their house of worship?  Right now, some white folks say that sounds like a good idea, but I suspect they'd second-guess that preference when reminded that such a law would also allow Muslims to pack heat at their local mosque... 

We white Texans are still adjusting to all the diversity joining us here in the Lone Star State.

At the church I regularly attend, we've had armed rent-a-cops present in all services for years.  Many large churches do.  In fact, many places where several thousand people gather for all sorts of things probably have armed guards present.  That's just reality these days.

And in churches particularly, with almost everybody facing the front, and their backs to the rear door, congregants are sitting ducks.

Shucks, as a choir member, I can recall the time, sitting up in the chancel, perched behind the pulpit, watching a grim-faced guy in a dark suit inspecting a certain pew for an unusually long period of time, before disappearing and then, in a few moments, helping a well-dressed elderly gentleman to the same pew.  Then he left, not staying to worship alongside the elderly man.  I figured he was a personal, private security detail for the gentleman, who was not a celebrity, but obviously somebody who figured even a church wasn't an inherently safe place.

Then there was the Sunday when two dark-suited guys stood through the entire service on either side of the wide platform leading to our church's pulpit.  And then, when the service was over, our senior pastor waited until they'd approached him, and then all three of them left the sanctuary in lock step.  I later heard chatter that a couple in the church was involved in a nasty divorce, and that unsubstantiated threats had been made against our church's leadership, so no chances were being taken that particular Sunday.

Our world is full of angry, unbalanced people.  Especially our churches.

Lol.  I didn't even attend church yesterday, when all this shooting went down far to the south of Dallas.  Sometimes I just get tired of the church politics and need to take a break - not just for myself, mind you; but for the folks at church I exasperate!  I'm sure that to some people, I'm angry and unbalanced as well.

But I don't hate anybody.  I have to think that for a person to do what that young man did yesterday in Sutherland Springs, they'd have to be consumed by hate.  Hate, and anger, and a warped disposition that somehow figures violence could somehow reconcile those destructive emotions with an opportunity to be freed from them.

We're still learning about yesterday's shooter*, yet from the various reports that have been posted about him, it's already apparent that he lived a troubled life.  He was court-martialed and received a bad-conduct discharge from the Air Force after physically assaulting his first wife and their child.  He had been accused of abusing a dog.  He didn't seem to be able to hold down jobs - as a private security officer - for any significant length of time.  He was currently in a heated domestic dispute with his second wife's family.  His application for a Texas gun license had been denied, but we don't yet know on what grounds.

Incredibly, the Air Force never reported those assault allegations to the FBI, so even though yesterday's shooter was able to purchase guns, he didn't have a license for them.  "SMH" - isn't that what the kids cryptically type in their tweets these days?

President Trump has hinted that the shooter was "deranged" with "a mental health problem at the highest level."  It's unclear if our president, well-known for his hyperbole and speaking out of turn, was simply jumping to conclusions, or if he was privy to the shooter's legitimate medical records.  Nevertheless, if Trump was merely voicing his opinion that only a madman could slaughter dozens of people inside a church, his is a widely-shared belief.

And probably quite valid.

As has become customary after events such as yesterday's, a lot of anti-gun folks have taken to the media, calling for new legislation against guns, hoping against logic that somehow, despite our nation already being awash with all sorts of weaponry, some new law can somehow avert a similar tragedy down the line.

Yet the gun control advocates tend to create a red herring that everybody in America - whether you're pro-gun or not - can focus on, and thereby avoid dealing with the broader issue.

Because the broader issue is one that can't be legislated away.  The broader issue is America's infatuation with violence.

By now, this violence argument has itself become rather time-worn, with many Americans dismissing it as a problem that, even if it did exist, requires too much personal responsibility from people who don't really want to kill anybody.  So most of us are content to let those few people among us with anger issues act out that anger in violent ways, so long as we don't have to admit culpability in our society's infatuation with violent movies, video games, television shows, books, websites, water cooler humor, and the like.

We prefer to ignore the blatantly obvious:  That a display of anger such as with yesterday's shooter likely stems from a culture in which people are no longer taught a socially-approved matrix of what is right and wrong.  And how to right wrongs.  Yesterday's shooter may have experienced a series of disciplinary actions for his misdeeds, but how much training did he receive before them - and after them - to learn the proper ways of expressing himself in difficult interpersonal situations?

For many Americans - and American men in particular - de-escalation is for wimps.  Right?  Fighting is a virtuous way to prove one's point, or exact retribution.  Two wrongs really do make a right, if indeed, you still think violence is wrong.

It's probably one reason why we Americans always seem inordinately eager to fight wars, rather than patiently wade through complex diplomatic channels.  It may be one reason why we can't seem to lower rates of domestic violence, or why racism persists in our country.  Everybody thinks they're right, everybody thinks they're entitled to something, and fewer and fewer of us seem content:  The perfect storm in which violence can erupt.

An easy rebuttal to the violence question usually involves the fact that, in our society, nearly all of us are exposed to it, yet so few of us actually perpetrate such violence, so it can't be society's fault.  Individual agency, right?  It's like the argument that lots of guys view pornography, but not all of them abuse other people sexually.  We're each responsible for our own behavior.

Which, of course, is true.  But still, if the rates of people participating in exceptionally violent acts are low enough, it's OK to ignore probable causal factors?  That's the argument, actually, that gun rights advocates use in their refusal of more gun laws:  Only a tiny fraction of gun owners become mass shooters.

The hole in that argument is that other countries in the world have as great a proportion of gun owners in their country as we do in America, but they don't have the mass shootings we do.  Which doesn't mean that we need more laws, since other countries don't need more laws either.


So there must be something else in our American DNA which makes us more prone to perpetrating violence (with guns) than gun owners in other countries.

How about we start with our American infatuation with violence, and then we mix in the military industrial complex that has made America our planet's lone superpower.  Indeed, isn't it more than coincidental that so many of these mass shooters have a military background?  Did World War II veterans come home so lusty for blood?  Or might our modern systems of warfare be corrupting the ability of today's veterans to rationally process their civilian anger?

Remember the famous sniper, Chris Kyle, and how he tragically died?  He was murdered trying to help a marine deal with PTSD, when Kyle thought taking his friend to a gun range would somehow be therapeutic.  It's this naive dismissal of a weapon's association with violence that many Americans continue to perpetuate for themselves.

And then there's the whole macho warrior thing.  How many other countries would so glorify a government-paid sniper - a person able to so perfectly focus on precision shooting that they can block out the violence they are so selectively perpetrating?  It's not that what Kyle did for a living was wrong, and I'm as much a beneficiary of his work as any American.  But doesn't it bother you - even the slightest - that we  train human beings to become killing machines, even in the defense of our country?

What is it about guns that so fascinates people, anyway?  I have heard that firing off assault rifles at a gun range, for example, provides the shooter with a tremendous adrenaline rush.  It's visceral.  It's multi-sensory.  It's immediate.  It leaves you in awe.  And all that can probably make it quite addictive.

If you think about it, so much of what so many Americans search for in our lives is a variation of that adrenaline rush - the need for a quick affirmation of power, or authority, or supremacy.  Which, actually explains a lot about our politics, too, doesn't it?

All of which means that by focusing on guns, we let ourselves off of the moral hook of exploring less obvious and more personal considerations.  Gun control advocates like to play a moral card, and that just infuriates gun rights advocates, who dislike having their favorite hobbies - and favorite interpretations of our Constitution - questioned.  Yet America's love of violence crosses all political lines.  Which means the moral card isn't so much about guns, or whether any further legislation could discourage future mass shootings.  The moral card is about the levels of violence we consider acceptable in our society. 

Mathematically, in terms of body counts, the strict calculation in all of this is that mass shootings remain relatively insignificant, compared with our nation's large population.  Mass shootings may seem sensational and incessant, but that's largely because of our saturation today by 24-7 news coverage and social media.  It's still extremely unlikely that you or I will be killed in a mass shooting.  More people die in car accidents, or by suicide, or drug violence, as Chicago's dismal murder rate testifies.

So we Americans will banter amongst ourselves about gun control.  And then the next mass shooting will happen, and once again, as if by hitting the replay button, we'll be asking ourselves "another shooting?"

"Why here?"

"When will it end?"

Experts say Americans are slowly becoming immune to the violence being displayed in our society.  Notice, it's not the guns we're growing immune to.  It's the violence.

The guns are just sitting there.  What we're growing immune to are the motivations of human beings with the capacity to decide for or against using violence in an attempt to resolve their demons.

Yes, we are the problem.

But its easier to blame guns.  So we'll probably do that instead.

*Various law enforcement officials in Texas have asked that media coverage of the shooter omit his name, so as not to somehow provide notoriety for him.  Such notoriety might be used as motivation for attention by somebody else contemplating a similar crime.