Gun Control

My first year in teaching was 2017.  It was the year a lot changed, and it was a year where I learned a lot in a very short and painful period. But on a more national level, it was a year there were three separate mass shootings, as well as a serial package bomber in Austin.

I was trying very hard for relevant lessons at the time, as I’ve mentioned before, so one of the things I decided to do, since I knew all the students would be talking about it anyway, was devoted to talking about their thoughts on mass shootings. It was pretty omni-present, not just that year but as a daily part of school. There were monthly “lockdown drills” where rooms were locked and we huddled against the wall to hide from a potential shooter. Fake shooting threats were common (especially in a year where several incidents already had sparked students’ minds on the subject). Many times that year, students would be lined up outside in the cold while teachers called every third student out of line to go through the one ancient metal detector our school could afford for our 1000+ students.

A number of teachers privately believed that shooting threats were far more common than acknowledged, and that many of the less credible ones were simply hushed up while the student was suspended. Administration, for obvious reasons, did not want to set a precedent where school was canceled every time some kid shouted out what he’d later claim was “just a joke.”

My students were surprisingly blasé about it.  While parents would, if there was a school threat, frequently withdraw their children for the day, the children themselves had few opinions. their attitude was largely fatalistic.  “If someone wants to shoot up the school, they’re going to,” was how one student put it. This was by way of explaining why, when we did our entry scans, students were known to open up side doors and fire exits to let in friends past the security checkpoints.

2017 was, as I said, the year a lot changed.  Most notably, it was the year that conservative support of Trump, despite his executive overreach, market manipulation, and basic lack of integrity caused me to question how many conservative values conservatives actually believed in.  Perhaps especially, given my new position as a teacher and the rash of shootings, the stance regarding gun control.

So why not get into that now?  Controversial takes are always fun.

One of the key problems that causes such division in American politics, I believe, is the difference between the city and the country.  Each is such an alien region to the other, that they cannot understand the stances of what seems commonsensical to the other.

For a city dweller, gun control laws make complete sense.  When bullets can puncture apartment walls and hit the clustered bystanders on a street, it’s not just an issue that involves criminal and hero. It doesn’t matter how careful the gun owner is, there are non-careful people just the hallway over, and people who have nothing to do with either on the other side of the wall or ceiling. And there is considerably less need for a “good guy with a gun” when the city pays for good guys with guns to be patrolling the streets just outside.

For someone out in the country, though, those good guys with guns may be half the county over.  If they do show up, it’s likely to be your word against your neighbor—if your neighbor is even still there and you’re still alive to say anything. Or you might have to deal with a coyote or a herd of pigs.

In Texas pigs are a huge problem and are literally hunted with machine guns and helicopters.

This is also why conservatives are so fond of expressing that a measure like taking away all guns would not work, and only impact law-abiding people. In the country, it’s manifestly obvious that any attempt at taking away guns would be worse than useless. Which means that even city gun laws would simply require criminals to take a trip outside to the country.

The thing is, though, that that’s kind of the point.  That added level of difficulty.

It’s true that outright a ban on guns, or a program to take away guns, would be counterproductive and ultimately insufficient. Liberals do also occasionally float such plans, though they rarely get very far—and indeed I suspect such plans are likely more about signalling to their base than any serious attempt at solving the problem.

However, some form of regulation–waiting periods, stronger background checks, “red flag” laws, ammo restrictions–would make mass shootings more logistically complicated. They would raise the level of difficulty, and, despite the insistence of my high-school senior class, that is, at times, enough to dissuade a teenage shooter.

At some point, it’s just easier to play video games.

Teenage shooters are still teenagers (some potential shooters who’ve been stopped before carrying out their plans have gone on to return to perfectly normal lives), and corresponding as lazy and distractable as teenagers. If something is too much of an effort, they can, in fact, just give up on the idea, or try something that requires skirting fewer laws.It’s an effect as natural as railings on bridges stopping people from committing suicide.

The Oxford shooter got his gun three days before the shooting, as a present from his parents. This is not evidence of long-term, sustained planning. It should not be so simple for a kid to conceive the idea, get a gun, and start shooting.

There are, of course, instances where shooters planned out scenarios like pulling fire alarms and prepped by writing manifestos. But this does not necessarily show a gift in figuring out how to locate black-market dealers and find out-of-state sources of ammo.–and certainly more regulations would have provided more opportunities to catch such killers in the planning stages. The goal of any legislation is not to eliminate crime–just to make it less common. Drunk driving is penalized not because we think it will stop all accidents, but because we think it will make them less common or more detectable.

However, the NRA furiously insists that since no regulation will eliminate shootings, nothing to slow or limit them should be tried. More than that, they claim that any regulation whatsoever is tantamout to fascism and part of the slippery slope to dictatorship.

This is where they lose me.

“Slippery slope” arguments in general are suspect, as that is literally the name of the logical fallacy. If anything, one could argue that the lack of gun regulation is driving ever-more-extreme views on the subject, making extreme legislation more, rather than less, likely. Gun control used, in fact, to be much stricter than it is now, and the NRA actually in favor of what they considered sane gun control measures. They even once cooperated with gun control legislation with CA Governor Reagan in reaction to the Black Panther Capitol Walk-In.

The original version of the Black Panthers was actually an entirely legal organization. African Americans armed themselves to deal with underpolicing of their communities AND the sort of race riots that were all too common back then. They were well-versed in gun laws and how they were allowed to carry guns and where. If a cop pulled over an African American driver, Black Panthers would pull over to advise the driver of what he could legally refuse. The Black Panthers, in fact, were some of the first people to stage a Capitol walk-in protest while carrying firearms, insisting that they were within their legal rights to carry weapons into the CA state capitol (though they left once asked).

There’s an argument to be made, incidentally, that this is exactly how the 2nd Amendment is supposed to work. Private citizens arming themselves to resist intimidation and fascistic policing. I would say that the Capitol walk-in was straight intimidation, though, which backfired by giving them a reputation of intimidation and thuggery that attracted more violent members whilst also making them lose sympathy with voters elsewhere–much like the Capitol walk-ins in 2020 did.

Arguments that the 2nd Amendment is necessary to resist a takeover of America are unrealistic and, as recent events have shown, dishonest.

First of all, it is the height of folly to claim that armed civilians could achieve anything more than a limited guerilla war against a reluctant military. When your opponent has tanks, drones, rocket launchers, and nukes, an armed counter-revolution is simply not practical. Insurgency, perhaps, could achieve limited results, but a genuine dictatorship would care little about carpet-bombing a forest region.

Second of all, it is high time that the gun lobby admitted that they are talking not about resisting fascism, but resisting democrats.

We have just come through a time where a sitting president invented a border crisis to overrule Congress, where he dispatched federal troops to cities who refused them to drag protestors off the street into unmarked vans, where he gassed protestors in order to obtain a photo op and where, finally, he appealed to federal politicians to overrule the will of the states.

And for the most part, all the 2nd Amendment advocates did was to cheer him on.

If you’d told gun rights activists that a defeated president would aggresively lobby federal politicians to overrule the will of state-certified elections removing him from office, every one of them would have assumed it’d be a Democrat, and that they’d be there fighting him.

I don’t know that things would have improved if the gun owners had opposed Trump. The last thing the BLM protests needed were more guns, or people fighting back with guns. I thank God that there were no counter-protestors at the Jan 6th insurrection, or things could have turned into a bloodbath where both left and right claimed the other side was at fault. But the point is that many 2nd Amendment holders aren’t about fighting fascism, just a particular form of it.

Well okay, it’s also a relevant point that, if anything, “good guys with guns” would have made any of the 2020 situations worse, not better.

When it gets down to it, the gun lobby is strongly hampered by its lack of an actual solution. Every time there is a shooting, their overall response is to shrug and say, “well, we can’t really do anything about this.”

Wait no, that’s not true. Their response is to say “well, the problem is kids are bad. We should make them good instead.”

On the one hand, yes, this is true, and “making kids good” absolutely ought to be a focus of society at large. On the other hand, it is already a strong focus of large parts of entertainment, schooling, and legal programs. One would think any parent, any person, would understand the problem with the proposed solution of “what if we just made teenagers magically good somehow.”

Everyone knows how easy it is to get teens to behave, right?

If “good guys with guns” are the key to stopping bad guys with guns, shouldn’t there be some sort of system for ensuring the guys with guns are, in fact, good? Every gun owner I know avows that guns are dangerous things that require agreat deal of responsibility and care to handle properly. So… shouldn’t we make sure that it’s responsible, careful people holding them? Not, say, people with anger management issues or documented histories of domestic abuse?

I know many gun owners. Every one of them is more responsible at handling guns than I am. How do I know this? For my brother’s bachelor party I set up a target range where we fired with pistols at a board mounted on a dirt hill in the backyard. (Any responsible gun owner will immediately realize what is horrifically wrong about this setup.) We shot ten or twenty times at the target, did some foam-sword fighting, and then went inside to watch Mad Max: Fury Road, the purest distillation of a movie-long car chase scene.

There’s just something so pure about the insanity in this movie.

About fifteen minutes in, there was a knock on the door. Thinking it must be the pizza I ordered, I went to the door.

It was a neighbor. “Are you guys shooting?” he asked. “Because can you stop? The bullets are flying across the lake.”

I turned pale (I think). “Oh,” I said. “Okay. Sorry about that. Yeah, we stopped already, I apologize, I didn’t even think.”

“Because that’s really dangerous, man.”

“Right. Yes, obviously. So sorry about that.”

Clearly not all gun owners are as oblivious as me. And I wouldn’t use a personal anecdote as indicative of general principles, except for a fact I’m very certain of, and that’s that there are a *lot* of people as stupid as me. I’d even estimate there are a lot of people *stupider* than me. It’s not as simple as “bad guy vs. good guy,” it’s sometimes as simple as “stupid guy and innocent bystander.”

There’s an argument, even, that the 2nd Amendment actually insists upon regulation. Yes, it says, “shall not be infringed upon”–but in the context of “a well-regulated militia.” Non-regulated militias are not recognized as a legitimate use of the 2nd Amendment, or even non-regulated gun owners. This, of course, is complicated by the fact that the Founding Fathers could not have possibly foreseen mass shootings or the sheer divide between civilian and federal armnaments. (I doubt in any case that the 2nd Amendment was meant as some “in case of fascism break everything” clause)

Wide-scale gun seizures–or even gun bans, really–are simply not practical. But refusing to do anything whatsoever is ignoring a very real problem with a mounting death toll–and perhaps more significantly–an immense psychological toll. There’s a lot of space in between those two positions, and while not every proposed gun law may be helpful, and certainly no single one will be perfectly comprehensive, some mitigation is not only called for, but long overdue.


One thought on “Gun Control

  1. I’ve personally lost friends to a mass shooting, so this is personal for me. To just go through a few points:

    1. A Good Guy With a Gun is so rare as to essentially be a myth. Any situation where someone aggressive comes in with a gun becomes worse if there’s a second (non-uniformed) guy with a gun. If someone shows up with a gun to rob a store, for example, they might get away with a few hundreds or thousands of dollars, but if a Good Guy is there, the situation escalates into a gunfight where people might get killed. If an active shooter is on a school campus, you now have *two* shooters instead of one, and nobody knows which the ‘bad’ one is, so when the cops show up, the odds of them shooting the wrong guy are high. Or maybe some hero student leaps out and stabs their gym teacher with a pencil. If you have multiple ‘good guys’ then you’re suddenly playing a game of PubG and everyone’s out for themselves. If some vandals are breaking into your store, take the insurance money, don’t take a life.

    2. Realize that the BLM protests largely aren’t violent or armed, despite their large amount of anger and their specific fear of totalitarian politce tactics. Think about what this implies about guns as tools to resist an oppressive gov’t. I’ve lived for six years now in and around black neighbors, and their extreme aversion to firearms tells a story all its own. They don’t use guns because the Black Panthers tried that and it was unhelpful. They feel that if they have even a toy gun it will be used as an excuse for the police to justify violence. Their kids don’t play with toy guns, military veterans will avoid ever having guns in the house, and the idiots who *do* pose with guns are universally despised. In the event that white americans were actually in danger of getting hit by fascistic police, they would behave similarly. They would actively try to hide their weapons and certainly wouldn’t carry them openly in public. What this means is that gun use isn’t here to resist the police, but to be used for… what? overthrowing the gov’t? The idea that the founding fathers intended for the 2a to cover treasonous rebellion is ridiculous, and George Washington suppressed not one but two rebellions against federal rule of law.

    3. If we leave aside mass shootings as freak events that are statistically rare (though Kelly has been within a mile of a mass shooting in kalamazoo, and as I’ve said I lost a friend to a mass shooting here in Maryland that didn’t even make the news) they exert true terror on the entire population. Kids grow up expecting that their friends might turn on them at any point, that they might shoot up the school and that there’s no recourse. These shootings hurt us as a country’s spirit, wound our image abroad, and destroys any sense of peace or safety. The impact is much large than the hundreds of people who die on a yearly basis. And far larger than that is the impact caused by irresponsible gun ownership. Irresponsible gun ownership of a friend or family member is a huge predictor of whether a suicidal person will be successful in killing themselves. Accidental death of such firearm owners is commonplace. There’s a well-documented trend of abusive spouses using guns to threaten and intimidate their families. All these things bear a significant, material cost.

    4. With all the above points, I do really enjoy guns. I think its good that people feel more secure because they have a gun in the house, however impractical it would be to actually use it in home defense. I also think that its politically untenable for anyone to make progress on this front and that there are larger issues I would rather see the republicans reverse their course on. But the idolization of violence as a solution to all ills is a sick, sick thing and I’d rather see it done away with entirely. I’d like to see positive programs where you can get a subsidy on a firearm if you complete a training course on how to secure it and safely fire it. Track ammo sales so that people can tell if you’re stockpiling ammunition, as that can be a warning sign.

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