Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Why I support gun control

And what kind.

I do, after all even if it's not what you support or any of the loudest activists.  No I don't share the urge to tilt at the "Weapons of War" windmills provided us by the media and the more gullible gun control advocates who generally use any sad story to go after what they insist is the root of the problem but rarely is.  I do support, at least provisionally, some of what the President is supporting.

• increasing access to mental health services
• lifting restrictions on federally funded research on gun violence
• extending background checks before the purchase of a gun

Yes -- research for one thing, and here's where it's quite appropriate to be angry at the NRA who has opposed all taxpayer funded study of violence with firearms -- because of course any mention of such things; any attempt to find a way to reduce violence is an obvious precursor  to the Liberal plot to grab our guns. President Obama has ordered the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal agencies to  begin research on gun violence and its effects. The actualization of course depends on Congress which controls the funds and therein lurks the cold, dead, but still active hand of the NRA.

No, I'm not in the NRA camp. I don't think anyone who likes hunting or shooting or owns a gun for legitimate reasons is the 'sick bastard' or deranged potential murderer any more than I think that anyone who owns a penis is a rapist and child molester and neither does the vast majority of Americans.  I'm not going to waste time arguing with such people. I'm just going to look for solutions that work -- like the vast majority of Americans.

I used to watch a TV series about Florida Law Enforcement and was occasionally amused by talk of finding criminals with "unregistered" guns -- amused because of course Florida doesn't register them and forbids keeping lists of who owns them. I've been amused as well by their showing us how the police could enter a serial number into the computer and find an owner.  Why is it that people who cry for more gun control sometimes think we have more than we do? The same reason that many think we have less, I imagine. At any rate there's an instance of ignorance being less than blissful.

If 72% of gun-related homicides for which we know the kind of gun used are committed with handguns, and only 4% with rifles of all kinds, why are we obsessing about "assault rifles?"  Perhaps it's another instance of a solution in search of a problem as I hinted at above.  Why are we all in a dither about "high capacity" magazines when more concealable, more portable, low capacity magazines can be changed in less than two seconds? Why are we not concentrating on the most frequently used tools? A revolver, usually with five or six shots remains a favorite choice for professional murderers for reasons I won't go into.  See above and note well that those least informed often seek solutions that are bound to fail and are as intransigent in promoting them as they are in ignoring a larger view. 

At first glance I'm not against some system of  being able to trace guns, a paper trail if you will, as we can do with any property that requires a title, with prescription medicine for that matter.  It seems compatible with a constitutional right, but we find strong objections in a country with such a long Libertarian history of  self re-invention and the ability to shed one's past and most of all the desire for independence and self-reliance.  We remember the New Orleans public being disarmed when they most needed a means of self defense. We remember Jim Crow. We remember lots of things and we worry.

I don't necessarily like the idea of  my possessions and movements being on record and more than my e-mails or purchases or telephone calls. Most people don't like it, but we don't seem to care as much about being spied on as having our shotgun under surveillance. Let's say that  a record of who owns what, might help well enough to keep guns from those with no right to own them that I could support some form of  registration if it could be made to work better than any system has  been so far. But neither hit-men nor drug dealers are not going to comply, nor tell the truth. People who want to die taking as many innocents with them as possible? They don't care about punishment or registration or anything else the law can do. Like the Sibyl, they want to die.

Can we, should we disarm 325 million to prevent 5 or 6 people from running amok with a gun legally or illegally obtained?  Good luck selling it and good luck accomplishing it. The only choice is to screen them out, not to register their guns or threaten them with fines or punishment. Better look to better background checks. If we can accept that some people should not, do not have the right to keep and bear arms, how can we not accept that we need to find out who they are?

So how can we manage to get significant compliance with registration?  We can't without screening out the loose canons with effective, mandatory background checks and the observation that States which do require it tend to have gun-related homicides in excess of States that do not, shows that our current efforts aren't always  enough, that off-the-books transfers are far too easy and quite legal in most cases. Making registration work would require that all transfers be done through licensed dealers who must keep records and report to authorities. That's where those background checks come in. Many are surprised that we have them at all, and waiting periods too. Some are surprised that people with no fear of breaking the law by killing aren't afraid to break the law by lying. Make the checks real.

Yes, I advocate background checks and making them more meaningful. As it is, we simply ask people if they're unstable, mentally impaired and under psychiatric care and not surprisingly people who should answer yes, answer no. As intrusive and objectionable as it may sound to make checks more comprehensive, it's necessary if we want to have registration and want it to actually do anything.

It may be hard to prove that such things as we have done so far have indeed made our country safer from gun related violence, but then it's hard to prove to some people that gun-related homicides have declined substantially for 30 years now. Why? Once again, see that solution seeking a problem because when the solution most dearly envisioned is to make all danger disappear at all cost, that cost gets high and people still get killed.
 I do keep in mind however, that while any reduction in the death rate we can accomplish under any circumstances  may not be dramatic and will not be quick to become observable, that reduction is worthwhile.  I also keep in mind that it will not satisfy a great many people. The slow decline of automobile fatalities seems to have pacified us where the slow decline of gun fatalities has not.  Any observation of human tendencies has to include the illogical, irrational nature of humans. We will continue to fear the lone madman more than we fear the drug gangs and robbers and other "traditional" killers even though the latter are predominant when it comes to slaughter and the former far less likely to be deterred by anything short of a straight jacket.

That's why I support research, scientific inquiry and honest, continuing, informed discussion even though the NRA deems it useless and dangerous and even though their organized opposition will see it as an excuse to do nothing.  I support it because there's ill-understood pathology behind the violence we most fear. I fear it won't happen because both sides are afraid of being argued out of their urges to act now or not to act at all. Any effective effort must come from a middle no one is listening to, from a public that doesn't share the pantheon of bogeymen of either extreme and it must recognize an eternal struggle that can't be legislated away. By all means listen to Law Enforcement people. Many of their opinions may surprise you. Listen to mental health people, look at statistics and listen to firearms experts and lets get down to business.

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