Another Day, Another Mass Shooting

(Started after the Parkland shooting, then set aside for a while)

Another day, another mass shooting in the U.S.

Thoughts and prayers all around, and nothing substantial gets done.

And the usual arguments arise from the American Right.

Here’s the disclaimer: I am an Eagle Scout.  During BSA summer camps, I shot rifles.  I was pretty good with a .22, good enough that it got boring pretty quickly.  I even did a little with black powder rifles, and wasn’t too bad there.  I say this not to brag or anything, but to point out that I’m familiar with rifles, that I’m not “afraid” of guns (as so many on the American Right would like to believe).

As Florida, and scores of other school shootings, not to mention the mall, movie theater, and other mass shootings go through my head, I thought I’d address the most common Right Wing arguments all in one place.  I know this isn’t likely to convince any of the True Believers™, but it’s more to get the thoughts out of my head, and maybe someone else can use it and the attached research.

1) It’s too soon.

The perennial favorite.  It’s always “too soon”, “we should respect the grieving”, etc.  The excuse keeps running, pushing the “ok time” further and further back, arguably in the hopes that before it becomes “not too soon”, another shooting will occur so “too soon” can be used again.

The claim is often used because “we shouldn’t be legislating based on emotion and grief”, which is certainly true (likewise, we shouldn’t be creating anti-Choice legislation, which is entirely based on emotion, but that’s another story).  However, we’ve been discussing this issue to one degree or another for decades, and we’re always told “it’s too soon”.

2) Lots of people are killed by cars and we don’t ban those.

This one’s a favorite analogy, among pundits and comment sections alike.  And it’s a terrible analogy.

First, cars are more heavily regulated than guns.  We keep track of car owners and register cars (licenses, vehicle registrations, license plates) and keep them in an electronic, searchable database.  Federal law prevents the same from being done with guns and gun owners (the ATF has to search paper records by hand to trace a gun).

Second, a car’s primary purpose is transportation.  Its use in homicide is, often, accidental, through misuse (deliberate or otherwise), or through other outside forces (ex. inebriation, weather).  A gun’s sole purpose (not primary, only) is to cause harm or destroy.  Certainly, they can be used for target shooting, but that’s practicing to cause harm or death.  They can be used for hunting, again by causing harm and death.  They can, potentially (see below), be used for defense, but again by causing harm and death.  Every “other” reason ultimately comes down to the core “cause harm, injury, or death” purpose.

The same holds true for virtually all the other analogies (ex. knives have use as tools).

3) It’s not a gun issue, it’s a mental illness issue.

The data and available research strongly disagrees with this claim.

Psychological studies conducted fairly continuously since the 1980s have found that “Violence is not a product of mental illness. Nor is violence generally the action of ordinary, stable individuals who suddenly ‘break’ and commit crimes of passion. Violent crimes are committed by violent people, those who do not have the skills to manage their anger. Most homicides are committed by people with a history of violence. Murderers are rarely ordinary, law-abiding citizens, and they are also rarely mentally ill. Violence is a product of compromised anger management skills” (Hayes, reprinted on Slate).

In fact, “Fewer than 5 percent of the 120,000 gun-related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were perpetrated by people diagnosed with mental illness” (Metzl & MacLeish, Vanderbilt).

In short, mental illness is a combined fearmongering and disassociative technique.  It creates the fear that a homicidal psychopath will kill people while assuring everyone that “normal” people don’t shoot others.  The reality is, of course, that most shooters are “normal”, often friends or family of their victims (much like kidnappings—“stranger danger” is false, the vast majority of kidnappers are well known to their victims, often family).

4) I need a gun to protect my family.

Again, this claim is the result of fearmongering, aided and abetted by the 24-hour news cycle.  The claim is based on the idea that the U.S. is a dangerous, scary place where violent crimes happen to everyone all the time.  The reality is that violent crime has dropped steadily for the last couple decades, particularly since 1994 (FBI).  There are no murderers and rapists knocking at our borders.  Unless a person lives in a particularly problematic neighborhood (say, 1990s South-Central LA), the odds of experiencing a violent crime (or mass shooting) are low.

Covering the other aspect of this claim, a person is 34x more likely to be killed in a “unjustifiable gun homicide”, 78x more likely to be killed in a gun suicide, and 2x more likely to be involved in an “accidental gun death” than to be involved in a “justifiable gun homicide” (e.g. shoot someone in self-defense) (FBI, via WaPo).

5) Chicago! (a.k.a. “Dumb Libs”)

To begin with, as of 2017, Chicago is #8 in deadliest cities in the U.S., with many conservative led cities with much more permissive gun laws above it (CBS).  On a list created by that bastion of liberal hippies (</sarcasm>), Forbes Magazine, Chicago doesn’t even break the top 10 (Forbes).  According to World Atlas (2016), Chicago was #16, after a mix of left and right leaning cities (World Atlas).

But, the biggest problem with this line of argument is that it assumes that cities exist in a vacuum.  It assumes that a person in Chicago can’t leave the city, go somewhere else in Illinois with more permissive gun laws, buy a gun, and return to Chicago.  Or that they can’t drive to Indiana, with extremely permissive gun laws, buy a gun, and come home.  Really, the “Chicago!” argument is an argument that supports more uniformity in gun laws across the country, rather than being an example of gun laws not working.

6) Gun Free Zones (e.g. schools) don’t work.

So, the obvious counterpoint to this claim is: If putting up “Gun Free” signs doesn’t work, then why would putting up signs forbidding transgender people from entering bathrooms work?

A bit less tongue in cheek, though, there is sufficient scientific evidence that stricter gun control works and saves lives (Science Alert).  The conclusions reached by 130 studies found that increased gun control reduces deaths and increases safety, ultimately meaning that “Gun Free Zones” are no longer a thing.  But, while they exist, we need to look at the reason they exist in order to determine their effectiveness.  Opponents seem to believe that the purpose of a “Gun Free Zone” is to prevent shootings, much like they think the purpose of laws is to prevent crimes from happening (thus, if crime happens anyway, the law must be ineffective).  However, ideally, yes, laws would prevent crime, but in reality, laws exist to codify what society deems to be a fit punishment for violating society’s rules.  Thus, “Gun Free Zones” exist to provide a code of punishment for those who bring weapons within range of children (and politicians), with harsher punishments than carrying said weapons at, for instance, a shopping center because as a society we deem the school, church, hall of government to be more sacred than a shopping center.

7) We need to arm teachers (and corollary, We need more people with guns)

The scientific consensus amongst gun researchers has definitively shown that more guns does not mean fewer crimes and deaths.  In fact quite the opposite (Hemenway; Moyer).  And the scientists aren’t divided, they are virtually unanimous on the topic.

Matt Martin, a combat veteran wounded in combat, discusses the problems of arming teachers directly.  He states, “Defending children is a must, but putting a firearm in the hands of even the most trained teacher isn’t the answer. Anyone suggesting this solution has clearly never experienced a situation like the one seen in Parkland because it oversimplifies the complexity of an active shooter situation, especially in close-quarters. It is not as easy as a ‘good guy with a gun stopping a bad guy with a gun’” (Martin).  Following up with “Regardless of training, you don’t know how people will respond in life and death situations until the moment comes. You don’t know how people will react when they hear gunshots. You don’t know how people will react when the person next to them is shot. You don’t know how a person will respond when their task is shooting someone they know or taught.”

As he notes, it is difficult, perhaps even impossible, for a teacher to shoot someone they’ve taught.  Frankly, speaking as a teacher, I would not want to be in the same building as any other instructor who could shot one of their students.  And I deal with adult students, not high schoolers or younger.  Anyone who could pull a gun and shoot a middle school or even high school student whom they’ve taught really should not be teaching.

USMC veteran Anthony Swofford adds, “People attack heavily armed institutions all too often, as with the mass shootings in 2009 at Fort Hood in Texas and in 2013 at the Washington Navy Yard. Assailants in such cases aren’t typically worried about losing their lives in the process. Usually, losing their lives is part of the plan” (Swofford).  The idea that arming a certain number of teachers would dissuade someone from perpetrating a school shooting is absurd.

When people who have spent hundreds of hours in weapons training and served in combat situations say this is a bad idea, we really should listen.

Moreover, as this debate has continued and the NRA’s pipe dream of Rambo-like, gun toting teachers has gained traction among the more impressionable gun activists, incidents like the one Amy Larson covers, in which a high school teacher accidentally fired his gun in the classroom and injured three students due to ricochets.  Not only was this shooter a teacher, he was a reserve police officer, with the additional training that includes.  This is not an isolated incident, and we will see more like it (and more instances of students stealing teachers’ guns) should the idea become more than a pipe dream.

8) It’s a social issue, not a gun issue.

This is a somewhat difficult one, because it’s partially true.

It is a social issue.

It is an issue with how our society fetishizes, and otherwise looks, at guns.  It is an issue with how our society has not changed significantly in its view for decades (at least since the old Westerns made the “good guy with a gun” myth).  It is an issue with how our society has decided that a gun is more important than human lives, that it has more rights than many people do.

9) Only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy.

Both tactical experts, combat veterans, and the FBI disprove the NRA’s false statement.  The truth of the matter is that those who make the claim that “Only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy” mean that only *they* can stop a bad guy, and only if they have their gun.  Because, having a gun makes them, personally, a hero.

On the small scale, retired ATF SWAT officer David Chipman states, “Training for a potentially deadly encounter meant, at a minimum, qualifying four times a year throughout my 25-year career. And this wasn’t just shooting paper—it meant doing extensive tactical exercises. And when I was on the SWAT team we had to undergo monthly tactical training” (Chipman).  Combat veterans have added that even many heavily trained people freeze up in their first firefight, and even in later ones.  They stress that it’s impossible to know how someone, even a highly trained someone, will react until the moment comes.

According to the FBI, victims shot and killed active shooters in less than 3% of cases between 2000 and 2012.  Even with subduals (non-gun carrying victims), that number only rises to just under 17%.  The vast majority of mass shooting events end either with the shooter leaving or the police arriving (in the majority of cases in under 3 minutes) and subduing the shooter.

10) If we ban guns, they’ll just find another way.

This is probably one of the most illogical claims.  While true, in that there are other ways to kill people, it’s rather difficult to kill 20+ people with a knife or baseball bat before being taken down.  It’s also a lot easier to take down someone who is using a knife or bat than someone using a gun.  The gun is also a fast, easy method.  It’s much more difficult with other items.  More importantly, a gun creates distance, which makes the psychological act of killing easier.  It’s psychologically more difficult to stab a person to death than to shoot them.

Additionally, taken to its logical conclusion, the claim, applied to other laws, causes some issues.  For example, if we ban abortions, they’ll just find another way (true, history).

11) Laws only hurt law abiding owners, criminals don’t care about the laws.

Another illogical claim.  Taken to its logical conclusion, this can be applied to any law.  Which, ultimately, brings us to the question of why we bother with laws, after all, they only hurt law abiding people, criminals don’t care about them.  Which is absurd.

Keep in mind, that virtually every mass and school shooting in the country was perpetrated by individuals (usually young, white, males) with legally obtained firearms.  Most of whom were considered “law abiding gun owners”.

That said, this claim reflects a particular view about the purpose of laws.  It is predicated on the idea that laws exist to prevent or deter crime.  This, I argue, is not the purpose of laws.  Rather, laws exist to outline what society deems to be harmful and to provide a standard set of socially agreed upon consequences for failure to abide by society’s rules.

12) You’re just afraid of guns.

Not in the least (see above).  In fact, many “law abiding gun owners” are in favor of stricter gun control.  Many combat veterans are in favor of stricter gun control.  Most police are in favor as well (it makes it easier for them for identify the “bad guys” in shooting situations).

Take the words of Addison Ashe and Marissa Bowman, if you don’t trust mine.

13) <Insert “leftie” celebrity> built their career on action movies and is anti-gun, hypocrite.

No, celebrities, even those who built their careers on action movies, who hold pro-gun control positions are not hypocrites.  They are people who understand the difference between reality (guns are tool of destruction; people are not action heroes) and fantasy/fiction (guns are cool toys!; “I’m a hero when I have my gun”).

14) Gun control/bans led to the Holocaust.

This one is really so outlandish that it doesn’t deserve answering, but I will anyway.

It’s based on a false claim that Adolf Hitler immediately tightened gun control laws in Germany after he and the Nazi Party rose to power.

The reality is that “The Nazis adopted a new gun law in 1938. According to an analysis by Bernard Harcourt, a professor at Columbia University School of Law, it loosened gun ownership rules in several ways.

“It deregulated the buying and selling of rifles, shotguns and ammunition. It made handguns easier to own by allowing anyone with a hunting license to buy, sell or carry one at any time. (You didn’t need to be hunting.) It also extended the permit period from one year to three and gave local officials more discretion in letting people under 18 get a gun.

“The regulations to implement this law, rather than the law itself, did impose new limits on one group: Jews” (PolitiFact)  (And Harcourt’s original article.)

The claim is also generally based around the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising with the claim that unarmed Jews would not have been defeated if they were armed.  The flaw is that they were armed (with handguns, a few rifles, and grenades), but their numbers were low (est. 750 fighters) and they were civilians with little to no training who went up against SS forces (e.g. trained, experienced soldiers) supported by local police.  The loss was not due to lack of weapons, but rather to barely trained civilians facing highly trained soldiers who had superior support, organization, and tactical experience.

15) I have a Constitutional right to bear arms.

This is very true.  However, the Second Amendment also states “a well-regulated militia”.  Regulated means to govern or direct according to rule; to bring under the control of law or constituted authority; to make regulations for or concerning regulate the industries of a country; to bring order, method, or uniformity to.  All of which involve control and rules.  Which means that gun control legislation is inherently constitutional, so long as said legislation does not completely remove the possibility of bearing arms (e.g. it can limit the types of arms, under what conditions they can be owned, registration, etc.).

Additionally, in any given society, one person’s rights end where the next citizen’s rights being.  Just as my right to practice my religion ends at your right to practice yours, your right to bear arms ends where my right to Justice, Tranquility, and general Welfare begin.

Apologies

First, I’m sorry for this as I try not to do political posts here.

Second, to the world: On behalf of the U.S., I’m sorry for the stupid thing we just did.

Third, to the UK: I’m sorry, the Colonies are reclaiming the World’s Dumbest Vote award.  Pres. Donnie beats out a non-binding Brexit vote, I’m afraid.

 

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Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes (with apologies to David Bowie)

I recently started reading Verlyn Flieger’s A Question of Time: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Road to Faerie and it got me thinking.  Flieger discusses the changes that were occurring in the world during Tolkien’s life, particularly during his late-teens and early-20s.  In many ways, this begins as a New Historicist read, noting the major movements and such that were part of Tolkien’s socio-historical context, beyond the old references to WWI.  Flieger examines the movements and countermovements that occurred in the early-20th century in science, art, and philosophy, thoughts and knowledge that changed worldviews.  The work of Freud, Jung, Einstein, Planck, Pound, Joyce, and Picasso.  Each of whom essentially changed how we view the world, or responded to such changes.

 This got me thinking about my grandparents’ lives.  They went from radios and public phones to four channel black & white TV and rotary dial to cable, smartphones, and streaming TV.  Even in my own, relatively short, life, the technological changes from VHS to Blu-ray, landlines to pocket size cell phones, green screen dial-up computers to tablets.  Not to mention all the scientific advances, medical advances, changes in psychology, and philosophies of the last three decades.

 Unlike Tolkien, I grew up with theories of uncertainty regarding the world and continual change, from Einstein to Schroedinger, Jung to Freud, and others.  I grew up with the idea that change is the only constant in the universe.  I grew up in a household with science and mythology, both of which essentially teach the same thing via different methods and languages.  I love the “uncertainty” theories, multiverse theory, and all the possibilities that come from them.

 But, I can also understand why some people desire the comfort of perceived solidity often found in conservative religion and revisionist history (the idea that history never changes, therefore our knowledge of history never changes).  The very things that I enjoy, the uncertainty they engender, can be frightening.  The perception of something going on, unchanged, for 1700+ years (as false as that belief is) can be a comfort, I suppose.  Personally, I think that way lies stasis, which is in many ways equivalent to death.  But, that’s me.

 The fear is then fed by our changing technology.  For instance, dissemination of news.  In my grandparents’ day, there was only an hour or so of news a day (on the radio and at the movies) and newspapers came out twice daily.  Reporters had to be good at what they did.  They had to condense the entire day’s news into an hour block.  Even in my lifetime, I recall only having news on TV at 5, 6, and 11, or about three hours of news a day.  Even then, reporters had to keep things condensed and focused.

 Today’s 24 hour broadcasts let reporters get lazy, with ten, twelve hours covering the same story.  The coverage starts with Geraldo, then Van Susteren, then O’Reilly, then Hannity, for instance, all talking about the exact same event.  It is easy to see why fear develops and gets out of hand.  It is easy to see how 10+ hours of coverage of the same event turns into the belief that multiple events occurred, thereby amplifying the reaction.

 While our technological advances have unleashed at era of unprecedented access to information, I’m not sure that it is good for society or the individual psyche, especially when the internet news and mobile update elements are added.

 Thinking about these things, I think it is easy to see why we appear to have increases in mental disorders, people (a shrinking number) clinging to conservative religion (theoretically stable and unchanging), and an inordinate growth of fear among the general public in developed nations, particularly the U.S.

Gun Control Myth: De-Bunked

Since my state’s legislature just passed a bill to arm teachers in public schools, I’ve been thinking about gun control a lot lately (as a citizen, parent, and educator).

The political right-wing in the U.S. would have us believe that all pro-gun control liberals: a) fear guns and b) don’t understand guns.

Now, even leaving aside the thousands (or more) of veterans and current military who favor gun control, this is blatantly false. I’ll use myself as the case study in this case, since I can’t speak for the backgrounds of others.

I favor gun control and am strongly against arming teachers (or school administrators).

I have no fear of guns.

I understand them.

I’ve done target shooting before. It came easily to me. So easily that I got bored with it. Admittedly, this was with rifles and muskets, so rifled and smooth bore, not handguns (never used one, no real interest). Iron sights only, none of these fancy scopes. Roughly 100-200 feet to targets. Let’s say that were I stuck in the 18th or 19th century wilderness, I wouldn’t starve (might go hungry occasionally, but would not starve). Sure, my shooting’s probably atrophied a bit over the intervening years.

The point is, there was a time when I shot a fair bit. I understand guns and, at the time, could quickly compensate for an individual rifle’s quirks. I think they are fine in fiction, paintball, or Nerf dart form. But, I don’t like the real thing in reality. I have my reasons, and they are varied (addendum: a gun is not the only, or best, form of defense, should one need it).

I think the writers for Dean Devlin’s Leverage said it best:

Head Mook: “You said you don’t like guns.”
Eliot Spencer: “I don’t. Never said I couldn’t use ‘em.”

Social Equality: Fact & Fiction

I try not to get too political here, but something’s been driving me nuts lately. Even so, I’ll try to tie it back to writing and fiction.

Let’s get something straight: feminists, atheists, LGBTs, and non-Whites in Western society do not want “special treatment” or believe they are “better” than men, Christians, straight & cis folks, and Whites. None of these movements—feminist, (racial) civil rights, LGBT rights, (religious) civil rights—are bad things. None of them are trying to destroy freedom or equality. In fact, they are all fighting for freedom and equality.

Here’s the thing:

Western society clearly tells us that straight, white, cis, Christian males (SWCCM) are better than others.

This can be seen in our courts, in our boardrooms, in our legislatures, on our streets. We see examples every day, from racial profiling to catcalls directed at women. But, most SWCCM are blind to this, because they aren’t the ones being derided.

The LGBT Rights movement is not saying that LGBT individuals are better than straight, cis individuals. Nor that they want to be treated better than those individuals. Rather, the LGBT Rights movement says they want LGBT individuals to be treated the same as straight, cis individuals both socially and legally. Right now, they aren’t—see marriage laws with attendant tax benefits and visitation rights (hospitals).

Non-Whites are not saying they’re better or want to be treated better than Whites. They’re saying they want to be treated the same as Whites, both socially and legally. That means an end to racial profiling for one thing—ex. that Hispanic guy stopped in Arizona and asked for his papers, his family’s been living on that land for 300 years (since before Arizona or the U.S. even existed), but he was stopped because he “doesn’t look American”, oddly the same sheriffs aren’t stopping White people to check their papers.

Likewise, atheists and non-Christians aren’t saying they want to be treated better than Christians. They are saying that they want to be treated the same as Christians, socially and legally. Right now, for instance, Christians make up 80% of Congress, less than 5% are non-Judeo-Christians and there are no non-theists in the legislature. Courts (the legal representatives of the State) make witnesses, jurors, and others swear an oath on a religious text (the default being a Bible). Elected officials are sworn into office on a religious text, typically a Bible. In both of the latter cases, the Constitution (or state constitution or city/town charter) ought to be used to demonstrate that the official is a citizen first and theist (generally Christian) second. (Typically, left wing Christians seem to remember this better than right wing Christians do.)

Feminists are not saying that women are better than men or that women should be treated better than men. They’re saying that women should be treated the same as men, socially and legally. Today, if a man goes out a buys contraception (to use a hot topic right now), he can do it over the counter and he’s congratulated by other men. If a woman tries to buy contraception, she needs a prescription and she’s often subjected to being called “baby killer”, “slut”, and/or “whore”. Tell me how this is equal.

The same really applies to the poor to middle class folks as well. Those of us speaking about income inequality are not saying that the poor are better than the rich (though for conserva-Christians out there, Christ says the poor are better, something about a camel and the eye of a needle). However, when the average CEO is paid (not earns) 394 to 415 times what the average employee in the same company earns, something’s very wrong, especially when that average employee is paid so little that (s)he needs to apply for food stamps and other assistance.

Racial, religious, orientation, poverty, or whatnot inequality in society and law are great, in fiction. They create tension, drama, and plot possibilities. In reality, they are decidedly not good because real lives are, sometimes quite literally (lynching, anyone?), on the line.

(Note: Yes, there are exceptions to the above statements. Every movement has its fringe. Case in point, not all Christians are awful people, but people on the Christian fringe, such as Pat Robertson, are.)