Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Dumb Control Debate (Part 4)

So here's the conclusion of this. I'll start off by reaffirming my support of the 2nd Amendment, and the right to own firearms for self defense, to hunt, and for sporting purposes. Thing is, I also believe what Scalia writes in the Heller decision, that the 2nd amendment is not unlimited, and that the government has a great deal of leeway to regulate firearms through laws created under our representative government.

As I've already made clear, I don't think an armed citizenry will do much against tyranny, based on the historical trends on display in our own nation's armed citizenry doing little about tyranny for hundreds of years. You can be like some right wingers and pretend slaves or civil rights activists owning and using guns would have secured their liberties - but any cursory glance at our nation's actual history shows us exactly what happened to any minority population who tried to fight the power with non-violence, much less with firearms. Their actions were almost universally met with assassination, torture, lynching, bombing, rape, arson, terrorism, arrest, beatings, and other harassment at the hands of the armed and more numerous majority. If John Lewis had a gun at Selma, he wouldn't have been beaten - he and everyone with him would have been butchered by the authorities. But I digress. If you believe such nonsense, you likely wouldn't be reading this anyway. There's no convincing you anything different than the big bad government is coming in their black helicopters to take all of your guns away.

Which is a shame so many people believe something so dumb.

Because the regulations currently being proposed focus mostly on background checks that aren't going to make it illegal to own firearms - they're going to begin allowing law enforcement to more effectively enforce the laws of the land. That's something almost everyone I've ever heard talk about gun rights or gun control believes in. Keeping guns out of the hands of criminals is the most important job of any effective law enforcement structure, and law abiding citizens on every side of this issue overwhelmingly agree.

Would they have done anything about Newton or Aurora? Who can know? As difficult as it is to say this, I don't consider mass shooting events the main problem when it comes to gun violence in this country. Don't get me wrong, these are indescribable tragedies, but they are outliers. Our nation is simply limited in what we can do when a killer makes the determination to sow such destruction. There is no 100% safety anywhere, even for precious little children. We cannot prevent every tragedy.

But we can mitigate risk.

That's why these current proposals shouldn't be arbitrarily cast aside, even if they may not be able to prevent the worst events from happening. Again, as hard as it is to say this, the worst events are simply a drop in the bucket compared to the number of firearms deaths and crimes we are facing on a daily basis when tragedy doesn't make the national news. That's where I focus my attention. Because looking at that problem, we begin to see a pattern take shape. That pattern tells us that the majority of gun violence in this nation is perpetuated by violent individuals who should have been prevented from getting hold of a gun.  

Here's the hard, cold truth: when it comes to firearms laws, the right wing mythology tells us how our country should focus on "enforcing current gun laws" on one hand, and that "criminals will always have access to guns" on the other. Of course, what is never reconciled is that the political decisions made by the right wing make it impossible for law enforcement to enforce existing gun laws and make it easier for criminals to have access to those guns.

Why else would they holler so loudly about tyranny when the President declares he will be appointing a full time director to the law enforcement agency specifically tasked with investigating and prosecuting gun laws? Why does this agency not have a full time director? Because right-wingers have blocked the appointment for years.

Why else would they holler so loudly about losing their guns when the President declares the Centers for Disease Control can conduct public health studies relating to gun violence? Heaven help us if we gather some data about what is going on. It probably won't even matter, after seeing their reaction to climate change science.

And why would they go so berserk over background checks? Background checks are the most effective way to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals, because background checks tell people selling guns if they are selling guns to criminals!

I've had multiple background checks to teach school and serve as a volunteer. My driving record is scrutinized every time I update my address on my driver's license, every time I reapply for my vehicle's registration, and at random intervals by my private insurance company. My credit history is under constant surveillance by banks and billing agencies. You know what? I can still legally drive. I can still get financing. I've never been turned down for a volunteer gig. Why should I be frightened of a criminal history check curbing my right to own a gun? I have no criminal history, so I am confident I will never face unreasonable restriction.

And that's the way it is supposed to work. Because if you have violent felonies or a history of domestic disputes on your record, sorry Jack, but HELL NO I DON'T WANT YOU TO HAVE A GUN. You gave up the right to own such a powerful weapon when you got convicted of whatever it was you did.

Take this guy, for instance.

Shouldn't have been out of jail in the first place (a separate law enforcement issue in its own right), but the lack of regulations under our current firearms laws (especially in Louisiana) mean he can walk into a gun show and pick up whatever gun he wants, as much ammo as he wants, and NOBODY will know that he isn't legally allowed to purchase. And you can see what damage he was planning to do.

Now, it is true that even if we did close the gun show loophole, there's still a chance he could go out and illegally purchase an illegal weapon. But here's the rub: that's a whole lot harder to do.

First of all, it is a felony if he's caught (back to jail), and it is a felony for the seller (goes to jail and loses the right to own a firearm). That creates disincentive. That disincentive additionally limits the buyer's access to weapons, because the seller has to trust him not to be undercover law enforcement, or tell the authorities where he got the illegal weapon if he does follow through with his crime. The sale itself is determined by what illegal firearms the illegal seller has on hand (limiting the buyer's choice of weapons). Add to that the higher cost of high powered weapons on the black market (greater risk, limited supply), and that would also be a limiting economic factor. There's also a limit to how much ammunition an illegal seller can have at any given time. So while he could still get a hold of all of that, he's got to jump through a lot of hoops and marshal a lot of resources to do it. That process increases his chances of running into law enforcement again before he enacts his plan or simply falling prey to other criminal elements.

That's a lot harder than going to the latest local gun show and picking out anything and everything he needs.

And that's where I'm at on firearms laws - the right to bear arms is not unlimited, and with sensible regulations, our nation can do a lot to keep them out of the hands of violent criminals. To do that, we're going to have to get control over the gun shows (which we are Constitutionally allowed to do), develop a working background check system (which we are Constitutionally allowed to do), and begin letting law enforcement enforce our laws (which we are Constitutionally allowed to do).

Thanks for reading this group of posts.



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