Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Thoughts on Gun Control, Part 2: The Line

In our last exciting episode, we dealt with the idea that the Second Amendment might need rethinking, based on the change in weapons and circumstances. In this sense, we agreed with probably the most insightful of the Founding Fathers, Jefferson, who thought that, "with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times." Therefore, we are not slinging poo at the revered and sacred big cheeses of the Revolution for thinking their buildings might need a little renovation...

My readers might disagree with that notion, and, of course, they are free to. But we all might consider one thing: that we certainly all agree that there are certain weapons we would not want in the hands of any particular private citizen...a nuclear bomb, for instance.

Somewhere between this...
Right? Should my neighbor be able to rig his house with a nuclear explosive that would go off if someone were to trip a wire near the front door? Of course not, right? Too many people could die.

What about a setup that would protect his loved ones and property in the form of a series of pipes in the front lawn that would pump VX nerve gas into the air in the event of an intruder? Of course not -- too many could die.

What about those who have to travel city streets alone at night? Should it be legal to carry a flame thrower for self-defense? Ridiculous, right? The whole city could burn down.

This only all goes to prove that we all agree that there should be limits on the ways in which we can protect ourselves. Anyone who thinks that we should be allowed to defend ourselves in the ways listed above is an idiot. I say this with confidence, because I believe that any idiot who would disagree with me here is someone I would rather stop reading my blog.

So, carrying things further, in modern times, we have a vast variety of guns and rifles and other assorted personal weapons that range vastly in their ability to inflict damage on the enemy. I am not a gun expert, so I am not going to propose the specific "line" at which we should cut off John Q. Public from his self-defense. I just want it to be clear that any rational being would agree that we do need to draw some line when it comes to what sort of weapons we should allow the average person to own, at least when we expand to weapons of mass destruction or to ones that could cause the death of too many, especially the innocent.

Is it ridiculous to draw a line? -- to say how much firepower is too much firepower, even in the hands of a law-abiding citizen?  I don't think so.

I do believe that average citizen should have access to guns, but I think the kind of guns does need to be limited. I'm not sure at what level I think this should be done, to be honest with you -- probably somewhere between a shotgun and short of a Gatling gun in a second floor bedroom window seems right to me -- but it is as worthy of consideration as it would be with any weapon. The absurd examples above serve only to prove the point that, at some level, the ways in which we defend ourselves needs to be limited.

It is ludicrous and dangerous to suggest that guns be outlawed altogether. The last thing we need is a country in which the government has all the guns and the people have none; bad idea, and the Founding Fathers agreed.

It could be argued that if we don't have the best firepower, we could never mount a revolution, at need. I disagree with that -- the Patriots in the 1770s were outgunned, but they found a way. It seems illogical to me to prepare for something as unlikely (but, admittedly, possible) as a revolution by arming ourselves to an extent that, in the process of waiting for this possible new revolution, we make it easier for lunatic after lunatic to mount widescale attacks on random groups and killing hundreds if not thousands. Since 1966, alone, 869 people have been killed in mass shootings, and there has not been one revolution. Mass shootings are a pressing problem. (I know, I know -- the weapons in these killings have ranged from handguns to rifles to machine guns...that's why we need to think it over -- which ones does it make the most sense to keep off of the streets? Not all of them, for sure. I want to remain clear about that.)

But for heaven's sake, people, please stop arguing that "making things illegal won't stop them from happening." I can point to about two-hundred memes to this effect that have made me drastically angry. Making rape illegal has not stopped it from happening, but no one is proposing that we should just lift the laws off of the books because making laws has not solved the problem...

So, the question becomes whether limiting the kinds of gun we can own is a violation of the amendment's idea that the right to have guns "shall not be infringed." (In my previous piece, you can see, I hope, that when it comes to variety of weapons, the writers of the amendment could not have had "limitation" in mind, so it becomes a non-issue).

When the law limits the kinds of weapons we are allowed to have, it is not precluding the ownership of guns, in general. In this way, I don't see regulation of what is legal and what is not legal to own as a conflict with the amendment.

That said, I will be so bold as to submit a revision of the Second Amendment and to present it cloudward to Mr. Jefferson, for his consideration:

Protection of self and family being a fundamental right of every human, the right the people to keep and bear arms within a reasonable scope with respect to the safety of the citizenry at large, shall not be infringed. 

Sure, that leaves a big question mark in the air: What does "within a reasonable scope" mean? That's what judges and government representatives are for: to argue about and to decide these things. It won't be an easy road, but I think we should keep up the tug-of-war of the legal and governmental processes.

....and this?
It also shifts from the keeping of a free state to personal safety, eliminating the Militia piece, But I think most people are more focused on personal safety these days and if everryone is allowed to have a weapon, a militia could still be formed at need, so it works out in the end.

In the end, I just want us all to agree that limitations on the weapons the average citizen can own is a good idea when it comes to nukes and nerve agents; that limiting works from the top down. I just want us to discuss the line. Why would it stop at the most powerful and destructive hand-held weapon ever made? If it shouldn't (and it shouldn't) then the debate is over what is safe enough, but still lethal enough to offer personal defense. And let's argue about that and keep adjusting and adjusting and adjusting, as time goes on, as Thomas Jefferson knew we would need to do.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Thoughts on Gun Control, Part 1: Underestimating the Founding Fathers

In Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, one of the characters, Boromir, looks at "the one ring" -- a magical ring with the power to destroy the entire world -- and he says:

"Is it not a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt for so small a thing?"

I think much the same thing when I look at the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America -- that loftiest of lofty American documents... All we get is this; the amendment in its entirety:

"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

Is it not a strange fate that this little sentence has one group in their country at the throats of another? Yet, there it is. 

Short as it is, it is not without difficulties. People latch onto the idea that "the right of the people to bear arms shall not be infringed." What they ignore (often for the purpose of creating the sentence in their own image) is that the word "infringed" can have two shades of meaning. One can read this section of the amendment as either: 1) no one shall take away the right of people to own guns or, 2) no one shall limit or encroach upon ownership of guns in any way (i.e. not even limiting the kinds of guns owned).

Either way, people need to be allowed, according to the amendment, to own guns. That's clear.

The problem is that the second part could be interpreted to mean that there should be no limit on the kinds of guns owned. I would argue, though, that this is not something that could have been on the minds of the Founding Fathers. During the whole of the 18th century, the only firearms available were blunderbusses, pistols, muskets and rifles. The fastest of the fast could manage three shorts per minute with a musket, which needed the completion of a twenty-some-step process. In other words, there was no limiting of firepower to be done, unless done to minute and inconsequential differences. There was pretty much one kind of weapon available to the average American citizen: a pistol, musket or rifle that could fire very limited projectiles.

Therefore, I don't think it was possible that they were using the word "infringed" to mean "limited". What they meant was that no one shall stop the people from owning the available guns. Which guns they would own is not an issue, as it is today, so basing any pro-gun, modern arguments on the lack of limitation in this 18th century document is invalid. 

I'm going a step further than most who argue that "they didn't mean automatic weapons" by saying, they simply could not have even meant weapons of more than their contemporary limited shot capacity. (And as far as firepower, even if the average person bought himself a cannon, he still could not pull off the  kind of carnage of our modern mass murderers. In short, if guns were not limited, the American of 1787 [the year of the Constitution] it would neither have decreased nor increased the average American's ability to defend himself. 

Working backward, there is also still the issue of the reason the Second Amendment gives for the need of citizens to bear arms: the maintaining of "a well-regulated Militia." The writers of the Constitution were not even necessarily addressing personal protection with the amendment; they were referring to the ability of a state (or the State?) to fight for its own freedom, as the Revolutionaries had done, against oppression. 

The militias had figured heavily into the Revolution. The Founding Fathers were thinking of keeping us safe from mistreatment by government when they drafted the Second Amendment. This is tricky.

Today, the legality of militias varies from state to state. In some, they are illegal; in others, they are allowed, but carefully regulated. But a militia implies that the states might have to fight against...what? Other states? Didn't 600,000 people die in the Civil War to keep the states unified? If it is against governmental oppression that we establish militias, then...o.k. But is that really what gun advocates are really fighting for? I don't think so, except in isolated cases... In short, I think the militia part of the amendment is not a relevant point anymore.

What? "How can I say that," you ask? The Constitution should be inviolate? -- unchanged? Strangely, Thomas Jefferson did not think so. He thought that sometimes things need to change as the world around us (and inside us) changes. In my opinion, we need to rethink the Second Amendment -- not spit in its face, but consider what its modern equivalent is. We should be able to defend ourselves, but, at what cost (more of that in Part 2)? Anyway, Jefferson is pretty clear, here:

“I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and Constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

So, no more trumpeting about disrespect for the Founding Fathers' views. The biggest disrespect we can show them is to underestimate their vision. One of the "new truths" we have to live with today is that, within a few minutes, someone can go from the gun shop into a crowded place and kill dozens of innocent people with one gun. Jefferson would want that problem dealt with, I think. Let's not insult him further. He saw this coming. He was anything but barbarous. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Ocean is Closed

A quick note: 

It always sort of bothers me when a blogger opens up a post with, "Sorry it has been so long since I have posted..." but I find myself in that position. I have been a three-a-week poster for years and, lately, over the course of this year, I have slowed a bit. Part of the reason for this is that things have been rather crazy in my everyday and professional life -- not tragic, not sad, just...crazy. The other reason is that my writer's brain (my composer's brain has never interfeared with Hats and Rabbits) has shifted back into fiction ideas and plans for a novel that I have high (artistic) hopes for. 

That said, I will not be abandoning this blog -- as I have sort of done over the last few months, but I will be shifting into posting only on Wednesdays... Here's the first one...

Karen and I took a last-minute (post-funeral [may my 92-year-old great aunt rest in peace]) trip to the Jersey shore yesterday. A couple of slices of pizza...some ice cream...a walk on the beach and back home before the boys were home from school. A nice day. Not a thing happened to shake my writerly tree, until...

On one level, this is pretty funny. They are going to close the ocean? The whole of the Atlantic, apparently, will be shut down for lack of lifeguards. This is going to wreak havoc on shipping and trade. How are the fish to react to this? I picture entire schools of aquatic creatures leaning up against underwater poles, flipping yo-yos and absently biting their non-existent fingernails from 5:30PM to 10AM. (FIN-gernails?)

On another level, this is symptomatic, as most things are, of deeper sociological issues. Can you imagine the casual sense of Big Brotherness it takes to approve a sign that purports to close the ocean? -- not the beach, but the ocean?

Some professor of sociology or anthropology ought to spend this summer on the boardwalk and watch people read that sign. The ones who either laugh at its absurdity or who are angered by its absurd grandiosity; by its outrageous sense of municipal importance, can be weighed against those who simply say, "Ah, well. We can't go in; the ocean is closed; rules are rules."

The ratio of one group to the other will be a reliable indication as to whether we have any chance of avoiding becoming an enslaved, governmentally-controlled society.