Tag Archives: gun control

It’s the Guns – It’s Always Been About the Guns

The New York Times ran a frontpage article today entitled “Many Gunmen in Mass Shootings Share a Hate Toward Women.” https://nyti.ms/2MTr2JC Curiously, the online version of the article appears under U.S. News near the bottom of the NYT website.

The article cites multiple incidents in which the shooter, through personal conduct and in online writings, had shown hostility toward women, often because the shooter’s sexual aspirations had been repeatedly spurned. A number of the men were described as “incels,” which in current parlance stands for ‘involuntarily celibate.’

The suggestion that male frustration with females is the root of the mass killings, which have sometimes involved female relatives or romantic targets of the shooter, rings true. This idea is, of course, part of the more general idea that “mental health” is the root of the massacre-by-automatic-weapon-fire phenomenon that uniquely afflicts the United States. The putative president of the United States has adopted the NRA-sponsored idea of “mental health is the real problem, not the guns.” Mental health is a convenient explanation for the gun lobby since it aligns cognitively with our intuition that anyone who would shoot groups of strangers, often including children, must be nuts. These acts are not those of “normal” people. And so on. And on.

The mental health “explanation” also aligns well with what is often regarded as the central organizing principle of the American brand of democracy and way of life: capitalism and free markets. That principle tells us that we should be able to offer for sale and, as consumers, should be free to buy whatever we want. Our wants do not have to be explained or justified to anyone. That’s how the capitalist system and “free society” work together to produce the greatest happiness for the greatest number. So the theory goes.

Of course, our society has long recognized that capitalism must sometimes be limited because some people are dishonest and misrepresent to a gullible public the properties of products and services they offer. Other people are simply careless or disinterested in the implications of what they do that could harm people or the planet. Companies that pollute the air and water are good examples where regulation is generally accepted as necessary, at least prior to the election of Donald Trump.

Look at any road and you’ll see the results of the intersection of capitalism and regulation. Automobiles are generally regarded as essential for the majority of the population to conduct their lives as they prefer. But we also recognize that automobiles are dangerous. They kill and maim people. So, we regulate them in multiple ways. They have to meet some semblance of limitations on air pollution, rules on the shatter resistance of windshields, air bag specifications and so on. AND, of particular relevance here, society demands limits on who can operate an automobile. You must have a license. As far as I am aware, every jurisdiction in America limits access to driver’s licenses to people of a certain age who have done at least some study and passed a driving test to show at least minimal skills at handling a dangerous instrument. No rational person sees these requirements as an inappropriate limitation on the “right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” which are “inalienable rights” stated in the Declaration of Independence. In order to operate even a small aircraft, one must have a pilot license. These rules are not seen as an infringement of the right to travel.

There are, of course, a multitude of other examples in which society generally insists on regulation of some kind to protect the public from the potential harm arising from the use of certain instrumentalities. Fireworks are one. Raising livestock and burning trash in urban environments are others, among many such examples.

Interestingly, no sane person argues that “cars don’t kill people, people kill people” so let’s stop intruding on car ownership and operation by regulating who can use them. No rational person argues that operation of any automotive vehicle by anyone at any time of their choosing should be permitted.

The gun lobby will no doubt reply that “no one has proposed taking away everyone’s car but that’s what the gun regulations threaten to do to our guns.” Add to that the “slippery slope” argument – first you’ll take the automatic weapons, then you’ll use that to justify taking others, and so on until we have full confiscation in violation of the Second Amendment.” Perfect.

Well, not quite. In fact, we have already taken away certain “freedoms” regarding automobiles – it is generally not permitted to drive Formula One racing cars on the public roadways. Those cars were designed for one thing only – to go as fast possible in a controlled track or road-race environment. Racing on the streets in fact is broadly prohibited by speed limits.

To return this to guns, I am aware of no one who seriously advocates confiscation of all guns. What is being advocated is that certain types of guns be removed from civilian society. The objective is to prevent or at least limit severely the use in civil society of automatic-fire weapons designed and intended for use by military forces in combat. It is these instruments of death that are the primary tool of the mass shooter and ending access to them should go a long way to reducing the lethality of attacks against the civilian population by disaffected people.

The gun lobby will retort that it is impossible to eliminate all the automatic-fire weapons. That is another way of saying, let’s let the impossible goal of the perfect defeat the achievement of the good. It’s a phony argument whose real purpose is to retain the status quo. The gun lobby doesn’t really care how many Americans are killed or maimed as long as their agenda is protected. For the rest of us, it is critical not to be misled by the suggestion that “mental health” is the real problem. As the NYT article noted near the end, “Misogyny – or other types of hatred – is not necessarily a diagnosable mental illness.” Quoting the vice chair of community psychiatry at the University of California, Davis,

what ties together many of the perpetrators is “tis entitlement, this envy of others, this feeling that they deserve something that the world is not giving them. And they are angry at others that they see are getting it.”

In the end, we simply must recognize that the gun lobby position can never, and should never, be implemented. Doing so would entail the largest intervention into the personal lives and mental states of literally millions of Americans. Does the NRA really want the government interrogating and testing the mental state of everyone that someone reports as “angry,” or “hostile,” or “isolated?” How would this work? Is that the kind of society we want to live in? It’s irony beyond understanding that the NRA’s supporters, including the Republican president, purport to be behind a regime that would create the conditions of Orwell’s 1984 in our lifetime, with the government probing into everyone’s private life for signs of disaffection that could lead to mass murder. This is unimaginable but the necessary outcome of the “mental health is the problem” argument.

The common denominator is the guns. Stripped of access to automatic-fire weapons, unstable individuals may well seek other ways to fulfill their angry impulses, but inevitably the death toll will be reduced, more will be detected in the planning stages and lives thus will be saved. We can’t prevent every angry individual from carrying out his disturbed grievances but we can make it a lot harder and limit the potential damage. What we must not do is buy into the argument that the if we can’t be perfect, we can’t be better either.

Don’t Be Fooled by Republican Talk of Serious Gun Control Legislation

The New York Times has published an article entitled “Trump Weighs New Stance on Guns as Pressure Mounts After Shootings.” The article suggests that the “divisive politics of gun control appeared to be in flux” because, wait for it, “Trump explored whether to back expanded background checks” and Mitch McConnell said he was “open to considering” expanded background checks. So, “exploring” and “open to considering.” We have been here before. And before. And before.

To be fair to the authors of the NYT article, the next paragraph goes on to admit,” It is not clear that either the president or Mr. McConnell will embrace such legislation, which both of them have opposed in the past and which would have to overcome opposition from the National Rifle Association and other powerful conservative constituencies.”

There is nothing new here. We’ve seen it all before, followed by the equivocating, delays and then … nothing. It’s not a question of “clear” or “not clear.” McConnell has refused to call the Senate back into session in August, saying that doing so would just lead to legislators making political points and nothing substantive would happen. We’re being played. Pure and simple.

I am sitting before a TV watching an NRA member on CNN equivocate when asked a direct question about banning assault rifles, arguing that we need to deal with the “easy” issues and the most popular solutions, like background checks, first. She believes that because the claimed Second Amendment “right” to own guns of one’s choosing is the preeminent concern, we should address “crime control” rather than “gun control.” For her, the Second Amendment comes first and lives of innocent people come second because, in part, she believes background checks and “red light laws” can solve most of the problems by themselves and virtually overnight. And blah, blah, blah. Talking the good talk while making it clear that she can use clichés (enough is enough) as well as the next person, but really doesn’t think this is a big deal.

So, with all the handwringing, all we really have from the leadership of the Executive Branch and the Senate are posturing. The NRA has already declared the prospect of enhanced background checks “dead on arrival.” If history is any guide, and it usually is, the NRA resistance will strike terror in the hearts and minds of Republicans. According to a report from Politico, Sen John Barasso has basically said “forget about it.” Barasso is more concerned about “constitutional rights” than the deaths of hundreds of citizens at the hands of, usually, young white men armed with military grade, automatic-fire rifles.

The authors of the NYT article make much of Republicans beginning to support so-called “red-flag” legislation that “would make it easier to seize firearms from people deemed dangerous.” Imagine what is going to ensue if the federal government passes a law that permits the seizure of weapons from people “deemed dangerous.” How does the process of “deeming” occur? How many lawsuits and appeals will be filed and how many years will pass before even that most obvious of solutions can actually have an effect while free access to military grade weapons continues?

The real deal here is revealed by Trump’s recent Twitter activity saying he had been “speaking to the NRA, and others, so that their very strong views can be fully represented and respected.” Read between the lines. When Trump refers to NRA’s “very strong views” that must be “respected,” he is sending the message that, as usual, NRA will prevail and nothing meaningful will be enacted on his watch.

The NYT article reports that Trump is behaving like he always does, chaotically flailing in all directions with no intention to achieve an outcome.

“In private conversations, Mr. Trump has offered different ideas for what action on gun safety might look like. With some advisers, he has said he thinks he can get something done through executive action. With others, he has said he prefers legislation. With still others, he has said he would like a political concession in exchange for doing so. And he has insisted that he would be able to convince his most ardent supporters who favor gun rights that the moment for a change has arrived.”

McConnell, ever the reliable toady for Trump, said that Trump “very much open to this discussion.” History teaches that Trump is open about many things until he’s not. Nothing he says about gun control can be trusted. Nothing. He talks a lot, then usually does nothing, certainly nothing that he believes the NRA and his political base of ultra-conservative white men would oppose. Consider that Trump, quietly for him, reversed President Obama’s executive order allowing Social Security records to be used to identify people with mental health issues that would prevent their owning guns. Is it plausible to believe that Trump, who has the empathic level of a rattlesnake, has changed his view that the so-called right-to-keep-and-bear-arms prevails over everything?

Be aware also that, as the NYT reported,

“Part of the challenge for lawmakers seeking action is that the White House is divided — as is often the case. The hard-liners and Mr. Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., who is close to pro-gun activists, are uneasy about angering the president’s heavily white and rural base by pursuing gun control measures ahead of 2020.”

Based on the reports of unidentified “Republican officials,” the NYT reports that Ivanka Trump has been “aggressively lobbying the president to take action.” You will have to look long and hard to find any evidence that Ivanka’s “lobbying,” hard or otherwise, has materially influenced he father’s agenda on anything. The greater truth is here:

“Regardless, senators of both parties are deeply skeptical that Mr. McConnell will bring any sort of gun control measure to the floor unless the president demands it.”

“There’s no way Republicans are voting for a background check bill unless Trump comes out in favor of it for more than a couple of hours,” said Senator Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut, recalling that Mr. Trump also voiced support for strengthened background checks following the massacre in Parkland, Fla. “I’ve been to this rodeo before.”

And this is the final reality:

“On Thursday, more than 200 mayors, including the mayors of Dayton and El Paso, signed a letter demanding that Mr. McConnell bring the Senate back from its August recess to consider the House-passed legislation. “There’s no sense that the gun that the shooter used in Dayton — it was completely legal, he broke no laws to get it here,” said Mayor Nan Whaley of Dayton. “And so here we sit, nine dead and 27 injured in Dayton. All we’re asking is for Congress to do its job.”

Don’t count on it.

Remove Security for US Capitol & White House

I am going to venture into sensitive territory here so if anyone is offended, you have my advance apology. But after watching the Broward County Sheriff and the usual collection of dignitaries (Governor, School Board members, etc.) at a press briefing after the Parkland school massacre, I have to say this.

The common theme now is “it’s those mentally unstable people who are the real problem.” So, “If you see someone whose behavior has changed or is acting peculiarly, call the police so they can take that person in for questioning and a mental health evaluation.” At the same time the gun crowd recites and repeats their mantra: “if you can’t fix everything, don’t fix anything.” And “I got my rights so if you want my guns, come and take them.”

So, the new theme is that we are to turn ourselves into a totalitarian country of spies, a dystopian nightmare of reporting our neighbors and anyone else whose behavior does not fit our personal norms.  Let’s have everyone report somebody they don’t like and then let the authorities take care of them. Round up the usual suspects, while we cover for those who are really guilty. Yes, you see, if we can just get those mentally unstable people under control, everything will be fine and we can all keep our semi-automatic military grade weapons in case the government comes after us.

This is the usual playbook for post-catastrophe posturing while actually doing nothing of substance. The President added this gem in purporting to speak “directly to America’s children:”

“I want you to know that you are never alone and you never will be. Answer hate with love; answer cruelty with kindness. We must also work together to create a culture in our country that embraces the dignity of life, that creates deep and meaningful human connections, and that turns classmates and colleagues into friends and neighbors.”

You can’t make this stuff up. Changing culture isn’t something that can be willed; it takes decades and even centuries. This is just another deflection. Meanwhile, the putative leader of the Free World ordered flags to half-mast. Wow. That took real guts. The NRA was ok with it because it adds to the impression that someone actually cares about these kids, and the ones who will be killed next, while actually doing nothing at all to help them.

The “round up the usual suspects” approach to the gun problem has the same facile attractiveness of the other pro-gun arguments. But if you want to see a real-life example of how this might play out in practice, have a look at the story reported in Bloomberg News: “This Short Seller Pressed ‘Tweet.’ Then the FBI Showed Up” https://bloom.bg/2GnX5uL

In a war of words between two businessmen on Twitter, threatening statements were made. The FBI showed up and warned the author of those statements to stop sending such messages. There were intimations of political influence, as the target of the threatening messages was apparently a “top Republican fundraiser in Georgia” and “Georgia finance chairman for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.” The request to send agents was issued from the FBI’s Atlanta office which, along with the Justice Department is, of course, not talking.

True enough, no one was taken in for questioning and mental evaluation, but you surely get the picture. In this case it was a well-placed corporate executive apparently using his influence to induce the government to act against a rival. Under the “see something, report something” approach to stopping mass murders of children, you can just imagine how the complaints will fly as conflicted neighbors, romantic rivals, resentful former employees, etc. decide to get even by reporting the sources of their angst to the police who will be under new expectancies to act. “My neighbor has been bringing home long packages at night; I think he’s stocking up guns.”

And, of course, even when the report is legitimate, as it sometimes may be, it won’t necessarily resolve the threat. The FBI botched the reports it had on the Florida shooter. The Republicans, of course, jumped on this new excuse to undermine the FBI while continuing to whine about politicizing the Florida murders.

In my view, the FBI mistakes in this case, while tragic, simply illustrate that we cannot rely on a government agency, not matter how dedicated, to get everything right.

We are also faced with the usual argument that if you can’t solve everything, you don’t solve anything. That is just plain stupid. The inability to fix the entirety of a problem should not stand in the way of partial solutions that could save lives, such as removing semi-automatic military style weapons from circulation. There is no other area of life in which such a moronic idea would be accepted.

So how do we get semi-automatic military style weapons off the streets and out of the hands of those who would use them for slaughtering children? Right now, the Republican Party, complicit as it is in the Russian fixing of the 2016 election and fully committed to doing whatever is necessary to keep Donald Trump in power, is not going to move without an additional incentive. I propose to give them one. Two actually.

First, remove all the security from the Capitol, the White House and the Cabinet. Crazy, right? It would, of course, expose the legislators and the elite members of the Cabinet, etc. to the same risk that our children face every day at school, or at the mall or at a concert, the risk that some “mentally unstable” individual or group of individuals would attack them with a legally-acquired weapon. Well, of course, it would. That is precisely the point. If the legislators and administration officials who, after every mass shooting, say “it is too soon to talk about controlling weapons of rapid destruction,” were exposed to the same vulnerabilities as school children, they might soon change their tune.

Of course, this approach would also endanger the staff and administrative people who do most of the actual work in these places.  Some of them support reasonable restraints on ownership of semi-automatic weapons. They are the good guys. As the Republicans, funded to the hilt with NRA money, would say: necessary losses. It would not, in any case, take too long for the Republicans to come around. Set a deadline: enact a weapons control system within 30 days or lose your security. Faced with the choice of losing NRA cash or losing their lives, I’m betting they quickly come to their senses.

That proposal is, of course, just a fantasy. The same complicit individuals that control the government control the security for themselves.

So, here’s another, perhaps more realistic, solution. The Resistance must now engage in all-out mass movement of the same nature as occurred during the Vietnam War by making it difficult or impossible for pro-NRA and pro-gun politicians to conduct business as usual. Protesters will have to show up every day with bullhorns and noisemakers and make it difficult or impossible for the Congress to function. Do sit-ins. Even if they couldn’t get close enough to stop the government from operating, the Resistance could disrupt the local offices of the recalcitrant politicians. And they can turn these politicians’ rallies and other public appearances into spectacles of resistance centered around their support for the NRA and the gun lobby. Make their support for the merchants of death a constant topic on all social media. Name the names. Fill their inboxes, mail boxes, comment sites and phone mail with protest messages.

The same treatment should be meted out to the NRA at its offices and anywhere else it appears at conferences and meetings. For the unspeakable misery they have caused, their lives should be made miserable in return.

To be clear, I am not advocating violence against the government or anyone else. I am suggesting that if the American people truly want to stop the killing of children and others with semi-automatic weapons, they are going to have to resort to extraordinary measures. The NRA has the money, the politician enablers can’t get enough of it, and so it’s time to simply stop them from doing business as usual. A non-violent mass movement consistently and relentlessly applied is the only apparent way to force the hand of those supporting, and financed by, the gun lobby.

There will be no quick outcome to this struggle. Many “responsible” people will say this goes too far, that what we need is responsible advocacy, more “honest debate,” etc. Let’s not rush into this. It’s complicated. Let’s take a few years to study it and then, after more children have died at the hands of unhappy people with semi-automatic weapons and multiple high-capacity magazines, maybe we can come up with a solution.

To quote the kids speaking out at Parkland, I call BS. Enough is enough. Read this: https://agingmillennialengineer.wordpress.com/2018/02/15/fuck-you-i-like-guns-2/ The gun people will never yield until they are forced, so they should be forced. Starting now. The will of the majority of Americans on this issue must be presented to the lawmakers in a way they cannot ignore as they have for so long. Enough.