I don't follow the news very carefully. I listen and read just enough to get the flavor, but not the details. I know that after the last few mass killings (the batman movie killer with psych problems, and the elementary school murderer who swiped the gun from his mother), there has been a lot of noise about banning assault rifles. Just this morning I read something about Obama claiming that 40% of gun acquisitions occur without a background check happening. Who knows if that is true, or how relevant it is. I can't possibly cover everything about guns but I'm going to list a few of the things that I've been thinking and talking with my friends about.
One thing I learned recently is that 2/3 of gun deaths are suicides. Not murders. Suicides. I personally do not own a gun, not because I think gun ownership is a bad idea, but because I have been very depressed in my life, and I know that my life might have been lost already if I'd had a gun handy. So better to not have it handy. This does not mean that I think I am likely to murder another person. And it certainly does not mean that I would not be willing or able to use a gun in a confrontation to protect my family and community. (I'm a decent shot with rifles and handguns and practice when opportunities arise.) It just seems to me that keeping guns out of the hands of civilians might prevent a lot of suicides, and that seems like a good idea to me. Not everybody needs to, or should have a gun. Those who are able to use a gun responsibly in defense of their home can be trained at any time, and armed at a later date.
I read in the paper this morning that some are talking about training school teachers to shoot, and providing them with guns. That seems like a terrible idea to me. I imagine a whole lot of nurturing females being taught how to keep and use a gun, and then being too submissive or passive to actually use it when the moment came and it was needed. Not everybody needs to, or should have a gun. Some schoolteachers may have the aptitude and ability to shoot a dangerous human, but I'm betting that the majority do not. It is not fair to ask anyone to kill if they are not already willing. Even if it is to save their own lives. An armed society may be a polite society, but an armed schoolteacher might be pushed toward madness if they are not suited to the project of being a lethally-capable defender. Defenders in this case should volunteer, not be recruited. Nonprofit groups that provide guns to people living in dangerous neighborhoods are likely to fuel the problem by not carefully vetting each individual who receives a gun. It is not the gun that is dangerous, it is the people.
The second amendment of the constitution is the basis for our widespread gun possession in America. People go around spouting about how our "right to bare arms shall not be infringed". First, if you're going to be a gun advocate, do yourself a favor and get the language right. It's BEAR, not bare. Going sleeveless is not in debate here. Here's the text of the second amendment: "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." The capitalizations are original. Militia is capitalized, that is to say, it is emphasized.
What did they mean by that? Do you think that they meant that every single paranoid person has a right to guns? Isn't it interesting that the Militia bit is conveniently left out of modern gun advocates' arguments? Why does it need to be left out?
I see two possible interpretations. One is that everybody should have guns so that if invaders come, or the government gets out of hand, we can form a militia and defend our communities. The other is that guns should be kept but within the context of a well-regulated militia. Not every paranoid person ready to blast every other paranoid person, but rather that there is some Structure to gun possession and use. That structure is a well regulated Militia. The first interpretation is what is currently being employed in our land, so let's explore the second.
What if, and I'm just dreaming here, what if you had to be a member of a militia in order to have the right to lethal firepower? What if that militia was one of your choosing? What if there were some requirements of you before you were permitted to keep and bear arms, and those requirements were specified within your militia? Seems to me it would be better than a background check done by strangers. Your personal character, responsibility and ability to use a firearm could evaluated and confirmed by people that you know and see often. If you started to lose contact with reality, those people would be the first to know, and might even be able to keep you from doing unnecessary harm. What if the militia had an armory, and most weapons were stored there instead of in the home? It might prevent the theft of arms, and a great deal of the crime that is executed with stolen (or "borrowed") guns. Yet we the people would still have the ability to arm ourselves in response to a threat.
Of course, the militias could not be regulated by the government, because one of their express purposes is as a check on government power. How they might be regulated, and how one might determine who is a suitable militia member, is a subject for a great deal of discussion. For example: What if white supremacists, or some nutso cult, forms a militia? How can we be assured that is well regulated? I am not at all sure. Ideas welcome.
An armed and paranoid commenter informed me that according to current law, he IS part of the militia. According to him (and he got his info from Wikipedia) the US 1903 Militia act specifies that every able-bodied man aged 17-45 years who is not a member of the National Guard or Naval Militia is a member. Former members of the armed forces up to age 65 are also considered part of the "unorganized militia". When I looked it up (on Wikipedia), I found that this act created the National Reserve, aka the Organized Militia. It was passed after the US military was proven deficient in the Spanish-American war. The law made all state military forces into dual reservists under the authority of the Army Reserve. It was intended to prevent state governors from using National Guard forces as "private armies", and to ensure that the President could not mobilize state military forces into the federal armed forces.
So basically anyone who could be drafted (men of age), and all former military men not yet 65 years old, are legally part of this unorganized militia. This does not appear to refer to the "well regulated Militia" of the second amendment which was ratified in 1761...significantly preceding the 1903 law. What is clear to me is that the 1903 law is way behind the times. We have a lot of women and elders who are pretty good shots and of steely enough character to be of use if needed. Probably a bunch of feisty sharpshooting gays, too.
Personally, I like Obama's suggestion that we penalize those who lie on background checks. I mean, what's the point of doing them if people can just lie and get away with it? Make the background checks real, somehow. I know it won't prevent the theft of guns. My idea for solving that is below.
RESPONSIBILITY OF GUN OWNERS
In my view, gun owners are responsible for keeping their guns secure. By secure, I mean that gun owners ought to be keeping those guns out of the hands of those who would shoot innocents. Guns should not be accessible to your children unless you consider those children to be assets to your militia. Guns should not be stolen. If your guns get stolen, you fucked up. Same with your ammo. If anybody else gets it, you made a big mistake. YOU are responsible for keeping your guns out of the wrong hands. The only way that your gun should be taken from you is out of your cold, dead hands. No other way.
Which brings me to the point. There should be legal repercussions to gun owners whose guns get away from them. If your gun is used to shoot 20 first graders, you are at least partly responsible. No, not completely responsible. But partly responsible. Perhaps if there were a legal cost to gun owners whose guns are used for evil, all gun owners might take a little more care in storing their weapons. If there were a militia armory where you could store your guns securely, but not hand them over the the government, that could be a solution. Perhaps even a government armory might be of use for some weapons, for those who do not distrust government as much. There are a variety of options that might be explored for increasing the security of privately owned guns without actually removing them from the ownership and control of the people. I think we should explore these options.
Keeping guns secure at home is not easy. A locked gun cabinet can be unlocked if the key is found, and bashed open if the key is not found. A hidden gun can be found. About the only way you can really be sure that your gun won't be taken is if nobody knows it is there, and nobody looking for anything in your possessions is likely to find it. That is to say, secrecy is the best protection you can have for a firearm.
Another very useful way to keep guns secure is to have people around, a family or a community, to prevent strangers from taking things from your home. Isolation is part of the problem: it makes us paranoid, and it invites criminals. Having a tribe, perchance a militia, could be part of the solution.
PUBLIC DISPLAY OF LETHAL POWER
Lately there's been a rash of people openly carrying weapons. It happened in Gresham, Oregon not long ago. A couple of young men walked around a shopping district with assault rifles slung over their shoulders. Lots of shop owners locked their doors. Lots of people called 911. It is legal to openly carry a gun for which you have a permit. But it is not legal to disturb the peace. I think that openly carrying guns in peaceful places is a disturbance of the peace. If you have a permit to carry a concealed weapon, and you are sane and responsible in your use of that gun, then by all means carry it. I ask only that you conceal it, so that you are not upsetting all those people who would prefer not to know that you have lethal firepower on your person.
Defined, hoplophobia is the irrational fear of weapons, from the Greek "hoplon" for weapon or arms. It is considered pejorative, and it is a newly coined word not yet in common circulation. It is true, there are people who are afraid of guns even when they are just sitting there, doing nothing. This is because they have experienced, or have internalized the experience of others, that guns can do serious damage to bodies. This is not rational, rather, it is emotional. Being irrational does mean that it should not be the sole basis for any decision. But being compassionate humans, perhaps we might consider the feelings of others in our actions.
If you are a person who is willing and able to kill to defend the innocent, trained and expert in the use of your weapon, and mentally stable enough not to use it inappropriately, then you are a part of that population who would ideally, in hard times, be a part of a militia for our defense. We need you. Not everyone has these capabilities. Hard times might come sooner, or later, but they will come. Don't let your gun get stolen. Don't go around frightening people needlessly. And if you start feeling angry or unstable, please give your gun to someone else to secure so that you don't accidentally ruin your life and those of others. It isn't worth it. We all have our weak times, which is why lethal firepower is not to be taken lightly.