There have been a lot of diaries at Kos lately on the subject of guns, gun control, the Second Amendment, but always room for one more, right? I got the urge to write this one after looking at comments a friend sparked over on Facebook when he questioned just why we have 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."
  Why exactly was the "right to bear arms" enshrined in the constitution, and what do militias have to do with it - and why the security of a free State? To hear the NRA talk, it's all about keeping a tyrannical government from enslaving its citizens - an implicit "escape clause" that allows anyone to take up arms the moment they decide their rights are being infringed. (It dovetails nicely with the whole mindset conservatives have that regards government as a threat - except when it serves their interests.)

    A whole structure of over the top assertions, closed logic loops, and paranoid hyperbole has been built on the foundation of an imagined Second Amendment that supposedly forever bars the government from ever touching guns because to do so would destroy our freedom. It is at the center of a deeply emotional view of the world, which makes reasoned debate darn near impossible. And that's a real problem because gut feelings and instincts are NOT the way to organize society or keep a civilization running.

More below the Orange Omnilepticon

The Constitutional Argument: Read It (And Weep)
  While there are quite a few who regard the Second Amendment as being purely a matter of individual rights, the link above mentions the alternative interpretation:
...some scholars point to the prefatory language "a well regulated Militia" to argue that the Framers intended only to restrict Congress from legislating away a state's right to self-defense. Scholars have come to call this theory "the collective rights theory." A collective rights theory of the Second Amendment asserts that citizens do not have an individual right to possess guns and that local, state, and federal legislative bodies therefore possess the authority to regulate firearms without implicating a constitutional right.
   The distinction between individual and collective rights fails to include another dimension to the argument - history and politics. Keep in mind that the founding fathers were largely a bunch of white guys of property. It might be reasonable to question the idea that they'd be in favor letting any yahoo with a musket take on the government or any other authority any time they felt like it. It should also be noted that for some of them, issues of property were very critical - when that property included slaves.

    There are those who treat the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as sacred documents that were written to stand for all time, that they were derived from first principles from a set of ideals by a group of visionaries. To a certain extent, there is something to that view - but there's also the fact that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were not written in a vacuum. They were and are political documents, hammered out to reconcile competing political views. In fact, the Bill of Rights had to be crafted specifically to overcome objections to the Constitution and the powers it gave the Federal government. Our founding fathers were not saints; they had very human motivations for the things they were arguing for, and not all of them are pretty.

    Thom Hartmann has dug into the kind of history we don't like to teach our children in schools and has excavated material that shows the intent behind having a "well regulated militia" had a lot to do with the need of those men of property to have a body of armed men on call to put down slave rebellions.

The real reason the Second Amendment was ratified, and why it says "State" instead of "Country" (the Framers knew the difference - see the 10th Amendment), was to preserve the slave patrol militias in the southern states, which was necessary to get Virginia's vote.  Founders Patrick Henry, George Mason, and James Madison were totally clear on that . . . and we all should be too.

In the beginning, there were the militias. In the South, they were also called the "slave patrols," and they were regulated by the states.

In Georgia, for example, a generation before the American Revolution, laws were passed in 1755 and 1757 that required all plantation owners or their male white employees to be members of the Georgia Militia, and for those armed militia members to make monthly inspections of the quarters of all slaves in the state.  The law defined which counties had which armed militias and even required armed militia members to keep a keen eye out for slaves who may be planning uprisings.

    Hartmann has quite a bit more, including some telling quotes in which it is made clear that the peculiar institution was near and dear to the hearts of certain of our founding fathers, and the Second Amendment was their way of ensuring the other founding fathers would not use the newly constituted Federal government to take away control of those militias from the states or eliminate them. It was a matter of economic and social survival for them. Read the whole thing - odds are your grade school teachers kind of slipped past that whole dark side of American founding father hagiography as quickly as they could. It's definitely not something that those who preach an absolutist interpretation of the Constitution (which aligns with their interests) want to talk about.
And Here We Are...
  The current obsession with guns transmogrified from the original rationale of keeping the slaves down, fermented in the post Civil War resentments of Northern Tyranny, crossbred with the Frontier John Wayne Six Shooter mentality of the Wild West, Dodge City, etc. and transvected with the paranoia of preppers, survivalists, and white supremacists, with more than a dash of angst over the rise in violent crime in the last few decades and 911. Add in a political party which has made the Old South and its attitudes the core of its base, an industry making massive amounts of money selling the illusion of safety, and a whole raft of grifters who've learned how to get rich and powerful by selling FEAR!!! 24/7, and you end up with a debate about guns that's taking place across a conceptual abyss.
Fear Is The Mind-Killer
  Let's get this out right up front. The biggest stumbling block in debating what to do about guns is fear. For all the people who have perfectly reasonable expectations about firearms because they like to hunt, they like recreational shooting, they like them as collectibles, they want to have some options to be prepared for possible danger, or simply because guns are a useful tool in the life they lead, there is a large portion of gun owners who are determined to accept no restrictions on their right to keep and bear arms because they are afraid.

     They are afraid because they know the police can't protect them. They are afraid because they know it's not a question of if someone will break into their house, but when. They're afraid that society will break down any minute. They're afraid some maniac is going to open fire the next time they venture out of their homes into a public place. They're afraid the government is coming to take their freedom. They're afraid they'll be swamped in a sea of criminals, illegal aliens and terrorists. They're afraid the socialists are coming for their livelihood, the atheists are going to destroy their faith, the gays will come for their children. They are afraid the way of life they knew growing up is disappearing, and they can't do anything about it.

    But they can buy guns. And for too many, that gun is a magic security blanket, an anodyne for the powerlessness they feel every day. It's something real they can put their hands on and control, unlike corrupt politicians, a rigged government that does nothing for them, a society that feels increasingly alien and threatening.

     An entire political movement and a very profitable industry has built up reinforcing and catering to those fears. It is an ironic paradox that one of the easiest ways for an authoritarian government to take power is to convince people that they are under attack. They'll willingly give up their freedom and their rights if shown a scary enough enemy - and they'll do it believing it's the only way to protect their 'freedom'.

    If you listen to people like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, FOX NEWS, etc. etc. you will get a constant message that: government can't keep you safe; government can't solve your problems; the world is going to Hell; liberals are coming to take your freedom and your property; society is going to Hell in a hand basket; morality and religion are under attack; there are bad people out there getting away with murder every day and there are people who want you to be defenseless...

    These people are working 24/7 to destroy the mutual trust and faith in society that holds civilization together, and they're doing it for fun, power, and profit. Is it any wonder that there are now conspiracy theorists who believe the recent mass shootings were actually "False Flag" operations by [insert name of your preferred villain here] to create an excuse for taking guns away from people?

      This is the biggest obstacle to rational discussion about firearms in this country: fear. So long as people are ruled by their fears, they are not going to be convinced by logic or promises. So long as there are people stoking those fears for personal gain instead of legitimate reasons, the situation will deteriorate. It's pointless to debate when fear does the talking. The key thing to do is recognize it, refuse to feed it, and call out those who are deliberately promoting it. Meanwhile, let's discuss what steps those of us in the sane world can be thinking about.

"Why Are You Trying To Take My Guns Away?" Part One
     This is one of the favorite talking points out there - the slippery slope argument. As in - any restriction on gun ownership now, no matter how limited or reasonable, is only the first step until ALL GUNS ARE TAKEN AWAY.

Let's try to get real, okay?

    Let's start with the simplest answer - it's just not possible. We don't even know how many guns are out there right now, let alone have enough people to track them down and seize them. It would work about as well as Prohibition did. (It's funny how the people who talk about the sacredness of the 2nd amendment don't even think about the 18th at all. The repeal of the 18th amendment is a legacy of FDR that even most mainstream conservatives support.)

     That being said, it's not unreasonable or even unconstitutional to attempt to strike a balance between the right to own a firearm and the responsibility for the consequences of that ownership. Guns are enshrined in the constitution only because of that militia-slavery connection; implicit in the second amendment is the control and regulation of those guns. The Second Amendment wasn't just about the right to have guns - it was also about making sure certain people didn't have them. Just like prohibition, society changes its collective mind about things. If we've learned anything from the recent spate of mass shootings, this is one of those times for guns.

     The question isn't "Why are you trying to take my guns away?" but rather "How can you exercise your right to own a gun while respecting the rights of everyone else?" We accept limits on our freedoms all the time because A) sometimes the cost of exercising them without limit is greater than the benefit (Yelling fire in a crowded theater for example.) B) that exercise has to be balanced against other competing rights/constraints (i.e.: freedom of speech versus freedom to shut up and not incriminate yourself) and C) it's the price of participating in civilization.

   Libertarians have problems with C. They are not comfortable with the idea that anyone should have the power to tell them how to live their lives. And yet it is not possible to live in an increasingly complex world without recognizing there are trade offs. Jared Diamond has spent many years studying tribal groups in New Guinea as part of his examination of humans around the world and across time. His latest book is all about what we can learn from traditional societies to better understand our own. In an interview with New Scientist (registration required) he makes a point with some application here.

Why can't societies without strong leaders be peaceful?
In a band or tribe of people it's fairly democratic - the number of people is so small that you reach decisions face to face. But if you get 100 people who agree a peace treaty with the neighbouring tribe, there will always be some hot-headed young men who still have a grievance, break the armistice and kill someone, which starts the whole cycle again.

Restraining these hotheads requires a centralised force. Tribal societies, without a strong leader, can't enforce peace. The reason a state society spreads - and why the farmers tolerate "parasites" - is that a state society maintains peace, it settles disputes.

So nation states circumvent direct vengeance?
If you have a car crash, it's not your problem to get satisfaction from the person who broke your leg. It is, instead, the state's legal system that does that. That's why people from traditional societies move into the state society, but you don't see the flow the other way. Traditional societies recognise the benefits of state power.

    The very words "state society" will cause some people to react at freakout levels. But, it's the inevitable consequence when humans start interacting in groups larger than individual actions can adequately manage. There has to be agreement on rules and order, and people who devote time and energy to maintaining them. There are a variety of ways to constitute a 'state', from a top-down tyranny under a despot, to a democratic government, to a theocracy, and so on. We can argue all day whether a state society is inherently good or evil, but we can't ignore the fact that it offers advantages a tribal existence doesn't.

    For everyone who threatens to "Go Galt", darned few do, and they're essentially either retreating to a tribal existence, or they're moving to a state society with a different mix of rules and restrictions. Take a look at the residency requirements that this place is boasting about. The artist's concept of the community looks remarkably like a luxury prison/fortress. Unless they have plans for massive hydroponic gardens underground, they're still going to need the outside world for food at some point, not to mention medical supplies, specialized skills, etc. etc. It's a paranoid fantasy - but someone is going to be making money from it.  (UPDATE: And then there's this!)

    So, as far as taking your guns away because...Freedom! goes, it's not an either/or choice. Freedom isn't free, but not in the usual sense of requiring sacrifice. It comes down to this: all freedoms come with some kind of cost. We're haggling about the price here, and who pays it. The shooting at the Sandy Hook School puts a lot higher price on the right to bear arms than most people think should be paid. Add in the costs of arming teachers, putting armed guards in every school, and the bill is really starting to mount up.

"Why Are You Trying To Take My Guns Away?" Part Two
    The answer comes down to this. If you want to keep your guns, what is the price and who pays it?

      Let's start with a common analogy. If you want to be a car owner, you have to pass a test demonstrating your ability to operate it safely. You have to obey laws limiting what you can do with it, and where, or lose the privilege of driving. You have to accept that you can't drive certain vehicles except under very special circumstances. (Nobody gets to drive an Abrams tank to commute to work, unless they're working in a war zone.) Depending on where you live, you may be limited in how many vehicles you can keep on your property. Even if you are a safe driver, you  still have to have insurance and periodic inspections of your vehicle because accidents happen - and somebody has to pay. If you are a bad driver, you have to pay a lot more - and may even be unable to get insurance at any price. Drive recklessly, drive drunk, you can go to jail.

     No, there's no amendment dealing with cars in the constitution - not specifically. (Although if Henry Ford had been a founding father...) But, the commerce clause and others affect what you can do with a car. We have national requirements for safety, fuel economy, etc. because the cost of not regulating those items would be far higher than the benefits we get. A lot more people would be unable to live their lives without cars than would be affected if they had to live without guns. And then there's the death toll we accept even with regulation of motor vehicles. What's the cost? Who pays? We regulate motor vehicle use to strike a balance that - it is to be hoped - shares out those costs and benefits equitably.

     Let's try another analogy. Many gun owners claim the right to use deadly force in self defense. The "stand your ground" laws are based on the principle of extending that right to situations in which they feel threatened - even though there may be alternatives to using deadly force. (It's rather like the Bush Doctrine applied to individuals.)

     There is a certain class of individuals who reserve to themselves the right to resort to potentially lethal actions on a daily basis. They slice up people with knives, subject them to radiation, toxic chemicals, mind-altering drugs. They can have people locked away with just a signature on a piece of paper. They feel free to tell people what to eat, how to behave, even how to conduct their sex lives - and they demand money for all this.

      They do it all from the highest of motives. We call them doctors, nurses, healthcare workers. But before we turn them loose to exercise the power of life and death, we insist they go through years of education. They have to be certified, pass certain tests, and be subject to review. They're subject to discipline and penalities if they abuse their trust - and have to carry insurance. We tolerate their 'tyranny' because they can prove the benefits, they exercise those powers in controlled circumstances, and they accept limits on what they can do. The system isn't perfect, not all outcomes are happy ones - but the alternative of no regulation, no oversight would be far worse.

"Why Are You Trying To Take Away My Guns?" Part Three
     So, you are a gun owner, or want to be a gun owner. What do you think is a fair cost for that right, and who do you think should pay? Up to this point I've been discussing history, sociology, and making analogies. Let's talk some specifics as a starting point for regulation. The issues of gun control boil down to some basic categories: safe use, competent ownership, responsible ownership,  controlled sales, sensible limits.

Safe Use: There are differences between hunting and target shooting, hand guns and rifles, self defense and recreation and so on - but there should be a common goal. A firearm should ideally only be used under controlled conditions for a specific purpose. When hunting, it should only be at a clearly identified target in an area where hunting is allowed - and due regard for what lies beyond the target. On a range, firearms should only be fired at proper targets, with due regard for range safety and discipline. (And the range itself should be set up with all possible regard for safe use.) For self defense, it should only be in response to a clear and present danger, only if there are no alternatives, and again with due regard for the consequences of firing it. Is it really reasonable to ask for anything less when wielding deadly force?

Competent Ownership: Anyone who wants to own and/or use a gun should be prepared to demonstrate their proficiency with it on a periodic basis. They should be able to reliably hit a target under conditions appropriate for the gun's intended use and they should be able to demonstrate their ability to handle it safely. They should expect to devote a reasonable amount of time to maintaining proficiency on a regular basis. They should know how to keep a gun in good working order, and be able to recognize when it is not. We require this of military and law enforcement personnel. The need for a reasonable amount of skill is not contingent upon wearing a uniform. And anyone who wants to indulge in either open carry or concealed carry damn well better be able to demonstrate competency.

Responsible Ownership: Gun safety is not just about shooting; it's about things like storage and access. When a gun is not in the hands of a competent user under conditions where it is appropriate to fire it, it should be stored as safely as possible. This can be as basic as putting the safety on and unloading the gun when out in the field when not actively hunting, or when between target rounds on a range. It means securing it unloaded for storage, with a trigger lock and/or in a gun safe. It means restricting access to keep it out of the hands of the unqualified, the incompetent, the criminal, or the insane. It should be registered, so that in case of theft or loss it can be traced. It should be insured, not just against theft but also against the consequences of accident or misuse. We require no less for car ownership. Why should firearms be different?

Controlled Sales: There should be no exceptions to gun sales without background checks. Period. Keeping firearms out of the hands of people with criminal backgrounds, health issues (not just mental), or possible terrorist links ought to be a no brainer for obvious reasons. But that's only one side of the problem. It's also necessary to track gun sellers to see where the firearms they sell ultimately end up. This would make it possible to identify A) people buying guns for others under false pretenses and B) gun sellers who were racking up more than a reasonable share of sales that ultimately ended up in criminal hands. (The proverbial "Bad Apples" of the gun trade) If guns were only sold to people who were competent and responsible by sellers who were competent and responsible, the problem of gun violence in this country would be much smaller.

Sensible Limits: The combination of guns capable of rapid fire (semi-automatic or otherwise) with large capacity magazines has proven to be deadly on a repeated basis. There is no reasonable use in either hunting, recreational shooting, or self defense for such weapons that is commensurate with making them available for sale to the general public without restriction. They should be banned, and some scheme put in place to winnow out the existing stock from circulation. The Revolutionary War was fought with flintlocks; the Wild West tamed with six-shooters. Barring a zombie apocalypse or other paranoid fantasy, the sale of military-style killing-optimized firearms should be banned or at least highly restricted for the same reason we don't allow the general sale of machine guns, armor piercing ammunition, or flamethrowers. Ditto for bulk purchases of ammunition without some kind of scrutiny. The cost we're already paying far outweighs any potential benefits.

Making It Happen
     Implementing the five points outlined above can be done with a variety of financial incentives, legal sanctions, regulation, and common sense. Anyone who wants to argue against safe, competent, responsible gun ownership and use is either hopeless or the NRA leadership - but I repeat myself. We already have a patchwork of laws along those lines across different jurisdictions, but some obvious steps suggest themselves.

    Some system for generating and improving competency that will involve making instruction and certification widely available AND stringent enough to be effective is necessary. Most police departments have access to shooting ranges for their own needs. Some sort of modest examination fee might be charged to allow gun owners to make use of them in exchange for demonstrating competency. Something similar might be incorporated into the arrangements for getting hunting licenses. Whatever is set up should match the intended use of the firearms by their owner.

   Since there's a hue and cry to put guns in schools, why not take the logical step of incorporating it into the curriculum as an option, like say Driver Ed? By the same rationale, it's something the ever expanding network of community colleges might offer (where they don't already.) The tricky part will be to keep the gun lobby from seizing control of it. But, people who get an honest education into the responsibilities of gun ownership and a true picture of what guns can and can not do will be less likely to fall for gun industry propaganda.

   The insurance industry could have an important role to play. Requiring gun owners to carry insurance of the type described above would mean they'd have to demonstrate that they were competent in firearm ownership and safety concerns - or not be able to get insurance. Insurance companies could offer incentives for owners willing to take special classes or invest in specific safety measures. They might also serve to discourage casual ownership by people who have no real need for a gun. Plus, someone unable to qualify for insurance under these criteria probably shouldn't have a gun in the first place.

    A key element in this has to be consistent and effective enforcement of whatever mechanisms are put in place. The firearms industry has fought a back-door offensive against any kind of regulation by getting politicians to block key appointments, underfund agencies, and ban the most basic research needed to identify problems and design effective policies. It's been great for their profits, but bad for everyone else.

     The hardest part is going to be banning certain kinds of weapons. There will be a lot of arguing over what exactly should be banned, although polls show a majority in favor of some kind of ban. It's pretty clear that weapons that can be used for rapid fire and can take high capacity magazines are how mass casualties get piled up so quickly - but the quibbles will be over what "rapid" and "high capacity" means - plus the usual suspects swearing up and down that people NEED that kind of firepower for self defense. (Sean Hannity keeps talking about a woman in Georgia who emptied a handgun by putting 5 out of 6 rounds into an intruder and drove him off - but what if 3 intruders had broken in???? The merchants of fear are hard at work fighting this.)

     Something instructive can be learned from Australia. (A lot more about that at the end of this diary.) It's not enough to just ban new sales of those weapons; some kind of buy-back is needed to remove the existing weapons from circulation. It won't be cheap - but it will be far less expensive than the cost of leaving them out there. The effects in Australia were and are dramatic.

     The firearms industry and the right wing echo machine that plays to the same base have spent a lot of time and money making people afraid so they'll buy more guns (and vote for the merchants of fear.) It's not just assault weapons, etc. we need to deal with. We need to reduce the overall number of guns in circulation and incentivize people to turn them in for disposal instead of passing them on to others - again a buy back program of some kind. Perhaps a modest tax on ammunition might finance this?

     These five proposals are offered as a comprehensive framework on which to build legislation that will move us forward. The gun lobby has had its way for too long; the pendulum looks ready to swing back. With some work (including more Bully Pulpit), these ideas might help point it in the right direction.

     Granted these are ideal solutions in an imperfect world. Granted they will be difficult to implement, and will be bitterly opposed. Granted there will be failures: people will still kill people with guns and commit crimes. But - if perfection were the only acceptable answer to our problems, there is not a human being alive who could justify their existence. We can do better, so let's try, okay? Meanwhile, let me finish up with comments about a few more talking points that keep coming up.

More Guns = Less Crime. Or Does It?
    A common argument is that there is less crime where people are armed and ready to defend themselves. Fear of crime is the most commonly cited reason to own a gun - or so it seems. But how reasonable is that fear? If you listen to the Right Wing Echo Machine, crime is rampant, society is breaking down, terrorists are going to murder us in our beds, and so on. But what's the reality?

    Well, among other things there was a big rise in violent crime, starting in the 1960s and peaking in the early 90s, where it began to peter out. Rape, murder, assault - these crimes and others soared for a time, and no one quite understood why. When it began to ebb, a number of reasons were offered. In 1999 Steven Levitt suggested legalized abortion thanks to Roe V. Wade meant that a significant number of potential criminals were never born. A more humorous suggestion attributed it to the ending of prayer in schools. Rudy Giuliani claimed it was because of tough policing in NYC - but it declined everywhere else too. It also happened to take place on Bill Clinton's watch as president...

     John R. Lott Jr. has proclaimed a rise in gun ownership is behind it, by the intuitive argument that:

The evidence — and there is plenty of it — points to the very opposite, that cutting access to guns mainly disarms law-abiding citizens, making criminals' lives easier. Guns let potential victims defend themselves when the police aren't there.
     Lott goes on to argue that gun control actually increases crime, and cites a number of statistics that seem superficially relevant. There's a graph at the link that supposedly shows a correlation between gun ownership rates and homicides around the world. Closer examination shows the graph makes absolutely no sense; too many factors are ignored, and the time period it is supposed to cover is not shown. Lott, as it happens, has been caught creating false identities to bolster his claims and making up numbers and studies to 'prove' his theories. He's a fraud, but that doesn't keep gun proponents from trotting out his theories any time gun control is being discussed. Anyone who cites his work is either a fraud themselves, or sadly uninformed.

    Or is just looking for an excuse to boost gun sales.

     Be that as it may, none of the explanations for why the great crime wave crested and broke in the 1990s can convincingly explain why it did so - or why it rose in the first place. Except one that is.

     Kevin Drum over at Mother Jones has done yeoman service tying together numerous studies that tie the rise and fall in the crime rate to where it was 50 years ago largely to one factor: the use of tetraethyl lead in gasoline and its subsequent removal. America's Real Criminal Element: Lead examines the evidence.

     The changes in the crime rate track the use of lead in gasoline almost perfectly, with a roughly 20 year delay. The correlation is found around the world in all kinds of countries, and the rate of increase and decrease and the timing matches that for the use of lead in those areas. Medical research has documented that no amount of lead is safe for children (or for adults for that matter); it damages developing nervous systems in ways that lower IQ, increase aggression, damage impulse control, and lead to ADHD increases. It affects boys more than girls. Studies tracking children as they grew found that higher lead levels correlated with a greater likelihood of criminal behavior as they reached adulthood.

      Drum does note that lead is not the sole factor that needs to be considered in explaining what happened - but the evidence at this point in time clearly shows it is the most significant factor. He follows up the main article with a number of blog posts expanding on the original article and responding to several criticisms here. This is NOT something you will hear from the gun lobby or the merchants of fear.

      The connections Drum spells out between lead and crime are far more solidly documented than any claims the firearms industry might make about guns preventing crime - or the effectiveness of gun control laws. And that's because researchers were free to investigate the effects of lead. The firearms industry has deliberately blocked meaningful efforts to find out exactly what guns do or do not do to our society. Details here. That's one reason why I framed the five points above for dealing with guns in general terms. We don't know enough to get into specific details yet, but they may get us headed in the right direction.

Would You Trust A Chimpanzee With A Loaded Gun?
     The self defense argument is one that many people buy into at a very emotional level. People who've gotten a steady diet of misinformation from the merchants of fear are more than ready to turn to guns to keep themselves and their families safe. News of mass shootings and the cries of "If only someone had had a gun to stop the shooter!" feed into the fantasy that using a gun for self defense is easy. It's not.

This is the fantasy (after the commercial)

      The reality is far different. Policemen spend a lot of time training to use firearms safely and effectively - and even they have a hard time when called upon to react. When NYPD officers responded to a shooting at the Empire State Building, they took out the gun man - but they also wounded nine pedestrians. Of the 16 rounds that were fired by the two officers, nine people besides the shooter were struck with either bullets or fragments.

     There are some basic biological mechanisms that kick in when humans find themselves in a life or death situation. Blood withdraws from the extremities - making hands clumsy. Adrenaline surges, pumping up the heart rate. Vision closes down to concentrate on the threat - and surroundings disappear in a blur. Hearing becomes hyper focused, to the point where people don't hear what's going on around them. Freezing is a reaction that often takes place, or undirected flight. Policemen practice to overcome these instinctive reactions - and even they have a hard time, and have to stay current at it with regular practice.

Unless you've spent a lot of time training for this,  the painful reality is that you'll suddenly find most of your brain and your motor skills are suddenly impaired. A chimp just might have the edge on you in a shootout.

IF Guns don't kill people, people kill people, THEN guns don't make people safe; people make people safe
     Consider the classic scenario. It's night time, you're asleep. You wake because you hear a noise. It's dark, your body's rhythms are disrupted, but you still manage to find that loaded gun you keep next to the bed and you get it in your hand just as the door swings open and a shadowy figure lurches into the room. What happens next?

  It's your kid, who got lost on the way back from the bathroom and bumped into something in the hall before blundering into your room by mistake. Or substitute a wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/visitor.

It's your neighbor from next door who couldn't find his own house. It's some stranger who got lost.

Or maybe it's a real threat - from a sleepwalking child. With a gun!

Or suppose it's a real intruder; you fire a shot and frighten them off. But where did the shot go? Would your walls stop a bullet?

      The problem with having a gun in the house for 'safety' is this: the response to every possible threat (real or imagined) starts to turn around what you do with that gun. The moment you brought it through the door, you increased the odds that someone might get shot accidentally up from zero. You've increased the odds that a domestic dispute could suddenly go very bad. You have to constantly be aware of where it is, and who might get ahold of it. And if anyone in the house is feeling suicidal, you've made giving in to an impulse a lot easier...

     If you want to argue for open carry or concealed carry to take your gun along with you, well you may or may not end up safer from other people - but you'll definitely still be at risk from yourself. And so will the people around you. David Waldman has put together a depressing compilation of all the recent ways people have demonstrated being around a gun is not a way to be safer.

     If you really need a gun to feel safe, you have bigger problems than a gun is going to solve. You might consider voting against politicians who eliminate police to keep from raising taxes. You might want to encourage programs in your community that really do create jobs. You might think about Midnight Basketball. You might support giving everyone adequate health care - mental or other wise. You might think about getting some decent locks on doors and windows if nothing else.

  And you might think about getting a dog. Odds are a dog will be aware of an intruder long before you are, and will do a better job responding.

But Hitler!
     You don't have to wade far into the fever swamp to hear this justification for the right to own guns with no limits of any kind, and especially no registration or tracking of sales. The argument boils down to "If the government knows I have guns, someday the government is going to come for them. Governments always do. Therefore the government must never know."

       Usually there's some mention of Hitler at this point, the story being if the Jews had been able to fight back, Hitler would never have been able to wipe them out. And they couldn't fight back because Hitler had rounded up all the guns. Q.E.D. Forget that this is mostly bunk - it's a narrative that resonates at a deep emotional level, especially among people who are repeatedly told by the usual suspects that they are becoming a persecuted minority under an increasingly totalitarian regime. Never mind that the same people spewing this have a lot to do with building the machinery of totalitarianism into our government and normalizing its use with such blinding logic as "Do you want the terrorists to win?"

     The government is already all over us with its ability to monitor the phone system, bank records, credit card transactions, internet use, the DMV, the IRS, Social Security, and so on. Hell - FaceBook and Google alone probably know a lot more about people than they know themselves. In the modern interconnected world, there is so much information out there already, worrying about the government putting together a list of who owns what guns is redundant. That ship sailed a long time ago.

     The idea that a bunch of private citizens putting together an arsenal of weapons is going to keep the government from becoming a tyranny is a fantasy. (Yeah, like this.) I can hear the prototypical Fascist Government Stormtrooper saying "I'll see your AR-15 and raise you one AC-130. So, do ya feel lucky, punk?"

      There's a far more effective way for a persecuted minority to protect themselves from a government tyranny than putting an arsenal together. Put a few million dollars together instead, and start buying politicians, tax breaks, and legislation.  But that's a topic for a different diary...

When Guns Are Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Have Guns
      This is one of the oldest knee-jerk responses to gun regulation going. Talk about variations on a theme.

"Criminals don't obey laws."
"Gun control doesn't work."
"People will just find another way to kill people."

      You hear this all the time from the merchants of fear and the firearms industry. As mentioned above, they've deliberately worked to keep us from finding out what is effective by blocking research, and by crippling the efforts that have been made. There are profits at stake, and the desire to keep people from looking to government to actually provide answers and solve problems.

     It's impossible to get all guns out of the hands of criminals. No law will ever be completely effective. But that's not the same as saying a difference can't be made. And as it happens there is one country that HAS made a difference.


        John Howard was Prime Minister of Australia, and he described exactly what sparked action, how it was carried out, and what the payoff was in an NY Times guest editorial.

...on April 28, 1996, Martin Bryant, a psychologically disturbed man, used a semiautomatic Armalite rifle and a semiautomatic SKS assault weapon to kill 35 people in a murderous rampage in Port Arthur, Tasmania.

After this wanton slaughter, I knew that I had to use the authority of my office to curb the possession and use of the type of weapons that killed 35 innocent people. I also knew it wouldn’t be easy.


To make this plan work, there had to be a federally financed gun buyback scheme. Ultimately, the cost of the buyback was met by a special one-off tax imposed on all Australians. This required new legislation and was widely accepted across the political spectrum. Almost 700,000 guns were bought back and destroyed — the equivalent of 40 million guns in the United States.


The fundamental problem was the ready availability of high-powered weapons, which enabled people to convert their murderous impulses into mass killing. Certainly, shortcomings in treating mental illness and the harmful influence of violent video games and movies may have played a role. But nothing trumps easy access to a gun. It is easier to kill 10 people with a gun than with a knife.

emphasis added

       Howard notes that Australia is different from the U.S. in some ways - the national government isn't as strong, but neither is the gun lobby. There's nothing that quite corresponds to the bill of rights, or a "right to bear arms" so the courts don't have as much say as the legislatures over this. And there was a political cost. But the end result is hard to gainsay.

In the end, we won the battle to change gun laws because there was majority support across Australia for banning certain weapons. And today, there is a wide consensus that our 1996 reforms not only reduced the gun-related homicide rate, but also the suicide rate. The Australian Institute of Criminology found that gun-related murders and suicides fell sharply after 1996. The American Law and Economics Review found that our gun buyback scheme cut firearm suicides by 74 percent. In the 18 years before the 1996 reforms, Australia suffered 13 gun massacres — each with more than four victims — causing a total of 102 deaths. There has not been a single massacre in that category since 1996.

Few Australians would deny that their country is safer today as a consequence of gun control.

John Howard was prime minister of Australia from 1996 to 2007.

   EquationDoc has put together a diary in which he contrasts what happened at Newtown with what life is like in Australia these days.
I used to live in Connecticut. But now I live in North Melbourne, Australia, a suburb of Melbourne. I can walk to the central business district from my house in about 15 minutes, or spend six minutes on one of our world-famous trams. The population of Australia is about 22.9 million, and the Melbourne metro area has 4.1 million people. Melbourne is also among the most ethnically diverse regions on earth, with almost 40% of the area's inhabitants born overseas. We have the third largest Greek-speaking population in the world, and Nguyen is the second most common name in the phone book.

There is crime here--and there is violent crime here--but the homicide rate in Australia is less than 1/4th that in the US. The homicide rate is about 1.0 homicides per 100,000 people per year. And the firearm homicide rate is about 0.2 homicides per 100,000 people.

A double homicide--which almost never happens--is considered a massacre. It's almost impossible to legally own anything more than a single-shot firearm here--and it's pretty difficult to go on a killing spree with a single-shot .22 caliber rifle.

Melbourne's violent crime rate is a bit higher than the national average, but still nowhere near that in the US, and nowhere near that of a big city in the US. Fourteen people were murdered with firearms last year in the state of Victoria, which has about 5.6 million people. The year before? Ten. That same year, Nebraska--a state with less than 1.9 million people--had 42 homicides involving firearms. Nebraska!

     Once we cut through all the hype, the fantasies, the fear, is there any reason why we're still debating what to do about guns?

Originally posted to xaxnar on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 08:38 AM PST.

Also republished by Shut Down the NRA and Repeal or Amend the Second Amendment (RASA).


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