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GUN CONTROL HAS BEEN MUCH IN THE NEWS LATELY, and I thought I’d share some thoughts about it. If this diary seems a bit muddled or indecisive, it’s not an accident — it reflects some real ambivalence I have about this.

Some of that ambivalence comes from the makeup of my extended family.

Mom’s side of the family is primarily rural. Mom grew up in a small agricultural town, Arroyo Grande, on California’s Central Coast, in the 1930s. On Mom’s side of the family, a significant fraction of my aunts, uncles and cousins are farmers, dairymen, ranchers and so on.

On Mom’s side of the family, gunfire has benign associations — my Aunt Virginia and Uncle Leonard raised seven children; their three boys went deer hunting with their father at an early age, and they all remember fondly when they got their first buck. For people in their community (and in similar rural communities all across the United States) the opening day of deer season is a de facto holiday, with local shops closed and school out, since practically everyone in town heads into the hills with a rifle early that morning.

In short, when people in Mom’s and Aunt Virginia’s and Uncle Leonard’s community hear gunfire, it might provoke a smile and perhaps curiosity about whether the neighbor kid finally managed to bag a deer after a couple of luckless seasons.

My Dad’s side of the family is much more urban. Dad grew up in Chicago; his father was an immigrant from Ireland who worked his way up from a welder in the Chicago shipyards to being chief welding estimator by the time he retired in the 1960s.
Gunfire was nowhere near as common as people think in Chicago in the 1930s (contra the impression created by a million gangster movies like “The Untouchables”), but if you did hear gunfire, it usually meant Something Had Gone Terribly Wrong. It meant murder — either attempted or accomplished.

I know that feeling. I’ve mentioned before that I spent my formative years in Richmond, California, so I feel a deep connection to that city. In the last 10 years, Richmond has suffered anywhere from 18 to almost 50 murders a year, the vast majority of which involved firearms of one sort or another. (By comparison, in the last 10 years, London, England in its worst year had 200 murders — four times Richmond’s worst year in the same time period. But London has approximately 80 times the population.) I never personally witnessed a murder when I lived in Richmond, but dear friends I had there have been claimed by that horrible crime, and I have comforted the survivors of those and other murders.

So, in urban areas, guns and gunfire have very different associations and meanings than they do in more rural places. And I think the urban/rural divide explains the bitter divisions that characterize the gun control debate in the United States.

And what has become abundantly clear in recent weeks — if it wasn’t already — is that there is no easy solution.

The urban/rural divide goes back a long way in this country — all the way back to our founding, in fact. It was a factor in how the founders structured the government. The House of Representatives was heavily tilted in favor of the more populous states, since the number of representatives each state has is determined by that state’s population; California, for example, has more votes in Congress than all the other states from the Rockies to the Pacific combined. The Senate, however, is where rural states even the playing field: Every state gets two senators, whether its population numbers in the millions or it is small enough that its two senators played against each other in a high school championship game.

My family background has members on both sides of the urban/rural divide, and that background has shown me that both sides in this debate are often talking past each other, with no attempt by either side to truly understand the position of the other.

All that said, let me now say this: I think, on balance, that this is one battle in which justice favors the urban states, but what I’m going to propose needs to take account of the needs and (reasonable) fears of both sides.

Speaking of fears, allow me a quick aside to address something I keep hearing from a certain small but significant subset of the pro-gun folks: that an armed citizenry is our best defense in the event our government becomes tyrannical.

I say the following as someone who served four years in the United States Army in a combat arms role and got a good, close look at the glittering array of death-dealing machinery that our tax dollars have bought huge piles of. I'm going to put this as succinctly and clearly as I can: If the people I see on TV talking about the “Tree of Liberty being watered with the blood of tyrants” were to (yes, this is utterly ridiculous) actually succeed in beginning the Great Birther and Anti-Kenyan Rebellion of 2013, and the U.S. military were given free rein to use all that previously mentioned hardware to suppress the uprising, the result would be beyond doubt: the rebels would be absolutely annihilated. I mean, seriously, guys. Your duck guns and deer rifles — heck, even .50 caliber Barrett sniper rifles and home-made pipe bombs — would be up against the 82nd Airborne Division, the U.S. Marine Corps, the Air Force, armored divisions, cluster bombs, artillery, predator drones, B-52 raids, and so on. Capisce?

It’s time for all of us to learn: The best defense against tyranny is not an armed citizenry. It is an educated citizenry.

Anyway, back to my position on gun control: I think this is one where the rural states need to agree to some reasonable controls, for the benefit of their fellow citizens who suffer not just more or less regular massacres like Sandy Hook and Columbine, but also the less-talked-about but in its way more heartbreaking violence in places like Richmond and South-Central Los Angeles. I’ll have more on this in part 2.

Originally posted to mftalbot on Thu May 09, 2013 at 11:06 AM PDT.

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

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Glen The Plumber, coquiero, CwV

    The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts. -Bertrand Russell

    by mftalbot on Thu May 09, 2013 at 11:06:59 AM PDT

  •  mftalbot - We will never have another (3+ / 0-)

    armed rebellion in the US, and I personally have never owned a gun. I have the deepest respect for our military and saw what overwhelming fire power can do on the battlefield, having served from 1969-1975. But if the US military can easily overwhelm any lightly armed, irregular, force what happened in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan?

    "let's talk about that"

    by VClib on Thu May 09, 2013 at 11:19:12 AM PDT

    •  I do not disagree with your point... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      coquiero, mftalbot

      but in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the U.S. did not have the kind of intelligence on the enemy as they have on us right now.  

      That being said, I do not believe we will ever have an armed rebellion in the US again either.

      "Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not YET sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favour..."

      by Buckeye Nut Schell on Thu May 09, 2013 at 12:07:00 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  The difference... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      coquiero, Buckeye Nut Schell that the foreign places you mention are, in fact, foreign. We were in their turf. A better analogy might be Soviet-era Russia, where no significant armed rebellion gained a foothold after the Russian Civil War ended in victory for the communists.

      The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts. -Bertrand Russell

      by mftalbot on Thu May 09, 2013 at 12:42:10 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  There's a difference between a rural (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Glen The Plumber, mftalbot

    resident who sees guns as a tool, and has a few guns around for various purposes, and those who amass arsenals of weapons and ammo.

    I've seen some people say it's a hobby, but I don't think the 2nd amendment was written to deal with hobbies.  Not a hobby where a consumer buys as many guns as he or she can, just because they want them.

    When you point out that nobody needs 30 guns, they say, "well, I don't have to justify my need to anyone.  I can have 30 guns if I want."

    Rural gun culture is as old as this country--I get that and honestly have a lot of respect for it.  I do NOT get this new gun culture, which seems less rural to me these days as it is exurbs.

    Anyone who has 30 guns and doesn't see anything wrong with that is a problem for this country, and I really don't see that as a rural/urban divide thing.

    People refuse to be reasonable, and they get all up in arms (no pun intended) when the people say they want the government to force them to be reasonable.  It's crazy.

    I blog about my daughter with autism at her website

    by coquiero on Thu May 09, 2013 at 11:27:01 AM PDT

  •  When they say they will fight tyranny (4+ / 0-)

    Keep firmly in mind that when gun enthusiasts say they need their guns to fight against a tyrannical government, they mean shooting at people like yourself who serve in the military.

    In order to use their guns to fight against a tyrannical government, these patriots mean to shoot at government authorities.  And that means local police, FBI, National Guard troops, and military personnel.

    Now I myself have a hard time according the label "patriot" to someone who is contemplating making an armed attack on police, federal law enforcement, or US military personnel.

    "The fool doth think he is wise: the wise man knows himself to be a fool" - W. Shakespeare

    by Hugh Jim Bissell on Thu May 09, 2013 at 11:29:04 AM PDT

    •  Hugh - I agree that there are some militia types (0+ / 0-)

      who are scary. My only comment was in relationship to the statement that those who keep arms would be quickly overwhelmed by the US armed forces. All I remember is that those guys in the black PJs, after I had brought down the wrath of God on them with artillery, gun ships, and even fast movers, always came up shooting. People who just dismiss, out of hand, how lethal a lightly armed irregular forces can be take them too lightly. In addition, the armed forces could not be used in the US because of the Posse Comitatus Act, so the initial response would be the local police.

      My comment was in no way defending those who would take up arms against the US government.

      "let's talk about that"

      by VClib on Thu May 09, 2013 at 12:18:59 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Remember though, (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        That in these conflicts like VietNam and Iraq, we were not on our home turf.
        Those impoverished brown people were defending their home. They knew the lay of the land, both literally and figuratively, we didn't.
        But in a homeground war, that disparity is gone. And it then gets down to weapons, training and organization, all of which the military owns by comparison to the TeaBaggers and assorted gunloons.

        If I ran this circus, things would be DIFFERENT!

        by CwV on Thu May 09, 2013 at 12:43:06 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  CwV - at least initially the US armed forces (0+ / 0-)

          could not be used because of the Posse Comitatus Act. The militias would be fighting on their own turf, and against local police and sheriffs. Look the havoc one ex-LA police officer caused in Big Bear California or the two bombers in Boston.

          "let's talk about that"

          by VClib on Thu May 09, 2013 at 12:50:11 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

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