Saturday, December 15, 2012

Let’s talk

The old sodbuster was sitting in the booth next to The Boy and I at Denny’s last night. He was alone, and I had him pegged as a widower. It looked like the seat across from him was still occupied in his mind. It made me sad, but it had been a sad day.

After we ordered, he started up a conversation—this happens a lot when we’re out in public and The Boy is in his martial arts uniform.

After a couple minutes of friendly chit-chat, he shakes his head and asks me what the hell about the shootings in Connecticut.

I pause to choose my words carefully, then proceed to say something about guns. His hackles go up and the mood shifts to adversarial just that quick. He assures me the problem is not guns.

And there we were. A microcosm of the gun debate in America; an old Idaho farmer and a hippie from California. Obviously, rapprochement would be impossible from this point and we would part with hard feelings, convinced the other one was an irredeemable asshole.

But like I said, it was already a sad day, and I didn’t want to throw down with this lonely old dude sitting alone at a four-top in a greasy spoon in the middle of Nowhere. So I tried something different.

I told him that I thought the Second Amendment was just fine as it is—a bit of a stretch, but compromise often requires some truth-bending—and that people shouldn’t be so quick to mess with the Constitution willy-nilly.

And suddenly I was at least a semi-reasonable guy to this fellow again. He agreed heartily with my assessment of the sanctity of the U.S. Constitution. Then he spoke about guns in American tradition and hunting and all that good stuff. I nodded, my face a case study in compassionate understanding.

After agreeing with him, I said something like, “But I don’t see why someone would need an AK47 and a hundred-round clip for hunting. Do you? For one thing it wouldn’t be sporting, for another you wouldn’t be able to eat the meat!”

After we shared a good chuckle at that image (KA-BLOOOEY! Carnage everywhere—haw haw haw) he took a moment to think, then agreed with me. Then we agreed that kind of automatic weaponry was probably really overkill for home protection, too.

I said, “We ought to leave the Constitution alone and pass some laws outlawing weapons that should only be used in warfare.” This guy must have seen some combat, he was so quick to agree. He probably hadn’t thought of it in those terms before.

Then he shook his head and said that even if such laws were passed and enforced, essentially the genie was out of the bottle. These guns were everywhere already.

I agreed and added, “We can’t solve today’s problem right away, but maybe we can begin to solve tomorrow’s problem right away.”

I went on. “The kind of weapons we’re talking about are sophisticated, precision machines, you can’t just crank ’em open and oil ’em up and they’re good to go. If new sales of these guns and ammo packages stop, after a couple generations the ones in circulation will start breaking down, the parts to fix them will be black market and crazy expensive and the people with expertise will also be few and far between and priced out of the average spree-killer’s ‘revenge’ budget. Time will finish what legislation begins.”

That made sense to him. Preserve his right to keep and bear arms, but do what we could to get and keep urban warfare ordnance off of the streets, even if it doesn’t happen until some far-flung, optimistic future.

And right there, in a Dennys in Meridian, Idaho, bi-partisan, compromise consensus was reached on one of the hottest-button issues of the day between two parties who started out with diametrically opposing views… until they started talking to each other.

Taking the guns out of gun violence

It’s past time to look gun violence in this country in the face and concede that ‘guns’ are a big part of ‘gun violence.’

I’m not interested in repeating talking points. Everybody already knows their side’s sound bytes and slogans and use them as bludgeons to raise a din so loud they don’t have to pay any attention to the other guy’s shouted recitations of his canned rhetoric.

The pure fact is that the problem of gun-spree killings has at least three major ‘enabling’ components, two of which aren’t immediately solvable, which makes addressing the remaining fixable component so absolutely imperative.

First, let’s throw out component one: Crazy people. We are stuck with them. Some of them just can’t be made better. And you never know who is going to snap and when; lots of crazy people look just you and me. Crazy people are our x factor.

Since we can’t eliminate this part of the problem, what can we do to ameliorate it?

This brings us directly to the second intractable part of the problem: The media, who invariably spend days in the aftermath of these horrible crimes making a celebrity out of the killer. Who is he? Why did he do it? What did his hair look like? Let’s ask Dr. Oz what he thinks about the killer’s childhood… It’s already begun.

Lionizing these murderous creeps is the most contemptible kind of irresponsibility. People should have to search court records to discover their names. Considering most of these criminals are suicidal loner-types looking for attention in the worst way possible, robbing them of the posthumous notoriety they crave would eliminate at least some of their motivation to kill.

But because of the First Amendment—a very fine amendment indeed—we can’t require the media to be responsible. They will continue to run with “If it bleeds, it leads,” as they always have, at least until somebody finds a way to make money out of exercising responsible restraint.

All that’s left, all that can be addressed legislatively and enforced legally, is component three: Guns. Not their existence or even their proliferation, but their firepower. A very reasonable argument could be made that while the government has a responsibility to ensure the protections of the Second Amendment, that responsibility comes along with an obligation to limit private citizens’ access to weapons appropriate to hunting or home protection, not urban crowd pacification.

On the same day as the Connecticut shooting, someone in China went on an eerily similar rampage, resulting in 23 injuries. This person was as obviously unbalanced as the attacker in America, so why only injuries but no deaths? Because the Chinese assailant was armed with a knife, not a duffel bag of automatic weaponry and hundred-round clips.

As I’ve written in the past, I am all for an Originalist interpretation of the Second Amendment, ie: All citizens of legal age who pass a background check and aren’t felons ought to be able to own a gun of the sort available in 1791, when the amendment was added to the Constitution. Single-loading rifles and pistols. Weapons appropriate for hunting, or home defense.

If I can’t own a nuke or a bazooka, why can I own an AK47? Some restrictions are already in place and the Second Amendment remains solid as a rock. This slope is not so slippery as we have been led to believe.

People are already scolding me, “Don’t turn this into a political thing!”

But it is a political thing. It is uniquely and precisely a political thing.

Because gun laws are made and enacted by politicians. And politicians, especially members of the House of Representatives—because they have to run for reelection every two years and are perpetually in fear for their jobs—are in the thrall of a single lobbying organization, the National Rifle Association.

The NRA not only has an apparently inexhaustible cash reserve to funnel to the campaigns of lawmakers in their favor, but even more importantly, can legitimately impact voter turnout in the gerrymandered warrens of rural America. If guns are on the ballot, you can bet your life the NRA is going to motivate bodies to the polls.

The NRA accomplishes this at a grass-roots level by convincing gun owners that even the mere discussion of gun policy will necessarily represent the first step off the slippery slope I mentioned earlier that will inevitably, they assert, end in the government’s seizure of all our guns.

That’s an awful lot of a lot of certainty for a theory that remains—at 230+ years and counting—the purest speculation. The government is barely even going after stoners’ stashes anymore, they’re not about to arm up and try to relieve antsy gun owners of their heavy artillery.

Recently, in the face of national financial catastrophe, a few pragmatic politicians on both sides of the aisle have broken ranks and begun to distance themselves from anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist’s non-binding ‘pledge’ to never raise taxes.

And by heaven, the Union stands! The skies didn’t open up and weep blood, the mountains didn’t split asunder… The only danger their actions created was the danger that something might actually get done in Washington.

Compromise isn’t the end of democracy, it’s the glue that holds it together.

There doesn’t appear to be much anyone can do to eliminate the escalating occurrences of mass gun violence, but with more/some/any media restraint and a little bit of sensible guns-and-ammo regulations, we could definitely lower the killers’ profiles and decrease their body count.

Instead of trying to take the ‘gun’ out of ‘gun violence,’ let’s change the conversation to ways of taking the guns out of gun violence.