I am pleased that the gun debate continues in the United States. I am saddened that it takes the killing of children in school to reignite it from time to time, and wish it would continue without any tragic events. I think we’re making a fundamental mistake in the approach though, much like the mistake many make when talking about curing cancer. There is not one cancer, there are many cancers. An effective treatment for one type of cancer may have no effect on another. Likewise, there are many issues related to gun safety, and what might prevent injury or deaths caused by one of those issues could be quite different from what is needed to prevent harm from another. But when somebody proposes something that might help one cause, it is dismissed because it won’t help all causes, so we end up talking past each other. I think recognizing that is an important step forward.
Anybody who knows me will know that I crave explanations. It’s likely one of the things that’s so appealing to me about being a scientist. I’ve written about the confusion between explaining and justifying before. In fact, a post about this was one of the first things I wrote for Hitting Bregma. As much as I hate it, so many things go unanswered. Last night, many witnessed the deadliest mass shooting in America’s history. What we think we know is that a man named Stephen Paddock opened fire from a hotel room into a country music concert below. As of now, 58 are dead and more than 500 injured (unclear how many were injured by gunshot, and how many were injured in the frenzy during the shooting). This horrific event seems, at least for now, without explanation. For me, that makes it even worse than it already is.
Bad things happen. Tragedies happen. When they happen, it’s good to help those affected, and it’s good to think about ways to prevent those things from happening again. If they can’t be prevented, it’s good to think about ways to protect us from the damage they cause in the future. These seem like normal responses, yet so often, doing these things gets blasted as an attempt to politicize a tragedy. I really don’t like that critique, and the critique itself seems to be more “political” than actually talking about solutions and prevention.
It’s almost impossible to be politically aware these days and not think much about guns and the second amendment. Support for second amendment rights is almost a shibboleth for somebody’s standard as a true conservative, and support for gun control laws is nearly ubiquitous among liberals. This has been a topic of discussion/debate many times in my spheres, and I’ve had a fair amount of time to think about issues related to guns and the second amendment. Given the renewed interest in the topic after the awful attack on republican members of Congress (at baseball practice), I thought I’d put some of my thoughts down, as disorganized as they may be. So here goes, in no particular order.
[Edit: I’m sure this is rough. I didn’t proofread it before publishing. It’s not supposed to be for anybody else’s consumption anyway. Perhaps I’ll go back and fix it, but if this note is still here, that hasn’t happened yet. For now it’s just a first draft, and a hope at some relief that never seems to come.]
The last week has been full of sadness. We’ve had stories of people dying at the hands of what seem to be poorly trained police officers (although I’m the first to admit that I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a cop), and just last night, at an overwhelmingly peaceful protest about those deaths, madmen struck and shot and killed police officers. Officers who were not involved in any of these horrible stories (and even if they were, it wouldn’t justify killing them), officers who were clearly part of the community, and who were there to help the protesters exercise their first amendment right to assemble. There seemed to be no animosity between the protesters and the police. I’m not sure why that matters to me, but I think it makes it especially sad that the shooting happened there, in a place, Dallas, that has a reputation for making it work, and making it work well.
I try to keep emotion out of this blog, in fact, that’s kind of the rule here, but I’m not sure I can keep it out of this one, and it’s my blog…really my diary, so I can break the rules when I want.
I, and many others, have been sickened by the calls to ban Muslims from coming to the United States, and I’ve written plenty (here, here, and here) about these fears and how sad the blatant bigotry makes me. In response to calls for civility, and calls to stop being bigoted about Muslims, some gun owners have responded (acting like hated victims, another theme I covered earlier here and here) by trying to draw a similar comparison with gun control advocates.
Although I see their point, and understand where they’re coming from, there are some pretty big flaws in the comparison, with a dash of straw man in the mix.
…In fact, it’s incredibly complicated, at least in the United States. Like it or not, wish it were true or not, we have a history of gun rights in the United States. The Second Amendment of the Constitution does not actually establish that right, but it makes its existence clear, and makes it unconstitutional to infringe that right. “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.”
This is not unlike the way that other rights were described in the Constitution. The First Amendment, for example: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”