Saturday, December 15, 2012

Newtown and the aftermath, and finding the negotiable points regarding gun control in the U.S., as opposed to just making more noise

I wasn't originally planning on saying anything about yesterday's awful shooting in Connecticut, except two things: (1) to wish the best for the survivors, their families and the families of the deceased; I can't really begin to comprehend what it must be like to lose one's five-year-old child to a bullet. And (2) to credit a lot of heroic teachers/school-staff and first responders. The tales are still emerging of school-district employees plucking children out of harm's way. It makes you think that maybe, just maybe, the world is not *just* an awful place full of awful people. Nihilistic thoughts don't do much for my mood, but their attraction in times of hideous behavior is, unfortunately, deep and powerful. I'd rather think that most people are better than all that, or that at least some of them are, or, at the very least, that there is an outstanding group of five to ten percent that lead the way to good in times of bad. There was some amazing human spirit shown in Newtown yesterday amidst the correspondingly worst side of one person's humanity.

But then, I got onto Facebook. And I saw a lot of political posturing. My first reaction to that posturing was not a positive one. You might think, person on the left or the right, that your motives are pure and humanitarian when you leap onto this type of tragedy and start suggesting the need for -- or, on the other side, the lack of need for -- legislative solution to some (or all) issues related to guns in the U.S. of A.

And mostly, whether you were coming from the left or the right on that issue yesterday, I will respect the fact that you probably *thought* you were doing the right thing. I didn't find it terribly helpful though. I found it reactionary, in the purest sense of the word. Grab the tragedy and make political hay of it. Even with the best of motives, it was a little gross and unseemly, on both sides of the gun-rights issue.

But, lord knows, that unseemliness is, as the kids say, "viral" today. I have seen variations of these buttons on the FB in lots of folks' feeds today, and, in some instances, they have adopted the button of their liking as their profile photo. Awesome.

So I will give up on the notion of suggesting that we all take a little time out from turning tragedy into political theatre, even with the best of motives.

Instead, I might as well talk about the subject that you folks were all hot to get on yesterday: gun control. But I want to come at it from a little different perspective.

There is a talk-radio guy named Michael Smerconish who runs his show out of Philly. I generally agree with much of his take on many issues. He tacks toward the political center on many points, finding fault with the right and the left. But, most importantly, I like his *presentation* of issues whether I agree with his view or not. His governing motto is: "Angry is over."

Sadly, when it comes to a lot of political issues -- but particularly, maybe more than any other, gun control -- angry is a long way from over. There is a lot of hysteria.

Generally speaking, when attempting to convince those who disagree with you on anything -- but especially hot-button issues -- that they might need to rethink their position, leading with invective isn't going to accomplish anything. So, really, if you think that either "Fuck guns" or "Fuck gun control" is going to be a winning motto, or, more importantly, a way to get the conversation started, you are likely to be wrong.

So let's begin the conversation, instead of by screaming at each other, with a couple basics on gun issues here in the U.S.

-- Despite the wishes/beliefs of the hard left to the contrary, there is -- not because I say so, but, rather, because the U.S. Supreme Court says so -- a constitutional right to own some sort of gun in one's home. You can love that D.C. v. Heller ruling; you can hate it. Your view of it is, however, irrelevant. It is a fact because, like all constitutional facts, the Supreme Court is the last word on such things, and they have spoken. But, before you have a small fit about militias and all that, let's move to the next point....

-- Despite the wishes/beliefs of the hard right, beyond the act of outright *banning* the ownership of basic firearms -- handguns, standard-issue hunting rifles and shotguns (and quite likely *not* military/"assault" weapons) -- most other gun-control measures are fair game for the political process. This means that, democracy being what it is, legislatures at the State and federal level are able to weigh in on what is a desirable, in their view, level of regulating the practical application of the constitutional right to own guns. Again, you don't have to agree; it doesn't matter whether you agree. It is a constitutional fact at this point, because the guys and girls in the black robes say so.

So, believing that pie-in the-sky theorizing and bloviation gets one nowhere without a healthy dose of practicality, I propose the following:

If we are going to debate gun-control measures, let's get rid of phrases like, "Fuck guns," and, correspondingly, "Fuck gun control." First of all, that sort of talk isn't going to do any more than preach to the choir on your side of the issue while simultaneously offending the people you are trying to convince to change their minds. But, more importantly, the ship has sailed on both of those points of view here in the United States. Gun ownership is not only a fact of life; it is a constitutional right. Because the Supreme Court says so. But that right is subject to reasonable regulation. Because the Supreme Court says so.

So let's debate what reasonable regulations are without the invective, but, even more importantly, let's debate it within the strictures of how the Supreme Court has set up the issue for us.

When we do that, we quickly have to take a big point for gun-control advocates off the table: a ban on handguns.

It can't happen, not because I say so, but because that is exactly what was rejected in the Heller case. So forget it. That's gone. Put away all the studies that cite Canada and Europe and the sensibility of handgun bans. Sensibility has nothing to do with it. We live in a post-Heller nation where basic gun ownership, including handguns, is a right guaranteed by the constitution. You don't have to like it, but if you want to talk gun control in the U.S., you have to accept it and move on to the next point.

When you take handgun bans off the table, what are you potentially left with in terms of gun control? A lot, in a sense. You can talk about restrictions on military-style weapons, types of ammunition, sizes of clips and magazines, background checks, etc. and *that's* when you finally (Finally!) get to the only viable areas of debate, but I say "in a sense" for a reason: I am not actually sure that most of those restrictions really *do* anything (although really strong background checks are, in my opinion, probably the best of the bunch).

And, correspondingly, I'm not sure that they *don't*, either. I think it is a fair point of debate. I know that, at least as I understand it, at least one of the weapons used yesterday was an AR-15 that is illegal to own in Connecticut under their state assault-weapons ban. If that's true, that wasn't a very effective ban. Would it be more effective if it were nationwide, i.e., federal? I don't know. Do stats bear out that the prior federal assault-weapons ban reduced the number of gun deaths, or did it just switch the lethal weapon of choice from an illegal assault weapon to a constitutionally-protected handgun or shotgun? I don't know that either. What about those background checks? Lord knows, El Al hyperscreens its air passengers on the spot in this, The Computer Age. Couldn't we do that with a gun purchase? Again, I don't know. But *these* are the points, all of which focus on effective *and* constitutional gun-control measures, that need to be debated and researched.

And they need to be debated calmly and rationally within the bounds of Heller. So, lefty friends, let's excise the phrases "Fuck guns" and "Ban all (hand)guns" from your negotiating stance. Righty friends, let's get rid of "Fuck gun control" at the same time. There is going to be *some* level of gun control in this country and, yet, it isn't going to be as much as the left wants. That's a cold hard fact. So let's focus on efficacy within the legal bounds that the Court has set up for us, and leave the invective at home. I don't know if a reasonable solution is out there, but I *do* know that there is no other way that there is a chance of finding it.

UPDATE: as it turns out, that AR-15 was legally-owned, i.e. not covered by the assault-weapons ban, which begs the question of what kind of ban that was anyway. It also points out a sad truth that trying to ban weapons by description is a tough thing to do effectively.

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