News and Politics

Guns – A Conversation

How dare I politicize such a tragedy? Yet survivors seem to see no issue in the matter.

In light of the most recent shooting at Margory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the conversation picked up from where it left off: How do we stop the shootings? What do we do with the 2nd amendment? Should it be changed? Erased? Emphasized?

It would be more correct to say that the conversation started again from square one. When a shooting happens, a lot of political bickering follows on every talk show and news panel on TV, every social media platform, and very little action. While the survivors mourn their peers, a political frenzy begins again.

I’d like to look at the arguments that are flying back and forth in favor of and against guns in reference to the 2nd amendment.

So there are essentially two arguments:

  1. Argument for guns: People kill people; guns do not aim and fire all on their own. People need guns to defend themselves.
  2. Argument against guns: There would be no one dying if individual citizens could not legally purchase guns or if it was far more difficult for them to buy such weapons. Only those who are trained to use them (police, military) should have guns.

When you put the two arguments together they make for a very interesting world view:

  1. For: Everyone should have guns so that no one can hurt anyone else without being able to defend themselves, or alternatively, we, the untrained masses, could possibly overtake the force of the state with our guns and thereby protect our freedom.
  2. Against: Only the government, which has a long history of violence, corruption, and oppression, should have guns.

Before I get into either, I would like to discuss the limitations on rights in general:

One thing to remember is that the second amendment is a right, which entails a duty to not infringe on the rights of others. You have this legally protected liberty if and only if you can abide by laws that protect others from your abuse of it. I have very little to say about how well this idea is adhered to, but that is the fact of the matter. If you ever wondered why certain rights are not protected, it is usually (but not always) because it interferes with the rights of someone else. For instance, one will face a penalty when screaming “fire!” in a movie theater or “riot!” in the streets, basically anything that incites violence and frenzy when there is none. There are laws against slander and libel for the same reason. Saying these things will be used against you in a court of law always because they incite danger and others will be hurt.

This is done because liberty in its purest form is the anarchy entailed in Hobbes’ state of nature and we have these rights because it was in the founding fathers greatest interest to create the least oppressive system of law while maintaining order. Some may call it the social contract we essentially hold with the government: to enter into a state, you must give up some of your liberties (my right to kill people and steal their food) for the state’s protection (I will not steal your food if you do not steal my food, and if you do I have the right to see that you face punishment.) Complications tend to lie at the axis of liberty and safety.

Where do guns fit into all of this?

The second amendment as written on the constitution currently states: “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 clearly ambiguous. Does it mean that states may have militias or that congress much have a trained militia? Does it mean that it is the right of the people to have a well-regulated militia? Does it mean that the people as a well-regulated militia may carry arms? Does it mean that individuals as well as militias may bear arms? It is a wonder that such highly educated men of the Enlightenment wrote the most important document of their country with scattered syntax. No one can decide now whether they wrote it this way so that it could apply to every generation of Americans (“living constitution”- liberal) or whether it is meant to be read the way it was written over 230 years ago (“originalism”- conservative).

How the NRA changed the right to bear arms from a collective right to an individual right. 

Anyone who has read the Constitution is well aware that majority of the document is vague and the only parts we are sure are not debatable at their core are the sections where the system of checks and balances is. The conversation about gun control began in 1934.

1939: United States v Miller – using collective rights approach, it was determined that the 2nd amendment was to ensure the effectiveness of the military.

2008: District of Columbia v. Heller – Former Justice Antonin Scalia (originalist) headed the argument (in reference to a handgun ban) that a total ban on individual handgun-ownership was invalid.

2010: McDonald v. City of Chicago – held that the Second Amendment applies to the states, giving state governments more say in gun regulation by the incorporation doctrine.

Notice there is very little here that disallows gun control. Here are some examples of state regulations decided by state courts:

  •  US v Dorosan – regulations which ban weapons on government property. (2009)
  •  US v Rene  -regulations which ban the illegal possession of a handgun as a juvenile, convicted felon. (2009)
  • Kachalsky v County of Westchester – regulations which require a permit to carry concealed weapon. (2012)

The argument that ‘people don’t kill people, guns kill people’ seems so simple. Of course a bullet won’t just fly out a gun and kill someone out of nowhere. But people invented guns. People make guns more dangerous and more high tech weapons are discussed every day. The military-industrial complex is made up of people who make a lot of money selling guns, generally to both sides of the battle. Seventeen high school freshman aged 14-15 were murdered by a boy who held a gun. For gun-lovers, this argument will always be wrong. For liberals, it is a flawed argument.

It’s very simple to say “it’s not guns…” per se. Other things kill people too, like domestic violence, bombs, poison, pills, alcohol, car crashes, heart disease, lightning, drowning, etc. So we have to ask why guns are so unique. I like to think because of the great range and speed they allow for murder, but that’s not a good reason to support them. The rhetoric becomes not support for guns, but against taking them away or following heavier regulations to own one.

It is perhaps my favorite argument against gun regulation that guns have nothing to do with the recurring violence on schoolchildren and concert goers. It’s not the weapon, it’s the one holding it and the state of the perpetrator’s mind. They were driven to act this way because they needed psychological help. No one paid attention and it ended in tragedy. How odd it is that they assume one’s psychological state is more obvious than the purchasing of multiple firearms and/ or open threats on social media platforms.

I don’t even want to discuss the fact that it now seems that the FBI was red-flagged and failed to prevent this.

So, those who are mentally unstable should be kept away from firearms if we don’t want them killing people but gun-ownership regulation is un-American.

Thus the rhetoric becomes that the plan of preventing shootings depends on determining who should and should not own one , but it is unacceptable that government should decide who should and who should not own one.

A Picture of Mental Health

If it isn’t the guns killing people and it is the people killing people, we should look at who would kill other people and why. I see this as being composed of two possibilities: the environment in which one lives and learns or the psychological disposition to violence. These probably interact so much so that there is no way to pinpoint which is the singular cause.

“Suicide occurs throughout the lifespan and is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds globally.”

“Suicide and homicide were the second and third leading causes of death, respectively, among teens ages 15 to 19, after unintentional injury, in 2014.[1] Firearms were the instrument of death in 88 percent of teen homicides and 41 percent of teen suicides in 2014…Although other teens are the perpetrators of many of the homicides of teens below age 18, two-thirds of the murderers are eighteen or older.

And on the causes:

Mood disorders, such as depression, dysthymia, and bipolar disease, are major risk factors for suicide among children and adolescents.[6]One study found that more than 90 percent of children and adolescents who committed suicide had some type of mental disorder.[7] Stressful life events and low levels of communication with parents may also be significant risk factors.”

If the cause is the environment (while not being attributable to guns in any way), then we should look at the environment. What is America like for young kids growing up? Would the childhood of the shooter tells us anything about how to prevent shootings? Things we could ask:

  • Are they feeling isolated and want to be noticed?
  • Are they being abused and want misdirected retribution?
  • Are they under a lot of pressure causing them to lash out?

This conversation with any shooter may remain unlikely until after the fact. These answers are generally found after a suicide attempt has already been made.

I attribute this to the general individualistic nature of the conservative ideology. In terms of conservatives being so quick to blame the mental health of shooters for murders, we should ask why it is they aren’t marching in the streets for background checks, you know, so shootings can be preventable as opposed to an afterward explanation of the shooters motive. Even if mental health is the problem, would it not have been significantly less of a problem if the one who had mental health problems also had no access to a gun?

Would it not make more sense to push for background checks? Isn’t the whole point of a gun so you can feel safe? If this is so, why not push for more regulation so that it is the sane and stable buying guns rather than anyone who is just collecting his/her born-right? Why can’t owning a killing machine be slightly more of a privilege? The arguments the opposition puts forth give them the appearance that they have something to hide and that is why they don’t approve of regulation.

The only argument that works against gun regulation is the idea of the government being the only one who may own them, which in itself is a straw-man fallacy argument because it is an argument against banning guns. Of course it could happen that if guns were only purchasable by police, military and government officials, there would be nothing standing in the way of the total and utter oppression and subjugation whenever  civilians disagreed with anything the government did. Of course that could happen, but we say the same thing to radicals on both sides of the radical spectrum: democracy works in compromises.

So I say to the students protesting and the teachers walking out and the crowds obstructing the government buildings: congrats. It’s about fucking time.



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