Gun Control: Debating Myself

Gun control is in some ways a uniquely American problem, but it also touches on many of the fundamental questions of government, most notably: Freedom vs. Security. But that debate is muddled by the nature of a gun. A fake coin toss allowed Gun Rights the first turn in the debate. Gun Rights will be played by ME. Gun Control will be played by Mark (my alter-ego). So, let’s begin.

ME- Anti-Gun Control Intervention:

1) The Philosophy of Freedom. As human beings, we crave freedom; and as Americans, we believe in the principles of the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They are the bases of the creation of our nation, but also the value(s) we espouse as universal. So, fundamentally, if my specific decisions do not infringe on anyone else’s specific abilities to live, be free, or pursue their own goals and property, then why should you... or the government have a say in my actions? More pointedly, why should the government have a say in whether I lawfully own (and use) a gun? It’s just a thing that I can have, like a car or a couch or a knife; any one of those can be dangerous. And cars kill as many people as guns do.

2) The Law of the Land. The founding fathers and the original colonists cared so much about the specific right to own a gun that they included it in the Bill of Rights (and if order counts, it’s listed second). The Supreme Court, our nation’s ultimate arbiter, has repeatedly come to the conclusion that the Second Amendment protects this fundamental right of gun ownership. This means that our nation’s foundational laws specifically prevented the government from limiting our right to own guns. So, it becomes more difficult to compare guns to cars, which do not have a similar level of constitutional protection. And along the same lines, while there may be few practical differences between guns and other dangerous weapons (like bombs), other weapons are not afforded constitutional protection.

3) The Practicality of Guns. When people tell you there’s no reason to own a gun or to own an assault rifle, they are discounting and minimizing some legitimate meaningful considerations. Here are some practical purposes for guns: protection (from a criminal, groups of criminals, from the possibility of a future corrupt totalitarian government, or the potentiality of foreign invaders), the feeling of safety and control (which is important for psychological and emotional health), hunting, other sport(s) and activities, and gun collection (or to impress others). Each of these are sufficient practical reasons to permit gun ownership. And frankly, if the Government comes to our homes en masse, demanding guns from otherwise law abiding citizens, that is impractical and dangerous. Such actions are not just physically dangerous to everyone involved, but also dangerous in the sense that it may turn otherwise law-abiding citizens into essentially ex-post facto criminals for something they purchased (sometimes decades earlier) and possessed legally only days before. And that’s not to mention the thousands of people that would perceive anyone coming to demand their gun as a threat to themselves and/or risking the security of their families. Many people would take that quite seriously, creating a dangerous situation.

4) Good Guys with Guns. Criminals have access to guns on the black market; law abiding citizens do not buy guns illegally. So, to deny good guys (like ME) access to a gun is over-correcting and under-performing. Locations with the highest gun crime volumes tend to be cities that prevent gun ownership altogether (or make the barriers to ownership dispositive) like Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C.; and similarly, cities that have the highest gun crime rates (per capita) also frequently have stringent gun control, like DetroitInternational gun control laws are not predictive of lower crime rates. So, while restricting legal gun access may not reduce crime rates, it will certainly reduce my ability (and/or my perceived ability) to protect myself from such crime. It is counter-intuitive to try to stop bad people from committing crimes by keeping guns away from good people. (On a macro-scale, when dangerous countries gained access to nuclear weapons, the U.S. did not abandon our nuclear weapons... we flaunted our nuclear weapons to discourage others from using those weapons against us.) Also, 3-D printers may soon be more available and give criminals even greater access to un-licensed and un-registered guns, while law abiding citizens without guns will be ill prepared to meet such a threat. Further, restrictions based upon FBI watch lists or “no-fly” lists are disconcerting. There are due process issues and interference with government investigation issues. Moreover, if this list was compiled during a particularly frenetic era, it may be over-inclusive and over-restrictive (e.g. if a certain candidate becomes president, he (or she) may try to expand such a list to minimize access to guns (and flight, despite another fundamental right to travel) for individuals with certain racial, religious, or ethnic backgrounds)). Thus, we should be restrictive with any limitations on gun access. 

5) Violence and Values. You heard the dogmatic mantra, guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Well, here’s where it bears fruit. There are certainly more guns now than there were decades ago, but there was equal, if not greater, unfettered access to guns back then. (While guns have improved, their functionality is fairly similar.) Yet, gun violence increased over the course of the decades (peaking in the 1990s). The substantive changes are in our culture. There has been a glorification of violence and even criminality with our collective cultural heroes (real and fictional) in Bonnie & Clyde, Michael Corleone, Tony Montana, Stringer Bell, etc. (and counter-cultural icons who became famous for flouting the law and authority), the increased access to violence in video games, and the increased sensationalized depictions of violence in the media (which garner the ultimate prize of attention). Gun crimes increased because of the people and their values, not because of the guns. We should look to the root causes of the violence, not the tools (which we now see include bombs and even trucks), which would be a very short term and ineffective answer to the larger problem of violence.

6) Gun Culture. There is a cultural disparity between gun enthusiasts and gun control enthusiasts. Guns reflect a less expensive way to impress your family, friends, and neighbors than a fast pricey car. People from the gun-controlled segments of society may not understand the importance and prevalence of guns in other areas. Guns are more than rights and protection... they are linked with rites of passage to adulthood and they are symbols of individuality, ruggedness, and security; and they are indelibly connected to the atmosphere, the people, and the spirit of freedom and security.


Mark- Pro-Gun Control Intervention:

1) Gun-Control Philosophy. When we discuss life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we are also discussing other people’s access to them. The reason you’re not permitted to own a tank or a nuclear weapon is because they are so dangerous as to risk other people’s lives, whether you turn evil to rob your neighbor or whether just having such a dangerous item does not account for potentially reckless or negligent behavior, which threatens your life and the life of others. And unlike a car, or a couch, or even most knives, the purpose of guns and the utility of many specific guns is violence... against people. So, a gun is different than a kitchen knife.

2) The Laws of the Future. The Second Amendment does not literally provide for unfettered access to guns- it connects gun ownership with the importance of maintaining a well-regulated militia. The functions of those militias have been largely replaced by our organized military, national guard, and varying police forces. So, given there is no longer a need for such militias, the predicate for the right to bear arms, there is no longer a need for unfettered gun access. Further, the nature of the gun itself has changed; as new guns can spew dozens of rounds in seconds. Finally, the Supreme Court has indicated that many restrictions on gun ownership are permissible (like with speech), and more restrictions are likely permissible (even under the current understanding). The Supreme Court is not infallible, and it may yet come around on larger issues of gun ownership as well.

3) The Dangers of Guns. The statistics on gun ownership and gun crimes are pretty jarring. Guns are tied to a very high percentage of violent crimes, and a low percentage of stopping such violent crimes. Guns are involved in a disturbing number of accidental deaths, including a number of accidental suicides and deaths of children (and statistics indicate that guns are as dangerous to the owner and his/her family than to a would-be criminal). While cities with the strictest gun control have the most gun violence, (a) many of those cities are large cities with lower per capita crime rates, (b) the dangers in the cities likely caused the marginally effective bans, rather than bans causing the gun violence, and (c) people in the cities can obtain guns from neighboring areas. Further, the states with the strictest gun control tend to have the lowest gun violence rates. When thoroughly examined, the evidence weighs in favor (generally heavily in favor) of greater control. The most evident and telling example demonstrating the dangers of guns and the wisdom of gun control is Australia (a segmented, Euro-centric, but freedom-loving isolated nation). Australia began seeing an increase in gun violence (particularly mass shootings) in the 1990’s and proceeded to ban guns via a buy-back program; since then, mass shootings are largely non-existent, gun crimes dissipated greatly, and so did violent crimes. Many European examples are less apt, but also rather telling of our uniquely American gun problem.

4) More Guns, More Bad Guys. While criminals have access to gun ownership on the black market - that market is fed through largely American gun manufacturers, which have minimal restrictions. As illegal guns (and guns involved in crimes) are turned in or confiscated by police, new guns are brought to the criminal world from legal gun owners, lost or stolen guns, or “lost” or “stolen” guns. While the proliferation of gun access in the last 20+ years may make it more difficult to prevent gun crimes, very generally and simplistically, less guns available to the general public will also make less guns available to criminals (and terrorists). And this is aside from the legal access to guns for potential or future criminals (and terrorists) and people with mental health issues (diagnosed or un-diagnosed). Restricting access of guns to people on an FBI watch list or on the no-fly list should be obvious because if a person can be restricted from a mode of travel because of their potential level of danger, they should not be able to legally obtain and wield a weapon that could (and is designed to) kill dozens of people rapidly.

5) Fixing Violence through Gun-Control. Guns have become far more dangerous in the last fifty years, especially with the prevalence of semi-automatic weapons. And the problems continue to grow: see Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, Orlando... (all legally obtained guns that killed massive numbers of people within the last few years). Moreover, while people could buy guns back in the days of yore, the access to guns has increased many-fold with more gun shops, gun shows, and Internet sales. And to the point of change in culture, gun culture has also changed. Every self-respecting able-bodied criminal will use a gun. Unlike using a knife, a gun is more frightening and threatening for the purposes of a robbery (or other crimes) and deaths in crimes could occur far more quickly; and unlike using an explosive, there is easy, ready, and relatively inexpensive access to guns and ammunition. Guns are the happy medium for a criminal looking to inflict damage and/or fear. And perhaps more importantly, whether or not America is more violent than it was 50 years ago, we create laws for the current circumstances. And even if America’s culture is to blame, fixing American culture by removing violent movies and video games (and changing media culture) is far less likely to work and more difficult to enact than removing guns (and there’s a First Amendment problem with preventing such expression). So, enacting gun control laws makes more sense than trying to alter America’s violent tendencies.

6) Non-Gun Culture. A lot of this American gun culture nonsense was manufactured by the NRA, which is trying to sustain gun relevance by manufacturing propaganda about guns being as American as baseball. Assault weapons are not apple pie. And the apple pie industry does not create statutes that prevent lawsuits against apple pie or prevent studies by appropriate governmental agencies into the dangers of apple pie (baseball does have baseball exemptions to anti-trust laws though, but that’s a story for another time). Also, this cultural disparity works both ways. Many parts of the country are laden with criminality where the gun is a symbol and an agent of fear. There are countless stories (and statistics) of people being killed by guns in the midst of crimes, as part of reckless acts, or as part of negligent behavior. The threat of a gun is a specter that haunts victims, loved ones of victims, and entire communities. While people in gun-toting areas are brandishing weapons in public in relative safety to reflect their freedom, guns in un-safe areas are the exact opposite, the mechanism for controlling the good people. So, these good people are demanding (and alternately begging) the free and safe people in the gun culture areas (and who share gun culture values) to give up these dangerous rights (or at least some of them) to actually help protect the endangered members of other communities.


Mark Ellis:

Gun control is of particular interest to me because while I don’t own a gun, at core, I get it. I understand the notion of “You should not be able to tell me what to do.” In fact, up until relatively recently, I was not in favor of greater gun control. But, as the breadth and depth of the problems with guns became more apparent to me, I became more open to gun control solutions to prevent some of the dangers and some of the damage. Collectively, the vast majority of Americans agree on so much; very basically, we agree on an armed military, police force, and other well-trained individuals whose responsibility it is to protect us... and not arming violent criminals or the insane. Additionally, I believe in a waiting period prior to purchase (for cooling off and to research the purchaser) and believe that assault rifles, sniper rifles, and semi-automatic weapons, which are not necessary for hunting or ordinary protection, should not be commercially available. Beyond that, I think there should not be loopholes with regard to how people can obtain weapons; and it makes sense to have some registering and licensing requirements for ownership of such weapons (like we do with cars, which have even greater daily utility than guns). We should ensure some degree of training and competence for such dangerous goods, some degree of sanity and control (to the extent possible and readily available), and make sure the guns available are street-legal. And we should always encourage studying the problem... and taking steps towards fixing the problem.

HuffPost

BEFORE YOU GO