Not only do we have vapid debates in America about which beer is better, which sports team is more fearsome than which other sports team, and the like, but in the wake of our nation’s latest mass shooting, in which 20 children under age 7 perished, now we debate about whether it’s appropriate to debate. Now is not the time, many people attested this weekend, to talk about gun control. Some folks threatened to “unfriend” others on Facebook if those people persisted in posting about mental health support or gun laws, saying that they were obviously making it about “political issues.” Never mind the idiom about the personal being political that’s been around for 40 years, perhaps there is a time for mourning and a time for reflection about what’s led us to these moments. I say moments because a 6-year-old died in the Aurora, CO shooting, a 9-year-old in the Tuscon, AZ shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and of course there are hundreds of kids under 14 killed by guns every year in the US that get next to no media coverage. But even when the guns in an incident were purchased legally, even when there is no long history of mental health instability, and even when the majority of victims are defenseless kids, some among us insist on sticking to the same talking points to defend the status quo. Let’s look at these talking points, and hopefully it’s okay, four days later, to start some kind of dialogue about gun violence and gun rights. If I get defriended on Facebook, so be it.
If we don’t have assault rifles, we won’t be able to prevent the government from becoming a fascist state–Let’s see . . . the Department of Defense carries a budget of more than $680 billion. (For a surreal photo image, click the link to their Web site.) They own or control the most advanced fighter jets in the world, the second-largest nuclear arsenal, hundreds of thousands of soldiers, thousands of missiles, drone aircraft, not to mention countless biological agents and bioweapons, and they support secret interrogation chambers in foreign countries around the globe where they can waterboard the hell out of anyone. Not to get all paranoid, because I’m not, but if the US Government wanted to crack down on the citizenry en masse, our “right” to assault rifles is not going to stop them. However, proliferating the sale and use of assault rifles does seem to result in lots of people getting killed. Or put another way, this line of “logic” is asking us to let the most paranoid, alienated individuals in our culture set the policy parameters that affect everyone else. Are we okay with that?
If more people carried guns, they’d be able to take out spree killers before the SWAT teams arrived–There is absolutely, without question, no evidence to this claim whatsoever. First of all, it’s never happened that some guy with a handgun thwarted a spree killer. There is no moment in the nation’s history that gun advocates can point to. It’s as unreal as suggesting that sexual predators will wear dresses to assault women in bathrooms if gender identity protections are put in place by a local government. (And yet transphobes bring that idea up all the time anyway.) There are, however, examples of people killed by friendly fire (our same Department of Defense puts a range of 2-20 percent of war deaths as due to same-side fire), and by accidental firings–when folks don’t realize a gun is loaded, don’t realize the safety is off, or a gun mechanism fails, resulting in a misfire. Firing a gun and aiming a gun correctly are, of course, two different things. There is no reason to think that if more people owned guns and carried them to more places that we would somehow have fewer woundings and killings in our society. Also, consider that in several of the most recent spree killings (Tuscon comes to mind), the shooter was taken out with tackles from unarmed bystanders.
If we allow a ban on assault rifles, next it will be handguns and hunting rifles. It’s a slippery slope–This flies in the face of the purpose of guns, by type. Hunters have no need for assault rifles, unless they don’t care about the state of their steaks (see what I did there?). Some handguns have a purpose for law enforcement, or at least I can get there in theory. People who enjoy target practice have their preferences for what they fire, but both skeet shooting or stationary targets were designed with single-shot rifles and handguns in mind. Assault rifles were created by the Nazis to take out as many human targets as a quickly trained soldier could find. Thus that is what they’re good at doing. They don’t fit into the population of other firearms that civilians need, unless those civilians are looking to take out other human beings (or zombies, possibly, but that brings up another issue) as possible. There just is no reason to have assault rifles on the open market outside of war, just as we don’t sell Patriot missiles or C-4 explosive in that way.
If more people carried guns, criminals would think twice about commiting crimes–While it may be true that some criminals prioritize finding the most vulnerable targets to carry out their illicit behavior, say as with a mugging, this does not explain the whole of criminal behavior, which is often influenced by risk of capture, benefit of the behavior, a deficit in personality or empathy, and so on. Criminal activity has actually been shown to decrease in areas where tighter handgun laws exist, possibly because the calculus of commiting a crime shifts. But even if crimes existed at the same rate with an assault weapons ban in place, it is likely that fewer individuals would be injured or killed per attack, precisely because other firearms fire fewer rounds in the same amount of time.
If we ban assault rifles we’re infringing on the Second Amendment–First, this depends on one’s interpretation of that amendment’s “well regulated milita” phrase. The text reads:
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.
Second, yes. It infringes on at least one reading of what the Second Amendment says. Maybe we can get okay with that. Maybe, seeing as the common firearms of 1791, when the amendment was written, looked like this:
…just maybe we can agree that 100 rounds fired in under two minutes and without reloading is not what the framers had in mind. Maybe when we reach 80 people killed every day from guns in the United States it’s time to rethink their access and use, without having one’s patriotism called into question.
I feel for the families in Newtown, the town where my sister works everyday. She was in lockdown Friday morning, as was her younger daughter, at a nearby high school. I haven’t been in lockdown since September 11, 2001, but it was unnerving and changed my life. Certainly that event on that bright September morning spurred our country and its leaders to make sweeping, permanent changes to our homeland security policy. These spree killings, so frequent, and gun violence more generally, so omnipresent in American culture, ought to move us again, not only to improve public safety, but to save lives. There is no defense in keeping assault weapons on the market. And while I would like to see serious debate about the effect of gun violence in neighborhoods and on families across the nation, I’m fine with starting here where the logical arguments are so, so far in favor of restriction.
Thanks for reading.