Go Ahead…Shoot Me

I’ve never been a person to shy away from a debate. When I was 8 years old, my mother, exhausted after an hour of verbal sparring with me, threw her hands up in the air in a rare display of lost temper, and screamed, “YOU’RE GOING TO BECOME A LAWYER WHEN YOU GROW UP, I CAN TELL ALREADY!”

She might have been right, but I argued so vehemently with my professors in college, as well as boards of trustees, deans, and even presidents, that I kept getting asked to leave each college I attended…so I never finished.  I doubt law school would be any different.

So I suppose it’s time to enter this debate that is raging from coast-to-coast, as the rest of the world looks on at us like we’re idiots.

On Black Friday this past November, I posted this photo on Facebook:

This photo was originally posted because it is extremely hilarious.  The fallacy that, as a gift for a holiday that celebrates the birth of one of the most famous pacifists in history as well as the central figure of the Christian religion, one might choose a semi-automatic assault rifle…it’s just outlandish.  Sure, if you have a gun-loving friend, this might be a supremely appropriate birthday gift.  But for Christmas?  Come on.  I laughed out loud when I saw it, and assumed that virtually every sane, balanced human being would share this sentiment, so I slapped it on Facebook.

And a few seconds later, I had no idea what hit me.

I must pause here, because the tone of this blog may be such that its target audience immediately begins to assume they know what my stance on the gun control debate is.  So I need to state my stance on guns:

-I have NO ISSUES WHATSOEVER with Americans having handguns in their home to protect themselves from violent invaders, and I have have NO ISSUES WHATSOEVER with Americans having hunting rifles to hunt for sport and game meat.

-I grew up in a rural hunting culture, I have shot a variety of guns, I have hunted, and I’m not some urban coastal liberal who has never seen a gun and is terrified of them.

So please don’t think I’m some raging liberal who wants to make all guns illegal.  But apparently this photo was a clear conveyance of that very thing, because I was overwhelmed with comments like the following:

When a more appropriate response for the original reason for posting the photo would have been:

Nevertheless, people took my posting of the photo as an anti-gun, pro-gun-control statement, so I promptly lost about a tenth of my entire Facebook following, and for the next week, was the subject of a coordinated slander attack, where every photo I posted garnished hate messages attacking everything from my appearance to my sexuality.

Shortly after this, 20 children and 6 adults were slaughtered in an elementary school in Sandy Hook, CT, and the entire nation plunged headlong into the debate that politicians HATE having above all other debates.  So I suppose it’s time for me to enter it, too.

It’s such a vast issue, that it’s perplexing finding an angle to approach it from.  But the first angle is probably the most common, so let’s start there:

I would be quite curious to see how many people who toss around the phrase “2nd amendment rights” could actually quote the Second Amendment.  The Second Amendment 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 amendment is about the formation of a civil militia, to be used as necessary in times of war to preserve national security.  This amendment had, when it was originally written, absolutely nothing to do with the individual right of a citizen to keep a gun for his own personal use.  PERIOD.  (To be fair, at the time when the amendment was drafted, guns were absolutely essential in every household for personal use in the first place…the founding fathers would never have conceived of a situation where the right to have a gun for personal use would need to be protected.  Having a gun was as necessary as having an axe for cutting firewood, or a bellows to stoke the fire.)

The emphasis of this amendment on military service is further emphasized when you read the original draft of the amendment:

“The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.”

That last part was removed by some states before ratification because they didn’t want the potential loss of soldiers for religious reasons.  But there are no doubts, whatsoever, that the Second Amendment deals specifically and exclusively with  the organization of an armed civilian militia to protect the security of the country during times of war, when the security of the country is threatened.  (And back then, there were wars almost constantly in this fledgling, sparsely populated country, and militias were necessary because the military wasn’t nearly large enough to fight a well-established and well-armed imperial force.)

Of course, like many items in age-ing documents which were written in a culture vastly different from our modern one (ie The Bible), we have to draw upon the knowledge of those more intelligent and educated than ourselves to INTERPRET a relevant correlation between the intent of the drafters of such a document, and a modern and practical application of that intent.

In the US, that means the Supreme Court, which is the highest authority in the country to interpret the law.  And the Supreme Court is about as divided on the Second Amendment as our citizens are.  The Supreme Court has ALWAYS been divided on Second Amendment issues, and some of the most bitter feuds between Supreme Court justices have been on the interpretation of the Second Amendment.

In 2008 when the court heard the landmark gun-rights case District of Columbia vs. Heller, which is held as the most definitive judgement of the court on the subject of gun control, the justices were split 5 against 4.  The majority (by 1 justice) opinion stated, “…the most natural reading of ‘keep Arms’ in the Second Amendment is to ‘have weapons.’  …that ‘bear arms’ was not limited to the carrying of arms in a militia.”  The 4 dissenting judges stated, “The Amendment’s text does justify a different limitation: the ‘right to keep and bear arms’ protects only a right to possess and use firearms in connection with service in a state-organized militia. Had the Framers wished to expand the meaning of the phrase ‘bear arms’ to encompass civilian possession and use, they could have done so by the addition of phrases such as ‘for the defense of themselves.'”  That’s 5 against 4, but in the Supreme Court, a majority of 1 is all that is needed to decide.  But it was far from a clear-cut decision.

To be VERY CLEAR to those on both sides of this issue, the Supreme Court has NEVER ruled that the Second Amendment gives citizens the right to possess any kind of gun they wish.  While the previous conclusion seems fairly clear-cut, the court clarified in a syllabus:

“Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms. Miller’s holding that the sorts of weapons protected are those ‘in common use at the time’ finds support in the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.”  (Bolding added by me.)

And here is where the heart of this debate lies.  The gun rights activists seem hell-bent on the idea that the government, and those who are seeking gun reform in this country, want to remove ALL guns from the possession of the people.  Sure, there are many people in this country who believe that no citizen should have access to a gun of any type.  (I am not one of those people.)  But the majority of gun reform supporters are inquiring as to the necessity of a citizen to have a semi-automatic assault rifle.  And this is exactly where the Black Friday Facebook argument led.

Personally, I don’t believe that any civilian should ever have their hands on a semi-automatic assault rifle.  These guns have one purpose, and one purpose only…the killing of humans.  Sure…they CAN be used to kill a deer or a moose or a bear.  But you can kill a deer or a moose or a bear with a hunting rifle.  The ability to shoot 100 rounds without reloading is not very sportsmanlike, when it comes to hunting, and is completely and utterly unnecessary.  Nevertheless, many of you DO wish to have semi-automatic assault rifles for that very purpose:

And here we reach the heart of the issue, which most certainly isn’t about the need to have semi-automatic assault rifles for hunting.  To clarify, the Second Amendment is NOT about the public defending itself from an overzealous government.  Or at least not its OWN government.  As we’ve clearly established, it is about the protection of the country from an invading force through the use of an armed militia.  The framers of the Constitution were forming the type of government that would never need to be overthrown by its own people, because the people control the government.

Now, like anyone in this country, I am fed up with the politics, bureaucracy, and economic corruption in Washington on BOTH sides of the fence.  I don’t harbor any illusions that commerce and business in this country exert more power and influence over the government than the people do.  But the system DOES still work.  There will never be a need, in the United States of America, for the people to forcibly overthrow its government.  (You can overthrow your government each election day.  And the Congress can overthrow the President at any time they please.)  To think that there will EVER be a moment in this country’s future where the people will have to take up arms and overthrow their government is being alarmist, ignorant, and completely out of touch with reality.  Yet so many in this country do seem to think that the government is about to descend with force upon every household from coast to coast and rain apocalypse upon us:

Who is about to enslave us all, pray tell?

The idea that the US government is going to invade your home, harm your family, and take away your liberties is completely ridiculous.  (Still, Smith and Wesson reports that gun sales have increased by 44% since Obama was re-elected.  People are, for some reason, terrified of him.)  It’s time to have a basic lesson in US government.  There are so many checks and balances between the branches of government, it’s a miracle that anything gets done.  If our politicians are so gutless that they can’t stand up to their own party when it comes to compromise on situations like national debt, social security, and healthcare…you think they would have the guts to order their military into people’s homes to take away their liberties?

You can rest assured that in the lifetime of this country, unless you are behaving in an illegal fashion that endangers your fellow citizens, the government will never … ever …  EVER … send the military to invade your home in such a way that you’d need a semi-automatic assault rival to protect yourself from it.  (And if they did, your cache of semi-automatic assault rifles will not be enough to protect yourself from it, anyway.)  The nations of the world do not permit a country to attack its own citizens.  When it begins to happen in third world countries which have systems of government that permit a dictator to order the military into action against its citizens (our does not), like Sudan, or Bosnia, or Syria, the world takes action.

Likewise, if this country ever faces a land invasion from an imperialist force, if the US military doesn’t have enough firepower to protect you and your family, you certainly aren’t going to, either.  The idea that a semi-automatic weapon is required for personal protection is ludicrous.  A handgun will be entirely sufficient to protect yourself from virtually any scenario in which you or your family or property could be placed in danger.  And should the Supreme Court be called upon to clarify the definition of what “dangerous and unusual weapons” might be, I think you’ll find a much more unanimous decision on which guns can be considered “dangerous and unusual.”  A sane and well-balanced human would be hard pressed to come up with a common defense scenario where a civilian would need to be able to discharge 100 rounds in a minute.

Still, it is invariably these weapons that are used in the majority of mass murders that capture headlines and spur people to call for action to prevent them.  And the most reasonable proposals seem to be along the lines of:

Make it harder for criminals and the mentally disturbed to buy guns by requiring universal background checks for all gun transactions.

And here is where this conversation will take a turn that most of you probably didn’t expect.

Because laws aren’t going to fix this problem, no matter what laws come out of it.  The gun used in the Portland mall shooting was stolen from a friend of the shooter.  The guns used in the Sandy Hook massacre were stolen from the mother of the shooter.  In virtually ALL mass shootings, the guns were acquired through illicit means.

Granted, if the manufacture and sale of semi-automatic assault rifles was illegal in this country, and a potential mass murderer had to illegally smuggle them into the country, or manufacture their own, it would be much harder for them to get their hands on one.  But that’s not the situation in this country, and it will likely never be the situation.  If SOME citizens are permitted to have these guns, they will ALWAYS find their way into the hands of people who will wreak havoc with them.  The only way to ensure that semi-automatic assault weapons aren’t used in mass murders in this country, is to remove all the weapons from circulation entirely.  Which is practically an impossibility.  (Can you imagine the mass murders that would ensue if the government tried to get rid of the all the assault rifles in circulation?  This is why the government would never try.)

Like it or not, we’re stuck with these guns.  Even though they are completely unnecessary, and no civilian needs one.  Trying to legislate gun control will be as futile as trying to legislate the war on drugs.  There will always be drugs.  Always.  And the attempt to legislate their legality is a waste of money and time and does more harm to society than good.

This issue will only be fixed when everyone in this country is healed.  People commit crimes like this when they feel like they are rejected by society.  When they feel like they are an outcast.  AND when the rest of us are healed of the terror that makes us want semi-automatic assault rifles in the first place.  No other country in the world has these problems to the extent that we do (there have been 17 mass shootings in this country since the Aurora theater massacre in July, or an average of one every 12 days), and it’s a two-fold issue…the fact that the guns exist everywhere in this country (there are 9 times as many authorized gun retailers as there are McDonalds restaurants), AND the fact that our culture creates people who, when they feel marginalized and rejected, take up such guns to exact revenge upon those they feel rejected by.

One Facebook commentator remarked:

Stephen is sort-of-correct.  Switzerland does not have a military.  Instead, it relies upon a well-armed militia to protect the state in times of threat.  (Sound familiar?)  If a civilian is included in that militia, his or her household will have a semi-automatic (or fully-automatic) weapon in a locked safe, for use ONLY when the militia is called upon.  (It hasn’t been called upon in modern times.)  The gun is provided by the state in conjunction with training on how to use the gun properly and safely.  And ammunition is NOT provided nor permitted for the weapon, but will be provided by the state if the militia is called to action.  So…to be accurate, there is an empty Sig 556 inside many homes in Switzerland that can’t be used without government authorization and that can’t be legally loaded with ammunition.  (Not a significant deterrent for a criminal.)  The fact that Switzerland has a low rate of gun crime isn’t because of this.  Switzerland enjoys a low rate of gun crime for economic and cultural reasons.

The NRA loves their tagline “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”  First of all, in many cases, it’s not true.  Gun rights activists love to say things like, “If that principal had a gun in her drawer, all those lives would have been saved.”  Conservative media have been scouring the country for a scenario where a civilian carrying a gun was able to intervene in a situation and stop a mass-murderer.  And the ONLY scenario the media has been able to come up with actually involves an armed, off-duty police officer.  But even police officers, who constantly undergo gun training under simulated stress, have been responsible for innocent deaths when suddenly called upon to use their arms in the line of duty.  Remember the 8 people near the Empire State Building who were shot by police while police were attempting to shoot the gunman?  Imagine the havoc if the average, untrained, out-of-practice, unaccustomed-to-responding-to-emergency-situations gun owner was called upon to stop a mass murder?  Imagine the death toll if armed citizens in the Aurora movie theater were firing back in the darkness at the gunman in his bullet proof vest?  More than 30 bullets were discharged in 27 seconds, and the entire event was over in 6 minutes.  Scarcely time for anyone to react.

This kind of wild-west approach to the issue doesn’t progress our country to a place where this issue will EVER be fixed.  It is this “bad guy/good guy interfacing with violence” that keeps our culture in a place where mass murders are common.  Arming our teachers, or posting armed police throughout our schools will not make them more safe.  It will breed an entirely new generation of terror-stricken young people who feel marginalized and endangered and will perpetuate such horrors in ever increased numbers.  Ask any teacher.

It is time to take the higher road.  It’s time to stop hiding from erroneous fears of dictators and fascist governments behind semi-automatic assault rifles.  It is time to stop perpetuating the idea that the only way to fight evil is with steel.  There is no such thing as an evil person, and if there is, it’s because we made him that way through neglect, violence, or torture.  People who commit mass-murder are reacting because they are desperate…not because they are evil.  Do you think a teenager would steal a semi-automatic assault rifle and slaughter children if he felt loved and accepted in his life?  We fix this problem when every person in this country feels loved, accepted, and nurtured.  And that’s not accomplished through laws.  And it’s not accomplished by posting an armed guard every 20 feet around the country.  And it’s definitely hindered when we’re up to our knees in machines that have the capability of spreading death in the wrong hands.

Because, whether you realize it or not, your gun affects those around you.  A gun isn’t just a tool.  It’s a symbol.  It changes the way you behave, and it changes the way people respond to you.

Most of my military friends are in agreement with him.  When you put a gun in the hands of a person, it changes them.  And therefore, it changes the way people respond to them.  And you can be assured that the presence of a semi-automatic assault rifle has a much greater impact on those around you than a handgun or a hunting rifle.  When you hold an AR-15, the message you are sending to everyone around you is very clearcut and straightforward: “I can kill you if I want.”  (Whether you intend for that message to be sent, it gets sent loud and clear.)  While some people might also have that response to your shotgun or handgun, the majority will ask if your hunt was successful, or if your aim has improved.  Our country is not ignorant of guns, and most people in this country are not terrified of ordinary ones…you know, the ones that don’t have “assault” in the title.

Let me be clear.  There is no reason for YOU, or anyone else in this country, to have a semi-automatic assault rifle.  But you have one.  And the government isn’t stupid enough to pass a law to take it away from you.  Because that law wouldn’t work in the first place.  All it will do is create more violence.

So our country’s problem with guns…and our country most certainly DOES have a problem with guns…shouldn’t be solved by legislation.

Gun control will not fix the problem.

The problem will be fixed when YOU no longer feel like you need an assault weapon.

The problem will be fixed when marginalized, fragile people feel loved, secure, and accepted.

And more guns on the streets will not help accomplish either.

And more laws on the books will not help accomplish either.

People rejecting selfishness and baseless fear, and instead busting their asses to serve each other, help each other, and care for each other will solve this problem.  Best of all, it’s something that each and every one of us can actively participate in, and don’t have to rely on our government to do it for us.

So regardless of which side of this issue you sit on, the way to stop mass murder is to lock up your guns, stop arguing about gun rights, and start being nice to each other.  Love the people who are hardest to love.  Befriend the people you feel uncomfortable around.  Stop excluding, judging, condemning, and separating yourself from others.  And teach your kids to do the same.  To be friends with the “weirdos” at school.  To take pride in making others feel good about themselves.

If you want to reduce violent crime in this country, let’s set to work on solving the SOURCE of crime.  Poverty.  Inequality.  Marginalization.  Playing cowboys-and-indians will never lead us to a place of peace and harmony.  We have to evolve.  And we have to take EVERYONE with us.  Everyone.

Please feel free to respond respectfully in the comments below.  Let’s not get overheated, which is easy to do with this issue!  Remember that the issue here is human life, and in the past few months, MANY families have lost people who are dear to them.

83 Responses to Go Ahead…Shoot Me

  1. Gee, Ben: You’re starting to sound like one of them far right wing law & order types. You haven’t been listening to Rush Limbaugh again, have you?

    In neither the case of Ruby Ridge, nor of Waco, was there any evidence of any laws being BROKEN. Randall Weaver had missed a court appearance due to a failure of the government to inform him of a change in date and Waco erupted over an attempt to serve a search warrant. In neither case, was it the intent of the law enforcement personnel to “remove illegal guns” as you claim.

    As for whether or not Randy Weaver and/or David Koresh are “GOOD, law abiding people” isn’t the issue. The Constitution of the United States extends it’s protections to all citizens, not just the “good” ones.

    I’d suggest that you do a little research on what led up to Ruby Ridge and the aftermath. Here’s one snippet you may wish to consider:

    “On about August 24, 1992, the fourth day of the siege on the Weaver family, FBI Deputy Assistant Director Danny Coulson wrote a memo:

    OPR 004477
    Something to Consider
    1. Charge against Weaver is Bull Shit.
    2. No one saw Weaver do any shooting.
    3. Vicki has no charges against her.
    4. Weaver’s defense. He ran down the hill to see what dog was
    barking at. Some guys in camys shot his dog.
    Started shooting at him. Killed his son. Harris did the
    shooting [of Degan]. He [Weaver] is in pretty strong legal position.”

    As for Waco, the case for the original search warrant was considerably less than solid. The police had no evidence of illegal firearms being manufactured and relied almost entirely on a statement that the Davidians “might be” converting weapons to full auto as justification for what amounted to a fishing expedition.

    The tragedy that ensued can be laid entirely at the feet of the government agents who chose to invade the Davidian compound rather than extend the siege. The Davidians were of no imminent danger to anyone but themselves and, had the agents of the government used restraint, it’s likely that far fewer people would have died.

    I will agree with you Ben, that continuing this debate is a waste of time. I can respect your beliefs but however well-intentioned, some of them seem so naive as to be pollyannish.

    Best of luck to you in your future endeavors.

    • Well, if it’s naive and “pollyanish” to believe that, as a race, we can collectively learn from our barbaric past and instead of living in fear and horror, barricaded in our homes with guns and paranoia… If it’s naive and “pollyanish” to believe that the ONLY step toward a culture of peace is to move away from physical violence and a “bad guy vs good guy” mentality… If it’s naive and “pollyanish” to not simply be content to HOPE for a future where our children grow up in a world where their parents and society don’t prioritize fear and defense over acceptance and selflessness, and instead to actively move TOWARD that future… Consider me the Captain of All Those Naive and Pollyanish. I’d prefer to live in a world run by those folks any day of the week!

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