Monday, September 18, 2006

Five Duquesne basketball players shot on campus

Apparently, a couple of players tried to de-escalate a situation with a person who had been disruptive earlier at a student union dance. After the players were walking away, they were gunned down. Several others came to their aid, and were also shot. At the time of this writing, one remains in critical condition, one in serious condition. The others appear to have non-life threatening injuries.

I haven’t mentioned this on this web site before, but I just cannot express how much I hate the gun culture of this country. I find it disgusting. And when one of these tragedies occur, like they seemly do on a yearly basis, and I bring up how asinine the pro-gun people are about this issue, the response I get is something along the lines of, “There you go, you anti-gun nuts, trying to bring politics into this tragedy.”

What a stupid response. Absolutely insane. How is being upset about innocent people being shot out in public in the richest, most powerful country on earth being “political”? People are dying and being seriously injured every single day by handguns, and being concerned about it is somehow a political issue? No, stupid, it’s concern about fellow human beings being gunned down. Please explain to me how that is being political.

One of the issues that is invariably brought up is the valid uses of guns by lawful gun owners in this country. I can understand that. Well, I don’t “understand” it but I will concede the point that many people do legitimately feel that way. There are many people who enjoy getting into the outdoors with their pals, sons, or daughters, for a bit of bonding. I, personally, do not see the thrill in sneaking up on and killing animals. Back in the days where the vast majority of human beings were in the “hunter/gatherer” classification, that made sense. You had to provide for your family. But that time has long passed. I really refuse to see the sporting aspect of spilling the blood of a deer or pheasant. But, yes. That is a lawful and mostly harmless use of rifles, shotguns, and the like. Except, of course, for the unfortunate hunting accident that does happen when people are around loaded guns. Ask Dick Cheney about this.

However, I will make this point very clear, right up front. Those kinds of guns and those kinds are uses are not what I am talking about. I am talking about handguns, those weapons whose only purpose is to be cheap to procure, easily concealed, and do other people bodily harm. Let us not muddy the waters with this attempt of obfuscation.

The retort that I next hear in response to this argument is that handguns provide a homeowner with an effective deterrent against unlawful entry and protection against bodily harm. Yes, in some cases, this last is a true statement. However, statistics show (and not the statistics compiled by the NRA) that many more people are killed and injured by loaded guns in their own houses than are actually used against assailants and the gun is used as a last recourse. Casualties includes many young children who end up playing with a loaded gun they got from their dad’s bedside table drawer or out of the closet. They end up shooting themselves, their friends who their were trying to impress, or the person living in the upstairs apartment.

The statistics of crimes involving guns are absolutely horrendous. I do not see how any rational person can look at what is going on in this country and conclude that everything is fine the way it is, except for maybe “tightening up” on the laws that we currently have. However, any time anyone attempts to do just that, the NRA howls up a blue streak and their impressive voter lists scare the crap out of any politician looking to retain his or her elective office. Even with the Right’s most illustrious President is shot with a handgun and could have easily been killed, that still presents no compelling reason to propose anything that might affect the ability of any person in the United States who wants a gun to have one, without any limitations, registration, or even training.

How, in God’s name, can we seriously require all the training, licensing, and taxes associated with getting a driver’s license and driving a car, which are not meant to do other people bodily harm, but we have absolutely no such requirements for owning a gun, which is intended for just that purpose? Would someone please explain that one to me, in a straightforward, logical manner? Emotional rants will not be accepted.

Another argument I have gotten is about why we should require such restraints for guns when knives can also be used to hurt and kill other people. I had this discussion with a pretty far-out-there during a long drive where I had no choice in the matter. This guy proudly proclaimed that he gets all his news from talk radio. However, when I directed him to other resources like the web, he claimed he was much too busy. I won’t go into that particular self-deception right now, as that is the topic of another post. But he seriously thought he was making a very important point by bringing up the fact that knives can be used to hurt people. When I pointed out that guns can be used at a distance, without having to actually confront your intended victim, and knives require a certain amount of proximity which can therefore involve a certain amount of risk to the knife-bearer, he claimed that he had never thought about this point before. How something so completely obvious can be overlooked by a very intelligent person is beyond me. Willful ignorance is the only thing that I can come up with. Plus, there is the fact that guns are designed with a single purpose in mind; that is to shoot someone. Knives are generally made for another purpose like carving turkeys, unless you have something like a Bowie knife.

Another point that is invariably brought up is the Second Amendment to the Constitution. Here it is, in its’ entirety.

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 the piece of a document that the pro-gun people use to justify their addiction to firearms. “The freedom to own handguns in contained in the Bill of Rights!”, they conclude with sense of finality. There are two things that make this argument, in my mind, really rather lame. The first is that most of the people who put some much stock in this Amendment are also the ones who would throw out the rest without any hesitation if it were to further their own political cause. Freedom of the press, the separation of church and state, and the rights of people accused of crimes are all under assault these days by the Bush regime. Gun-supporters almost always identify themselves as Republicans, and look upon efforts to do whatever is necessary to promote whatever illegal activity that Bush and his crowd of neo-cons want to further their agenda. So, I look at this argument as entirely self-serving. You cannot pick and choose from the Constitution. You either are in for the entire game, or else we have no basis for government. There is no middle ground.

The other specious argument about the Second Amendment is, of course, the United States currently has no standing well regulated militias that I can point to. The Montana Militiamen and the Posse Comitatus do not qualify. Those are rogue organizations that have absolutely nothing to do with the protection of the country. This Amendment was probably entirely necessary and reasonably back when the Bill of Rights was being formulated. A standing military of huge proportions was probably not envisioned by the Founding Fathers. This Amendment says nothing, absolutely not one word, about owning a gun for “personal protection”. The Supreme Court, over the years, has come down with several decisions that has done little to really answer the question. However, this is what the Findlaw web site concluded about this issue.

“In spite of extensive recent discussion and much legislative action with respect to regulation of the purchase, possession, and transportation of firearms, as well as proposals to substantially curtail ownership of firearms, there is no definitive resolution by the courts of just what right the Second Amendment protects. The opposing theories, perhaps oversimplified, are an ''individual rights'' thesis whereby individuals are protected in ownership, possession, and transportation, and a ''states' rights'' thesis whereby it is said the purpose of the clause is to protect the States in their authority to maintain formal, organized militia units. Whatever the Amendment may mean, it is a bar only to federal action, not extending to state or private restraints. The Supreme Court has given effect to the dependent clause of the Amendment in the only case in which it has tested a congressional enactment against the constitutional prohibition, seeming to affirm individual protection but only in the context of the maintenance of a militia or other such public force.” (Emphasis mine)

However, when looking at this piece of the Bill of Rights without any legalistic eyeglasses on (which, I agree, you really need to do), it is my claim that what the authors of this Amendment intended is not how it is being interpreted today. There is no such thing as a “public force” when the argument is for private ownership of guns. But I will admit right now, I am not a lawyer or anyone who is versed in legalistic language. But I know what that sentence in the Second Amendment says to me about its’ intent.

But the point that riles me the most is the fact that the vast majority of the pro-gun establishment is also part of the virulent anti-abortion/pro-life crowd. I just cannot reconcile these two positions. The “pro-life” people say that life is sacrosanct, that people should always err on the side of life whenever there is the slightest doubt. This position is used to validate the right wing’s position on the Terry Schavio case and stem cell research. How very nice. However, how can any rational person reconcile this extreme position and still not care anything about the injuries and deaths caused by handguns each year? If a bunch of cells that are just starting to come together that will ultimately end up as an unborn fetus can be worthy of such attention, why is not a real-life human being worthy of the same concern and attention? Some of these victims of accidental or purposeful gun violence are among the youngest and most innocent of our society. How can anyone argue that an unborn fetus is worthy of absolute protection, even if the mother-to-be were raped or impregnated by a family member, but a five year old’s assumption of well being can be safely ignored? Does emergence from the womb somehow remove any consideration of protection? Now who’s being political?

When I argued this point to the same person I described above, he just brushed it aside by saying that he didn’t see any conflict. He never explained why he felt that way, of course. But he was obviously comfortable with the surety of his convictions.

As an engineer and scientist by education and training, I cannot abide by illogical people who won’t even admit that their position is illogical. That takes away any chance of addressing any sort of conflict in a meaningful manner.

I will admit here that I do have a very personal interest in this issue. Some things just crystallize in your mind when, as a young adult, my younger brother and I were confronted with our drunk, raging step-father with a loaded gun, who waved it in our faces while bellowing out that he wanted us “to love him”. If that doesn’t really make some things plain to you, nothing will. My brother and I just waited until the he drank himself into a stupor and passed out on the kitchen floor, at which time we took the gun and hid it.

As a personal aside on an already personal story, this incident must have traumatized my younger brother to a very great extent. When I brought this up in a discussion many years later, he looked at me and it was obvious that he was wondering what the hell I was talking about. He obviously didn’t remember it. For me, there’s no way I would ever forget something like that. I am not sure if this failing of his memory was really due to the fact he just forgot the incident. He’s not that old, so I cannot ascribe this forgetting to normal memory loss associated with getting old. I don’t know if it was one of the mind’s mysterious “protection schemes”, which make you bury very unpleasant episodes of your life. I just don’t know. Several weeks or months after this discussion, I can’t remember how long now, he did call me and say, yeah, I guess I do sort of remember that.

One of the points that I have often thought about but have seen no one ever speak aloud is this. The people who most want guns are the people who I trust the least with them. I believe that guns speak to the person’s “inner-machismo”. If they don’t have a loaded gun, they would somehow feel emasculated and without any power, symbolic or otherwise. I find this trait in humans reprehensible. If you don’t have a sense of self-worth without a gun, then owning one isn’t going to give you anything but a false sense of being “a real man”. The value of a person should not be thought of in the context in the ability to threaten to blow someone away. I believe that, if the most vehement pro-gun people were to be really honest with themselves, they would admit that the self-protection aspect is really only a very small part of their actual position. However, they can’t admit to the other 90%, so they are stuck trying to make a case on the Second Amendment rights and personal protection.

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