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Make Me Understand: Part 1

For the first installment of Make Me Understand, I have decided to tackle gun-reform policy. In light of last weeks tragic events in Parkland, Florida-where 17 individuals were slaughtered at the hand of a mass shooter on a school premises-this topic couldn’t be more prevalent. To be honest, I had intended to start this project a month ago, for gun violence is truly not a new issue for this country. Yet we seem constantly stalled on making any changes. We have been entrenched, it appears to me, in a black and white tete-a-tete, where both sides continuously demonize the other with straw arguments. So, in an effort to get beyond the extreme, I want to try to understand the opposing perspective. It truly boggles my mind why efforts at reform should not be made, so please, someone, make me understand.

Throughout my life, and especially in response to several of the mass-shootings in the recent years, my initial instinct has always been that we need gun-reform in this country. The great access to guns we have appears to only to have led to detrimental outcomes. I am appalled that it has been more than five years since the mass shooting in Sandy Hook, Connecticut—where a lone gunman walked into an elementary school and killed 20 CHILDREN, as well as 6 adults and himself—and yet we really have no significant gun laws passed since the incident. Instead, we have had just more mass shootings, like the one last week.  

And mass shootings are clearly not the only problem with gun violence. According to FiveThirtyEight: , 33,000 people are fatally shot in the United States each year. Nearly two-thirds of these deaths are from suicides. 

According to the Council on Foreign Relations:

The United States, with less than 5 percent of the world’s population, has about 35–50 percent of the world’s civilian-owned guns, according to a report by the Switzerland-based Small Arms Survey. It ranks number one in firearms per capita. The United States also has the highest homicide-by-firearm rate among the world’s most developed nations.

Research seems to me  to largely indicate that more guns leads to more homicide. The Harvard Injury Control Research Center, just as one example, backs this up (as well as provides an insightful slew of other research on this topic): 

Our review of the academic literature found that a broad array of evidence indicates that gun availability is a risk factor for homicide, both in the United States and across high-income countries.  Case-control studies, ecological time-series and cross-sectional studies indicate that in homes, cities, states and regions in the U.S., where there are more guns, both men and women are at a higher risk for homicide, particularly firearm homicide. 

Yet in response, the Supreme Court is moving to a more open interpretation of the Second Amendment, as was demonstrated in the case District of Columbia v. Heller. This decision was particularly distressing, not only for its overall impact, but for the fact that it was a departure from a more limited interpretation of the right to bear arms that had stood since 1939 when it ruled that the Second Amendment protects only weapons appropriate for use by a militia. 

Honestly, I could go on and on about the issue of gun reform, because it is such a multi-faceted argument, and to me actually really needs a multi-faceted response. I want to state up front that I am not “black and white” on this issue. I do not feel that all guns need to be completely taken away from civilians, nor do I feel that one solution will solve the issue, for in fact there are several issues that need to be tackled that lead to gun death, which involve (but not limited to) mental health, poverty, gun access and availability, military culture, background check and systems, and Constitutional law (just to name a few). 

What I don’t understand though, is how anyone could possibly argue a lack of need of robust reform and attention to this issue, particularly from the federal and state governmental levels. And thus the need for this to be my first topic.

 

My goal throughout the next few weeks is to gather a series of interviews and present them in myriad fashions (video, audio, and written). The discussions are meant to be conversational and at the tone that the participant wants them to be in. I want to hear real perspectives and truly learn what others are thinking. 

 

Cris E. (who has requested to be named this way) has kindly agreed to assist with me for the first portion of this project. He had answered some preliminary questions in a written format prior to last week’s event. I will post those responses first, with a short introduction of this contributor:

Chris E. is a staunch supporter of the individual right to keep and bear arms amd the duties that accompany that right. He has been a firearms enthusiast for the better part of a decade since he first took a skeet and trap shooting class while attending Cornell University. His enjoyment of shooting, his skill handling various firearms, and his knowledge of the mechanical workings of many diverse weapons platforms deepened during his military service."

Interview 1

Can you briefly summarize your perspective on the need (or lack thereof) for gun reform in this country? Should any new laws be enacted? 

When it comes down to it, there are two types of people. I hate the "two types of people" trope, but it's true here. There are the people who believe that they have the human right to effective self defense, including the right to take someone else's life in defense of yourself and others. Then there are the people who don't think you have a right to effective self preservation, and that killing is inherently wrong no matter the context. That's much of Europe where killing someone armed who broke into your house is more likely than not going to get you locked up for murder. Those are the "guns are for hunting" folk, the "no one should have guns but police" folk, the "no one needs THAT kind of gun" folk.

 

I have the right to self defense. Period. It's not a privilege that I gain once I'm rich, famous, a politician, or a public figure. I have that human right now. I will have it even if I'm destitute and unknown. I have it whether I live next to the police station in Bronxville or whether I live in a part of Chicago where the police will answer a 911 call an hour later. There's a hard limit to how much I would ever let my rights be infringed before I say fuck the law. Try to take away my semi-autos... Nope. Tell me all my guns have to be registered and I have to be licensed to have any of them... I'd register one or two. Ban guns? Well that's straight up a declaration of war and I have a lot of Marines on my side. 

 

I abide by New York's moronic laws because right now it's my choice to live in New York. I could move to a state with better gun laws and eventually will move to a state that is more philosophically aligned with my ideals in more than just gun rights. If you try to implement New York style laws or harsher across the country, you can damn well count on the fact that what you're going to be doing is making outlaws out of plenty of good people who would otherwise never intentionally break the law. The NY Safe Act already did that to plenty of gun-owning New Yorkers, the vast majority of which will never be caught.

 

I say before you talk about passing new laws, why not try enforcing all the laws already on the books that are doing a fine job of failing to prevent crime? When the laws already on the books are ineffectually enforced, what point is there in passing more laws to be poorly enforced? You know who enforces most gun laws? Law-abiding citizens. New York limits magazine capacities to 10 rounds. I could have a 120 round magazine by the end of the week if I wanted to and I wouldn't get caught. What's stopping me? I'm not a criminal. I don't want to break a law. My goal is to not break the law. If my goal were to kill people, why would I care how many other laws I break in preparation of my evil plan? Even [Senator Diane] Feinstein who would love to disarm all everyday Americans admitted no new law would've prevented the Vegas shooting, yet that doesn't stop her supporting stupid new laws like a ban on “bump-fire stocks"

 

The way that law was written, either intentionally or just by incompetence, could've been used to go after far more than just bump-fire stocks and was an attack on all semi-auto weapons.

 

As someone with a legal background, do you feel that gun reform comes in conflict with the Second Amendment? 

As for the Second Amendment, it's clear judicial precedent at this point that gun-control is not inherently a violation of the Second Amendment, but what kind of gun-control is the issue. Some people out there do believe that "shall not be infringed" is absolute and means no gun-control is acceptable. Of course, since that's not how anyone on SCOTUS sees it as far as I know, their opinion on the topic doesn't mean squat. The opinion that the Second Amendment is not an individual right and is a right given to militias is the other extreme. 

It's funny to me that all the anti-gun folk love to say that no civilian needs a military weapon or the kind of weapon the police have (often the same people will then complain about the militarization of the police).

 

In U.S. v Miller, the SCOTUS upheld the National Firearms Act, part of which bans sawed-off shotguns using the following reasoning: "The Court cannot take judicial notice that a shotgun having a barrel less than 18 inches long has today any reasonable relation to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, and therefore cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees to the citizen the right to keep and bear such a weapon."

Under U.S. v Miller, it should be easier to restrict a double barreled shotgun than an M16

More from Miller: "In the absence of any evidence tending to show that possession or use of a "shotgun having a barrel of less than eighteen inches in length" at this time has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument. Certainly it is not within judicial notice that this weapon is any part of the ordinary military equipment, or that its use could contribute to the common defense. Aymette v. State, 2 Humphreys (Tenn.) 154, 158."

 

I don't know if I agree with the Second Amendment being the best argument for the individual right to bear arms. The way I understand things, it seems a better argument for every citizen between 18 and 65 being required to have a semi-automatic rifle chambered in 5.56 or 7.62 NATO and 120 rounds of ammo for duty in the militia. That's not how it was interpreted in Heller, but I think the Ninth Amendment is a better framework for the individual right to own a firearm for self-defense.

 

As someone with a military background, do you feel that there should be a difference in the weaponry civilians are allowed to access? 

 

As for what guns people should be allowed to own, I don't particularly care. The vast majority of criminals who used a gun in committing their crime don't get their guns legally. If machine guns were legal, all that it would mean is that more people who follow the law would have them. Maybe a few more criminals would have them, but I doubt many more. It's not really hard to make a semi-auto gun full auto as long as you don't care about getting it to stop firing. Full auto is also over-rated as a feature and wouldn't really be all that useful to most criminals. Hell, most military rifles either aren't capable of full auto or aren't used that way the vast majority of the time if they are, other than machine guns. Nonetheless, full auto fire serves a specific tactical purpose that most criminals wouldn't be taking advantage of. Even if they were legal and available here I probably wouldn't have one unless I were rich anyway. Ammo is expensive.

 

In any case I don't care what kind of hardware a person has, I care who has the hardware. Gun ownership is an entirely binary question to me. Either you should be allowed to own a gun or you shouldn't. If you're a criminal I don't want you to have a musket pistol.

 

People hear military style weapon and it's a ridiculous notion that they get in their heads. Weapons categorized as "assault weapons" are mechanically no different from many types of hunting rifles. Items that are used to define a weapon as an "assault weapon" are mostly ergonomic or just stupid written by people who obviously are ignorant about firearms. New York's moronic assault weapons ban bans semi-auto rifles with one of any of the following features: "Folding or Telescoping Stock; Protruding Pistol Grip; Thumbhole Stock; Second Handgrip or Protruding Grip that can be held by non-shooting hand; Bayonet Mount; Flash Suppressor; Muzzle Brake; Muzzle Compensator; A threaded barrel designed to accommodate the above; Grenade Launcher"

 

Anyway so back to assault weapon banned features, I'd love to see my local representative explain what each of those features does, why it makes the weapon more dangerous, and for obvious ones like a grenade launcher or bayonet lug, the crime statistics indicating that bayonets and grenades pre-ban were responsible for so many fatalities (any?) that they needed to be banned features. I also wonder why bayonet lugs and grenade launchers make a semi-auto a banned gun, but don't worry, it's all cool to stick them on a pump action rifle.

 

I know we have both discussed the need for reform for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Can you elaborate on your opinion? 

 

As for NICS, this article explains it well: https://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/882753. This is the digital age. Databases should be comprehensive and reliable. Why does NICS fail? Simple. It's a government bureaucracy. "Good enough for government work" is a saying for a reason. I'm not saying that NICS shouldn't be a government task or that it doesn't have good goals and try to perform a useful function. I'm just saying you kind of have to expect a certain degree of shiftiness out of anything the government does, and NICS doesn't disappoint in that regard. In any case it's just another example of my logic of "before you start passing stupid new laws that only good people will follow anyway, why don't you get the ones on the books to actually work?" Plenty of crimes would have at least had a wrench thrown in the plot and the criminal forced to take more inconvenient steps if the current gun control laws were actually enforced.

 

Things like Vegas pretty much couldn't have been stopped. This guy had a pilot's license that he let expire because he didn't get his medical renewed. It's lucky he shot at the crowd rather than kamikaziing it. As for bump-fire stocks and automatics making it so much worse, here's the world record for 12 shots on target from a revolver which is much harder to shoot and reload than a rifle. https://youtu.be/lLk1v5bSFPw

 

Then there's Clinton's laughable notion that a silencer would have made Vegas worse. Most people don't know anything about silencers than they see in Hollywood. They're surprised to hear that a silencer generally only reduces the volume of gunfire to about on par with a jackhammer.

 

Speaking of silencers, the name is actually an interesting point. Gun makers and shooters don't do themselves any favors in naming things. They name gun stuff these tactical, cool-sounding names like suppressors, silencers, hair-triggers, flash-hiders, and collapsible butt stocks. If a silencer were called a gun muffler you'd probably have Democrats requiring them rather than banning them. Of course anti-gunners do a great job of using that language against gun rights. You have bullshit terms like "assault weapon" which I previously covered, there's high-capacity magazines which makes you think some 200 box stuck under a machine gun rather than the 17 round magazine which is the standard magazine the Glock 17, for example, was designed to hold in the 80s or the 30 round magazines that have been standard for AR style rifles chambered in 5.56 since Vietnam.

 

One day some jackass that knows basically nothing about guns decides anything over 10-rounds is "high capacity" and everyone from Anderson Cooper to the writers of the Ozarks are calling something totally standard this new term that sounds scary

 

What do you feel is the biggest misconception of gun-owners by gun reform advocates? 

 

The biggest misconception is that all gun-control (and I refuse to call it the sanitized word "reform") advocates want to take away all guns. All gun-control advocates don't, just many of them. Almost all, however, would see a positive state of affairs if only the police and military had guns.

 

I really don't think gun owners have many misconceptions about gun-control advocates. It's one of those things where that's like the "default" pop-position. It's advocated by Hollywood, all the media, and it's a heavily pushed opinion. We hear all your arguments all the time. It's our positions that are slandered, presented incorrectly, maligned, ridiculed, and patently lied about.

 

Gun-control advocates, however, have a ton of misconceptions about gun-owners. They think gun nuts are some death-loving freaks who get off on mass killings or just plain stupid rednecks. You see that form of ridicule all the time in the media

 

They also seem to assume that gun-owners have either a) no good reason to own a gun or b) have some [doomsday] “prepper” fetish and are itching to kill someone.

 

Another good one is assuming that gun advocates are all straight, stupid, White men. Makes them a lot easier to mock since that's the one demographic that it's ok among the PC crowd to make fun of. It's a lot harder to ridicule the domestic-abuse survivor who keeps a pistol on her in case her abuser were ever to show up with ill intent, or the Black man who lives in a violent neighborhood and wants to protect himself somewhere where police response time is “later".

 

The NRA is another misconception. I hear it all the time from liberal buddies spouting some bullshit piece of nonsense they heard from Jimmy Kimmel or Steven Colbert that gun control can't pass because the damn NRA has the Republican Party on its payroll. Fake news. Here's the truth of the matter from National Review: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/439024/nra-gun-control-political-clout-comes-members-not-dollars

But in case you'd rather hear it from Vox, here you go: https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/10/5/16430684/nra-congress-money-no

 

There's plenty of money and pretty much the entire media bent on getting Americans against guns through a determined campaign of misinformation and nanny state tactics. It's telling that the same individual ([Former New York City Mayor Michael] Bloomberg) so hell-bent on gun control is the same clown who thinks adults are too fucking stupid to make their own decision on how big of a soda to drink.

 

As for celebrities and the rich and famous opposing gun control, that's a topic for its own conversation, but let's just say as soon as every anti-gun politician eschews armed security, I still won't think about getting rid of my guns, but at least their opinion won't be laughably hypocritical.

Another misconception straight from today's news. [Westchester County Executive George] Latimer said he's refusing to allow the Westchester County gun show from happening at the County Center in White Plains according to lohud http://www.lohud.com/story/news/local/westchester/2018/01/02/george-latimer-bans-county-center-gun-shows/995417001/. So I go into the comment section and the most common nonsense I see spouted by anti-gun folk is along the lines of "good, now you won't have a place for criminals to go and buy guns without background checks in Westchester." Even when I tried to explain to some of these people that it just ain't so, they either ignored what I had to say or directly told me I was full of shit and were convinced beyond reason that you DO NOT need a background check to buy a gun at a gun show. They have no qualms arguing with someone who bought his first rifle at a gun show and literally sat there for over an hour waiting for my background check to get approved. The background check that literally took the longest to get completed for me was at a gun show. It's New York law that the only type of firearm transaction exempt from a background check is between immediate family members, yet people refuse to believe that they don't know what they're talking about when they hear that the gun-show loophole is a deceitfully named phenomenon that a) doesn't mean anything close to what they think it means and b) doesn't even apply in New York State.

 

__________

VISIT TO A GUN RANGE 

 

I also really wanted to try to fully live in the shoes of those whose viewpoint differs than mine, so I went to a local shooting range with Cris to get the experience. Photos are found can be found to the left and right. Although I was unable to record our discussion, we did have a very substantive talk on our differing perspectives on gun reform (among other political issues). Proof in point that real conversations can happen across the aisle, especially when knee-jerk social media responses don’t intervene. 

Cris also is going to answer some follow-up questions, which I will post later on. I am hoping to continue to work on this project for the next few weeks, so I am very open to any ideas on how to adapt or improve it, as well as looking for any contributors! 

   

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