1973 - when I started asking questions, like, "Why are we all dressed so funny?"

Sunday, March 24, 2013

In defense of the NRA

On the op-ed pages of the Denver Post, the National Rifle Association has become the organization that seemingly everyone loves to hate. Never mind the fact that the NRA is the organization doing the most good in terms of firearms education, safety and training. Ask most any law enforcement officer and chances are that she was trained by an NRA-certified instructor.


Overlooked in all the NRA-bashing of late is the history of the organization (readily available on their website and from independent sources as well). Most folks don't know that the NRA has supported the regulation of machine guns, tighter restrictions on the importation of some arms and the “insta-check” system now used by federally licensed firearms dealers.

If the NRA seems intransigent concerning new gun laws it may simply be that they have reached the conclusion that (1) we have enough reasonable gun laws right now and (2) that the goal of those pushing for new laws is unilateral disarmament.

Mental defectives, drug addicts and felons are already prohibited from purchasing firearms. These prohibitions did not prevent either James “Bad Hair” Holmes or Adam Lanza from committing their atrocities, nor are new restrictions going to prevent murderous mayhem. We ought to be doing our utmost to prevent firearms from falling into the wrong hands, but our politicians seems bent on simply passing laws that give the appearance of doing something. As Governor Hickenlooper recently said, none of the measures take anyone's guns away. So, what's the point?

The point is to move slowly toward disarmament. Not for everyone, of course. Just we the people. Cops, soldiers and criminals will keep their guns (as two out of three should). One might say, “Well, that's OK because the police are there to protect me.” But that's inaccurate. The police are responsible for community safety in general, not your personal protection. Unless you are rich or important enough to rate a bodyguard, you are on your own.

The NRA sees what the gun prohibitionists themselves can't quite admit: they want all guns out of civilian hands. If you doubt this, pay attention to their reaction anytime some madman commits an atrocity: if he uses a military-style weapon, these need to be banned; if a high capacity magazine, these need tighter regulation.

Where does it stop with the anti-gunners? Supposing that every type of firearm except single shot .22 caliber rifles were banned, would it stop there? No, for all it would take is some future pyscho to commit a massacre with his .22 and we'd be hearing about the “22 loophole” or some such thing.

In fact, if one takes the mission statement of the Brady Center at face value, one would conclude that their goal is the disappearance of all firearms in the USA:

“We are devoted to creating an America free from gun violence, where all Americans are safe at home, at school, at work, and in our communities.” No gun violence means no guns, period.

The Brady crew knows that gun violence is non-preventable to one degree or another (or they are completely delusional). Utopian fantasies to the contrary notwithstanding, gun violence will (as will other forms of violence) always be with us.

It sounds good, this freedom from gun violence, but the simple truth is that it cannot be delivered. What can be delivered is the unilateral disarmament of civilians. For the life of me I don't know how the ACLU ended up on the wrong side of this debate, so that leaves the NRA. Yes, the same NRA that is at times shrill and hyperbolic. Yet looking at the alternatives, the NRA seems most sane to me. That's why I re-joined the NRA: in a society swimming in guns, the unilateral disarmament of civilians is not only wrong, it's downright wicked.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

A Violent Grace: Flannery O'Connor and the Nature of Art

The following is the "script" followed for the Crossroads Cultural Center presentation, "A Violent Grace: Flannery O'Connor and the Nature of Art" on Friday, March 15, 2013 at the Knights of Columbus Hall (Council #539) in Denver.
Presenters included David Hazen and Matt & Teresa McGuiness
DAVID: Prologue: (On Flannery O'Connor's utter lack of Political Correctness.) In what follows, you may be offended. There are racial slurs, violence against women, violence against men and domestic abuse. In this regard, please listen carefully to the words of Miss O'Connor herself:
What leads the writer to his salvation may lead the reader into sin. (The Church of the Fiction Writer 810)
You've been warned.
MATT (Concise explanation of the story thus far): The Grandmother is traveling with her son and his family. The Grandmother gets them lost and causes an accident. They are set upon by three escaped convicts headed up by a fellar who calls himself The Misfit.
NARRATOR: Alone with The Misfit, the grandmother found that she had lost her voice. There was not a cloud in the sky nor any sun. There was nothing around her but woods. She wanted to tell him that he must pray. She opened and closed her mouth several times before anything came out. Finally she found herself saying,
GRANDMOTHER: "Jesus. Jesus."
NARRATOR: Meaning, Jesus will help you, but the way she was saying it, it sounded as if she might be cursing. As if he agreed, The Misfit said,
MISFIT: "Yes'm, Jesus thown everything off balance. It was the same case with Him as with me except He hadn't committed any crime and they could prove I had committed one because they had the papers on me. Of course, they never shown me my papers. That's why I sign myself now. I said long ago, you get you a signature and sign everything you do and keep a copy of it. Then you'll know what you done and you can hold up the crime to the punishment and see do they match and in the end you'll have something to prove you ain't been treated right. I call myself The Misfit because I can't make what all I done wrong fit what all I gone through in punishment."
NARRATOR: There was a piercing scream from the woods, followed closely by a pistol report.
MISFIT: "Does it seem right to you, lady, that one is punished a heap and another ain't punished at all?"
GRANDMOTHER: "Jesus! you've got good blood! I know you wouldn't shoot a lady! I know you come from nice people! Pray! Jesus, you ought not to shoot a lady. I'll give you all the money I've got!"
NARRATOR: Looking beyond her far into the woods, The Misfit said,
MISFIT: "Lady, there never was a body that give the undertaker a tip."
NARRATOR: There were two more pistol reports and the grandmother raised her head like a parched old turkey hen crying for water and called out for her son as if her heart would break,
GRANDMOTHER: "Bailey Boy, Bailey Boy!"
THE MISFIT: "Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead, and He shouldn't have done it. He thown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it's nothing for you to do but thow away everything and follow Him, and if He didn't, then it's nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness."
NARRATOR: The Misfit's voice had become almost a snarl.
GRANDMOTHER: "Maybe He didn't raise the dead"
NARRATOR: The old lady mumbled. She didn't know what she was saying and feeling so dizzy that she sank down in the ditch with her legs twisted under her
MISFIT: "I wasn't there so I can't say He didn't, I wisht I had of been there."
NARRATOR: As The Misfit said this he hit the ground with his fist.
MISFIT: "It ain't right I wasn't there because if I had of been there I would of known. Listen lady, if I had of been there I would of known and I wouldn't be like I am now."
NARRATOR: His voice seemed about to crack and the grandmother's head cleared for an instant. She saw the man's face twisted close to her own as if he were going to cry and she murmured,
GRANDMOTHER: "Why you're one of my babies. You're one of my own children !"
NARRATOR: She reached out and touched him on the shoulder. The Misfit sprang back as if a snake had bitten him and shot her three times through the chest. Then he put his gun down on the ground and took off his glasses and began to clean them.
Hiram and Bobby Lee returned from the woods and stood over the ditch, looking down at the grandmother who half sat and half lay in a puddle of blood with her legs crossed under her like a child's and her face smiling up at the cloudless sky.
Without his glasses, The Misfit's eyes were red-rimmed and pale and defenseless-looking.
MISFIT: "Take her off and thow her where you thown the others"
NARRATOR: The Misfit picked up a cat that was rubbing itself against his leg.
"She was a talker, wasn't she?" Bobby Lee said, sliding down the ditch with a yodel.
MISFIT: "She would of been a good woman, if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life."
NARRATOR: "Some fun!" Bobby Lee said.
MISFIT: "Shut up, Bobby Lee. It's no real pleasure in life."
MATT: The first time I read this story I was confused but fascinated.
Q. Who out there has read a Flannery O'Connor story?
One way to MISREAD Flannery O'Connor is to stay on the surface. In a letter of 1961, Miss O'Connor pointed out the following to a puzzled reader:
This story [“A Good Man Is Hard to Find”] is, of course, not meant to be realistic in the sense that it portrays the everyday doings of people in Georgia. It is stylized and and its conventions are comic even though its meaning is serious” (LOA, p. 1148).
MATT: On behalf of Crossroads Cultural Center, Aggiornamento and the Knight's of Columbus Council #539, we welcome you to A Violent Grace: Flannery O'Connor and the Nature of Art.

Crossroads Cultural Center was established in New York in 2004 by a few members of Communion and Liberation, the international movement in the Roman Catholic Church that was founded in Italy in 1954 by Msgr. Luigi Giussani. These friends shared an interest in the relationship between religion and culture, more specifically on the ways in which Christianity, by revealing the ultimate meaning of reality, gives new impulse to the human desire for knowledge.

Our goal is to offer opportunities for education, making it possible to look with openness, curiosity, and critical judgment at every aspect of reality. Our ideals are summed up by the suggestion of Saint Paul "Test everything; retain what is good."

In our experience, the mark of a Christian culture is that it fosters interest in the full spectrum of reality, rather than focusing on a predetermined set of “religious” issues.

A sign of its authenticity is the ability, or at least the desire, to encounter people from all walks of life, and to look for and appreciate everything that is true, good, and worthwhile in the various expressions of human life. These expressions include science, the arts, politics, journalism and the media, theology, history, economy, sociology, and education. This openness and desire is the fruit of the education received in the Roman Catholic Church.

Crossroads currently operates in New York, Washington (DC), New Bedford (MA), Houston, Chicago, and Denver!

This is Teresa McGuiness, David Hazen and I'm Matt McGuiness. Together we want to give you a very short introduction to Flannery O'Connor.

Our task tonight is a bit overwhelming. We have an hour to say something profound and interesting about a woman who is one of the top ten writers of the 20th century. In light of the sheer impossibility of our task, I was inspired by something Flannery wrote in this regard:

The writer [or speaker!] learns, perhaps more quickly than the reader, to be humble in the face of what is. What is is all he has to do with; the concrete is his medium; and he will realize eventually that fiction can transcend its limitations only by staying within them” (The Church and the Fiction Writer)

MATT: Within our limited time, we have decided to give you as much of Miss O'Connor as possible and only as much of ourselves as seems necessary. Our selections come from three of her short stories: “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” “The Displaced Person” and “Revelation.”

Three things about art struck me as I went back and re-read these stories:

1. Art should mostly SHOW not tell (thus art is not pedantic)

2. Art reveals us to ourselves and helps to explain our place in the Cosmos (art is not indifferent to reality)

3. Art, good art, is open to multiple interpretations (so while art can sometimes seem simple, it contains an inner depth or complexity)

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, all three of these artistic factors are at work in O'Connor's “Good Man.”

The next selection is from “The Displaced Person.” The protagonist is a Polish refugee who has survived World War II and its aftermath and is now working on the McIntryre farm. Unfortunately, Mr. Guizac {GWEE-ZAC} has a strong work ethic and has a bad habit of telling the truth. He excites envy and resentment from everyone on Mrs. McIntyre's farm – black and white, good people and trash alike.

At this point in the story, Mrs. McIntyre has finally worked up her courage and has decided to fire Mr. Guizac.

DAVID: There was a heavy frost on the ground that made the fields look like the rough backs of sheep; the sun was almost silver and the woods stuck up like dry bristles on the sky line. The countryside seemed to be receding from the little circle of noise around the shed. Mr. Guizac was squatting on the ground beside the small tractor, putting in a part.

TERESA: Mrs. McIntyre hoped to get the fields turned over while he still had thirty days to work for her. The colored boy was standing by with some tools in his hand and Mr. Shortley was under the shed about to get up on the large tractor and back it out. She meant to wait until he and the Negro got out of the way before she began her unpleasant duty. She stood watching Mr. Guizac, stamping her feet on the hard ground, for the cold was climbing like a paralysis up her feet and legs. She had on a heavy black coat and a red head-kerchief with her black hat pulled down on top of it to keep the glare out of her eyes. Under the black brim her face had an abstracted look and once or twice her lips moved silently.

DAVID: Mr. Guizac shouted over the noise of the tractor for the Negro to hand him a screwdriver and when he got it, he turned over on his back on the icy ground and reached up under the machine. She could not see his face, only his feet and legs and trunk sticking impudently out from the side of the tractor. He had on rubber boots that were cracked and splashed with mud. He raised one knee and then lowered it and turned himself slightly.

TERESA: Of all the things she resented about him, she resented most that he hadn't left on his own accord.

DAVID: Mr. Shortley had got on the large tractor and was backing it out from under the shed. He seemed to be warmed by it as if its heat and strength sent impulses up through him that he obeyed instantly. He had headed it toward the small tractor but he braked it on a slight incline and jumped off and turned back toward the shed.

TERESA: Mrs. McIntyre was looking fixedly at Mr. Guizac's legs lying flat on the ground now. She heard the brake on the large tractor slip and, looking up, she saw it move forward, calculating its own path. Later she remembered that she had seen the Negro jump silently out of the way as if a spring in the earth had released him and that she had seen Mr. Shortley turn his head with incredible slowness and stare silently over his shoulder and that she had started to shout to the Displaced Person but that she had not. She had felt her eyes and Mr. Shortley's eyes and the Negro's eyes come together in one look that froze them in collusion forever, and she had heard the little noise the Pole made as the tractor wheel broke his backbone.

DAVID: The two men ran forward to help and she fainted.

COMMENTARY: between DP & Revelation
MATT: What does Miss O'Connor show us in this short extract?
Well, here's one of many things: this is what Original Sin looks like:
[Mrs. McIntyre] heard the brake on the large tractor slip and, looking up, she saw it move forward, calculating its own path. Later she remembered that she had seen the Negro jump silently out of the way as if a spring in the earth had released him and that she had seen Mr. Shortley turn his head with incredible slowness and stare silently over his shoulder and that she had started to shout to the Displaced Person but that she had not. She had felt her eyes and Mr. Shortley's eyes and the Negro's eyes come together in one look that froze them in collusion forever.”
MATT: O'Connor doesn't tell us about evil, she makes us feel it. Ouch.
This brings me to something that may be offensive to some. Broadly speaking, it touches upon religion and the artist. More specifically it has to do with us Catholics and our secret expectations about Catholic artists:


I once received a letter from an old lady in California who informed me that when the tired reader comes home at night, he wishes to read something that will lift up his heart. And it seems her heart had not been lifted up by anything of mine she had read. I think that if her heart had been in the right place, it would have been lifted up” (Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction).

MATT: Ah, yes, pious platitudes. That's what the people want. Or do we? Perhaps we, the “consumers,” of art need to be educated in the nature of art itself. Art becomes something perverse when it is “fraudulently manipulated” in the name of some higher good. Again, Miss O'Connor:
When fiction is made according to its nature, it should reinforce our sense of the supernatural by grounding it in concrete observable reality. If the writer uses his eyes in the real security of his faith, he will be obliged to use them honestly and his sense of mystery and his acceptance of it will be increased. To look at the worst will be for him no more than an act of trust in God; but what is one thing for the writer may be another for the reader. What leads the writer to his salvation may lead the reader into sin” (The Church and the Fiction Writer).
MATT: Thus art (literature included) can serve to educate us. My favorite explanation of what education ought to do, comes from Luigi Giussani who stole it from Josef Jungmann, the Austrian theologian:
Education ought to be an introduction to the whole of reality.” [repeat]
Miss O'Connor surveyed the whole of reality of the human: sin, redemption, human destiny. She affirmed the ultimate positivity of reality in the most grotesque of circumstances.
If we are provoked by an artist, we can begin a journey of verification: Is it true? Is it beautiful? Is it good? This is a path toward maturity if we are willing to admit that cheap piety is not what we seek but reality in all it's depths.
Our final selection is from the last story O'Connor ever wrote. It is entitled “Revelation.” In “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” the violence is overt, visible. But in “Revelation,” the obvious violence is short-lived; the real violence is a painful interior struggle.
Mrs. Turpin's revelation is a painful discovery of her place in the Cosmos. Painful though it may be for Mrs. Turpin, there is also humor along the way.

TERESA (Mrs. Turpin before Mary Grace):
The Doctor’s waiting room, which was very small, was almost full when the Turpins entered and Mrs. Turpin, who was very large, made it look even smaller by her presence.
[As she waited, she occupied] herself with the question of who she would have chosen to be if she couldn't have been herself. If Jesus had said to her before he made her, "There's only two places available for you. You can either be a nigger or white trash," what would she have said? "Please, Jesus, please," she would have said, "Just let me wait until there's another place available," and he would have said, "No, you have to go right now", and I have only those two places so make up your mind." She would have wiggled and squirmed and begged and pleaded but it would have been no use and finally she would have said, "All right, make me a nigger then-but that don't mean a trashy one." And he would have made her a near clean respectable Negro woman, herself but black.
MATT (Mrs. Turpin during/after Mary Grace):
[Sitting next to Mrs. Turpin in the Doctor's waiting room] was a fat girl of eighteen or nineteen [named Mary Grace. She was] scowling into a thick blue book which Mrs. Turpin saw was entitled Human Development. The girl raised her head and directed her scowl at Mrs. Turpin as if she did not like her looks.

[This] ugly girl beside [Mrs. Turpin] cast an eye upward at the clock, smirked, then looked directly at her and smirked again. Then she returned her eyes to her book. [The girl's blue eyes] appeared alternately to smolder and to blaze.
There was no reason the girl should single her out for her ugly looks.
This raw-complexioned girl snapped her teeth together. Her lower lip turned downwards and inside out, revealing the pale pink inside of her mouth. After a second it rolled back up. It was the ugliest face Mrs. Turpin had ever seen anyone make and for a moment she was certain that the girl had made it at her. She was looking at her as if she had known and disliked her all her life-all of Mrs. Turpin's life, it seemed too, not just all the girl's life.
Why, girl, I don't even know you.”
Mrs. Turpin said silently.
The girl gripped the book in her lap with white fingers.
All at once the ugly girl turned her lips inside out again. Her eyes were fixed like two drills on Mrs. Turpin. This time there was no mistaking that there was something urgent behind them.
Girl, I haven't done a thing to you!”
Mrs. Turpin exclaimed silently. The girl might be confusing her with somebody else.
[Surveying the room,] the girl looked as if she would like to hurl them all through the plate glass window.
Mary Grace made a loud ugly noise through her teeth. The girl's face was almost purple.
The book struck [Mrs. Turpin] directly, over her left eye. It struck almost at the same instant that she realized the girl was about to hurl it. Before she could utter a sound, the raw face came crashing across the table toward her, howling. The girl's fingers sank like clamps into the soft flesh of her neck.
[Later] Mrs. Turpin's head cleared and her power of motion returned. She leaned forward until she was looking directly into the fierce brilliant eyes [of Mary Grace]. There was no doubt in her mind that the girl did know her, know her in some intense and personal way, beyond time and place and condition.
TERESA: "What you got to say to me?" ...
[Mrs. Turpin] asked hoarsely and held her breath, waiting, as for a revelation. The girl raised her head. Her gaze locked with Mrs. Turpin's.
… “Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog.” …
Her voice was low but clear. Her eyes burned for a moment as if she saw with pleasure that her message had struck its target.
[Soon afterwards, the Turpins went home to their farm. Mrs. Turpin thought and thought and thought]
"I am not a wart hog. From hell."
But the denial had no force. The girl's eyes and her words, even the tone of her voice, low but clear, directed only to her, brooked no repudiation. She had been singled out for the message, though there was [white] trash in the room to whom it might justly have been applied. The full force of this fact struck her only now. The message had been given to Ruby Turpin, a respectable, hardworking, church-going woman. The tears dried. Her eyes began to burn instead with wrath.
[low, fierce voice] "What do you send me a message like that for?"
"How am I a hog and me both? How am I saved and from hell too?"
[mad] "Why me? It's no trash around here, black or white, that I haven't given to. And break my back to the bone every day working. And do for the church.”
"How am I a hog? Exactly how am I like them?"
[getting angrier] "There was plenty of trash there. It didn't have to be me. If you like trash better, go get yourself some trash then. You could have made me trash. Or a nigger. If trash is what you wanted, why didn't you make me trash?"
[sarcastically] "I could quit working and take it easy and be filthy. Lounge about the sidewalks all day drinking root beer. Dip snuff and spit in every puddle and have it all over my face. I could be nasty.”
[now yelling] “Go on! Call me a hog! Call me a hog again. From hell. Call me a wart hog from hell!
A final surge of fury shook her and she roared:
[shouting] "Who do you think you are?"
DAVID (Mrs. Turpin's revelation):
The color of everything, field and crimson sky, burned for a moment with a transparent intensity. The question carried over the pasture and across the highway and the cotton field and returned to her clearly, like an answer from beyond the wood.
TERESA: She opened her mouth but no sound came out of it.
At last she lifted her head. There was only a purple streak in the sky, cutting through a field of crimson and leading, like an extension of the highway, into the descending dusk. She raised her hands from the side of the pen in a gesture hieratic and profound.
A visionary light settled in her eyes. She saw the streak as a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire.
Upon it a vast horde of souls were tumbling toward heaven. There were whole companies of white trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of black niggers in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs.
And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself and Claud, had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right.
TERESA: She leaned forward to observe them closer.
They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They, alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces even their virtues were being burned away.
COMMENTARY: after Revelation
MATT: THE DRAMA OF INTERPRETATION: Flannery O'Connor lamented the fact that she like so many artists was not understood. This was not her fault, but, if I may be so bold, our fault. The interpretation of art takes hard work and patience; two things lacking in contemporary culture.
Catholic readers are constantly being offended and scandalized by novels they don’t have the fundamental equipment to read in the first place, and often these are works that are permeated with a Christian spirit (The Church and the Fiction Writer, 811).
I don’t believe you can impose orthodoxy on fiction. I do believe that you can deepen your own orthodoxy by reading if you are not afraid of strange visions... Catholics are much given to the instant answer. Fiction doesn't have any. (The Catholic Novelist in the South, 863).
MATT: Artists have their responsibilities. As artists, it is to stay true to the art form that has called you. Another way to put this is to say: tell the truth.
What the fiction writer will discover, if he discovers anything at all, is that he himself cannot move or mold reality in the interests of abstract truth. The writer learns, perhaps more quickly than the reader, to be humble in the face of what is (The Church and the Fiction Writer, 808).
MATT: The artist works with what is given. Not only is there a “given-ness” to pen, ink, paper, clay and metal. His audience is also given to him. Yet the audience too has a responsibility. I know, this may sound strange in our entertainment-driven society!
It is popular to suppose that anyone who can read the telephone book can read a short story or a novel, and it is more than usual to find the attitude among Catholics that since we possess the truth in the Church, we can use this truth directly as an instrument of judgment on any discipline at any time without regard for the nature of that discipline itself.
When people have told me that because I am a Catholic, I cannot be an artist, I have had to reply, ruefully, that because I am a Catholic I cannot afford to be less than an artist (The Church and the Fiction Writer, 808-9).

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Domesticating Violence?

Ah, Colorado! Where the women are armed and the men are generally well-behaved


Should domestic-abusers be disarmed? Most likely. Should the Colorado legislators be in a rush to do it? No. Ill-conceived legislation gets struck down by the courts and then valuable time, money and energy is wasted. Senators ought to know this.

Apparently, Colorado state senator Evie Hudak is too busy and harried to let others think about SB 197. This coverage by the Denver Post is very telling:

If Democrats really wanted to do something about domestic violence, Cadman said, they should lay the bill over until Monday. Then Republicans could work with them on it, he said.

Other Republicans complained of an 18-page amendment Democrats added to the bill on the floor and said there wasn't enough time to digest it.

But Hudak said there was no need for more time. She said the amendment was 18 pages only because it repeated the same language in multiple parts of the bill. The changes to the underlying bill were relatively minor, she said, and involved clarifying things such as how someone in jail would be able to surrender their firearms in domestic-abuse cases.

I'm reminded of a song by that good ol' Canadian leftist, Bruce Cockburn, in "The Trouble with Normal":

Suddenly it's repression, moratorium on rights / What did they think the politics of panic would invite? / Person in the street shrugs -- "Security comes first" / But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse.
Rest assured, no party is above the "politics of panic," and Evie Hudak is simply trying to ramrod this measure through. The idea of disarming those who have no right to possess a firearm under existing federal law has merit, especially if the confiscation extends to felons and known gang-members (for example) and is rationally enforced.

The authorities know who the felons and gang-members are already; shouldn't they be as much (or more) of a priority for disarmament?  Why are they not included? Perhaps because some Democrats fear the ACLU even more than they do the NRA! Now that's something to ponder. If meaningful law enforcement is difficult, this is no reason not to do it.

If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right. Just say No to the politics of panic. Civil liberties need to be balanced with getting guns out of the hands of the wrong guys (and I do mean guys, mostly). This balancing act takes time. If you're not willing to take the time to do it right, Senator Hudak, one must conclude you're not very serious about the reality of the situation, just serious about political appearances.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Thoughts on gun control (1 of ?)

How not to understand gun violence

In Whit Stillman's Barcelona one finds not only an anti-communism, the failures of promiscuity, and the virtues of friendship, but it also offers this reflection:

Spaniard: You can't say Americans are not more violent than other people?
American: No!
Spaniard: All those people killed in shootings in America?
American: Shootings. That doesn't mean Americans are more violent than other people. We're just better shots.

Here in Colorado, Democratic lawmakers would seem to competing with Mr. Stillman's comedy while lacking his insight and sense of irony. There is something profoundly true in what the American in the quotation above doesn't quite get around to saying: the correlation between violence and guns is something mysterious. It is surely not the case that firearms training (e.g., marksmanship) increases gun violence, but it is also not the case that we understand the connection between guns and violence. Violence comes from our sinful nature and anyone who thinks he understands that is a fool or a saint.

The four pieces of legislation proposed in the Colorado House do nothing to reduce the criminal and/or violent use of firearms but they give the appearance of concerned legislators “doing something.” In this they are serving as stereotypical examples of government bureaucrats who look busy but accomplish nothing.

Colorado's freaky foursome

Here's a quick summary of each of the four bills (they may be law by the time you read this).

House Bills 1228 and 1229 do two things: (1) mandate so-called universal background checks and (2) charge the checkee a fee for being investigated. At one level, part of this makes sense, on another, its frivolous and insulting. It is already illegal to knowingly transfer a firearm to a felon or other person barred from ownership/possession of a firearm. I have moral certainty about a host of friends, to whom I could transfer a firearm; they are neither felons nor loons. Why this bureaucratic mandate to verify what I already know (to wit: Uncle Larry is not a felon nor a barking lunatic?).

There are good intentions here, but I think appealing to people's sense of civic duty via public service announcements would be more effective. Ads that had some slogan such as "When in doubt, don't sell." Or how about a non-punitive way of encouraging background checks, such as a fee-less background check and a Starbucks gift card. Can't we be a little creative here? Those crackheads (the non-Starbucks variety, that is) who are trading guns for drugs are breaking existing law.

And the fee? A silly hoop meant to discourage a perfectly legal activity.

HB 1224 limits magazine capacity to 15 rounds (cartridges). Look, I realize Hollywood does a very poor job of portraying the reality of firearms and their limitations (for example, Rambo and his infinite supply of ammunition), but this is just silly. All kinds of magazines in the 20, 30, 40 and 75 round capacities are in circulation. Suppose you did get them all off the street? Mr. Badguy will simply buy multiple magazines. Depending upon the firearm, a magazine change can be effected in 2-3 seconds or less. Criminals may be crazy but they are neither stupid nor uncreative - they'll find a way to kill, period. This bill was crafted by someone who knows nothing about firearms or their use.

HB 1226 designates state college campuses as concealed carry-free zones. Perhaps a better term would be “free-fire zones.” Did Jimmy “Bad Hair” Holmes see those firearm-free signs in Aurora and say, "Oh, my bad, I'll go somewhere else to commit an atrocity" or did he see those signs as encouragement to slaughter innocents? Common sense tells us the answer. All this sort of thing does is tell wackos where they are less likely to face resistance, and hence it encourages them to ply their twisted trade there.

The subtext of these carry-free zones is, “You're in college, you're semi-moronical (probably a frat boy to boot), and we can't expect you to exercise intelligence or restraint.” Wow, and the future in America is in their hands.

I'm the NRA and I choke
We have very solid laws (state and federal) on the books concerning firearms and their misuse. The NRA is always beating this drum, but it is also true: if more time and energy and, yes, money, were spent on enforcing our current (reasonable!) laws, gun-related criminal violence would likely decrease.

I don't care for much of the NRA's “Chicken Little” rhetoric. I detest violence, and yet I joined the NRA for the same reason I've voted for some creepy Republicans in the past: to put a check on people and policies that are worse.

All of this may seem like another diatribe from a single issue guy. Let me open the issue up to what ought to be of concern to all Catholics and everyone of good will: the relationship of gun control and race, and the difference between violence and legitimate defense in our Catholic tradition.

Arms and race

In The Atlantic Adam Winkler credits the Black Panthers with launching the modern gun rights movement. Seriously. Much to the chagrin of then-governor Ronald Reagan, in 1967 the Panthers came to Sacramento armed to the teeth and marched into the state capitol demanding that their right to bear arms be respected (see “The Secret History of Guns,” September 2011). Naturally, they were arrested. What's beautiful about this piece of historical trivia is that it makes everyone a bit uncomfortable. White guys like me are scared to death of fierce African Americans running around like some redneck Idaho militiamen. But it is the gun-control advocates with the leftward sympathies who get the real cognitive dissonance: they're black, they're hip, but they got guns!

The Panthers in a sense were paying whitey back for what had happened in the South after the Civil War. Gun control laws were passed after the war and applied equally to blacks and whites! Well, on paper. Good ol' Jim Crow ensured that blacks were disarmed and whites kept their guns. Imagine the inconvenience to the Kluxers if blacks were armed. Why they would have an unfair advantage over the men in pointy hats. How could the Klan have possibly lynched, raped, murdered and intimated the freedmen if they were armed? No, “gun violence” had to be minimized, and gun violence meant a gun in a black man's hand.

Race is certainly not the only factor is gun control, especially today. But it is a part of the puzzle (just as racism helps explain the wickedness of Maggie Sanger and her present day “offspring”). Black and white, we all are made in God's image and have inviolable dignity.

Equal protection

Cardinal Dolan recently blogged about his support for new gun control legislation. When it comes to Catholic doctrine, I suspect the cardinal and I are in full agreement; when it comes to the implications of that doctrine, well, that's a different matter.

Three quotations from the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church are particularly relevant:

Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others (CCC 2265).

Violence is never a proper response. With the conviction of her faith in Christ and with the awareness of her mission, the Church proclaims “that violence is evil, that violence is unacceptable as a solution to problems, that violence is unworthy of man. Violence is a lie, for it goes against the truth of our faith, the truth of our humanity. Violence destroys what it claims to defend: the dignity, the life, the freedom of human beings (CSDC 496).

The right to use force for purposes of legitimate defence is associated with the duty to protect and help innocent victims who are not able to defend themselves from acts of aggression (CSDC 504).

Notice the distinction between violence and legitimate defense. I have a right to protect myself and others. “Grave duty” suggests there are times when I would be sinning in not protecting someone else, and this comports with basic human decency. Yet I have no right to act violently or aggressively. What seems to be the same act at the level of appearances (e.g., discharging a firearm) could be the fulfillment of a duty or an atrocity. It just depends.

Furthermore, this is not England. What is proportionate in stopping violent acts there (cricket bats? a discourse on gentlemanly behavior?), does not apply here. We are awash in a veritable sea of guns. Is it prudent to ask civilians to unilaterally disarm? Criminals won't. What we can expect from unilateral disarmament on the installment plan is a lot of Lenin's cracked eggs to make an omelet: disarmed civilians slaughtered in the name of non-violence and peace. This is no benign paradox but a horror.

The next installment will discuss some aspects of the “world view” of gun-owners and how this helps explain our shrillness.