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

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.

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