Guns: An American Swan Song

Well, this isn’t something I ever imagined I’d be writing, let alone on this particular blog. Let me open with a small disclaimer: I speak as a relatively moderate, left leaning centrist (probably just lost half my audience). I believe wholeheartedly in Constitutional rights, including the right to bear arms (and there goes the other half). And since I’m now talking to myself, I guess I can be honest.

I believe in Constitutional rights, but I also recognize that the framers themselves established a precedent allowing for the Constitution to change and to grow. It is one of the fundamental principles of our Democracy. It proves that our founders wanted us to continue evolving into something better. Jefferson himself said in a letter to Samuel Kercheval, July 12, 1816:

I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and Constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.

Look at that shit. I quoted a founder. Now I’m right. About all things.

All that said, I want to talk about the stickiest of sticky subjects right now: Guns. (OMG NOT GUNS! RUN FOR THE HILLS!) Yes. Guns. It is an enormous subject with innumerable elements and arguments and opinions, and I’m going to talk about just a few today (yes, I’m calling out the fact that I won’t touch on every aspect of this subject). Perhaps I’ll get into more later, but I’ve been silent on this issue for most of my life. As I have watched the social media and dinner table debates going on around me, heard more bullshit than I can possibly stomach, and shed tears for those who were far too young to die, I’ve finally decided to share my thoughts. With myself. Since I’ve already alienated my audience on both sides of the debate.

Well, JT, let’s dive right in, shall we?
Thanks, JT, don’t mind if I do.

Part 1: Homicide Rates Have Increased in Cities with Strict Gun Laws.

As people rightly point out, some cities with gun laws have seen a recent uptick in homicide rates (most notably Chicago where 90% of the homicides in 2016 were from firearms). People like to point to the “fact” that Chicago has the strictest gun laws in the country in an effort to prove that gun laws don’t work. Some even say that these higher rates are BECAUSE of the gun laws.

People who make these arguments are ignoring the fact that major cities typically have higher rates of gun violence… and violence in general.

They’re ignoring the fact that the 20 states with the highest per capita death rates by firearm do not require a permit to buy a gun. Not one in 20. While this source does not clarify whether we’re talking about handguns or long guns, the statistic remains alarming.

They’re ignoring the fact that, in reality, Chicago USED to have the strictest gun laws in the country, but it was only after those laws were rescinded that we’ve seen this uptick in gun violence. In 2008, a ban on handguns within city limits was overturned by the Supreme Court. In 2013, a new law was passed ALLOWING people to carry concealed weapons. And while assault weapons are, indeed, banned in Cook County, gun laws have been, on the whole, drastically reduced in Chicago.

Finally, they’re ignoring the drastic decrease in firearm death in New York City, a city that requires a permit, registration, owner license, and carry permit for handguns while prohibiting open carry all together. New York City, it seems, debunks the myth that more gun laws cause more gun deaths.

Part 2: The Good-Guys-With-Guns Argument.

Another argument that I have heard pretty often recently is that because more “good guys” don’t have guns, they have been unable to stop bad guys with guns. In effect, they’ve been prevented from dishing out some good ole, sweet, vigilante justice. They point to stories about Stephen Willeford, who heroically chased down and wounded the suspect accused of killing 26 people in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, as evidence of what a good-guy-with-a-gun can do.

I can certainly see the merits of this argument. It suggests that good people can, and do, step up to defend their neighbors when evil strikes. My only real problem with this argument is that the good-guy-with-a-gun, unfortunately, was still unable to stop the massacre from actually happening. He was only able to stop the guy from getting away (and potentially continuing his rampage). While I’d go on record in support of Mr. Willeford’s actions (despite the fact that good-guys-with-guns have been mistaken as bad guys by law enforcement), this good guy wasn’t able to prevent tragedy. Which is what the argument is all about, right?

In that same light, the good-guy-with-a-gun argument ignores statistics from open carry, no-permit-required-to-have-a-gun cities like New Orleans, ranked 34th, or St. Louis, ranked 16th out of the top 50 cities in the world with the highest homicide rates. In the freaking world! (I don’t know about you, but to me, this is an area where it’s okay for the United States to NOT be number one.) In these cities/states with lax gun laws, where are all those good ole boys with guns, and why aren’t they stopping the scary bad guys with guns? It doesn’t seem to be happening. So while instances like the above mentioned good-guy-with-a-gun scenario did, eventually, help stop a murderous douchebag, statistically they seem to be in the extreme minority.

Part 3: The Gun-Free-Zone Argument.

People who make the argument for the good-guy-with-a-gun, furthermore, often claim that if we did not have gun free zones, mass shootings wouldn’t happen. This argument is as terrifying as it is wrong, and I want to address it. As a concerned citizen.

Let’s take the Vegas Massacre that left 58 people dead as just one example, because people often blame the fact that the concert was a gun-free zone.

Proponents of this argument are saying, in effect, that a crowd armed with guns would have been able to stop the psycho shooting at them from 32nd floor of a hotel casino. In other words, they’re arguing that moderately to poorly trained civilians could have not only been able to identify where the shots were coming from, not only have not mistaken all the (now armed) people around them as the source of the massacre, but to have been such incredible marksmen that they could have shot a man hundreds of feet away and hundreds of feet above them without hitting anybody else in the hotel. Anybody who’s shot a gun and is being honest knows that that kind of marksmanship only exists in Marvel movies.

Which brings me to my conclusion… for now.

Even if we pretended for a moment that the false argument about Detroit held water, that the place with the strictest gun laws in the country is rampant with gun violence so gun laws don’t make a difference… even if we choose to believe that, evidence to the contrary is all around us. Strict gun controls have saved lives in many countries, including Denmark, the UK, Japan, and Australia.

All that said, let me take a moment to stand on the other side. Because I agree with the argument that gun supporters often make: the United States is different from those places and passing stricter gun laws in any given city or state is pointless (there, I said it).

It works in those other countries (and doesn’t work here) for a specific reason. For gun control laws to work, they must be sweeping. They must be universal. That’s the key difference between gun laws in other countries and those in the United States. What difference could strict gun laws in a city like Detroit possibly make if people need only drive half an hour to Ohio to buy their guns without a permit or registration? Our laws must be national if we want change. AND THEY SHOULD BE. 

Because the laws have been ineffectual is not to say we shouldn’t discuss, debate, and pass laws. Because “bad guys don’t follow laws” is not a reason to not make laws. We need to figure out why the laws, or lack thereof, have not worked. Because the status quo is not going to cut it. Ignoring the problem, as the Right tries to do, doesn’t work and banning bump stocks, as the Left tries to do, won’t work either.

Finally, we need to stop making the argument that any gun regulation is a violation of the Constitution. The 2nd amendment itself begins with: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State…” … I mean, it friggin says “well regulated” in the damned thing! The framers knew that every average bloke would need proper training. They foresaw the need for regulation. And not just regulated. WELL regulated.

In the end, I make these points not to say “so we should get rid of all the guns”, but to challenge gun proponents to form arguments that make sense and that do not rely on bullshit. I challenge them to not equate gun regulations with gun bans, because they’re not the same thing. On the same wavelength, I challenge gun law proponents to actually create laws that make sense. Outlawing a certain kind of handle or a certain kind of magazine just doesn’t cut it. It’s nonsense that detracts from laws that might actually do something. Laws that must be universal.

Thanks for listening, JT. Maybe next time I’ll get into the ridiculous tendency to compare guns to cars. Or the idea that movies and video games are to blame. Or the fact that many people who think they NEED a gun for protection have never actually used a gun to protect themselves. Or the fact that gun advocates, the same ones who tout the good-guy-with-a-gun argument, have issued death threats to outspoken victims of mass shootings (whether they believe those people are liars notwithstanding). Maybe.