I wrote a post on the gun issue (“Our Deadly Love Affair With Guns“) less than two weeks ago, after a professional football player killed his girlfriend and himself in Kansas City. I’m not going to repeat the same arguments now; if you want to see what I think about America’s problem with guns, that post sums it up very well.
But in the wake of yesterday’s horrific, senseless massacre of 20 children between the ages of 5 and 10, as well as seven adults, today I just want to deal with some of the absolutely idiotic excuses, analogies and talking points I have encountered in the last 24 hours on this issue.
I was talking with a friend around lunchtime yesterday, and we started throwing out some of the ridiculous things we expected to hear from the gun apologists. The first one we came up with was this: “Well, if the teachers/the principal/the janitors would have had guns, this never would have happened (or fewer kids would have been killed).” Naturally, I’ve seen that argument quite a bit since yesterday. It was completely predictable, because that’s what the gun apologists always say after the occurrence one of these increasingly frequent gun massacres in a public place. OK, sure, it’s possible that an armed teacher might have killed the killer before he got off more than a few rounds. It’s also possible that said teacher, possibly scared to death and perhaps not a gun enthusiast, would have done more harm than good, and that a bunch of kids may have been caught in the crossfire. A grade school should not be the Wild West; the answer to gun violence is not more guns. The answer is to ensure that there are fewer guns and that they are not easily accessible to lunatics.
So, from Trite Talking Point #1, let’s move on to our first Really Bad Analogy (which also doubles as Trite Talking Point #2). In a Facebook discussion, some fellow chimed in on a friend’s thread by saying that people die in car accidents, so you can’t single out guns, because people using cars sometimes get killed too. Well, no. The purpose of a car is to transport one or more individuals from place to place. If somebody dies in a car, it is almost always accidental. Very few people ever take it into their heads to use a car as a weapon. Guns, on the other hand, are designed to cause physical harm; that is the purpose of a gun. A person who procures a gun does not do so for any other purpose but to shoot it. And guns, being a bit smaller than a car, and able (unlike vehicles) to hurl bullets at a distance, are more easily hidden, can get into more places, and are easier to kill people with. Even if some nutjob decides to start killing the USA in his Chevrolet, he can’t take a car into a school, a church, a supermarket or an office building. It won’t fit through the door. To kill, intentionally, with a car, almost never happens and isn’t nearly as easy as killing intentionally with a gun.
And by the way, there is one other area where this ridiculous analogy does not hold: car usage is heavily regulated. There are laws governing how a car is used, and people who violate those laws risk losing their driving privileges. Unsafe or unwise usage of a gun does not necessarily result in a person facing any legal sanction at all, unless somebody ends up injured or dead. You want to drink and drive? If you are caught, you’ll be arrested and possibly lose your license—just for being drunk behind the wheel. When was the last time somebody got arrested for handling a gun while drunk (without, of course, killing or wounding somebody first)?
Let’s go now to Trite Talking Point #3, which is also our first Stupid Excuse: more gun regulation won’t make any difference; killers will just use other weapons. This excuse for inaction is ridiculous, and I’ll demonstrate why.
Let’s say the psycho who shot up all those kids in Connecticut yesterday had entered the school with a knife instead of a gun. What are the differences between the two weapons? Well, first of all, if you have a gun, you can kill from a distance. If the killer stands in the door of a classroom, he can start plugging people from there, and nobody will be able to get past him without getting shot. But if he goes in with a knife, he first has to get close enough to a victim to actually use the knife; it also takes more time than shooting (which is very fast) and makes the assailant more vulnerable to being tackled or otherwise impeded by the other adult in the room. Additionally, and this is very important: with a knife, an attacker can only attack one victim at a time. He may get one victim, maybe even several, but the others are going to run, and since the knife-wielder has no gun, and can’t kill at a distance, he can’t possibly stop all of them.
I keep hearing, from the gun apologists, about the 22 kids in China who got stabbed a few days ago. But you know what? Those 22 kids all lived. Every one of them is alive. Their parents will get to see them grow up. There’s a reason why the fictional Sgt. Jimmy Malone, in his famous speech in The Untouchables, says “They pull a knife; you pull a gun … ” That’s because it’s easier and more efficient to kill with a gun than it is to kill with a knife. For any individuals to whom this isn’t obvious, all I can say is any such people are lucky that breathing is an involuntary exercise. If they had to think about it, they’d suffocate.
OK, let’s plow forward and deal with Bad Analogy #2. One argument that gun-control advocates make is that other comparable countries have far fewer gun deaths than the United States, which in a typical year has about 10,000 deaths related to guns. Sometimes it’s around 9,000, other years closer to 11,000 or 12,000, but it’s usually right around that 10,000 mark. Other western democracies, such as Britain or Canada, usually have anywhere from 50 to a couple hundred gun deaths in a given year.
Of course, yesterday, a gun apologist on Facebook countered that argument with this: most of these countries are smaller than Texas, so the comparison is invalid. Well, no, that’s actually a really bad analogy, because the point isn’t that a country like Britain, with one-fifth of the U.S population (but many more people than Texas, by the way) has fewer gun deaths; that is to be expected. The point is that if you compare apples to apples and look at it on a per-capita basis (number of gun deaths per 100,000 people), the U.S. total is off the charts. Britain, with 60 million people, has about 50 gun deaths in a given year. The United States, with slightly more than 300 million people, has about 10,000. All things being equal, either Britain should have 2,000 gun deaths a year, or the United States should have about 250. On an apples-to-apples basis, we have about 40 times more gun deaths per capita than Britain every year. Do we have 40 times as many evil or crazy people, per capita, than the United Kingdom has? No. But we do have 280 million guns.
Well, that’s a pretty good sampling, but I’m going to close here with Stupid Excuse #2: we can’t do anything about guns because the Second Amendment guarantees everyone’s right to a gun.
Well, let’s start with the text of that amendment:
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.
You’ll notice, if you read that 27-word sentence carefully, that its mandate (” … the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed”) is conditional; the right to keep and bear arms is predicated on, and justified by, the security needs of the state. In the 18th century, when the founders adopted this amendment, there was no large, standing army; average citizens could be called upon at any time to defend their country or community. I could make a very strong case here that the current strength and structure of the United States armed forces obviates the need for every American to be armed and ready to fight off an invasion or insurrection.
Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has chosen to interpret this amendment much more loosely than I do, and my point, although I consider it to be correct, is also moot. So let’s move on to another argument that might hold up a little better:
Every Constitutional right has limits.
For example, let’s look at an amendment to the bill of rights that most Americans hold absolutely sacred: the First Amendment.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Does anyone care to argue that this amendment, and the rights contained within, are not limited? Then I’d like to ask you to do a series of experiments:
1) First, strip naked at the corner of Wacker Drive and Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago while chanting verses from your religious text of choice.
2) Then, put your clothes back on (please) and catch a cab to the nearest theater. Buy a ticket, walk in, and halfway through whatever Harold and Kumar are doing at White Castle, start screaming that the theater is on fire.
3) Next, assuming you have not yet been arrested, go home and start blogging about how you’ve got a great plan to shoot the president, and while you’re at it, go ahead and post that the local school board leader likes to have sex with 12-year-olds.
4) After you’ve finished with these contributions to the world of journalism, go out into the middle of the street with a picket sign and block traffic.
Oh, wait—you mean you can’t legally do any of these things? But the First Amendment is clear, isn’t it? Congress cannot make any law that prevents free exercise of religion, speech, press or assembly, right?
Yes it can, as the Supreme Court has previously ruled—if, and only if, the free exercise of those rights creates a clear and present danger to others. If you shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater, when there is no fire, and people get hurt, you have broken the law and can be prosecuted, as you can if you threaten the life of the president, libel somebody, or obstruct vehicular traffic, for example. Can anyone seriously argue that the potential misuse of a gun does not also create a clear and present danger to others? If we can limit the First Amendment, generally considered the most sacred of them all, on grounds of basic common sense and public safety, why are we prevented from using common sense and public safety to limit the Second?
I go back to what I wrote on December 3rd: America has a gun problem. What are we going to do about it? Will the horrifying school shooting in Connecticut and the tragic deaths of so many young children wake us up? If it doesn’t, what exactly will it take? Do we have to come to the point where some nutcase takes a gun into a maternity ward and starts killing newborns? Or are we going to strike a blow for common sense and public safety now?