Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Gun Control

(Originally published on Dec. 19, 2012. Updated on Oct. 3, 2015 with new information)

On Dec. 14, 2012, a young gunman went to a school and killed 26 people, mostly children under the age of 8. And on Oct. 1, 2015, a man entered a community college and shot 19. Since 1776 there have been over 200 school shootings (including individual suicides at school); in 2013 there were 26, in 2014 there were 43, and by October 2015 there had been 19. Since 2013, 44% of those shootings involved more than one person. There have also been mass shootings at businesses, clubs, and elsewhere.

In times of crisis, people often look to government to fix the problem. They assume there was a failure in the law or that perhaps we have too much freedom and for our own sake we should pass further legislation to protect us from ourselves.

There is no doubt that evil and unhinged people exist in the world and that guns, particularly modern guns, allow those people to harm and kill greater numbers of innocent people than ever possible before. The anti-gun/pro-gun control lobbies point to countries with strict gun-control laws and even total bans on arms outright and then compares their crime rates with those in the United States as “proof” that gun-control is the only answer.

Guns, simply defined as a barrel that uses gunpowder to propel a projectile, have existed for over 1,000 years and like so many other inventions of man, have become a part of everyday life, at least until recently. A gun can be used for hunting, self-defense, war, target practice, to commit crimes, as collector items, and at times as the last defense of a people against a tyrannical government; a final guarantee of freedom.

Many say that guns generally have no place in modern society and that, for the West at least, the notion of needing them to fend off an evil government is…quaint, if not insane. Of course modern world history is replete with examples of a population needing arms to ward off and overthrow a repressive regime (Germany, Soviet Russia, China, North Korea, Cambodia, etc.) Clearly, the issue is complicated and emotionally charged.

For a moment, let us set aside the argument for guns as a last defense and focus on gun crimes as they relate to gun control.

It is true that strict gun control or bans, can limit the number of gun related crimes. However, if you look at the logic of criminality you will find that the law in and of itself means very little to criminals, after all, to commit a crime is by definition to ignore the law.

The UK has passed a number of laws, beginning in 1903, which have led to the near extinction of the modern firearm in the country, the main exceptions being antiques and incredibly strict hunting licenses. However, the people of the UK still maintain over 4 million firearms. In 2009 the number of gun deaths was 138. The number of homicides (by any method) was 724. So it’s easy to see that having a gun alone does not make for a violent populace and that non-gun related homicides far outweigh those committed with a gun. If we look at the broader trend in the UK, particularly in cities, gun crime is on the rise. In 2010 gun crimes in London were up 48%. And while the total number of gun crimes is down compared to when gun ownership was less restricted, it is evident that laws and restrictions largely apply to law abiding citizens --to those who wouldn't have committed any crime to begin with.

Criminals will always find ways around the law, they will find ways to commit their crimes and will fuel a black market. And unlike the US, the United Kingdom lacks a central constitution and there are no inherent rights to begin with, only things which, through law, have been deemed “not illegal.” Remember, the UK comes form a history of authoritarian monarchy, whose genocidal policies against the Scots and Irish still impact the region to this day.

Let’s take a look at another European country, Switzerland, which has the 3rd highest rate of gun ownership on the planet. In Switzerland they rely on a trained militia rather than a standing army to defend their borders and civilian gun ownership stands at 45.7%, which translates into 3.4 million guns. In 2010 there were 40 gun related homicides and 53 homicides in total, which is down approx. 40% since 1998. How is it that so many guns can exist and yet have so few gun related crimes? In fact, Switzerland has one of the lowest crimes rates in the world, all the while having the 3rd highest gun ownership rate and a relaxed drug policy.

The cry for greater government control is always greatest when there has been a tragedy. It is very unfortunate that people choose times of heartbreak to push for less liberty and ignore incredibly important factors: personal responsibility and morality, mental health, and broken communities.

I’d like to give you a comparison. Cars and roads are among the more highly regulated and controlled aspects of our society and yet more people die from car accidents than from guns. In fact, since 1980, there have been over 1.3 million deaths on government regulated roads, in government regulated cars, all operated by government regulated drivers. Where is the outcry in this? Where are the calls to ban mass murdering automobiles which can speedily careen into crowded places? As silly as that may sound, the analogy stands. For bit more context, more people die from poisoning each year (48,545) or drug overdoses (43,785) than they do from gun related deaths (of all sorts), which according to the CDC was 10.6 people per 100,000.

From the Pew Research Center, "Gun Homicide Rate Down 49% Since 1993 Peak"

And while the overall trend since 1981 has been fewer homicides as a result of gun violence, even after President Clinton signed the Federal Assault Weapons Ban in 1994 there were still dozens of school shootings resulting in 122 deaths and many other injuries before the law expired in 2004.

You see, gun ownership is not the problem, it never has been. The problem lies with a population disarmed, a population so afraid they would rather give up all control to a government then take the necessary steps to learn self-defense, and the problem lies with a country that has an appalling track record when it comes to helping those citizens with mental illness (those with diagnosed mental illnesses rarely go out killing people, but killing out of hatred or because the shooter feels discarded by society does intersect with mental health and the need for intervention is real).

There is an interesting meme on-line that states “Why are women taught how to prevent a rape instead of men being taught not to rape?” The same concept can be applied to guns and crimes in general. We live in a culture that glorifies death and violence. It is codified by our government with the killing of literally thousands of innocent civilians overseas, all as a matter of "foreign policy." It is blessed by popular media. It is encouraged by parents allowing 12 and 13 year olds to play games and watch movies filled with it. It is often over-looked and poorly punished. We see time and time again people convicted of killing and other horrible crimes getting only a handful of years in prison (or less).

Why not force government to end the double standard in their own actions? Why not force the courts to offer up severe and lasting punishment to those engaging in violent crimes? Why not recognize that many citizens suffer from mental illness and not be afraid to reach out and help them, instead of ignoring them until one out of a million explodes?

There is no single cause or reason among the perpetrators and no panacea to solve it all, but the major cause of it continuing is society's and our government's failure to understand that it's usually a combination of factors and that we must take a comprehensive look at it in order to help solve it. Jumping onto guns is nothing but a cop-out, an emotional reaction that does little to address the situation.

Looking at the legal issue

The 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution states “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.”

One segment of the gun-control lobby asserts that the 2nd Amendment applies only to militias (the military) and that private gun ownership is not covered. Even if we ignore the context in which the 2nd was written, there have been multiple court cases which emphatically refute that claim.
In District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) the Supreme Court ruled:

(A)The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.
(B)The “militia” comprised all males physically capable of acting in concert for the common defense.
(C) The response [of writing the 2nd] was to deny Congress power to abridge the ancient right of individuals to keep and bear arms
And further, (D) does not limit the right to keep and bear arms to militia purposes.

The term “militia” means “It is undoubtedly true that all citizens capable of bearing arms constitute the reserved military force or reserve militia of the United States as well as of the States, and in view of this prerogative of the general government, as well as of its general powers, the States cannot, even laying the constitutional provision in question out of view, prohibit the people from keeping and bearing arms, so as to deprive the United States of their rightful resource for maintaining the public security, and disable the people from performing their duty to the general government.” This comes from the Supreme Court case Presser v. Illinois (1886).

Another argument is that the Founders could never have conceived of an automatic assault rifle and that the 2nd only applies to “muskets”, in other words, very basic, single shot weapons. One must then extend the logic to all parts of the Constitution, to wit, the First Amendment only applies to verbal speech and press using a printing press, the Fourth only protects from searches of a person’s physical home (making the NSA domestic spying program totally acceptable), and so on. That notion is, in a word, absurd. There is no doubt people use guns to commit crimes, however, if we look at all the numbers, around 50% of all gun deaths in the US are suicides (which is a crime). Outlawing suicide has had little effect it seems.

Gun ownership is not only an “ancient right” but also the final protection of an individual and of the general population against all crimes, be they a robber or a tyrannical government. War is perhaps the most visible but oft ignored crime. It is estimated that wars have led to the deaths of upwards of 1 billion people over the course of human history. Wars are approved, funded and usually sought by governments. That is the great tragedy. Self-defense against crime is also often overlooked. In 1994 a Dept. of Justice study found that guns are involved in 1.5 million cases of self-defense each year. That is 1.5 million thefts, rapes, murders and other crimes prevented as a result of gun ownership.

We all look for answers and closure, but, when it comes to wanton violence the answer is, there are no satisfactory answers. And we should not be so quick to abandon or wish to curtail one of our most important and fundamental rights. Government has always used tragedy to grab power, it has used fear to usurp the Constitution, and all too often we have let them in the vain search for security. Let us look to ourselves and our culture first.

The peoples of industrialized Germany, Russia, Poland, and France, just to name a few, never thought that one day they would endure the full brunt of Nazi oppression. They never thought there would be the deaths of 40 million people, the loss of religious freedom, or the loss of all freedoms, at the hands of their own governments. They trusted their government for things which government is not meant to do. They handed up responsibility that they were imbued with from God - rights by the very nature of their existence - and in the end they paid dearly. The right to bear arms is the only reason why America exists, without which we would still be a colony.

I don’t have all the answers and I don’t pretend to think that we could have a perfect world if everyone owned a gun, but I do think we would be better prepared to handle these situations. Mass shootings often happen in gun-free zones where even the “security” guards are unarmed. And while I don’t have all the answers, I know the answer is not more control simply from looking at places like Detroit and Chicago which have tight gun regulations and also have an enormous amount of gun violence. Our ancestors took for themselves their inherent rights, which include the responsibilities that go with them, and our Founders wrote them into law, a law that can only be changed via new amendments.

Just like the Jews of Germany and the whole population of North Korea never thought they would endure what has transpired, we didn’t think the ultimate assault on our freedoms would ever occur. Government rarely grasps for total power in a single sweep, it happens (usually as a result of public outcry and a revocation of personal responsibility) bit by bit. In the past 12 years alone we have seen the near erasure of the 14th Amendment via the PATRIOT Act, military drones prowling the skies over America, attempts to control and censor the Internet with things like SOPA and CISPA, allowing the indefinite detention of citizens via the NDAA 2012, provide for the permanent and warrantless surveillance of every citizen through regulations involving the National Counterterrorism Center and much more.

Perhaps not today, maybe 20 or 30 years from now, we could easily be sitting and watching our government turn into something absolutely horrible. Why give them a willing public? Why be those silent dissenters of 1933? At first they asked for control of the press, then guns, then the mentally handicapped, then the disabled, then gays, then Jews and before it was over 60 million died as a result of Germany and Japan with over 40 million European refugees. How can we trust them with the power to regulate, so strongly, one of our most basic rights when the federal government has consistently shown itself to be untrustworthy, corrupt and power hungry? The folks in Washington DC are no more equipped, or wise, to govern us than any other citizen. If you yourself haven’t the wisdom to control the nation, then why give it to them?

This isn't an argument against any and all gun laws. Clearly those with violent criminal histories or documented severe mental disturbances should not have the ability to purchase or legally carry a gun. This is simply an attempt to show that when it comes to these types of tragedies, more control isn't an answer. Demanding that a class filled with children be left undefended or that thousands of university students shouldn't be allowed to exercise their inherent rights, this only results in millions being even more vulnerable to mass shootings. At the Oct. 1, 2015 shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, where thousands of students attend, there was only one security guard who was unarmed.

When we allow a government or some committee (federal, state, local) to make choices for all of us, if that choice is a bad one we all suffer. In this case the choice is literally between life and death. I trust myself to defend my rights and life far more than I trust a bloated and inept government. Why should I, why should we, allow them to force us into a position of relying on them for our own safety?

--Jacob Bogle, Originally published on Dec. 19, 2012. Updated on Oct. 3, 2015 and June 13, 2016.

(I feel this is a very important issue and would like to add to the conversation. If you agree with this article please feel free to share it with others. Re-post, re-blog, send it to websites or friends, post it on Facebook etc. Just include a link back to this page.)