Friday, August 9, 2019

Ask Me Why I Think I Need A Gun

I first wrote about gun control in 2012, unfortunately things only seem to have gotten worse. There have been more mass shootings and calls for outright gun confiscation have commensurately grown louder.

There are a few main arguments for and against gun control. The pro-gun control crowd talks about "common sense" solutions and questions why anyone would "need" a "weapon of war". The pro-Second Amendment folks also hold a very diverse range of views with some supporting universal background checks and a tiny minority of others genuinely believing that the right to defend one's self is unlimited to the point that tanks should be sold at gun shows. And while it's true that most Americans fall into the middle of the extremes, popular opinion doesn't really matter much if you're talking about something that's a fundamental right.

Humans have always made weapons for hunting and defense, and they've also made them to conquer, rape, and pillage. The technology has decidedly changed over the years but that doesn't mean basic human rights change. In the past a trained archer might have been able to fire a bow at a rate of 10 arrows a minute. Can you imagine when the crossbow was invented and any regular guy (or woman or even child) could accurately knock out a bad guy with bolt after bolt after bolt? I can hear the calls for regulation even now. 
The gun, simply defined, has been around for a thousand years. It took the place of the crossbow, the arrow, and the sword because it is immeasurably more efficient. But like the old days of arrows and bolts, a gun that can fire 5 rounds a minute verses multiple rounds in a second doesn't change the ultimate fact: a person's ability to provide for their families and to protect is inviolable.

The Bill of Rights is called that because it lists well understood rights. Not privileges. Rights. The founding documents of the country and the countless letters and articles written at the time all go on at length about how humans are endowed with inalienable rights, that those rights don't become unnecessary when opinions change, that they can only be denied on an individual bases because that person did something wrong, and that the purpose of the Constitution is to limit the power of government, not the person.

While it is certainly true that America has never been able to fully live up to that promise of life, liberty, and happiness for all, the entire purpose of the country is that never-ending struggle to create a more perfect union. To that end, slavery was abolished and a woman's inherent right to vote was recognized. The whole course of the nation's history has been one of expanding liberty, not taking it away.

Sadly, when bad things happen people have a natural tendency to attack everything associated with the tragedy. After Pearl Harbor, we threw Japanese-Americans into prison. After 9/11, we eviscerated privacy rights, and many wanted to actually ban an entire religion. And after each senseless mass shooting, many want to restrict fundamental liberties for a false sense of security - regardless of the fact that this inherent right to personal, individual gun ownership is something the Supreme Court has validated.

The right to self-defense is both an individual right and a collective right. The individual has every right to defend themselves from a home invader and, collectively, we have the right to defend the nation from hostile forces. Neither the individual nor collective right can firmly be protected if the other isn't also protected. A country with a well-regulated military can still be invaded and overcome. But a country with millions of citizens who can all exercise their own right to defense is a whole lot harder to subdue, as history has shown many times over.

Mass grave of victims of the Srebrenica massacre.

My early childhood coincided with the end of the Cold War, and in that relatively short time countless tragedies have been visited upon the world by governments, criminal cartels, and terrorist groups. I don't consider these things merely distant and foreign warnings, nor do I think of them as some truism of the world that doesn't really mean that much. These are real events affecting real lives, and I think it's important to keep them in mind. There's little need to search the far-off past for examples of unarmed people being dragged off in cattle cars, a quick review of some of the things that have happened in my lifetime should be more than sufficient warning.

In my lifetime a terrorist group managed to take over one of the oldest societies in the world in Afghanistan, which also enabled the events of 9/11 a decade later.
I've seen the Chinese government engage in cultural genocide against millions of Uyghurs. It has imprisoned upwards of a million of them with no due process, broken up thousands of families, and created a biometric database to track the entire population.
I've seen civil war in the Balkans. And wars where the government turned completely against its own people in Libya and Syria.
I've seen genocides in Rwanda, Sudan, and against the Rohingya of Myanmar.
I watched as ISIS nearly overran two countries, killing thousands in the process.
I've seen the governments of Poland, Russia, and others take draconian actions against peaceful LGBT citizens, and the establishment of concentration camps for them in Chechnya.
I've seen drug cartels take over entire swaths of Central America.
I've watched Venezuela go from one of the richest countries to hell on earth.
As a North Korea analyst, I can see each and every day prison camps operating that hold upwards of 200,000 people.
I saw human rights abuses in Chile and throughout South America that resulted in the torture and deaths of tens of thousands. All with the backing of our own government.
And, yes, I also learned about Nazi Germany where six million died in the Holocaust. I learned about the Soviet government-sponsored famine in Ukraine that resulted in over three million deaths - and that even today evil men are prolonging a war in Ukraine with the backing of Russia. I learned about the killing fields in Cambodia, the mass purges in the Soviet Union, and the extensive crack downs on speech and religion that has never stopped in China.

Yet, despite the countless examples of international repression it is still hard to ever consider such tyranny happening in the United States. But the fact is most Americans actually think the federal government is a threat to liberty instead of the protector of liberty it was meant to be. And in 2017 only 23% felt the government had the consent of the governed - something that is the very cornerstone of the concept of government itself. Sadly, you don't need to look at polls or even consider the horrors foreign governments have visited on their own citizens. The concern about tyranny, government oppression, and state-sponsored violence can be dramatically justified by looking at our own history.

The US is no stranger to the creation of a surveillance state. The government has shown it doesn't care about your right to privacy and is more than willing to violate it owns laws. It engaged in domestic genocidal activities all the way into the 20th century. Even the much-loved Lincoln ordered the largest mass lynching of Native Americans in history. And speaking of Lincoln, the causes of secession may have been slavery, but the war itself was ignited by the government's willingness to send soldiers to kill other Americans. Regardless of the historical debates, the Civil War resulted in over 600,000 deaths and the US was the only country in history to end slavery in the context of a war.
Later, you have Texas Rangers murdering innocent Mexican Americans by the hundreds during La Matanza.
In the aftermath of 9/11, it even became dangerous to openly support the Constitution or to belong to 3rd parties. Various training manuals and reports from military, police, and other law enforcement agencies have listed potential "extremists" as those who promote judicial reforms, supporters of Ron Paul, holding pro-2nd Amendment views, and even disparage against homeschooling.
The government maintains kill lists and "no fly" list (which are notoriously inaccurate), all compiled in secret and without giving citizens the benefit of due process. Incidentally, gun control advocates have wanted to use the no-fly list as part of a plan to prevent people from owning guns.

And all of this adds to the current background where millions of Americans believe the Trump administration is setting up concentration camps. Where people see the vast abuses of government and law enforcement, but still insist that the only people who should have guns are those very people keeping kids in cages. The cognitive dissonance is stunning.

Calls for "common sense" gun control or banning "assault weapon" sound benign, but the history of gun control in this country has a long a dangerous history. Just like many other things, governments used Jim Crow laws to deny blacks the ability to own guns (or even certain knives in the case of Florida). What seems like common sense is only valid if it doesn't infringe on the rights of other people. 
Something like a universal background check comes with very real questions. A true universal background check law would mean that a dad couldn't give his daughter an heirloom rifle for her 18th birthday or that two friends couldn't exchange guns without first seeking the permission of the government. Then you add in something like Red Flag laws. These laws deny due process, violate privacy, and would begin to infringe on the rights of everyone who has ever been to a therapist, anyone who is a veteran, and anyone who smokes weed.

What about common sense bans of "assault weapons"? First you have to define what an assault weapon is. Many guns used legitimately in hunting have the same general characteristics of guns people have called "assault" or "military style." There is no unified, clear-cut definition of what those phrases mean. Often, they simply mean a gun that looks scary. Additionally, the only way such a ban would work is if you take the guns off the streets. In other words, go house to house and confiscate them. Otherwise you'd still have millions of "bad" guns in circulation, able to be stolen or end up on the black market where only criminals will have access to them.
Gun confiscation is the only way to make bans work. But even in a country like New Zealand, where gun laws have traditionally been strict, after the Christchurch shootings the gun buyback rate was only around 1%. Put another way, 99% of the owners of the now illegal guns have refused to voluntarily surrender them. Should New Zealand police start busting down the doors of these otherwise innocent and peaceful citizens?

When all is said and done, these "common sense" reforms end up looking extremely complicated and would require vast amounts of new government power to enforce, all while not addressing the root causes or affecting many other shootings. A 2014 study looked at 142 mass shootings and found that semi-automatic rifles were used in only 25% of the cases, meaning that 75% were committed with things like pistols, revolvers, and regular rifles. Context is also very important when discussing gun violence overall. The US doesn't have the highest rate of gun violence in the world and the bulk of gun deaths in America come from suicides. Of course that's not a good thing, but these proposed changes to gun laws wouldn't have much of an affect at all. Not to mention that plenty of shooters got their guns either illegally or because law enforcement systems failed and allowed people who already shouldn't be able to purchase a firearm to acquire one. 

I also feel it's important to note that crime rates have fallen sharply since the 1990s.

Of the recent shootings in El Paso and Dayton, one was a Trump supporter while the other was a socialist. Clearly violence isn't the sole domain of any one political ideology. What every mass shooter has in common (or anyone who murders others for that matter) is the ideology of hate. They view Hispanics as invaders, they view Democrats as anti-American, they view gays as abominations, they view all conservatives as warmongers, they view a cheating spouse or rude boss as subhuman. They see other human beings as less valuable and less worthy of life. This points to a cultural problem we must look directly in the face. 

Japan has far higher consumption rates of video games than we do, but little violent crime (or any other type). The former countries of the USSR have much lower rates of religious adherence, but also have managed to not have the issues the United States does. Blaming violent games or a lack of God is just a way to try to oversimplify reality and skirt the very real problems driving violence.  
Just as systemic racism or police violence are uncomfortable things to confront (or to even acknowledge), we must look at what's fueling hate and "otherism," and why so many seem to be unable to find belonging within society as a whole, as well as their inability to find healthy ways to discuss and resolve their frustrations (real or imagined).

The reply to that by gun-control advocates is "why not at least stop them from being able to use those weapons?" Again, "those weapons" require definitions and preventing their use means a major growth of the very same government that abused its power countless times. Thus, while giving a government with an undisputed history of racism, discrimination, abuse, and murder even more power, we get to ignore the real problems indefinitely - just as with laying the blame at the feet of games. 

So, yes, I very much want mass shootings to end, but I am absolutely not willing take the word of our government that it won't do bad things. I am absolutely not willing to give up my right to defend myself. And more importantly, I recognize that just as I have no right to demand that you give up your rights to speech, a fair trial, or to not be a slave, I also have no right to demand you limit or give up your right to own a gun. And if I don't have that right, you certainly don't have the right to demand others do.

--Jacob Bogle, 8/9/2019

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