As is always the case after yet another gun massacre, I have been thinking about sane and pragmatic ways to approach the heated and divisive ‘debate’ (‘vehement shouting match’ is more descriptive) that predictably awakes from slumber with each atrocity. This time around, I’ve done some deeper research into the historical framing of the Second Amendment, as well as read several pieces by the conservative critic David French. The main thing I learned through this is that the Second Amendment didn’t create the right to keep and bear arms, but rather reaffirmed the existing right granted to Englishmen by the crown in 1689 to keep and bear arms; in this context, there is no linkage to membership in a militia, or a right limited to the collective only.
So, it’s difficult to argue against the intent of the Second Amendment. It was written in a time of struggle, when encroachment by the British and French was both fresh in the collective mind and an ongoing occurrence. It clearly intended to diminish the chance of similar encroachments by the United States federal government against its citizens. In most cases, state constitutions bear this out, with or without reference to a collective or militia context. Beyond the human threat of aggression, nearly everyone in the country lived in a rural or what we now call an ‘urban interface’ setting, with the potential for wild animals and aggrieved natives to appear at any time. It makes sense that the rational individual’s thoughts would have gone to what we now think of as a more rural perspective on self-defense, not to mention obtaining one’s sustenance from the land.
Last time I checked, almost no gun massacres have occurred in a rural context. To generalize, the most common scenario is the alienated and psychologically-imbalanced young white suburban male, teenaged to early-30s, who amasses an arsenal of weaponry in the trunk of a car, drives to a school or shopping mall, and sets to methodically exterminating as many people as he can. Whatever the focus of his grievance, what we often learn about these males is that they feel unwanted, spurned, hopeless, without purpose, rejected, etc. They epitomize the so-called ‘disposable male’. I personally feel it’s mostly a ‘failure to thrive’ problem that went on for too long, and these aberrations are the result. These males are not a product of gun culture, but rather the broader culture that failed to give them a sense of meaning and belonging, that failed to see what they were becoming, or saw what they were becoming and did nothing about it. They are discards in a society where we are no longer able to provide meaning and purpose for every individual. By this hypothesis, it makes sense that these lethal ‘outbursts’ happen mainly in suburbia, as suburbia amounts to the abandoned warehouse or stadium overflow seats of modern America.
Fast-forward 240 years from the ratification of the Constitution by most of the colonies. In 1788 there was no practical means whereby a single individual could carry the weaponry and ammunition necessary to fire off several hundred rounds on anything less than a horse-drawn cart, let alone fire off those several hundred rounds with profound accuracy in a matter of a few minutes. Not even the best-equipped militia of the time could imagine that kind of concentrated destructive capacity. It’s comical and grotesque to try to imagine a modern massacre in a public place perpetrated with such weapons. Removing the oft-peddled and amusing notion of muzzle-loaders and muskets from the discussion, and unrealistically assuming that any weaponry available in 1788 could be had by the individual via their Second Amendment rights, the most harm a single individual could cause would be rolling up a cannon firing grape shot in the village square. In a crowded setting, he might be able to take out a couple of dozen people, and then would be shot dead before he could reload said cannon.
From what I’ve read over a longer span, there are very few on the left who claim that gun ownership should be restricted to the military and law enforcement. Very few on the left advocate a wholesale confiscation of guns from individuals. These are delusions peddled by the far-right. They’re of a piece with the delusion that a sufficiently armed individual could withstand the might of the military in a defense of them-and-theirs against a supposedly tyrannical State. (Sorry, but having your cattle kicked off public lands for not paying rent for TEN YEARS is not State tyranny, especially when you signed a contract with said State agreeing to pay that rent.) Honestly, a large number of sheriff’s departments and any state’s National Guard could outgun all but the most dedicated, compound-inhabiting wackos. When it comes to resisting federal might, the only way said wackos win is through facing down overwhelming firepower with both bravado and media access.
There’s a spectrum of opinion on the left as to the scope of gun ownership, and how innocents should be protected. In rural areas, the notion that individuals should be able to own high-powered rifles and formidable handguns is common, given that self-defense against large predators is an everyday possibility, that the timely response of law enforcement in a life-threatening situation is anything but guaranteed, and that hunting is not only a time-honored element of rural culture, but also an economic necessity for many.
In urban areas, the focus turns more to how to ensure a dense urban population can be assured of safety at an individual level against primarily human predators. This is where the discussion gets complicated. Depending on whose ideological echo chamber one inhabits, the urban environment runs the gamut between a hostile setting where gang warfare and home invasions are common (they aren’t, anywhere), and a ‘Leave It To Beaver’ milquetoast setting where the need to own more than a pocketknife is unimaginable. Wealth is a primary determinant of where a given area falls on this urban spectrum. The tension between rural and urban realities explains why you can have one of the most leftist politicians on the national stage, Bernie Sanders, take a pragmatic and centrist position on gun control, and then moderate Republicans in dense urban areas actually come out to the left of Bernie’s position.
All of the above considered, there’s still no argument that can justify the utter legislative paralysis on gun control. The lobbying power, political funding, gun rights scorecarding of elected representatives, and the slippery-slope logic employed mainly by the NRA are all extremely problematic. In a time when states’ rights arguments are ascendent, it’s a conspicuous breach of the prevailing ideology that prevents states and municipalities from invoking gun control legislation sensible to the population living in that locality. It’s particularly bizarre that federal authorities insist not only on forbidding local gun laws tougher than federal laws, but demanding that the most permissive gun culture elements in certain localities be adopted everywhere, e.g. the effort to validate concealed carry permits from one locality to wherever the individual possessing that permit travels.
What I don’t understand is the again delusional arguments, the slippery slope reasoning, that insists any restrictions whatsoever on the free-for-all must needs be result in the boogieman of a totalitarian America where only the cops (legally) and terrorists / gangs / drug dealers (illegally and through a shady black market) have guns. There’s no evidence to support this line of reasoning. You can have the Second Amendment AND have a rational and pragmatic regulation of firearms.
In addition to French’s recommendation of a Gun-Violence Restraining Order (https://www.nationalreview.com/2018/02/gun-control-republicans-consider-grvo/), which I personally consider a weird endorsement of bureaucracy and a naive belief in the effectiveness of restraining orders broadly, we need actual restrictions on the total destructive capability one individual may possess. If you want to own a bunch of collectible six-shooters and hunting rifles, go for it! If you want to own a high-power rifle, have at it! If you want to own a Glock for personal defense, good on ya!
However, if you want to own all of the above, 10 clips for the Glock, and add an AR-15 with multiple magazines, that should raise a red flag. We don’t let citizens own fully automatic weapons for good reason. We don’t let the average Joe or Jane buy hand grenades and missile launchers. We have a do-nothing, shoulder-shrugging response to the question ‘How many guns is too many guns?’, at least partially fueled by the overarching American ethos that assesses everything – ‘freedom’ included – by the measure of “if some’s good, more’s better.” We have a bizarre hazy boundary about semi-automatic weapons with incredible destructive capacity, and similar weapons which can be readily modified to essentially fully-automatic capabilities. We think an M-4 or M-16 belongs locked up in a military barracks and carried by an individual only in prescribed military action, as described by Army vet Anna (https://agingmillennialengineer.com/2018/02/15/fuck-you-i-like-guns-2/), but we let suburban loons parade around with loaded AR-15s slung over their shoulders in fast food restaurants. This is the disconnect that makes no sense to me.
It’s long past time to do something about this. Not only do we need to have a realistic means of knowing who has what in the way of firearms (which the NRA wants to keep a blackbox), and a means of keeping guns out of the hands of individuals already known to be high-risk for profound violence (a concept that gives good sound bite, but for which there’s little political will to make a reality), but we also need to regulate the total destructive capability any one individual may possess. This sets a bar where everyone who wants a gun, shotgun, or rifle can have one, the Second Amendment is preserved in its original intent, and we put a rational limit to firearm and ammunition stockpiling that is the bread and butter of the unhinged shooter.