A Meaningful Discussion: A Left-to-Center Understanding of Guns in America

The gun-violence/control debate could be less complicated to discuss, overall, if it were not so undeniably interconnected with other big issues like education, the economy, healthcare, racism, immigration, the drug war, campaign-finance reform, to name a few. One thing is for certain, this discussion makes those pertaining to our ongoing fiscal controversies appear, well, shallow.

The history of our ‘dueling’ nature…young men in abject poverty conforming to gangs and/or desperation…our retro-ideological, inarticulately overlapping, time-and-patience-evaporating, posturing, and overreaching arguments towards responsibly revitalizing economic opportunity in this country…films, music, and video games sensationalizing violence…and a thus far extraordinarily understated re-emphasis on secured storage of firearms in the home, among the key mental health aspects largely, exclusively surrounding the recent rash of shooting rampages can keep law-abiding folks on both sides of the issue awake nights. But, whenever the national discussion is impelled by a horrible gun-incident the conversation reverts to default polemics, politicians prefer to altogether avoid the issue, and/or the whole conversation proceeds nowhere. Obviously, things need improving, just as ambition should be made of sterner stuff.

Every reasonable, responsible, law-abiding gun-owning and non-gun-owning citizen has the same goal: how to reasonably keep ourselves, as individuals, safer from violence. For, now—although, marginally—I am grateful more have decided to contribute to what is being dubbed along both sides of the aisle as ‘meaningful discussion’ […or, ‘action’, ‘conversation’] to de-escalate future scores of gun-violence.

 

According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, since 1968, over 1,384,000 Americans have died from firearms. 1,309,000-plus Americans have died over our whole history of combat (http://www.militaryfactory.com/american_war_deaths.asp). Almost the same amount of Americans have died from firearms, than in wars, in about one-fifth the time. A study in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery found that the gun-murder rate in the U.S. is almost 20 times higher than the next 22 richest and most populous nations combined. Studies suggest that about 80% of gun-crimes in the U.S. are committed from guns which were acquired without any federal monitoring. …The preferred weapon of choice in mass-shootings (62 in the U.S. in the last 30 years; 7 in 2012, alone) is either the semi-automatic rifle with a high-capacity detachable magazine or a semi-automatic handgun, in the hands of the mentally unstable, which points again to the controversy of whether to seek to ban ‘military-designed’ firearms and high-capacity magazines as beyond that of a mental-health matter.

Since the ratification of the 2nd amendment, revolt and revolution had not only been stirring here but as well as in Europe, leading to our Revolutionary War, our 2nd Revolutionary War (of 1812), ‘manifest destiny’ and the Mexican-American War, and the Civil War. After WWII and the Korean War—and for that matter, on into Vietnam and the Persian Gulf—we made the decision to globally extend our interests. In the early to mid-fifties, we assisted in the overthrow of Iran, followed by Guatemala, followed by an embarrassingly unsuccessful attempt in Cuba, in 1961, and followed by what a considerably high percentage of polled Americans imagine (though I strongly hope against) to be a successful overthrow of our own, in 1963… Throw in our most recent double-whammy in both Iraq (despite the WMDs being in North Korea), and Afghanistan—where things are as yet stabilized, drone-might is not necessarily making right, and after hundreds of billions of dollars al Qaeda is spreading across North Africa, entering Syria, as well as maintaining in Pakistan. All the while, European countries’ economies are getting thinner. Department of Justice indictments against the big bankers responsible for the lending-crisis: 0. According to the D.o.J.’s assistant attorney general, Lanny Breuer, as to whether there was enough criminal intent to prove massive fraud in the selling of and investing in outrageously bad mortgages to the public, there is still “reasonable doubt”. (And as there always seems to be a moreover in cases like this—and not to mention, separate cases involving the big banks, UBS and HSBC—in a somewhat recent speech before the New York Bar Association Breuer made reference to “losing sleep at night over worrying about what a lawsuit might result in at a large financial institution”?) What does it matter how wealthy some people get, what kind of military do you expect to have leftover to defend you and us?

So, given our exploits, and what we are still very capable of, we are not very far beyond our covetous and aggressive nature. Might it very well be far from ironic or impractical, then, to assuage citizens from believing they should one day go without being able to purchase—albeit, hopefully, more carefully and universally monitored—semi-automatic firearms for the purpose of home-protection, as a means to (goodness forbid) defend against a threat of tyranny? Perhaps this particular notion may not entirely stem from a powerful lobby’s ever-fluctuating, bottom-line, after all (even though only around 4% of the nation’s licensed gun-owners are members of the N.R.A.).

Why do some of us voters, every two to four years, campaign and argue vigilantly on behalf of those seeking to best represent our ideals and values—at times going against our better judgment in legitimately scrutinizing their sincerity and ambition, or not so much voting for one person but against the other—while much of our past still has a great deal to atone for?

I think about my nieces and nephews, that little girl at the elementary school with 10 or 11 bullets in her, the young teacher at the same school who sacrificed her life in defending her students and the part of the argument around whether to prohibit beyond the date of a bill’s possible enactment anyone from being able to purchase a semi-automatic firearm that can accept a detachable magazine of more than ten rounds—however, continue to allow for anyone who may already own such a firearm to legally keep and use it—begins anew.

 

Let’s face it, the recurring controversy around guns largely centers around one aspect: semi-automatic rifles. The perception problem with the most popular of them all, the AR-15, for example, is it looks like a machine gun. But it isn’t. By itself, it can only fire a single shot at a time, less than a second at a time, with each pull of a trigger. They are equipped to be of better quality and more convenient than say a bolt-action rifle, which requires considerable more manual action between shots.

Fully automatic rifles, which are and have largely been prohibited for civilian use, are actual machine guns. They have been outlawed since 1934, in accordance with The National Firearms Act, for civilians to own without special permission from the U.S. Treasury.

To become a registered owner of a fully automatic, a complete FBI background investigation is conducted, checking for any criminal history or tendencies toward violence, and an application must be submitted to the ATF including two sets of fingerprints, a recent photo, a sworn affidavit that transfer of the NFA firearm is of ‘reasonable necessity’, and that sale to and possession of the weapon by the applicant would be consistent with public safety. The application form also requires the signature of a chief law enforcement officer with jurisdiction in the applicant’s residence. And since the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act in May of 1986, ownership of newly manufactured machine guns has been prohibited to civilians. Machine guns which were manufactured prior to the Act’s passage are regulated under the National Firearms Act, but those manufactured after the ban cannot ordinarily be sold to or owned by civilians. (They also cost about the same as a new car.)

However, regarding semi-automatic rifles, here’s the hitch: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/12/how-make-your-gun-shoot-fully-automatic-one-easy-step. The Slide Fire Solutions bump fire stock is still for sale and, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, still legal. The bump-fire stock entirely changes the semi-automatic to a fully automatic, with increased accuracy at about one-tenth the price.

Preventing and prohibiting the manufacture and/or sale of this (which Senator Feinstein’s newly proposed bill does seek), and not the semi-automatic rifle itself, would only be consistent with the full-auto ban.

 

But still, I myself still do not own nor have ever felt compelled to own a gun—which I take as a good sign. I am actually a vegetarian for animal rights reasons, to show how far I have had to come in analyzing this issue. I also happen to prefer other, more creative means of tension-release, than, say, the instantaneous appeal of extending one of our more powerful phallic symbols, squeezing a finger, and feeling that resolute bang at a gun-range. (Hence, I suppose, this is one reason why pink guns are now being manufactured.) My sister and brother-in-law are Catholic Workers—pacifist activists who have little problem with intervening in conflict resolution, and who live a life of voluntary poverty, working in solidarity with the poor. For several years they have lived in a three-story apartment-house in an abjectly poor, inner-city neighborhood.

Would it be valid to consider either of us as ‘crazy’ for not owning a licensed firearm, for self-defense purposes? Not at all.

But I can acknowledge that carrying oneself in such ways can only protect so much. For one, any a more mentally stable, licensed gun-owner could be capable of losing their cool and fatally overreacting in an instant. Any person then ought to have the right to likewise protect, minus the compulsion to try to be a media-hero. (Although the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law, which exists in about 24 states, is too open-ended to interpret as ‘defense’).

But as mentioned, studies suggest roughly 80% of those who have used a firearm in a crime had acquired the weapon without any federal monitoring, and you can obviously be certain a criminal will not willingly relinquish such guns. An estimated half-million of guns used in crimes are reportedly stolen from the home every year because they are not securely stored. So, for the time being, and for a good while hereafter, we have the overarching, undeniable, and unfortunate truth that there are still millions—plural—of illegally owned guns in the U.S. And also for the time being, with that said, an equally compelling truth that is easy for non-gun owners to overlook is how the presence of the second amendment serves as a major protectorate.

 

In May of 1999, in front of Congress—as well as in December 2012 episode of “Meet the Press”—Wayne Lapierre advocated on behalf of universal background checks. But, lately, not so much, instead advocating what would a criminal care about a background check? Did he mean to word this as what would a potential criminal as yet having to fear a background check care? The solution is obviously not for Americans to buy more guns, for who is to say which potential owners would be potential criminals?

But I have to disagree with Senator Durbin in declaring Lapierre had completely missed the point behind the idea of universal background checks, during his most recent argument in front of Congress. He purposely missed the point. This recent line of thinking of his, and not of most gun-owners, either reflects paranoid-delusion or drunk-with-power salesmanship. I think it is more a case of the latter. Funnily enough, when it applies to winning an election or to economic policy, over 50% can considered a “mandate”, but when polls indicate over 90% of the public supports universal background checks, word is this proposal is “likely to happen”. …Backwards logic?

The amount of illegally owned guns is certainly where the personal traverses with the political, in everyone. As many know, the so-called “straw purchaser” technique is a popular method by which guns fall into illegal hands. Criminals purchase firearms by enlisting an aforementioned type of individual, as yet lacking in a criminal background, to travel to certain states to purchase firearms from gun shops. The criminals then safely travel the interstate to transport these guns back into states which happen to have stricter state-laws, mark up the price of the gun(s), and privately resell them to anyone.

There also of course exists the so-called “gun-show loophole”. As of the “Summary of Federal Law” by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence from their website, http://smartgunlaws.org/private-sales-policy-summary/, updated in August 2012:

“Five states (California, Connecticut, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island) and the District of Columbia require universal background checks on some or all firearm purchasers, including purchases from unlicensed sellers. In California, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia, universal background checks are required for transfers of all classes of firearms; Maryland’s law applies only to handguns and assault weapons; the Connecticut and Pennsylvania laws are limited to handguns. Delaware, Nevada and Oregon have laws allowing voluntary background checks by unlicensed sellers.”

Thus, there just seems an obvious solution to drastically lessen gun crimes, in the future: make every firearm dealer in the country a federally licensed firearm-dealer. This would also include outlawing the private sale a gun to your neighbor (I don’t care how well you think you know him/her) and cracking down on anyone hanging in or around a gun store looking to sell in case a person claims to ‘need’ a gun right away. Federal law could also extend to what California does: prohibiting gun ownership for people convicted of any kind of violent crime, drug offenses, alcohol abuse and juvenile offenses while underage.

How the idea of making every firearm dealer a federally licensed dealer went unchecked for so long is positively beyond me.

Let the idea for a gun-registry pass if the ultimate goal behind universal background checks is to prevent people with criminal backgrounds or mental instability to be able to buy a gun, anywhere, and to thus assure all federally licensed dealers with the proper funding and resources to conduct checks through the NICS system. (On a side-note, I wish mainstream media pundits would also be impelled to immediately defer to the psychological elements behind why a tyrant is why he is, or why an unstable person who shoots multiple people is why he is, instead of sensationally ramping up the rhetoric of either as ‘crazy’ or ‘evil’.) If gun-owners as so-called patriots wish to believe there one day could be a military coup in this country, and then imagine themselves serving as the last line of defense against tyranny, then let them believe that. I don’t believe such a coup could ever possibly, remotely get off the ground, in this country.

 

So how then do we further help abate the fear induced by the millions of illegally owned guns still currently out there?

For one, targets for a large or small act of gun-violence do often seem to be ‘unsuspecting’. Doing away with signs outside of an establishment indicating guns are not permitted would be an obvious plus. But what if federal legislation were to be suggested for a responsible and licensed private citizen to be permitted to carry a concealed handgun, anywhere, apart from federal establishments currently secured under restriction? The suggestion itself can in a way sound exactly like: just hire more police. And it does sound more cost-effective than implementing walk-through metal detectors in any public establishment (one of which could cost around $3500-4000).

If one is compelled to own a gun, s/he is expected to bring with this responsibility the mental, emotional, and physical preparation to be able to use it in an instance of self-defense. This expectation, of course, is not always a given. The annual number of revoked Carrying a Concealed Weapon permits—for which there are several types, and are all regulated on a state-level under four possible policies: Unrestricted (which I am currently not wild about), Shall-Issue, May-Issue, and No-Issue—are always small, and often on the grounds of DUI, unlawful carry, and aggravated assault. Of course, next to preventive, common sense there is still no threat of close bodily harm which a good can of mace or pepper-spray, or even a small, blunt object along with alert thinking to call and/or run for safety or help, still could not ward off.

Typical conceal carry requirements under a ‘Shall-Issue’ jurisdiction indicate that a granting authority literally shall issue a permit if certain permit requirements are met, as opposed to where an authority decides it ‘May Issue’ a permit, at their discretion. Thirty-seven states are currently Shall-Issue; eight are May-Issue, 4 are Unrestricted, and only Illinois (although some counties ironically have an Unrestricted policy, as the state will be required by a recent court-order to establish a better policy by May of 2013) and D.C. are the current no-issue jurisdictions, which forbid open and concealed carry for private citizens.

Allowing to conceal and carry in certain restricted yet more randomly unsuspecting targets of desperation or bigotry—hospitals and places of worship, respectively—vary from state to state. Despite popular opinion, recent mass-shootings, at their foundation, are not entirely mental health-based. There are dual elements at their core (the other I will get to, very shortly). The Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act under The Federal Gun Free School Zones Act grants exceptions to current and honorably retired law enforcement officers to carry a weapon within a thousand feet of a school zone, per any state that happens to disallow certain conceal carry permit-holders to legally carry a firearm anywhere in public (except, as mentioned, in all federal buildings).

Schools are generally now in fact very secure. Nevertheless, implementing safety plans as a means to significantly decrease the impact of a future incident, in advance, certainly could not hurt.

 

An extremely important and decidedly overlooked attribute from any and all updated discussion on guns is one that does not call for new regulatory intervention at all. In any mass-shooting or gun-crime exists the potential shooter’s empowered knowledge of easy access to a gun. Now, when it comes to secured storage of guns in the home, the majority of gun-owners are deeply responsible. However, still, a great many annual gun-deaths and gun-crimes in the U.S. stem from folks who are to some greater or lesser degree tragically blind in believing their gun(s) could fall into immature, irresponsible, depressed, mentally unstable, or criminal hands. (Half of all teen suicides, for one, are by the gun.) Steel-safes with a key-coded locking system cost anywhere from only $25 to upwards around $230, depending on the size and amount of guns being stored, along with the ammunition. A small price to pay for safety.

Keeping tabs on more irresponsible gun-owners would realistically be more the responsibility of those who have an interest in guns. Rest assured, non-gun-owners could find tactful ways to address it as well. But as an altogether savory incentive, the prospect of less shooting incidents will come with less shouts for regulatory gun-control.

 

As for the final and herein most prevalent aspect, there is certainly a recurring pattern to mass-shootings. They involve a male; young and/or unmarried; socially frustrated and/or possibly abused in some way, possibly into substance abuse, and/or mentally and emotionally unstable. As information regarding the recent incident at Newtown is still being analyzed, the young man responsible in this case was a mentally/emotionally unstable resident of a legally qualified gun-owner.

Violence in mental illness is rare, and thoughtfully seeking as well as maintaining faith in proper courses of action for schooling and/or treatment, is obviously a very delicate matter for the family involved. Measures in the Affordable Care Act will allow access to care and treatment of the mentally challenged to be easier, as well as for the rash of violent cases involving combat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder back home, all victims of domestic abuse, random street-violence, and bullying.

It is now perfectly essential to improve the accuracy and availability of information in order to get every state to adhere to the law already in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (or, NICS), prohibiting the violently/mentally unstable from being able to buy a gun. Every state must be able to have the financial resources available to report dangerously, mentally imbalanced people to the NICS.

The very first thing which tends to come to my mind upon hearing of a shooting incident is the missed warning-signs. There always has to be some. Within hours after Newtown, I could not help but think back on something I had read regarding the Virginia Tech incident. Here was a case where the future shooter, among other ignored signs, was in a college English class seriously scaring the crap out of his fellow students with his writings. The professor took this upon herself to consult with the Dean. …Proper thing to do. However, the professor was then instructed to dismiss the matter as not too serious and to then privately tutor the student back in his dorm-room?! She followed through, but not without deciding to set up a code-word with an assistant standing outside the dorm-room in case she was to suddenly feel threatened. The assistant would then immediately call for help. Although, eventually, as we all well know the student ended up killing 32 on campus, injuring several more, had sparked a national incident, and then took his own life.

There is a recall to do our best to listen for, be cognizant of, recognize, acknowledge, and utilize whatever our powers of peaceful persuasion to intervene and mediate more obvious warning signs. It is always heart-rendering to hear examples of obvious bullying in schools still treated by any and all of the powers-that-be as some matter-of-course; as something a teen or pre-teen needs to somehow endure on his/her own. Considering not all teens are extroverted, gregarious, nor for that matter perhaps properly guided enough, this is ridiculous.

It takes a number of things to go wrong for a plane to go down, or for a nuclear meltdown to occur, and thus multiple precautions have been put in place to prevent these things from occurring. So, I don’t think it is too much to ask to have the same approach when it comes to observing and initiating more amicable threat assessments. Over 120 school shooting and/or bombing threats have been stopped across the country by some form of intervention since the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School (http://www.reporternews.com/news/2012/dec/18/many-school-shootings-prevented-according-list/).

The Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness sums up quite nicely the whole matter of gun-violence in the final paragraph of his following August, 2012 post: http://blog.nami.org/2012/08/gun-laws-and-mental-health.html.

 

Finally, and just very briefly, a New York Times op-ed published the day after 2012 Election Day (appropriately titled, maybe, “We Need a Little Fear”), included an alarming stat: in 1960, 5% of American children were born to single mothers; as of 2010, that percentage grew to over 40%. Of course, most single mothers are not necessarily single by choice. Some are because of irreconcilable differences with a former spouse or partner. And many cases involve the father-to-be deciding to split upon hearing news of the pregnancy. Then, the anti-abortion/pro-choice woman—oftentimes, of low-income—is left to decide whether to have the child and possibly piece together a support-system. I don’t wish to get into that debate because the ultimate decision should be left up to her. I only dare, frankly mention this particular scenario because raising a possibly male child without a father, on a small income, takes more energy. And with the help of family, friends, and a community—and/or the option to find a more palatable place to live, if available—is not always a given. Love, love, love, communicate with, and guide that child to no end, should she decide to have him or her.

 

If there is a middle ground on reducing gun-violence it is responsible control through reasonable means of protection. (Slide action stocks: unreasonable.) The ultimate social and political goal would be to significantly pacify the threat of violence, in general, as well as come to a better understanding of ourselves. The usual catalyst of a mass-shooting is primarily related to a call for easier access to mental health care and support in every way. And the best annihilator of any gun-crime is all-around, damn-near impossible access to any firearm.

I have never liked the idea ingrained in our culture of a singular hero. And whether we ought to do less with the word or think upon anyone who plays a helpful role as one would be of the same difference. But this issue, among others, is in need of serious, practical re-examination, and requires a group-effort.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rvWokFcD22E

Footbull

Today, in America, is Groundhog’s Day. It is an American rural-holiday-weekend, this 2013, as some consider Super Bowl Sunday, the day of professional football’s championship game, an unofficial holiday. The only thing I find interesting about the latter is that two siblings (brothers) happen to actually be competing against one another as the two teams opposing head coaches—which I don’t know has ever happened in the history of professional sports.

I still like playing virtually any sport, but not so much following much of any of them anymore. Basically, the deal-breaker is getting tired of hearing the competing hype. I am largely referring is the number of former players, how they can appear brawny in business attire yet woeful when trying to carry over the hype from the action on or around the field into their analysis. The two factions feed off of one another in order to stimulate competition, in general, but it is really more often than not sheer, ahistorical crap being spun by these ‘analysts’. (Personally, hearing the name of the sport I am watching persistently being used as an adjective, as if I would forget what I am watching, I wish could stop.) Not to mention, I can never forget the time whether ESPN still airs their Sunday morning show, “The Sports Reporters”, seeing an episode where Bob Ryan literally, vehemently stood from his chair to pointedly denounce fellow sportswriter, Mike Lupica, as to how aging Bernie Kosar is still worthy of being a starting quarterback in Dallas! The fact that these guys appeared in suits instead of regular clothes was pompous, apart from these two almost appearing to nearly come to blows over something which nobody really cared about.

Having been a longtime Sox-Yankees and Carolina-Duke fan, (favoring the side listed first, here, of course) I still sneak a peek at whatever the standings are every now and again. But I have come to understand that life goes on and a game is just a game. A team wins any game, for the day, so that they and their fan-base can have bragging rights for the day. Tomorrow, and everything that comes with it, always begins anew.

Yet with football, now: wow. What a mess. Tickets to see a game for a group of four, including the price of parking, in some stadiums, the home-team better not only win but I would insist on a LOT more entertainment for my buck, to boot. Who is or is not using performance-enhancing drugs, determining whether the physical body can be built to endure the current level of punishment courtesy of the physical demands being placed on the players, the commissioner of the NFL addressed these among other concerns in his state of the league address, yesterday, ahead of tomorrow’s Super Bowl game. Commenting on what has become a part of the national conversation, on the subject of concussions—which specifically includes CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) as well as what is tentatively being called second-impact syndrome which affects people under the age of 25, and PCS (post-concussion syndrome)—I think he was more or less thinking of sales when responding, at one point, when it comes to tackling, “to take the head out of the game”. Is this not monstrously unrealistic? I mean, the head is not just involved in tackling. For one, we might as well consider taking the run out of the game as lineman’s heads in particular are constantly colliding in order to block. Considering the overall context, we are probably years and millions of dollars away from medical research developing a drug or hormone to reduce the effects of concussions, developing scanners for physicians to detect poison-tau in the deep-brain folds in advance, and to better understand the genetic variability of concussions from athlete to athlete. Teenagers are dying, or their overall potential is being hindered in some way as a result of how every hit matters from their youth on up. Better cushioned helmets don’t matter so much as kids are getting bigger and faster yet lack mature muscle in and around their necks to withstand the whiplash of the brain hitting against the skull, even if they can see the hit coming. “The best helmets in the world don’t stop rotational forces, where the brain whips around and snaps back,” says Dr. Robert Cantu, co-director of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy (from “This is Your Brain on Football”, Rolling Stone, January 31, 2013).

Most brains heal themselves after prolonged physical and cognitive rest, but when it comes to parents seeking the grail of scholarship for their children, this is the most serious concern, altogether. CTE, SIS, and PCS are not of course exclusively related to football, as it naturally impacts soldiers in combat, as well as hockey, field-hockey, boxing, even soccer, and what is statistically ranked second to football in sport head-injuries: cheerleading. If you want to teach or learn strategy, learn chess, play cards, consider learning the value of competitive sports where physical contact is not nearly as severe. Yet, Americans have vicariously invested a lot of time in a ‘game’ that underpins that which culturally prides sacrifice.

The Animal Planet channel continues to stage, every year, what they call the Puppy Bowl: just a bunch of puppies, really, romping around a small, made-up field. It is time to upgrade to cats against puppies, I think, for it is a dog-eat-dog world out there, won by cats.