This Morning

This morning I do not have time to think. Sorry: I have seniors who are graduating in two days, and I need to grade their work. I spent part of last night arguing when I should have been grading, and so this morning, I need to spend time grading which I would rather spend writing.

This is a good substitute, though: since I started my gun posts with a discussion of what needs to be done to fix school shootings — but I never got to a practical answer — here is a reasonable and practical answer that actually has very little to do with guns, from a teacher in Colorado. Please do read it.

I’ll try to write again tomorrow.

I am a TEACHER in COLORADO and Here is Why Guns are NOT the Problem or the Solution.

This Morning

This morning I’m thinking about the Constitution. About the Second 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.”

I have thought about this particular sentence quite a lot over the years. I’ve shifted my position on this several times, generally in the same direction; not because the side I’ve shifted towards is entirely right (Though it is the right-wing position, the conservative position, that doesn’t make it the right-minded position), but because I came into this debate with a pretty extreme view.

See, I was raised to hate firearms. Violence of all types, certainly, but firearms in particular. My mother, a nurse and a pacifist and the kindest person I have ever known, never even let me have a BB gun, no matter how many times I watched “A Christmas Story.” There was one occasion when I was about 8 or so when our family went over to visit friends for dinner; my mom and dad liked this couple quite a lot: he was a computer guy who worked with my dad, and she was a ceramic artist. They all got along great — until Ben, the husband, showed my brother Marvin and I his pistol. I have a clear recollection of the gun — a revolver — being entirely unloaded, the cylinder open with no shells in it; I remember him letting us hold it. And I remember my mother coming in the room and finding us there holding a gun.

We never saw them again. Not only didn’t go over to their house, but we never saw the Kirchners again. I think my mom saw Mrs. Kirchner at some point, because we had a number of mugs that she made; but we never saw Ben after that.

So I’ve never been in a fight, and I’ve never gone hunting, and I’ve never killed an animal larger than a mouse, and I’ve never fired nor even held a gun past that one time when I was eight. I remember being in an online debate when I started taking this topic on, and my opponent accused me (as online debaters — read “assholes,” including myself when I debated online — are wont to do) of being a hoplophobe, someone who is irrationally afraid of firearms (Please note that this is just a politically charged insult recently coined, like “snowflake” or “soyboy” or that kind of bullshit.). And my response, which stunned the asshole who threw the word at me, was, “Yes. Yes, I am.” I did add the clarifications that I was afraid of people wielding firearms, not of the weapons themselves, and that this fear was not in fact irrational.

The response was basically that I should get a gun and learn to defend myself like a man.

This is a bullshit argument.

But it’s not actually the argument behind the Second Amendment.

Let’s be clear: the Second Amendment has been misinterpreted (in my opinion) by the courts, and even more by the general populace. It does not define the right to self-defense: there is no need to define and protect the natural right to self-defense, because self-defense is never a crime. But I don’t believe there is a guarantee in the Second Amendment that an individual has a right to, needs to, or even should, have a gun for self-defense.

The Second Amendment is also not in any way a defense of hunting or target shooting or collecting firearms to display in your home. None of those are rights. They’re amusements, hobbies; you have no right to a hobby. “But Dusty, what about people who hunt for food?” Well actually, you don’t have a right to food, either. People should have food, and it makes sense for us as a country to ensure that people have food and the ability to get food; but we do it because it makes sense, not because it’s a right. If it stops being sensible to provide food — let’s say we all voluntarily go into the Matrix, and survive on pink goo pumped directly into our gastrointestinal systems — then the provision of food will stop, without any violation of rights.

Let me explain a bit before I go too far into the weeds. The Second Amendment states that the people — not a person — have the right to keep and bear arms, in order to defend the security of a free State. The implication is that the main threats to a free State are external: I think that’s the “security” line. If it was primarily about the defense of a free people from the state, then it would say something more like “to ensure the integrity and continuation of a free State.” But I don’t mean to be one of those people who parse every word of the law in order to determine what the point is: I don’t actually idolize the Founding Fathers, and don’t think that their intentions should be the deciding consideration when trying to interpret the Constitution. I think we should look at what the document is really supposed to do, not necessarily what the men who wrote it wanted it to do.

The Constitution is intended to create and preserve a nation based on the rule of law, and not the whims of men. Laws need to be interpreted and executed by people, so our opinions have some importance; but the defining, essential purpose of the Constitution and the Founding Fathers was to escape and prevent the tyranny of powerful men.

You know how you escape the tyranny of powerful men? You spread power out as much as humanly possible. You create separate but equal branches of government, with checks and balances. You ensure that, as much as possible, the people who run that government are beholden to the masses, through the power of the ballot. (It’s probably a good idea to ensure that the people who are in charge of the actual laws are not quite so beholden to the people, but rather to the law itself — but that’s a different topic.) And because physical force is a source of power, you spread out the physical force as widely as possible: you don’t allow it to concentrate in the hand of a few, or even, if you can manage it, in the hands of many: you put it in the hands of all. That’s what the Second Amendment does, and what it does is right to do: the wider the dispersal of power, the less likely power is to be abused.

I do think the Second Amendment is intended partly to ensure that the people stay free and are able to defend that freedom against a rising tyranny in their own government. But it’s not that specific: it’s intended to create resistance to any gathering of power. The Ku Klux Klan have less power when the Black Panthers have rifles: it’s really as simple as that.

That means that we need to have the right to own firearms, as firearms are the most powerful individual force-multiplier we people can own. Tanks would be better, and an entire air force or navy owned by each individual WAY better; but that’s not feasible.  Anyone can own a gun, and a person with a gun is more deadly than one without. That’s why the Amendment defends the right to keep and bear arms. That does also imply that we should have the right to defend ourselves from personal harm using firearms. It makes sense: the point of maintaining a free State is so we free individuals can have a place to live; therefore the purpose of defending a free state also encompasses defending a free individual. Also, not to get too silly, but you can’t defend the state if you get killed by an intruder in your home.

But here’s the thing: there’s nothing in the Amendment, neither the wording nor the logic, that implies that we should not require background checks on every single purchase of a firearm. And a national gun registry of every owned or manufactured firearm. And red flag laws that allow the removal of firearms from dangerous individuals. And mandatory firearms training and testing, just like we have for motor vehicles. And limits on types of firearms (To some extent — there should be a limit on the limits so that the limits do not become a de facto ban), and on magazine capacity, and on everything else that we see fit to regulate. See, the goal here is to ensure that power is spread out: not that power has to be granted and defended for every halfwit who can pull a damn trigger. Not that the power has to allow one sovereign citizen to take on the military, or even the police, and win. The arguments against regulation are all predicated on the (rather paranoid) idea that the main purpose of the Amendment is to limit the ability of the federal government to control people, and that’s just not the case. Anyone who is a threat to us needs to be controlled, primarily by the limiting of power in the hands of those who are a threat. Note that: if we fear the rising power of the Federal government, then clearly the answer given by the Constitution is to limit that power, not to rise up against it. The worst case scenario is that the people will need to overthrow their own government, but the Amendment isn’t the plan for that; the Amendment is part of the plan for preventing that.

Our ability to own firearms is one thing that helps keep the government from the most simple and brutal sort of tyranny (And it really does do that, and I think I’ll have to talk about that at greater length on another day; the topic is too complex for a single post); but to keep us from turning our power on each other (And to keep the citizens from turning their power on the government for corrupt reasons, too; let’s not forget that. Let’s not imagine that most revolutions are idealistic and freedom-loving.), well — that’s why it says “Well-regulated.” Right there in the front of the Amendment. Even before the “keep and bear arms” part.

 

I think this will have to be continued.

Letter To My Congresswoman

I’m an American high school teacher, so as you can imagine, this last week has been a time of turmoil. And for the first time — a fact which I find shameful– this latest school shooting has actually driven me to do something. I wrote my representative in Congress, Martha McSally, who is currently running for the Arizona Senate seat that will be vacated by the retiring Jeff Flake, about gun control.

I should have done this many times in the past, and I can’t justify my own inaction. I’ve argued about this topic for years, but to say that I’ve never voiced my opinion to the people who can actually do something — well. I’ve done it now. Sent the email ten minutes ago. I will also be sending a version of this to every candidate who runs for McSally’s seat — one which will probably be hotly contested, considering the political climate in this country and the fact that this is a Democratic area with a Republican representative — and I welcome anyone who wants to use this as a framework for their own letter. Steal it, steal a paragraph, steal everything you want. Do more than I have done. Let’s see what we can make happen.

February 23, 2018

To Representative McSally:

I am an independent voter living in Tucson, in the 2nd Congressional District for Arizona. I am an educator: I have taught high school English for eighteen years, for the last four at Sonoran Science Academy, one of the premier STEM charter schools in the state – the only high school in Tucson which Governor Ducey visited this past year. I am writing to you despite knowing that you are currently very busy, seeking a new job in addition to performing the duties of your current position, because you should know that I will also be seeking a new position, and quite possibly a new profession, unless you and your fellow Congresspeople can do the right thing. Unless you bring some sense to the debate over gun control, and specifically firearms in schools, then Tucson, and Arizona, and this country will lose thousands of outstanding teachers and educators. Like me.

The sense I seek – the sense I demand – in this debate has three elements, one positive change, one negative stance, and a general direction. The positive change is simple: Congress must repeal the Dickey Amendment of 1996, which prohibits the Centers for Disease Control from performing any research into gun violence in this country if said research “may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” I find this law appalling, entirely apart from my stance on gun control, because it is nothing more than enforced ignorance: it is a law passed by our government intended solely to limit and suppress knowledge. It flies in the face of science because it presumes an outcome and refuses the research for fear of that outcome – but it is entirely possible that the outcome of that research would be evidence against gun control! There is absolutely no reason to prevent the CDC from investigating the causes of gun deaths, and 30,000 reasons to allow that research to go forward, every year. I say that as an educator, not as an advocate for gun control; the truth is always better than ignorance, and I for one would gladly change my stance on gun control if the evidence supported such a change. Congress must allow the CDC to dispel our ignorance, to teach us why this problem is unique to the United States. That knowledge, suppressed for twenty years, is why this debate is still so acrimonious: because we do not know the facts behind it. We do not know if the right to bear arms is a cause of those 30,000 annual deaths, or if it prevents even more deaths while contributing to none. We are left searching for reasons, for answers, while the body that could provide us with several of those answers sits with its hands tied. Please: make this the first action you take regarding this debate. Jay Dickey himself regrets his namesake law and argued for its repeal in 2012, after the shooting in Aurora, Colorado. Strip away the veil of ignorance, and let us know the truth. Repeal the Dickey Amendment.

The negative stance I would ask you to support has to do with a common reaction to the atrocity of school shootings. I have been a teacher since 2000, and I was in school to become a teacher when the massacre happened at Columbine; I have watched, again and again, as maniacs with firearms have devastated communities by targeting our children. Every time this happens, whether the debate remains local or expands to include the entire nation, at some point, someone will suggest arming the teachers. This time the suggestion came most clearly from our president, Mr. Trump. He Tweeted that “Highly trained, gun adept, teachers/coaches would solve the problem instantly, before police arrive. GREAT DETERRENT!” Allow me to state, unequivocally, that this is false. Highly trained teachers is what this nation already has, but we are, as we should be, highly trained in education, not in combat. I would never presume to lecture you, who have been in combat, on what that experience means and what training and preparation went into making it possible for you to fight for our country, but I am entirely and absolutely sure that I do not have what you had. I do not have the training, I do not have the preparation, I do not have the will to fight. My classroom is not a battleground, and I am not a warrior. What’s more, I will not become such. Turning me from an educator into a fighter would destroy too much of what I need to be successful in my profession: it would change my relationship to my students, it would change my view of myself and my role, it would change the priorities for my continuing professional development and the allocation of resources. It would make my position untenable for me, and if it ever becomes policy, I will quit. I will quit immediately and without reservation, and I will not be alone: please recognize that thousands and thousands of teachers feel as I do. The country already has a teacher shortage, and a longstanding problem with hiring and retaining quality educators; do not make it worse by misunderstanding who we are and what we do. I will never carry a weapon in school, and I will never fire on a student. Don’t ask me to.

Lastly, I would ask you to join me in moving the gun control debate in a general direction that I hope you will be able to support. I recognize the right to self-defense and the concomitant right to keep and bear arms. I oppose authoritarian government, and applaud the democratization of physical force through the private ownership of firearms. But the reality is that the ready availability of firearms, particularly of weapons that have uniquely destructive properties, allow for the unequal and devastating use of force in a way that reduces individual rights: one 19-year-old man’s ability to purchase an AR-15 and “countless” magazines has taken the right to life, the right to liberty, the right to pursue happiness, away from thousands of students. While of course such simple measures as a waiting period for semi-automatic rifles, or an age limit of 21 on the purchase of long guns, or a limit on magazine capacity, or a universal background check system, would not stop all massacres and would not affect the majority of gun deaths, the simple fact that such measures would stop some massacres, and would reduce gun deaths, without materially affecting the right to bear arms or the ability of Americans to defend themselves, makes these measures requisite. It makes them necessary. It makes their continued absence a failure and a dereliction of duty. I myself was inspired to write you, an action I have not taken in the past, by the political will and activity of the victims of the Parkland shooting; I consider myself to be derelict in my duty in not having taken up this cause in the past with the same vigor and determination that these teenagers are showing us now. I am a teacher; I am an adult; I should have been fighting this fight, not waiting for children to fight it for me. Had I fought for these measures in the past, had everyone who agrees with me done so, had all the congresspeople and elected leaders in this nation done what we all (I hope) know to be the right thing, then this particular massacre would not have occurred. That weighs on me, and though I don’t hope it weighs on you, I hope you can empathize with me about it. I hope you can understand the determination that I now have, that this situation not continue as it has in the past, that we not let this moment sink back into oblivion and change nothing and do nothing. I will not take up arms and fire on a student: but neither will I be silent while madmen do exactly that.

I hope you can agree with me on these three actions: to repeal the Dickey Amendment and allow the CDC to investigate the causes of gun violence; to oppose the absurd idea that our schools should encourage or require teachers to carry arms as a means of defending students from attack; and to press for some common-sense gun safety measures that would help to regulate arms without removing any citizen’s inalienable right to self-defense. Please believe that my vote, and my support, depend on that agreement.

Sincerely,

Theoden Humphrey

The First Step

You almost got me. Almost.

I came this close to throwing in the towel: I actually posted a blog entitled “I Surrender.” And in it, I did so. I said there was no hope, no chance, no point. I accepted defeat. I ceded the field of battle to the enemy. I walked away.

But then I thought about it. I thought about how, even in my acceptance of defeat, I acknowledged that I have had some success in this fight. I thought about how important this argument is: quite literally, it is about life and death. I thought about how the last piece I wrote focused on the importance of never giving up: never give up your dreams, I said. Try, try again, I said.

I took down the white-flag-blog-post. I thought about this argument, and I realized, first, there is another aspect of it that should be examined, which I could examine, so that I wouldn’t just be saying the same old things over again, and expecting different results. I realized, second, that even if I don’t have anything new to say, I should still say the same things, say them again and again, say them loudly and repeatedly and, above all, reasonably; make it harder for the other side to shout me down with their inanities and their absurdities and their lies. Maybe it won’t work. But I should try.

And I thought: the hell with it. No retreat, no surrender. You can have my argument when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers.

So, once more, no matter how futile it may feel at times, because it is a fight worth fighting, because it is as important as life and death, let’s talk about guns.

First: for all of the people who, after this latest tragedy (If you’ve already lost track, or if there has been another shooting that I have not heard about yet, I am speaking about the ten deaths in Roseburg, Oregon.), are claiming that we should be talking about anything other than guns, you’re wrong. You’re just feeling what I was feeling, that there is no way to get this country free from its addiction to guns. But doing anything other than confronting the problem head-on is just enabling the continued destructive behavior. Praying for those who lost their lives, while admirable and surely comforting, does nothing to prevent the next atrocity. Focusing on mental health is ineffective, partly because those who commit atrocities are not consistently identifiable as mentally or emotionally unstable beforehand (though they surely are identifiable after the fact, which is what makes this such an effective distraction from the underlying issue), and partly because the key to changing the effectiveness of mental health treatment in this country is to stop thinking of mental illness as an illness, which goal will not be achieved through looking at mental health through the lens of atrocity. Examining the underlying callousness, or lack of empathy, or unconcern for human life, that plays a part in atrocities, although it certainly is a reasonable target at which to aim, is not a short-term solution, and so shouldn’t be the only target. While we are considering what may cause a man’s indifference to the suffering of his fellow man, let’s also do the obvious: let’s make sure that those who are indifferent to the suffering of their fellow men cannot shoot those men.

All right: one thing at a time. Let’s look first at my description of this country’s attitude about guns as an addiction. Definition, please, O Almighty Google?

“Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.”

From the American Society of Addiction Medicine

That sounds about right. Our country is unable to consistently abstain from guns: no matter how many atrocities, no matter how many data sets show that guns are not safe to own, we still own more than any other country, per capita and total. We show impairment in behavioral control — certainly true; between accident, intentional homicide, and suicide, guns caused almost 34,000 deaths in 2013 alone. Craving? 300 million guns are owned by about 50 million households. When you already have a gun for each hand, a gun for each foot, and one for your mouth, and you think, “I should really have one more,” that’s a craving. Diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships? And does this behavior result in disability or premature death? Of course it does. That’s the point.

How does one deal with addiction? First, we have to recognize the problem. We need to talk about it, and keep talking about it. We have to keep paying attention to gun deaths, both in specific and in general. We have to confront gun owners with statistics and facts. We have to treat guns as what they are: murder machines. We can’t shy away from it, we can’t ignore it and hope it goes away — and we can never give up. I will try to remember that.

We do also need to examine the underlying factors that cause the problem. In this case, here in America, I think the reason for gun ownership is fear. We fear our government, and we fear crime. It would be great if we could address the causes of that fear — eliminate crime through drug legalization and the reduction of income equality; reduce the fear of government through reducing the military, increasing government transparency, and improving political education — but what we need to do first is recognize our fear, and recognize that our reaction to it is irrational and harmful. Just as alcohol doesn’t fix the problems that drive people to drink, guns do not fix the problems that drive people to shoot. Good people with guns do not stop bad people with guns. Columbine had armed law enforcement personnel on campus. The Navy Yard shooting and the Fort Hood shooting were both on military bases. There were armed civilians at Umpqua College, and yet they did not stop the atrocity — and neither, for all of his genuinely admirable heroism, did the army veteran who tried to stop the shooter. Chris Mintz was shot seven times trying to keep the killer out of the classroom, and yet the killer got past him into the classroom, and murdered several other people inside. Is there a better argument for the particular deadliness of firearms than this?  People say that, if guns were banned, killers would use knives. Do you think a murderer with a knife would have gotten past that guy? Neither do I. The shooter did, because guns are murder machines, and they are very efficient and effective. That’s why people use them. It stands to reason, then, that removing those murder machines would make murder less efficient and less effective, and therefore rarer. Isn’t that a good thing? Isn’t that the goal of everyone, including, in theory, those who want everyone to carry guns everywhere? Isn’t the argument against “Gun Free Zones” exactly this, that those places increase the likelihood of murder? So how can the removal of the murder machines do anything other than reduce murder? I know, I know: if we ban guns, only criminals would have guns, and if a criminal wants a gun, he’s going to get a gun. Gun bans in other countries have proven both of these tropes to be false. People make the same claim about easy access to illegal drugs, but that isn’t true either: right now, sitting here, I have no idea where I could safely buy crack. I know exactly where I can buy a firearm. The same goes for 99% of the population of this country. As sincerely as I oppose the war on drugs, I have to admit that it has made it harder to get those drugs than it would be if they were legal; can’t gun owners admit the same thing about a comprehensive ban on firearms? Just so we know we’re all on the same page, thinking rationally, and dealing with reality? Here, I will concede this: a comprehensive ban on firearms would violate the Constitution as it has been interpreted by the Supreme Court, and it would infringe on the rights of responsible, law-abiding gun owners. I’m not suggesting a comprehensive gun ban for those reasons. Can’t we all admit that, even if it is illegal and probably immoral, a ban on firearms would at least be effective in making guns harder to get, regardless of what other problems it would cause? Let’s at least face reality, okay?

Here’s some more reality people don’t want to face: even apart from atrocities, people do not use firearms to protect themselves from crime. Every claim of how often they do is based on one — one — thoroughly discredited random phone survey, performed by Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz. (See here) It’s exactly like the link between vaccinations and autism, except the people who accept pseudoscience as reality in this case are more numerous. And armed.

 

Here’s the thing I’d like to address. It’s this notion of self-defense. I want to know what, exactly, gives someone the right to kill another human being. Why do we have the right, morally and legally, to use lethal force in the name of preventing the use of lethal force? Or even worse, the right to use lethal force to prevent non-lethal force? Even to prevent property crimes? I can legally shoot someone who is breaking into my house in order to steal my stapler. Can anyone defend that rationally?

I recognize that we have the right to defend ourselves, or another human being. But do we have the right to kill? If I can stop someone from killing me without killing them, isn’t that the extent of my right? Even if murder is necessary to prevent murder, how do we know that someone is intending our death? How can it be that I have the right to shoot someone simply because he breaks into my house? Someone breaking a lock or prying open a window does not put my life in danger. Even someone attacking me does not necessarily put my life in danger. People do not want to take the chance that an intruder is not an attacker, or that an attacker is not intending to kill; but that is a matter of convenience and egotism: it is only more convenient to assume that an attacker is intending lethal harm and therefore lethal force should be applied in stopping him; and it is mere egotism to say that my life is more important than an attacker’s just because he’s the attacker. I mean, seriously? Our moral argument is “He started it?”

Someone intending harm should be prevented from doing harm. But it seems to me that using lethal force to prevent that harm is, quite literally, overkill. If there are non-lethal means of preventing harm, aren’t those means the extent of what is justified? As soon as the attacker is no longer intending to kill me, I am no longer defending myself. Right? So if I punch him in the face, and he decides, “Never mind, I don’t want to kill this guy,” I am done defending myself. And if I punch him again, now I am the attacker. Now he should have the right to defend himself against me. The scenario as I describe it is absurd, yes — but how absurd is it to assume that anyone who breaks into my house is intending to inflict lethal harm on me? And without that intent, what is the justification for using lethal force to stop him?

The fact that I have a gun shouldn’t mean I am right in using it when I could use a Taser just as easily. Aren’t non-lethal means of prevention of harm available to citizens? Things like good locks, alarm systems, access to police? Self-defense weapons like pepper spray and stunguns? Martial arts training? Guard dogs? Neighborhood watch? How about a bat?

As far as I know, the only argument against these things is that they are less effective and/or less efficient (meaning “slower”) than guns in stopping an attacker. No: I suppose there is also the argument that “bad guys” deserve death. We Americans relish playing Dirty Harry and Wyatt Earp, blowing away the “bad guys,” thus making the world safer by ensuring that they won’t attack anyone else ever again, and putting a notch in our gunbelts. But apart from our comic-book-vigilante fetish, it is just this point: stunguns and pepper spray are not as effective as guns, partly because they require someone to get close enough for the attacker to fight back, and they do not cause as much harm as quickly as does a gun, and so the attacker may still harm the defender.

I refuse to accept that someone threatening me, or even worse, threatening to take my stuff, is deserving of the death penalty. If we believe that, why don’t we kill everyone who commits any crime? The best indicator of future crime is past crime; the best indicator of future violence is past violence. Shouldn’t we be lining schoolyard bullies up against the wall and putting a bullet in the back of every head? Ditto for every kid who shoplifts, or tags a wall, or smokes a joint? I also refuse to accept that the simple fact that I own a gun, but not an effective non-lethal means of self-defense, justifies my using the gun; when my explanation is “Well, it’s what I had in my hand,” I lose the argument. “Honey, why did you give me a ball of pocket lint and a used wad of gum for an anniversary present?” “Well, it wasn’t like I could just go to the store and buy flowers! You said, ‘Happy Anniversary,’ and I had to react in a split-second!” Or maybe this: “Sir, I’m afraid I’m going to have to insist you pay for your purchases with actual money, not this piece of paper with your grocery list written on it.” “Hey, man — you can’t expect me to get out my wallet, find the money, pull it out, count it, and then reach all the way over there to hand it to you! You could have given away my purchases half a dozen times by then!”

Self-defense should be limited to what is required to end the threat. Not the easiest means of ending the threat, not the fastest, not the most viscerally satisfying of my bloodlust; only what is necessary. Anything beyond what is necessary now makes me a greater threat to my attacker than he is to me. If I shoot an unarmed man, or even a man armed with a weapon less dangerous than my gun, then I am become the attacker, not the defender. Anyone who uses a gun to kill when it is not necessary is a murderer; isn’t that the standard we use for police? Aren’t we enraged to the point of riot when that standard is not upheld? And yet we think nothing of a homeowner with a gun safe full of weapons unloading on an unarmed burglar who was trying to score drug money?

Of course, those who own the guns almost certainly disagree with me; they probably think that police are justified and right in killing unarmed civilians who merely seem to pose a threat. (Though those gun owners should consider this issue when arguing that our government is a threat, as well; isn’t it this very standard that allows them to be such a threat? Maybe there is a solution to both problems . . . ) But here’s the thing I have to keep in mind: I have to remember that argument, particularly in a debate like this one, is not simply intended to sway the zealots of the opposition. It is intended to provide points of consideration for the rational, regardless of their initial position in the debate. So for those of you who are rational, consider this. How much offense is necessary for defense? How much harm can one do in the name of preventing harm?

How much harm must we do to each other, and ourselves, for the sake of clinging to our prejudices? How many people have to die before we recognize that we have a problem, and we need to deal with it?

Addicts must change their lives: they have to change their way of thinking, their understanding of themselves and their behavior, their concept of their addiction and what it does for them. They must avoid the people and the places and the activities that served in the past as triggers for their addictions. They need to work, and keep working; they can never ease up, not ever. We are addicted to guns. There are a lot of things that need to change before we can quit the guns; we can’t go cold turkey, that I will concede. But just because it’s hard to accomplish doesn’t mean it isn’t the right thing to do, nor that it shouldn’t be attempted. 34,000 deaths a year beg us to do what must be done. Think of how many people you know. Think how much it hurts when one of them dies. Recognize how many orders of magnitude that is away from 34,000 deaths. Recognize that that number occurs in this country every year.

Let’s take the first step: admit that we have a problem. And let’s do the work.

Gun Is God

I saw this on Facebook today. And my immediate reaction was to attack: Well but that isn’t the same thing at all — people have an inherent right to freedom of religion, which is codified in (though not granted by) the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights. And religion isn’t used to kill people. And pssh — Iowa. Come on. Like anything intelligent ever came out of Iowa.

Then I immediately thought: but the right to bear arms is also in the Bill of Rights. Even if I think it shouldn’t be. The Second Amendment does represent a natural right, the right of self-defense. Even if I think there are better ways to go about defending one’s self.

And as for religion: seriously, Dusty? It isn’t used to kill people? Even apart from the indisputable facts that have led to the prejudice represented here (more on the prejudice later), namely the sheer number of Islamic terrorists and war-mongers of the last — what, sixty years? — religion is behind most of the wars of human history, or has at least been used as the justification for them, as well as countless atrocities — the Inquisition, the witch-burnings, the Holocaust, the pogroms, chattel slavery, colonialism — Jesus, do I need to go on?

Absurd of me even to take up this argument, if this is all I have.

But that third one — that’s kind of right. Tom Arnold is from Iowa. So is Michele Bachmann. And Steve King, of course  (The moronic Congressman, not the author.). Ashton Kutcher. Charles Osborne, the guy with the world record for the longest lasting case of hiccups. Sure, there are a couple of scientists and mathematicians on the list of Iowans, several astronauts, and a few authors I like — Bill Bryson, especially — but you don’t get away from Michele Bachmann that easily. Not even with the Ringling Brothers.

So what does this mean? I’ve been arguing against guns for years and years now, and here I find myself stymied. Does it mean I should be changing my stance on gun control? Have I been unfairly critical of gun owners? Has this meme changed my argument? DID IOWA JUST WIN THE GUN FIGHT?!?

Well, no. It didn’t. The problem with this argument is that it equates religion and gun ownership, claiming that a prejudice against one is as morally and intellectually bankrupt as a prejudice against the other. This much is true: prejudice is always morally and intellectually bankrupt. It is also always instinctive for humans because we evolved to be hunter-gatherers and our minds are evolved to discover patterns, so we see them everywhere, and frequently use them as a basis for action and reaction; when we eat  the red berries and they are tasty, then the next time we see red berries, we assume they’ll be tasty. And sometimes they are tasty, and the prejudice is therefore efficient; and sometimes they are toxic and we die, and the prejudice is inefficient. Evolution argues that it is more frequently efficient than inefficient when used as a survival strategy — but that has no bearing whatsoever on the value of prejudice in society. There, the value is almost always outweighed by the costs.

But that doesn’t mean either that gun ownership is equivalent to religion, nor that the argument against gun ownership is equivalent to the argument against Muslims.

First: religion and gun ownership. Sure, both are personal rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Both are defended fanatically on the Fox network. Both are, theoretically, under attack by liberals with an agenda — and neither actually are. And yes, both often catch the blame for atrocities carried out by terrorists.

But religion, however it may have been used in the past, whatever people may think of it, is not a weapon intended to do harm. The goal of religion is truth, and subsequent salvation. The question of relative harm as it is created by religious tenets, as in, “If I allow you to die unshriven, you will burn in Hell forever; therefore I should torture you until you confess your heresy and renounce your beliefs– and then you’ll go to Heaven!” is certainly a troubling one, as religion here grants people a moral justification for doing harm; but that is an application of a specific religious principle, carried out by the person — it is not the intention of the religion as an entity.  Christianity was not founded in order to justify torture or slavery or war. I won’t say that those things are a misuse, as that implies that the actual intended purpose is a correct and proper usage of the religion, and as an atheist I don’t accept that; but I think there can be no argument that religion was not and never has been created intentionally to do harm.

Firearms, on the other hand, were invented, produced, and evolved over time intentionally and specifically to harm others. They exist for that reason. The possession of firearms is considered a right, both a natural right and a right in the Constitution, because of that reason; people may own firearms simply for amusement, but that is not why they feel a right to own them — if so, we’d all have the right to a Playstation 4, and I would currently be suing Sony. We have the right to bear arms because arms are the most effective way to harm others so that those others cannot harm us: the ability of firearms to do harm A)rapidly to multiple targets, B) from a distance that keeps the bearer safe from retaliation, and C) without physical strength, dexterity, or training, is unmatched in the world of weapons. This is why people use the Second Amendment to protect guns, rather than, say, swords and spears and personally owned stealth bombers. It is a disingenuous argument to claim that any weapon could be used to kill another person — and therefore the government can’t take away my gun. There is a reason why guns are the focus of the argument: because they are the most effective and efficient killing machine on the planet. The millions — billions? — who have been shot since the invention of firearms show this.

So we should not make analogies between religion and firearms, not even in criticizing anti-religious prejudice with anti-firearm prejudice. And let me just add: why would you want to do that? When I used to debate online against guns, I was frequently dismissed as a hoplophobe, one who suffers from a morbid and irrational fear of guns; the classic, er, “argument” that goes “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” is based on the same objective understanding of firearms as inanimate objects, incapable of independent action, and therefore the incorrect focus for the fear felt by those who promote gun control. But this emotionless, objective, apparently logical stance is lost if one makes the comparison between gun owners and devotees of a religion; now those who own firearms are — true believers. Members of the faith. Followers of their prophet/messiahs, Smith and Wesson and Remington and Colt. This is not an opening which gun rights advocates want to give us hoplophobes.

But the real problem with this meme? It’s a meme.  The concept of the meme was created by Richard Dawkins, the British evolutionary biologist; Dawkins described the meme as the modern version of genes, now that mankind survives through social adaptation to environmental pressure, rather than biological adaptation. That is, rather than better genes propagating more than worse genes through reproduction and natural selection, we make adjustments for “bad” genes through our society: we take care of people who can’t survive on their own; we use medicine to give those with “bad” genes a full life; we create niches for those with differing strengths, so both the man with the strong back and the man with the strong mind can survive and thrive. The ideas that create those situations, the belief that family members should take care of those who cannot take care of themselves, for instance, are spread through our culture, and help that culture survive, along with the people who spread it. Our modern human culture is our survival strategy: we live and reproduce because our culture protects us far more than our bodies do.  Because of that, although we are continuously evolving as a species, today, our genes do not change very much; rather, our memes do.

The purpose of a meme, like the purpose of a gene, is not to create the perfect being, or the perfect argument: it is to reproduce. That means it has the qualities that will make it most likely to spread and multiply, not necessarily the best qualities. Blonde hair and blue eyes do not make someone a better human being — but if they make that person more likely to reproduce and spread those genes, then those genes will survive and thrive. Watch Idiocracy: there’s a meme, a reproducible bit of culture, that shows why neither genes nor memes need to be the best to be the most successful. It shows, in fact, how memes are become more powerful than genes in human evolution: successful memes actually make people’s genes worse, and the people themselves less biologically adapted to survive.

So this:

is not the best thought, not the best argument, but it is likely to be reproduced and propagated; therefore, it is a successful meme.

What internet memes do — what the meme that started this blog did — is oversimplify, because on the internet, simplicity is king. That’s why so many memes are crude line drawings, or this sort of simple joke. They use the same photos again and again, and the same font, and the same sentence structures and joke patterns because those things have been selected, have proven successful in the past, have been propagated and reproduced.

And all of that’s fine. Memes are jokes, and plenty of them are funny — this one cracks me up:

And this one is not only funny but true:

But none of the things that make these successful memes make them good thoughts or good arguments. Just — good at grabbing people’s attention so they click “Share.”

So for that, this meme

is successful, because it has an interesting enough idea, formulated in an eye-catching way — with a picture that is both relatable and idealized, because that guy looks ordinary and also badass; and using the all-caps font with red for a highlight; short words, simple sentences, rhetorical question — and so it was shared. And it is also successful in that it provokes thought: it took me some time to work my way through the meme’s rhetorical question and come to my answer. Time spent thinking is always good.

The answer is: no. It is not time the 80 million gun owners in America get the same treatment. First because gun ownership is not a religion, and the analogy doesn’t work. Second because although there is a right to self-defense, it should not be realized through firearms, which are unnecessarily deadly even when used to protect one’s self. The Second Amendment is wrong: arms should be regulated, for the safety of all, because private gun ownership creates as much danger as it eliminates, and generally more; the presence of weapons creates a feeling of safety far more often than it creates actual safety, and yet those weapons are most often used to do more harm than could be done without them. We could certainly get into a debate about personal liberty versus safety — so long as nobody quotes the Benjamin Franklin meme. Which oversimplifies and relies entirely on the persuasive power of the author’s name.

Lastly, the answer is No because, simply put, gun owners have never been treated the way that Muslims have. Yes, massacres that have been carried out with firearms have led to calls for gun control — but thanks to the Second Amendment, they have never led to even the beginning of a discussion of banning guns. Armed police and military are expected and appreciated. The only gun law that was passed using a mass shooting as impetus, the Brady Bill’s ban on assault weapons, was allowed to expire, because gun owners and manufacturers made it pointless. We can still buy extended clips like Jared Lee Loughner used in Tucson when he shot Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others — without reloading — and we can still buy weapons online as James Holmes did before he shot 82 people in Aurora. People speak out against guns, as they do against Muslims (And let me note the prejudice inherent within the meme itself, when it claims that every terrorist attack is related to Islam — only days after Dylann Roof killed nine people in a church in South Carolina. With a gun given to him for a birthday present, and therefore requiring no background check. He could also have done what Adam Lanza did, and used his parents’ guns.), but no laws ever pass, no action is ever taken. No innocent gun owners are beaten in the streets as happened after 9/11; no gun owners are unfairly targeted in airport searches; nothing has been done that is analogous to the Bible Belt states’ bans on Sharia law. No Baptist preachers are burning Guns & Ammo.

We have not yet invaded Austria to eliminate the Glock company.

 

In summation, all I have to say to this meme is this: