Gun Rights and Wrongs

I am a strong supporter of the second amendment to the United States Constitution.

That does not mean I believe it is every American’s birthright to carry an AR-15 through the shopping mall.

Our right to bear arms has nothing to do with self protection, there are plenty of ways to fend off an armed attacker which do not endanger the lives of innocent bystanders. Our right to bear arms has nothing to do with hunting. Most gun owners would not have a clue about how to kill an animal, or what to do with a dead animal. Our right to bear arms has nothing to do with fending off foreign invaders, unlike Switzerland, although there are lessons to learn from the Swiss. Our right to bear arms is about our founding father’s distrust of government. In case of a tyrannical government the second amendment provides the ultimate “check” in our system of checks and balances. This is why I support the second amendment, and am instinctively distrustful of anyone who speaks about repealing it.

America is a big country, with cities more populated than some nations. A lunatic fringe of three percent would give us more crazy people than the population of Belarus or one hundred ten other countries. Nine and a half million crazy people can do a lot of damage, but they are a fringe, representing no mainstream group. It is no more accurate to judge the entire gun rights movement with the actions of a few crazy people (armed with big scary high powered weapons) than it is to judge scientists by the actions of Al Gore (armed with big scary high powered publicists). In addition to the lunatic fringe, there is the other fifty percent (or more) of the population that lacks the intelligence to understand the issue of gun rights. This group is spread evenly between pro gun rights and anti gun rights groups.

I saw an interview with a woman following a demonstration by the “Open Carry Texas” group. Open Carry Texas members carry long guns, usually “assault rifles,” in public. The woman said “I don’t know if the person with a gun knows how to use it.” I know. They don’t. There is no reason to carry a long gun for self defense. By applying the wrong tool to the task, you are demonstrating that you do not understand the tool and/or the task, so no, you do not know how to use the rifle. You are a danger to others. Using the incorrect interpretation of the “Stand your ground” laws that is prevalent, I would have reasonable fear that you are a danger to my life and would be entitled to use lethal measures to remove you as a threat.

Back to Switzerland. With a population of under eight million and a mandate for gun ownership, they possess 45 guns per 100 people compared with America’s 88 guns per 100 people. In Switzerland firearms training is mandatory. In America the rate of homicide by firearm is 2.97 of every 100,000 people, in Switzerland that rate is 0.77 of every 100,000 people. Now factor in that the rate of homicide by firearm is slightly higher in Switzerland (72%) than in America (60%) and you see the problem is not firearms, it is violence in general. We have forty times their population, and one hundred sixty times their homicides by firearms, while we have fewer homicides by firearms as a percentage of total homicides.

Homicide Rates in Switzerland and United States per 100,000

Homicide Rates in Switzerland and United States per 100,000

We are a violent society. Ending gun violence might cut our homicide rate in half, but I am not sure a murder victim cares how they are murdered.

Perhaps if we were to teach respect for human life, our homicide rate could drop by half without infringing on a basic constitutional right. Perhaps if we were to infringe on that right in ways other than banning weapons, ways that would remove weapons from violent or unstable people, we could reduce our homicide by firearm rate by seventy five percent. If we did both of these things, it would appear we could reduce our overall homicide rate to fall in line with the level of “Civilized” we wish to project.

Contrary to the rhetoric, the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is not a good guy with a gun. All it takes is a good guy (or girl). If we would arm our children with confidence and self defense tactics, they would be less likely to be victims of violence, and more likely to be able to end violence.

Or we could just argue about things we cannot change, and keep killing each other.

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“Don’t do what I did”

I smoke. I am one of those weird people who are not addicted to nicotine, are aware of the dangers of tobacco, and choose to smoke anyway. Nonetheless, I have always been impressed by Yul Brynner’s choice to make the above ad for the American Cancer Society.

Yul (Юлий Борисович Бринер) was born in Vladivostok Russia in 1920 and immigrated to America in 1940. Consider that for a moment, he was born just after the first world war and Spanish influenza, then at age twenty he traveled to the other side of the world on the eve of the second world war. Smoking was not only seen as sophisticated, it was a simple treatment for stress, even the Red Cross provided cigarettes to soldiers. Yuliy Borisovich had started smoking at age twelve, and smoked for forty years before quitting in 1971. In 1983 he found a lump on his vocal chords, and just hours before his four thousandth performance of “The King and I” received the test results informing him his vocal chords were fine, but he had inoperable lung cancer.

Yul took a break for radiation therapy and then the tour continued, with another six hundred and twenty five performances. Yul made the public service announcement, which was aired heavily on all American networks just in time for his death in October of 1985. To me, it is the most powerful statement ever.

As I watched the coverage of the Oscar Pistorius trial, I felt sorry for Oscar. Not quite as sorry as I felt for Reeva Steenkamp, the woman Oscar killed, but I could see he is filled with grief. He did something that ended a human life and wishes he could undo it. Kind of like Yul.

There has been testimony about South African gun laws. Ownership of a firearm is conditional on a competency test and several other factors, including background checking of the applicant, inspection of an owner’s premises, and licensing of the weapon by the police. Oscar passed the competency test, which includes identifying the correct course of action in “shoot/don’t shoot” scenarios. The shooting of Reeva Steenkamp was clearly a “don’t shoot” situation. His remorse does not absolve his guilt. I have a friend in South Africa, and am aware of the fear many people live with. It is a scary place with scary people, arming one’s self is a rational measure. But as we know to varying extents in America, just because it is legal to possess a gun does not mean it is appropriate for everyone to possess a gun, responsibility needs to be assessed honestly by the gun owner, before he walks out of the gun store.

Oscar will most likely spend some time, perhaps the remainder of his life, incarcerated. This will not bring Reeva back, nothing will. If Oscar is sincere about his remorse, I think he should make a public service announcement. It should be aired in every country in which firearms are legally owned by civilians. Here is how I envision it:

We see a still image of Oscar as a child, after his legs had been amputated. Oscar’s voice over is the only sound. He says “Fibular hemimelia took away my freedom when I was less than a year old.” The image shifts to another still of him running in the Olympics “Technology helped me regain my freedom, allowing me to pursue life to it’s fullest.” The image shifts to stills of Oscar and Reeva at a celebrity event, then shifts to a picture of the murder scene. “My irresponsible use of technology took away the life of the woman I love,” shift to video, Oscar in a dingy cell, his prosthetic legs propped against the outside of the bars. The remainder of the video is a slow zoom in on his face as he continues “and cost my freedom as well. Some things cannot be undone, don’t let the irresponsible person with a gun be you.”

That’s my concept, I’d like to see it on the air in America as well. Maybe required viewing when purchasing a firearm.

The Bill of Rights, part two

This is part three of the “Know your Constitution” series.

The previous parts, “Constitutional Rights“, and “The Bill of Rights” may be viewed by clicking those links.

I don’t expect that every amendment to require an article of its own, we’ll see how it goes.

We pick up with the second amendment, “The right to bear arms”. This amendment is short and simple.

“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”. (emphasis on comma mine)

That comma has been the centerpiece of many arguments, which is why I emphasized it. For such a short, simple statement, it has probably been argued more than any other amendment to the constitution. The simplest explanation I can give you goes back to the core of understanding why this document was written, which is limit the powers of the federal government. The Constitution itself is written defining the construction of government, maintaining a system of equal representation and allowing checks and balances to prevent any branch of government from becoming too powerful. The first amendment is yet another check allowing avenues of redress and protest. The second amendment is the ultimate balance, the availability of armed revolt.

Yep, that’s what it’s about. It has nothing to do with hunting, not even for survival. It’s about the survival of the union.

My reading, based on the way the other amendments are written within the Bill of rights, is that militias, the right to keep arms, and the right to bear arms should not be infringed. Without the comma, militias don’t enter the equation.

So what is a militia? It is an independent military force. The Militia Act of 1792 allowed the President to call upon militias to support federal troops, indicating they are independent. The second Militia Act of 1792, passed just six days later, provides for the organization of militias, and conscription of all able bodied men, age 18 to 45. Not for a couple of years, but for the period of twenty seven years, from age 18 to 45. It also provides that each man “provide himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch, with a box therein, to contain not less than twenty four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball; or with a good rifle, knapsack, shot-pouch, and powder-horn, twenty balls suited to the bore of his rifle, and a quarter of a pound of powder”.

Based on 25 grains of powder per round, that’s enough powder for seventy rounds, required by law to be maintained by every man. Considering a guerrilla tactic of free fire rather than controlled fire ranks, a well trained rifleman could get off four rounds a minute maximum.  So that’s enough powder to keep shooting for almost twenty minutes.

Can you imagine if someone were to arm themselves with sufficient ammunition to fire for a solid twenty minutes today? I couldn’t maintain a rate of one aimed shot a second for twenty minutes, but I could certainly use that rate to describe suppressing fire. That would be twelve hundred rounds, filling forty standard thirty round magazines. Just to put things into perspective.

When we consider the reasons firearms are banned, it is because they fit the requirements set forth by the second amendment. Hunting rifles and handguns are not what the amendment addresses. Arms suitable for military use are what are prescribed.

Moving on to the third amendment.

“No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law”.

In the colonial era, the practice of billeting British troops in private homes was a widespread. One of the complaints against King George III in the Declaration of Independence was “for quartering large bodies of armed troops among us”. Keeping in mind the Constitution is designed to limit federal powers, this is one more instance in which the federal government is likened to an enemy of the people.

There have been very few third amendment arguments, most recently a man in Nevada refused to allow local police to use his home in a surveillance operation,  was subsequently arrested, and is using the third amendment as his defense. It should be interesting to see how that case goes, as local Police Officers are not quite federal “Soldiers”. In Griswold v Connecticut (1965), the third amendment was cited as protecting against government intrusion in a “Right to privacy” defense. The closest case I can find that comes close to a violation is Engblom v. Carey (1982), in which National Guardsmen, fitting the description of soldiers under the Militia act of 1792 (see above) in which a state militia member can be called to federal service, were quartered in homes. In this case, the homes were owned by the State of New York, and were compensation for prison guards. The guards went on strike and the state called in the National Guard to fill in, housing the replacements in the striking guards homes. If you’re on strike do you still receive compensation? The state won the case on a technicality (Immunity of State officials from suit from unknowing violation of the law) so the third amendment complaint is not satisfactorily addressed.

Next we’ll pick up with the fourth amendment, which fits nicely with the fifth. See you then

The big news

There was a shooting at a school in Philadelphia. As I write this first draft, it happened just two hours ago.

It is the only story being covered on the ABC outlet right now, I’ve had the TV on for about twenty minutes and have learned the following important facts;

(1) Two fifteen year old children are in the hospital with gunshot wounds.

(2) The firearm has not been recovered.

(3) Three “suspects” were involved, one is in custody, the others remain at large.

(4) Without a script, dead air is more informative than the news media.

Seven different reporters, five locations, interview with parents, a registered nurse, and the chief of police and the most surprising thing was how many stupid comments were made.

Let’s start with, “We don’t know if the gun went off intentionally or not”. Guns don’t have intentions. Guns don’t just “go off”. It is illegal for people under the age of twenty one to possess a handgun, and illegal for anyone to carry a gun inside a Philadelphia school. So what we know that someone intentionally committed the crime of possessing a handgun, and intentionally committed the crime of bringing that firearm to a school. Anything that happened at the school with that firearm happened intentionally.

From a parent, “What am I concerned about? I’m concerned if my kid was shot, if it’s not my kid, I’m not concerned”. Okay, maybe not stupid. Honest and insensitive most assuredly. Stupid was asking a parent what their concerns are outside a school where a shooting has taken place.

From Police Commissioner  Charles “The pointy end of the bullet goes in first, right?” Ramsey, “Kids aren’t supposed to have guns at school”. I’ve written about Commissioner Ramsey before. His last job was Chief of Police in Washington DC, so he doesn’t really understand much about gun laws. Kids aren’t supposed to have guns at all, Chuck.

From the reporter at the home of the suspect in custody, “We don’t know how he got from the school (at 5201 Old York Road)  to his home in the 2200 block of Bucknell”. My guess? He walked a block to the Logan subway station, took it to Snyder Ave, caught the 79 bus to 24th St, and walked a block home. The bigger question might be how a kid from South Philly came to be enrolled in a school in the Logan section, but the route is obvious to me, and I haven’t lived in Philly for three years (when I did, I lived off Snyder Avenue).

From the Registered Nurse, “Both children were wounded in the arm, and while hospital officials have said they are not life threatening injuries, they could still be life changing injuries”. I just got back from Philly, we were at a concert today, but I was tempted to drive back just so I could strangle this idiot on camera. Yes, it could be good, or it could be bad. Flipping a coin would tell me as much. Life changing? That depends on the victim, but assuming the child is moderately sensitive, yes, their life has been changed.

The important part of the story is that two children, in the gymnasium after school, suddenly found themselves in the hospital, which was fortunately only two blocks away, being treated for gunshot wounds. Secondary to that is whether the shooter and gun are in custody. After that I’d like to know what the weather will be tomorrow. Unless anything else important happened in the fifth largest city in the United States, you can tell me about that. But hours on end covering a one minute story? Seriously?

As the evening progressed we found that one of the “children”, an eighteen (not fifteen) year old  female student, had been wounded in the bicep and released from the hospital three hours after the incident. The other victim, her seventeen (not fifteen) year old boyfriend, had taken the bullet in his shoulder and as of Sunday (the shooting occurred at 1530 on Friday) was still hospitalized.

The shooter was identified as a seventeen year old student and was charged as an adult. He surrendered to Police with his attorney at 1300 Saturday.  His attorney said “I’m saying it’s not intentional and we’re not admitting any fault on his part, he’s a good solid kid and you’ll see he has no prior record. He stays out of trouble and he’s been cooperating with police. Thank you very much”. Because, you know, for a seventeen year old to not have a record just indicates how exemplary a student he is, don’t most people have a record by the time they’re seventeen? I can understand the unintentional part, the illegal handgun loaded itself and chambered a bullet before it crawled into his backpack and then jumped into his hand. Shocked by its sudden appearance, the young man just had enough time to say “what is this?” before the gun released its own safety and pulled it’s own trigger. </sarcasm>

The suspect who had been arrested in South Philadelphia was cleared, he had been misidentified (by the same school security officers who missed a gun entering the school) and had been in another part of the school at the time of the shooting.

The other students who had been sought had been cleared of any involvement.

And now, Monday evening, the plot thickens. Another person is being sought by police. The eighteen year old who sold the shooter the gun. So this “good solid kid” didn’t bring a gun to school, he was buying a gun. From an eighteen year old, at school in the gymnasium. The transaction was apparently caught on tape.

So instead of answers, I have questions. If two kids hadn’t been shot, would anyone have ever followed up on the sale of a handgun between teenagers on school grounds? Maybe the same security officers who identified a fifteen year old who had been in a different part of the building and missed the gun entering the school would put down their doughnuts and suddenly do their jobs?

There is still no information about the gun being recovered. Maybe it was, and the less than competent media has failed to report it, or maybe it’s still floating around, waiting for an opportunity to accidentally shoot a few more people.

Guns are not nearly as dangerous as stupid people. We do not need more gun laws, we need to enforce the ones we already have, and fire the people who fail to do so.