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The personal blog of Frank Lesko. Award-winning writer. Non-profit entrepreneur. Activist. Religious professional. Foodie. Musician. All around curious soul and Renaissance man.

See also my professional blog: The Traveling Ecumenist.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Mass Shotings, redux


If you do what you've always done, you're going to get what you've always gotten.

Mass shootings are very common in our country. Virtually nothing has actually been done to address any of the suspected causes. I'm not aware of Congress debating the pros and cons of any proposed plans to address this problem.

Therefore, we should all be willing to admit that mass shootings will continue at about the same rate (or perhaps greater, since the causes have not been addressed) than before. Right? This is just basic logic. We should all be willing to agree on that regardless on where we stand politically or what we think are the causes of mass shootings.

So... is this something we are willing to accept? Gun control people actually have a plan. Maybe it will work, maybe it won't. NRA-types... don't actually have a plan, other than the slow arming of the entire population. If gun control isn't the solution, then what, pray tell, is?

Let's say you make a machine in a factory. Everything is going well until suddenly you start getting a lot of complaints from customers. The product is now defective. What do you do?

Common sense: You do more inspections... hire more people... fire some others... have stronger consequences for bad work and extra praise for good work… add some extra regulations... remove some other regulations... you do SOMETHING. You adjust the process and add extra oversight. You may do this indefinitely, but at the very least, you do this until the problem has been solved.
 
Regulation of some kind is generally part of the solution--both in the short and long term.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Another Day, Another Mass Shooting in the U.S.A.

We all know the drill, because we have been through it so many times:

IF the suspect in a mass shooting is an immigrant or African-American, then the answer from so many is to build a wall, restrict refugees and increase police and criminal sentencing to the max. We sound the "terrorism" alarm and quickly attack civil liberties and bomb Middle Eastern nations.

IF the suspect is white, we're told that laws and regulations never work because criminals break laws anyway and this is simply the "price for freedom." They say he must have been a "lone wolf" acting out of "mental illness." His whole race, religion and nationality are not implicated, only this one isolated individual.
 
Why the difference?
 
Personal Responsibility
 
Gun rights people tell us that gun ownership increases the sense of personal responsibility. Rather than waiting for the "nanny-state government to coddle and take care of us," they tell us that gun ownership allows us not to outsource our own self-defense but rather take responsibility for it. The sheer firepower in our hands forces us to be mature and act responsibly, they say. Nice theory. The reality is that over 50,000 Americans die every year because many gun owners are not in the least bit responsible. They can't seem to own guns without shooting themselves or others. We need to do with them what we do with children--take their toys away because they have demonstrated that they can't handle them.
 
A better scenario perhaps is to only take the guns away from the people most likely to abuse gun ownership.

Good Guys, Bad Guys and Other Childish Notions
 
The NRA says that "only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun." Besides being outrageously false--there are MANY ways to stop a person with a gun that don't require guns--it also just sounds like something a 10-year old who reads too many comic books would say. My world is much more complex than "good guys" and "bad guys." Are you kidding me?
 
Besides, the track record of gun owners successfully stopping mass shooting is pretty bad.  There was an off-duty police officer at the Orlando massacre.  Even well-trained professionals often do not perform well under fire.  Studies are pretty clear that gun ownership makes it more likely someone will be hurt or killed by mistake than out of self-defense.  That might be justifiable if gun owners were the only ones who bore the consequences of their own actions, but all too often it is not they but family members or strangers who gets shot by their irresponsibility.

Long story short:  Your right to own a gun is secondary to my right to not get shot. Experience has shown us that gun owners cannot guarantee this.

Nukes Don't Kill People...

Nukes don't kill people... people kill people, right? Then why are we trying so hard to keep North Korea from having a nuke? The answer to that question is the same reason why we don't want automatic and semi-automatic weapons floating around outside of a "well-regulated militia": By the time a person can come along to stop them, there has already been far too much damage done. No one wins. If North Korea sends a nuke and destroys an American city, yes, we can retaliate. But we will have lost an entire city. No one wins. The same is true with people with mass shootings. Someone like the Las Vegas shooter will have already killed dozens of people before anyone can stop it. We have to answer the question further upstream.

The 2nd Amendment says... 

Many Americans have a problem with reading comprehension. The 2nd amendment says NOTHING... I repeat... NOTHING about private gun ownership. It only talks about a "well-regulated militia." In other words, all the guns would be locked up in the center of town in an armory and only brought out with a chain of command facilitating it. I think many of us have been so conditioned by the NRA to read the 2nd amendment as private ownership we forget to look at the actual words.

"Well regulated militia" is a conditional clause--in other words, it is the condition that must be met for the rest of the sentence to be true. The "right of the people to keep and bear arms" is ONLY allowed under the CONDITION of a "well-regulated militia" according to the 2nd amendment.

Now, some courts in recent years have tried to interpret the 2nd as a broad support for the right to self-defense. That's not what the text says, but I am ok with that and I think most Americans are as well. But things like semi-automatics belong only in the military along with tanks and missiles, as they can't reasonably be approved as weapons of "self-defense."

Both/And

The answer is both/and. Whenever a crisis happens, the most obvious first step is to tighten up regulations: Add a law, increase oversight, bolster regulations somewhere. Then, yes, in the long run, we have to look at the long-term reasons for why people do what they do.

Look at shoplifting. If shoplifting increased suddenly in your neighborhood, what would your community do? The first is to increase police and tighten up any loopholes in the laws. That's just common sense. Perhaps there are even some bigger loopholes that have allowed crime to get out of control and have made it easier for organized crime to be established. The second thing you do is ask why shoplifting is happening in the first place...we know that enforcement does not always adequately address the problem if there are issues of poverty, discrimination, lack of opportunities and other issues going on. But we do both. You have to do both. But we have been so paralyzed by the NRA that we are not doing the most common sense adjustments needed.

Whenever there's a problem, you do SOMETHING differently. Change a law, add oversight, SOMETHING. It's just common sense. You might even attempt trial-and-error for a while until you figure out the best thing, but you do SOMETHING.

The low hanging fruit is to first restrict "high powered" arms from civilian ownership. This, I realize, will take some debate to properly define.  Certainly automatic and semi-automatic weapons fit this bill along with silencers. We simply have to classify them as "for military use only" and group them with the tanks, missiles, nukes, bombs and the thousands and thousands of other weapons that are not allowed outside of the well-regulated chain of command of the military.  This is not something new. It is not a major break with the 2nd amendment:  The fist majority of weapons are already classified as such. Second, we need to close loopholes. It makes no sense that guns are restricted in one city but not the surrounding areas. It makes no sense that trade shows have different rules than brick and mortar stores. We should also restrict gun ownership from certain individuals who demonstrate problems with violence and mental health. All of this is tricky and needs vigorous public debate, but we must move in this direction.

Then we can also deal with the existential problem of why evil exists in the world today and why people commit violence.  Tall order. But we do know that the problems of human nature have been with us since the beginning of our species. But the problems of mass gun violence is not a worldwide problem.  There is something about the U.S.A. today that makes them happen, because they very rarely happen anywhere else in the world. This is not an existential problem related to "bad guys" who will find some other way to commit violence if guns are take away.

You Become What You Hate

It's a page out of Greek tragedy: So many Americans are so afraid of the government, that in their fanciful interpretation of the 2nd amendment, they want to stockpile weapons as a way to check-and-balance the powers of the Federal government. The dripping irony here is that people who are constantly afraid, who are "at the ready," are so easy to be controlled by the government.  Any would be dictator knows that a population that is constantly afraid can be made to do almost anything.  People will even give up their civil liberties if you scare them enough about some phantom "terrorist" thereat. 

What really establishes personal freedom is exploration of ideas through education, exploration of creativity through the arts and economic security. Civic and neighborly associations build relationships and rapport. True freedom is not to be found in the paranoid gun owner stockpiling weapons and waiting for some "threat" on a hairpin trigger. It is rather someone confident and secure in their own thoughts who is not easily manipulated by boogey-men phantom threats because he can distinguish fake news from real news. That's freedom.

War Zone

What is the answer to gun ownership?  The NRA never says, but it seems like the answer they support is that every citizen would be trained, armed and at the ready at all times. The problem is that this is a definition of a war zone, not a civilized society. This is not "freedom" but rather an incredible burden of near-constant obsession with self-defense that has been proven unnecessary and counter-productive in civilized societies.  It is simply not a reasonable scenario. Imagine every child walking up to every individual and assuming they are armed is a horrible way for kids to grow up. This would severely limit creativity, exploration and fun. There would be no leeway for accidents, experimentation or just goofing around. You could never jump out of the bushes and play a trick on your uncle, because he might shoot you. Everyone would need to be dead serious constantly. This would impact the way children grow and develop.  PTSD would be a way of life. It has been well-proven that fear limits growth and personal freedom.

Most people in war zones want to get out of them as quickly as possible. Trying to establish one on our home turf is insanity multiplied. It makes me think that NRA-types have simply watched too many action adventure movies and have confused them with reality.