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January 2, 2013

December 29, 2012

MY THOUGHTS ON GUN CONTROL

The recent events in Connecticut, the murder of children and school staff at the hands of a madman, has brought the debate of gun rights vs. gun control back to the forefront.  I’ve decided to put my thoughts on paper (or hard drive, really) just so I can, hopefully contribute something to the discussion.

A LITTLE HISTORY

Some background first.  I grew up in a family from the south.  We fished and hunted and shot guns for fun.  We kept them at home for self-defense with little or no thought regarding the 2nd Amendment.  It was just part of what we did.  As a result, I didn’t start seriously looking at guns and gun control as a constitutional issue until I was in my late teens.

It’s also important to point out that I grew up in and around newspapers (that’s how we got in-depth reporting before the internet).  As a result, I grew up with a fondness for the ACLU that many of my now fellow conservatives sometimes lack.  This is important to understanding where I spent about the first decade of my research into gun rights and gun control.

RESEARCH KILLS MY GUN CONTROL TENDENCIES

I remember the very first editorials I ever read on the question of gun control.  I found it to be very persuasive.  Though I never bought into the idea that guns should be outlawed, I did, for several years, support varying degrees of gun control.  Even those I did not support I viewed as being consistent with the constitution.  And I began to read…a lot.  I read every article I could find about gun control.  About 5 years into that first decade I began to realize that if I was to have a position I could truly call my own, I could not rely on the words or arguments of others.  I would need to do my own research.  It was this decision that eventually led me to change my views on gun control.  Though there were others, I’ll share just two events that led to that change.

Just as I remember those first editorials, I remember the research I did that started me on the road to change.  I was in the US Coast Guard in the mid-eighties, doing search and rescue and law enforcement.  The Officer-in-Charge at our station had been a member of the NRA for many years and had recently quit because, as he put it, “they are okay with cop-killer bullets”.  While I had never been a member of the NRA (I’m still not) I was puzzled because he also said they NRA was historically a big supporter of law enforcement.  At the same time, I accepted his statement as true.  Still, I decided to look into the subject because of my puzzlement.   It took me a while to do the research and at first I was convinced.  After all, NBC had broadcast a prime time special about the dreaded “cop-killer bullets” and surely they had a larger and more effective research department than I did.  I was surprised to eventually learn, through my own research, that the “cop-killer bullet”, especially as the media portrayed it, was a lie.  I had been lied to, I had been deceived, and I view it that way because the misinformation was provided by people who were in a position to have known better.  My transformation had begun and would only pick up speed from then on.

The 2nd Amendment was one with which I had struggled.  Because of my exposure to newspapers for so many years, the rest of the Bill of Rights posed me no problems.  I was very much in favor of their being applied as broadly as possible.  Not so with the 2nd.  I was greatly influenced by the views of Warren Burger.  He was, after all, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  Even after his retirement, surely he was in a position to know what the Amendment meant.  Certainly there was no shortage of people, attorneys and otherwise, who agreed with him.  Still, since I wanted my position to be more than a parroting of other people, I started researching.  I learned that the view of the 2nd Amendment as guaranteeing an individual right to “keep and bear arms” was not, in spite of many protestations to the contrary, a new thing.  Indeed, it was viewed as an individual right by those contemporary with the Founders and the Constitution itself.  Again, I came to the conclusion that I had been deceived, deliberately or otherwise, by people in a position to know better.  I was done.  I was through being lied to and I was through accepting and promoting something that was fundamentally untrue.  The change was complete.

CURRENT THOUGHTS

The 2nd Amendment protects an individual right.  That’s as simply as I can put it.  If you’re interested in historical evidence, I refer you to guncite.com.  Yes, it is a pro gun rights site so if you view the 2nd Amendment as protecting a collective right, I’d encourage you to look up the references to which they refer on your own.  If you can’t find them online, go to the library and do your own research.  It’s slower, but we’re dealing with a question related to a fundamental meaning of a part of the Constitution.  It’s worth and it deserves the time and effort.  Briefly, history teaches us that both the Founders and, after ratification, constitutional commentators, viewed the  amendment as ensuring an individual right.  This is important as there is a tendency for those of the collective right school of thought to suggest the individual right perspective as a late arrival.  History simply does not bear this out.

From the same site you can gain a historically accurate perspective on the nature of

  • The militia
  • “well-regulated”
  • Purpose of the Amendment

Again, I encourage you to not just read and either blindly accept or reject what you find there.  Instead, go to the sources the site references and read them for yourself.

Rampage killers, or spree killers, are hard for most of us to understand.  I have the advantage of having a fiancé who not only has a PhD in psychology but whose focus is on serial killers and mass murderers (of whom rampage or spree killers are a type).  Her description of them goes something like this:

  • They feel disenfranchised and alienated from society
  • They are profoundly embittered
  • They view their lives as over, one way or another, and choose to bring them to an effective end, whether by suicide, being killed by law enforcement or arrest and conviction (spree killers who are convicted often commit suicide in prison).
  • They want revenge against the world and those they view as responsible for their failure to have the things others have (jobs, careers, relationships, etc) and/or those representative of the world that has so mistreated them.
  • While their lives may suggest otherwise, they are determined to prove to the world that they are a person of significance and power by one final, horrendous act of violence and destruction.
  • Their killing spree does not just happen!  It is planned out and executed coldly.

This description of spree killers gets to the heart of why they commit such horrific acts.  Not because they have access to firearms, or diesel fuel and fertilizer, or gasoline, or a knife, or a baseball bat or anything else but because they are psychologically flawed.  We can argue about the causes of their madness.  We can engage in discussions as to the nature of both evil and mental illness, but at the end of the day the fact is this: spree killers are damaged in a way that makes them dangerously unstable.  This instability will always find a way to express itself, regardless of the method used.

Gun control advocates look at these events, especially those that involve schools, as proof of the need for greater gun control.  This is a fundamentally flawed approach because it ignores the fact that spree killers will find a way to engage in their attacks.  Remember, they are determined to prove that they have power and significance by engaging in their violent acts.  When they attack, they will continue until they have killed or harmed as many as they can.  Typically, they will only stop when they either kill themselves (often in response to their impending capture and arrest) or are killed by someone else.

While there is currently a great deal of debate about the advisability and efficacy of having a greater armed security presence at schools, there is one thing that cannot be denied.  In the wake of the Columbine tragedy, police departments have changed their tactical response to such events.  At Columbine, the deputy who was there as security did, as gun control advocates assert, shoot at one of the perpetrators, Harris, without hitting him as did a nearby deputy who responded to the seen after hearing gun shots.  Neither of these tell the whole story.  After Harris entered the building, the two men, as was the procedure at the time, waited for backup to arrive.  The result was that Harris and Klebold were able to continue their killing spree without interference.  Now, as a result of what was learned at Columbine, the policy is for police to enter the building, in a 4 man wedge if possible, but individually if necessary and head directly for the killer.  The reason?  An understanding that the most effective way of preventing more deaths is to stop the killer as quickly as possible.  The idea of containment, which was SOP at the time of Columbine does not accomplish that goal.  (I’ve elected to italicize this section because my last law enforcement experience was over 25 years ago when I was in the USCG chasing drug runners.  My understanding of the status of tactics commonly used at the time of Columbine and now is second hand at best, so feel free to correct me, if your information  and experience are current).

It is misinformed, at best, to suggest that because the deputies fired at Harris and missed is proof that armed security will not be effective in preventing or reducing deaths in such situations.  If that were the case, if trained and armed response were not effective, their would be no reason for the change in police response.

It’s also worth noting that typically, spree killers do not carry out their attacks in places that will not only allow but virtually guarantee an immediate armed response.  Spree killers are deranged and view their lives as over, but they aren’t interested in dying before they can make their horrible “statements”.  It seems reasonable that the known presence of armed and trained personnel would act as a deterrent to their violence.  Even if they do carry out an attack, far better that it be stopped sooner rather than later.  Sooner requires that an armed response be an immediate option.

Other criminals seem to fear armed citizens.  2000 incarcerated felons were interviewed by Wright and Rossi with the following results:

  • Percent who had been shot at, captured, scared off or wounded by an armed victim 34%
  • Percent who knew another criminal who had experienced the same         69%
  • Percent who often or regularly worried about getting shot by the victim 34%
  • Percent who agree criminals are more worried about armed victims than police         57%

What’s really interesting about this study was that it was conducted in 1986 when fewer states allowed concealed carry and there were far fewer total concealed carry permit holders in the US than there are now.

Evil, I want to talk about evil.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s real.  Yes, the people who commit heinous acts are often psychologically damaged.  That makes their acts no less evil and no more defensible.  So often, we want to pretend evil doesn’t exist as if that will somehow make things better.  But what else would you call it?  It doesn’t matter if you have any spiritual or religious beliefs or not.  The things some people do are so fundamentally wrong, so warped, as to defy in the most basic sense, any other definition.

This is a fundamental flaw with the idea that disarming, in any way, the majority of gun owners will somehow prevent the kinds of atrocities we sometimes see.  As long as this world stands, evil will find a way to express itself.  That is its nature.  Evil knows of no restriction or restraint of appetite.  That too is its nature.  The more shocking, offensive and extreme it is, the more directly it must be opposed.  That is never more true than when dealing with evil that delights in violence, havoc and destruction.  There exist not only evil acts but evil people who care nothing for the well-being and lives of others.   When they choose to strike, to give life to their anger and rage, by attacking others with their violence, they must be opposed, immediately, with the one thing that is most likely to prevent or at least limit it.  That is, an equally violent though more reasoned and compassionate response.  It is more reasoned because it arises not out of a raging desire to destroy, but from the desire to protect.  It arises from a compassion for those who evil selects as its target.  It arises from an absolute refusal to say anything to a truly evil person, bent on savagery and destruction, other than “not here, not now and most certainly not on my watch”.

Finally, there is the idea of self-protection.  In the vast, overwhelming majority of cases, the intended victim of a criminal is the true first responder.  When I was in the USCG I had the opportunity to go on authorized “ride alongs” with law enforcement personnel from other agencies, local, state and federal.  When I was with the local folks especially, it wasn’t unknown for them to receive those 911 calls that required and immediate response.  When someone reported a prowler or someone in their house at 0300, the LE guys responded immediately.  The problem was that immediately did not mean instantaneously.  Think about it.  A home owner awakens to the sound of a window breaking downstairs.  He or she picks up the phone and calls 911.  The call is answered.  Now, in hushed tones, the 911 operator is told of the likely intruder.  The homeowner gives his or her address.  The 911 operator makes the call to law enforcement.  The nearest squad car begins heading that way.  Now, how long will it take for that officer to arrive?  That is a function, not so much of a desire or willingness to help as it is a matter of distance and road conditions (if the officer slides off the road and wrecks his or her car in haste to get to the scene, that only delays things further).  How long must the scared homeowner wait for help? 5 minutes? 10? 30?  How long should that person be willing to wait before something definitive can be done if it’s necessary?  It’s one thing, perhaps, to say “I’d just hide quietly in my closet or go out the back door”.  Aside from some tactical questions, suppose that down the hall you have two or three bedrooms in which your children lie sleeping?  Hide?  Go out the back door?  Really?  And who will stand between your children and whoever has entered your house?  Here’s the reality.  You are the one primarily responsible for your safety and that of your children, not law enforcement.  The LE officers want to help.  They will do everything within their legal power and ability to help.  But they cannot be there 24/7 and they can’t respond as quickly as someone who is already there!  You are responsible for your safety and that of your family and it is unfair to abandon that responsibility to law enforcement.  That puts you and those you love at risk and gives law enforcement personnel an obligation they cannot successfully discharge.  It teaches your family that their safety is not important enough for you or they to ensure.  More than that, it is as far as I can see, a cowardly act.

For those who oppose the use of guns to ensure individual safety, I have only a few questions.  Why do we entrust the safety of the President of the United States and his family to those with guns?  Why do we have no problem with those who have the resources to hire their own armed security?  And why is their safety more important than mine…or yours?  I do not begrudge those folks the armed security they enjoy.  I do, however, object to the idea that my safety and that of my family is somehow less deserving of that same protection.  The idea that the difference is training, is specious.  I knew many LE personnel who only went to the range or took tactical training courses once or twice a year.  The rest of the time they were content to merely carry a weapon and were far less competent than their colleagues, or any civilians, who were willing to spend their own time and money to constantly improve and maintain their own skill and competence.  Training to use a weapon is only have the equation.  I am convinced that in many cases those people who are armed but fail to use the weapon successfully are unsuccessful because they are either inadequately trained and/or haven’t made the decision ahead of time to shoot another human.  All the training in the world will not help if a person is unwilling to use the weapon and that means being willing to shoot another person if necessary.  The time to ask and truly, honestly answer the question “can I shoot someone else” is not when the time to use a gun is right now!  That question must be asked, seriously considered and answered before the tactical shoot/don’t shoot decision must be made.  I asked that question of myself long ago, revisited it as necessary…and it kept me alive to go home 2 decades later.  I have never wanted to shoot and kill another human being.  I still do not.  Doing it hurts.  I’m not proud of it and I certainly don’t glory in it.  That said, if the same or similar circumstances arose again, I would make the same decision.

At the end of the day, each of us must decide how much responsibility we are willing to take for our individual safety and that of our family.  How accountable are we willing to be for our actions?  Is it okay to allow those who would engage in horrendous acts of evil against us and others in our society to only be strongly opposed when they have killed or injured as many as they can?  My answer is this:  I am responsible for my safety and that of my family.  I am accountable for my actions, including the possibility that I might make a bad decision, though I train and prepare as much as I can to not only be able to act decisively, but to also make good decisions.  And I will not stand idly by and tell myself that if evil attacks me or mine that my best defense is my cell phone.  Not here, not now and most certainly not on my watch.

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