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Entries in gun control (5)

Friday
Mar142014

My pen is mightier than your pistol

Senators Mitch McConnell and John Coburn--brothers in arms.

 

We've had five years of President Obama and still no gun confiscations!

Your firearm can't coerce an entire segment of fearful, paranoid citizens to engage each other on the crucial political question of our era. But with a few key strokes I can stake a convincing argument that they should.

To begin, we should address the link between Second Amendment fanaticism and voter disengagement. Ever since opponents of healthcare reform began showing up to town hall events  tooled up with a firearm in the summer of 2009, open carry has been noticeably open for business at political gatherings.

The 2014 Conservative Political Action Committee hoe-down featured an award ceremony whereby Sen. Mitch McConnell (KY) got to shuffle on stage to wave a rifle "cold dead hands"-style. He presented it to retiring Sen. John Coburn (OK)--the National Rifle Associaton's "Courage Under Fire" badge of merit.

And more recently a Second Amendment rights group Come and Take It Texas, marched a gaggle of gun-clutching demonstrators through the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas. Media sources suggested the group organized in reaction to a SXSW panel entitled "Disrupting the Gun Lobby With Digital Organizing"--yes, you read that correctly: 'digital organizing' not 'gun seizure'; you wouldn't know it given Come And Take It's armed response.

How does brandishing a firearm at a political gathering achieve any political objective other than appease the gun wavers' sense of powerlessness? Why is there a need to intimidate bystanders in an era we flatter ourselves to believe has evolved beyond the lawless Wild West?

It is nothing less than perplexing to hear the gun waving community refer repetitively to a "Second Amendment solution" for so-called tyranny when they have yet to exhaust the provisions of the First Amendment. Yes, this nation endures an immense rift between the will of its citizens and the public policy decisions made by government. There's no dispute about that.

However, neither pistol or rifle have been wielded as an instrument of reform in a way that strengthens the republic. What would strengthen the bond between citizens is a sustained conversation about the outsized influence of money in politics; especially about what voters can do to outmaneuver and overcome it.

For all those who showed up armed to oppose Obamacare in 2009 it would have never occurred to them that the legislation being drafted had been purchased by health insurance- and pharmaceutical industry money. Their weapons would have been useless to stop the transaction of influence peddling that happens everyday in our capital and state houses across the country.

The original 13 colonies that founded our nation did not decide to join together their respective fates by threat of a musket shot. Rather, through serious debate and compromise they chose independence fromm England and a constitutional form of self-rule.

What threatens self-rule today isn't some trumped up government conspiracy to take away a gun owner's weapons. As citizens we risk losing our republic to elite financial interests who have purchased the policy making capacity of our legislatures. Long before election day arrives the candidate that one decides to vote for has been bought off. Why? Because no plurality of voters took exception to the candidate's coffers being filled by wealthy funders and political action committees.

The First Amendment protects the right to peaceably assemble and petition our government for redress of grievances. How could I possibly suggest the gun enthusiast has underutilized these provisions? From the simple fact they have not converged to demand election finance accountability from the political  candidates who campaign to represent them.

Far too many Second Amendment fanatics see themselves as lone settlers on a lawless frontier rather than as citizens of a greater national tapestry. As isolated citizens they wield very little political force to restore accountability to government; a shortcoming for which they believe--too tragically--a loaded firearm suffices.

Monday
May132013

Guns don't kill people, gun owners do

Let us concede that gun rights advocates have won the argument: guns don’t kill people, people do.

However, there is a certain class of people that merit a greater share of the blame for the mass casualty events our communities have endured. For lack of a more accurate term let’s call them, “gun owners”. As well, we must acknowledge that gun owners are largely responsible (by commission and omission) for the constant blood letting since Sandy Hook (as of 8 May 2013 3,947 have perished since the 14 Dec. 2012 Newtown, Conn. massacre). Daily Kos writer, David Waldman has been tracking accidental firearm casualties since Sandy Hook—a log that reads like an almanac of nightmarish negligence.

In spite of the evidence conveying the hazard of firearms ownership, it’s still useless to debate gun control. At best, it has resulted in a stalemate over background checks. Even gun control proponents admit this measure of accountability would not have stopped someone like Adam Lanza from carrying out the slaughter at Sandy Hook. A background check would not have prevented five-year-old Kristian Sparks from the unintentional slaying of his two-year-old sister, Caroline. Again, guns don’t kill people; but it so happens that the relatives of gun owners do.

Since we are fully convinced of the human culpability when a firearm tragedy strikes, it stands to reason that this is where the effort to curb gun violence should focus. Rather than trying to contain or limit weaponry, our attention should fix upon the gun owning community. Did you know that seventy nine per cent of the massacres that have taken place in the U.S. over the last 33 years were committed by someone who had legal access to the firearm used in the crime? So, why not increase gun owner accountability going forward—especially to other gun owners?

As for the constitutionality of this proposal, here is where gun owner accountability intersects with the Second Amendment—specifically, the often ignored “well-regulated militia” phrase. As has been the case in a number of mass shooting tragedies, the perpetrator profiles as a socially isolated, or outcast, male. Putting the “well-regulated militia” phrase to work would mean requiring all registered gun owners to meet with each other periodically (quarterly, semi-annually—it would be left to legislators to hammer out) to discuss gun safety, maintenance and the function of the gun-owning community within this nation.

The conversation could go in any number of directions. The crucial point of this process would be to help gun owners acknowledge their right to bear arms is not an open-ended freedom. Its parameters involve not just individual liberty, but also a concern for public safety, protecting children, and the effort to keep one another accountable about their firearms-related goals. (Everyone should have goals, no?)

Given a proposal such as this, one could imagine squeals of protest coming from every quarter of the firearms community—consumers, retailers, manufacturers and lobbyists. What is the alternative to shifting the debate? Wait for another massacre and then watch the predictable demand for a limit on weapons, or even a call for confiscations?

Gun owners could do worse than to step up to hold one another accountable. At any given day there’s a James Holmes or Jared Loughner waiting to snap, a stranded soul who could use a reality check of sorts—an intervention should it be needed. If the gun owning community believed in the preservation of the Second Amendment, shouldn’t it do its part to protect this freedom from abuse?

The other consequence of mandating a periodical gun owner meet would be to help them grasp that their right to bear arms can be just as vigorously defended by cooperating with other voters in a political action rather than by clutching a rifle. There is no question how much the fear of tyranny prevails among many gun enthusiasts. Who can be sure, however, if they have exhausted the opportunities that political activism offers? At the very least it requires a willingness to build trust with other citizens that can lead to a governing consensus. How else should a republic like ours survive without its citizens continually at work, developing the contours of consent?

Sunday
Apr212013

Apathy is a warm gun

If it was true about Congress's failure to avoid sequester budget cuts, it's especially true about the U.S. Senate's epic miss on the background check amendment to the gun control bill last week.

Again, voters got the septic end of the stick. And who got to hold the clean end? That small, select group of campaign finance contributors--whose 'generosity' wields far greater force than 86% of Americans who support background checks.

What's more stunning than that injustice? Voters (you and I and everyone else we know) have no one to blame but themselves.

How could that be?

By and large, voters are not working together to draft candidates to run for public office. So, when a candidate for particular office emerges, he or she needs to reach the broadest audience of voters to win an election. That calls for mass communications--which requires immense financing. This is where the small, elite campaign finance community has emerged. Someone has to pay for those television and radio ads.

Most people have yet to acknowledge that between voters and wealthy campaign contributors lies a crucial fault line. The Senate's botching the background check amendment illustrates this influence gap. Very few elected officials are willing to talk about this--it would risk burning their own meal ticket.

Voters have surrendered their perogative as the majority interest in this nation; one that should be setting the terms over how much money a candidate can accept as a campaign contribution--that the amount should not wield a corrupting influence.

It goes without saying that very few voters would willingly elect a pederast or convicted felon to public office. The scruple is clearly defined. And though there is a general consensus about how much the current campaign finance system corrupts public policy, acknowledging this agreement is not enough.

It takes but a small, meaningful commitment by a pluralilty of voters to convey to all candidates for public office, challengers and incumbents alike: you're not a candidate worth our consideration if you accept any amount greater than $250 per campaign contribution.

If, ever, that day arrives, you'll observe a people taking responsibility for the republic and its destiny by which they live.

Friday
Feb012013

Nevermind what the NRA has to say about public safety or gun violence

Any sane person would have difficulty taking seriously what the National Rifle Association has to say about public safety and gun owner responsibility. Two months after the massacre of six school teachers and 20 children in Newtown, Conn., all the firearms trade group can offer are 'solutions' that ultimately fatten the bottom line for the companies they represent.

Consider the windfall of increased sales the industry enjoys each time one of our communities suffers yet another slaughter of innocent citizens. The spike in sales owes to the paranoia (no doubt flamed by right-wing talk radio) of ignorant people convinced that the government is just days away from outlawing guns.

Fat chance, as the NRA has bought off almost half the members of Congress. Also, its massive spending on issue ads and millions in independent expenditures for or against specific candidates, makes opposing the gun lobby a Sisyphean task. The scope and depth of NRA's influence over elections is unquestioned--a force that it wields in Congress in the name of 'individual freedom'. The freedom as an individual to avoid being shot, be damned.

The time is long past that we begin to acknowledge the vicious cycle of violence that benefits the NRA's business model. More guns in the hands of more people increases the frequency of bloodshed, whether or not the shooters possessed the firearms legally. A comparative look at gun fatalities between the U.S. and other industrialized nations, illustrates the peril of easy access to firearms.

It's a sweet spot the firearms industry occupies: given relaxed gun laws in a nation saturated with its product, such conditions improve the chances that someone mentally unfit (Newtown, Conn.; Aurora, Colo.; Oakpark, Wisc.; Tucson, Ariz.; Virginia Tech) will get his hands on a rifle or pistol. A meaningful segment of the population already worked up by talk radio, will do the NRA's bidding and move gun manufactuers further into the black--after victims of firearms violence have hemorrhaged red.

Perhaps it will take additional Sandyhook massacres before national consensus begins to recognize a callous, blood-shedding industry in operation. How many more lives must be snatched before voters see blood money in the hands of candidates for public office taking campaign dollars from the NRA?

Wednesday
Jul252012

Barbarism begins at home


Article first published as Barbarism begins at home on Blogcritics.

Accountability is in seriously short supply before, and especially after, massacres like the one Aurora, Colo. is now trying to fathom.

Not a moment too soon is it to say that as a nation and as a gathering of communities, we are miserably failing both the perpetrators and, as a result, the victims of such massacres.

Time and time again civic, community, and business leaders are day late and a dollar short--providing trite jeremiads about violent entertainment media or exploiting the tragedy to promote their pet cause in some ongoing culture war.

In what has now become a periodic sacrifice of innocents for the apathetic bliss of a nation, we are complicit in the following areas: first, given the depraved scope of the crime, we refuse to acknowledge how crucial is the effort to protect all children from physical torment or humiliation.

As a nation, and within our communities, we have yet to acknowledge that no individual treated with nurturing love and respect that he or she deserved as a child, is capable of treachery like that wrought upon Aurora.

One needs only to observe the magnitude of carnage to imagine what trauma could have warped a psyche so driven to commit these unspeakable acts. Our failure to protect children runs the risk of molding 'sleeper agents' capable of the slaughter movie goers endured in Aurora.

Second, and just as consequential, is when public sentiment caves in to the firearms industry's resistance to reform. As usual, gun makers and vendors prevail over gun control efforts. The National Rifle Association's sanctimonious messaging on the Bill of Rights' Second Amendment provides bullet-proof ideological cover for the ease and accountability-free purchase and possession of guns. Indeed, a $4.1 billion industry is at stake.

What possible solution could we piece together to restore public safety and relieve the anxiety of gun owners?

We begin by taking a cue from the often ignored phrase of the Second Amendment that mandates a "well regulated Militia". As it appears that a significant number of shooters tend to be socially isolated, gun registration could require owners to join and participate in an existing gun club or some kind of firearms affiliation. Registration could require a periodic gathering of owners for the purpose of reviewing safety, sharing best practices and maintenance methods. (Before the firearms industry and gun owners scoff in protest, they need reminding that all freedoms are accompanied by a measure of responsibility that make said freedoms possible.)

The underlying purpose would be to establish a network of accountability among gun owners, as well as a trust-building interface with the greater public. Firearms no longer only represent a means for individual self-defense. They have 'evolved' to pose a constant threat to public safety that merits an equally defensive response.