Friday, December 14, 2012

Peace on Earth? The Massacre in Newtown, Connecticut

Peace on Earth?
The Massacre in Newtown, Connecticut

This isn’t the blog I wanted to write.  Because of happy holiday distractions, I’ve been finding it difficult to write about anything.  I’ve got a half-finished piece on Susan Rice and another half-finished entry on Christmas Trees, but I haven’t felt compelled to wrap up either one. I’d rather go shopping or contemplate baking cookies.

Both of which I was planning to do today, until I became mesmerized by the endlessly breaking news about the horrible shooting rampage in a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school. 

At first, the dimensions of this tragedy were unclear.  As the day progressed, it became more and more apparent that this is one of the worst mass shootings in United States history – worst in sheer numbers of victims (26 as I write this – the total may rise) and worst, perhaps, in the age and occupation of the victims (most were children below the age of ten; the rest were teachers and other elementary school personnel). 

Once the facts began to surface and the visceral horror (what parent doesn’t know the paralyzing anguish of fearing your child may be dead?) began to wear off, I found myself getting angrier and angrier.  At whomever (still not absolutely clear as of Friday evening) did this, certainly.  But also at the news coverage of this dreadful event.  And even more, at this country’s self-satisfied embrace of a bogusly historic gun culture and our politicians’ cowardice in confronting it.

These things make me absolutely furious (in no particular order):

 --Calling the perpetrator the ‘shooter.’  Such nomenclature reinforces a video swashbucklerhood that bestows a faint aura of heroism on the abject human beings who indulge in such sickening acts.  Call him what he is:  a murderer.  You could even add an adjective, such as craven or cowardly or miserable.  That way, the inevitable coverage would not glorify the low-life who decided that killing a whole bunch of people would make him feel better about himself.  (While we’re at it, stifle the ‘black clothing’ remarks, as they can contribute to the super-avenger fantasy.)

--Worrying about motive.  Frankly, who cares?  There’s not much we can learn from individual psychotic/sociopathic/terminally stupid/just-plain-mean psychological profiles.  The United States is a huge country populated by lots and lots of people, some of whom are FUBAR.  As with today’s moke, who evidently had serious ‘issues’ with his mother and mowed down her students while he was in the ‘I’ll show her’ mood.  A much more productive question than ‘why did he do it’ is ‘how was he able to do it.’ [ Note:  I’m using ’he’ rather than ‘she’ or ‘s/he’ or the go-to gender-neutral pronoun phrase because most mass killers have been male.  Like today’s murderer.]

  --Not worrying about HOW he was able to do it.  Maybe people don’t worry about this because the answer is so nose-on-your-face simple.  It’s because of GUNS.  Easy access to guns of all sorts.  Legality of semi-automatic assault weapons and zillion-bullet ammo clips.  Megabucks scarfed by the armaments industry to make ‘gun rights’ into ‘civil rights.’ I’d really like to hear from people who have solid reasons why ‘gun rights’ are important.  (That’s why there’s a Comments function on this blog.)  But don’t even try the tired 2nd amendment and/or slippery slope and/or if not guns-another-weapon-will-take-their-place arguments:

**To any functional literate with an eighth-grade grasp of U.S. history, there’s no clear Constitutional justification for private (as opposed to people belonging to government-sanctioned military organizations, like the National Guard) non-militia citizens to own guns at all.  But let’s grant, for argumentative purposes, that there is such a Constitutional justification.  Nothing  -- let me repeat, NOTHING (sorry for yelling, but not really) – suggests that this ‘right’ includes the right to own every type of weapon, in any conceivable quantity, with no waiting periods or background checks.

**The slippery slope argument is just plain bogus.  True, there have been countries in which (1) confiscation of weapons has occurred, and sometimes there’s been a subsequent  (2) clamp down (or worse) on individual liberties.  But no causality between (1) and (2) has been proven, anywhere (mainly because weapons confiscation has never worked well – in fact, it has resulted in more cached weapons). Plus, and more important, this sort of slippery slope scenario has never happened in the United States, and there’s no indication that it ever will.

**No guns, then something else?  Give me a break.  Or a garrote.  Or a kitchen knife or a poison mushroom.  No one disputes that a murderer bent on murder can probably find a way to murder his intended victim.  Note the grammar here:  the victim.  That would be singular.  One murderer, one victim (although certainly, the victim may be randomized, so that one bad boss can morph into all bosses, who are ipso facto bad, or the victim can metastasize – hate my wife: don’t want her to have my children: kill them all).  That said, the abundance of permitted multiple-kill innovations connected with guns – legal guns, thanks to the NRA, weapons manufacturers, and pusillanimous pols – makes it deliriously easy for murderers to wipe out scores of innocents in order to aggrandize what seems to be their primary goal – killing a person whom they perceive as having heinously aggrieved them. 

--Today is not the day to talk about it.  The ‘it,’ in this case, is how – as a nation – we might sensibly confront the specter of gun violence.  Duh on me, but if a special  ‘today’ – such as this today, when almost thirty people were shot dead, including at least twenty children ten years old or under – is not the day, when the hell is it?   When will our elected representatives stand up to the NRA and its threats?  My country’s attention span is gnat-like (maybe other countries’ attention spans are equally small, but even so . . .), so now, when the nightmare of blown-apart kindergartners is lodged in our minds, seems to me the perfect time to talk about and initiate gun-related reforms.  President Obama’s remarks today indicated that he might be willing to do so.  We’ll see.  And we’ll see if other Democratic politicians (and dare we hope, some Republican and Independent politicians) might grow a backbone.

--Background Checks.  Yeah, yeah, better background checks would be nice.  Crazy people should not be allowed to purchase guns.  But look at today’s regulations, such as they are, and then try to figure out a background-check/ gun-purchase regime that would be both workable and fair. And useful.  Bottom line:  with our currently porous and pitiful public mental health care policies, background checks would almost never isolate psycho/sociopaths who wanted to buy guns (and more importantly, such people probably would not have had access to useful mental health services that perhaps could have moderated homicidal impulses).

--Unregulated Purchases (Gun Show Loopholes and the like).  Go for it guys (as if).  But it’s not going to go far until the gun culture underlying the NRA’s power and our politicians’  lilly-liveredness is held up to real, 21st-century scrutiny.  Let’s face it:  as long as ALL guns are legal, many people will want to possess all guns, the more lethal, the better. Only a gangster thing?  Guess not, as today’s tragedy was made possible by legally purchased mega-guns . . . purchased (by-the-book) by the murderer’s mother, who (as of the news at EST) was the first victim.

The last time I wrote about gun violence and ‘gun control’ was this summer, when another ‘lone shooter’ terrorized a Colorado cinemaplex.  (Check out ‘Dark Night,’ under July, to the right).  Because it was cross-posted to gun-rights sites, a whole lot of people responded, almost completely in the negative, to what I wrote.   I suspect it might now be a bit harder to defend the underlying legal and regulatory conditions that make it easy to massacre children.  Or to ignore other recent gun-fueled spectacles such as the Wisconsin temple slaughter, the Portland mall shootings, even the NFL murder-suicide of two weeks ago (all accomplished with guns).

Or maybe not.

When I wrote about guns/gun laws/gun violence a half-year ago, I tried to take a reasonable tone.  Hunting:  good.  Self-protection:  understandable. Yadda yadda.  I also wrote a blog about the vigilante shooting of Trayvon Martin, in which I tried to be reasonable, while criticizing the ‘stand your ground’ laws and ALEC’s participation in promulgating them.  But – REASONABLY – I didn’t attack the basic premise of rights-to-gun-ownership in either blog.

Today, I don’t feel reasonable.  Instead, I think I’ll scream. 

WHY IN THE HELL DO WE, AS UNITED STATES CITIZENS, NEED TO BE ARMED TO THE TEETH?  OR ARMED AT ALL?  (Get a taser, or mace, or pepper spray, if you’re worried . . . which [usually] will also avoid pesky murder or manslaughter charges.)




OK.  I’ve screamed.  My last point is this:  the Newtown tragedy is attracting scads of news coverage from around the world.  None of it will be laudatory.  Instead, it will reinforce a bloodthirsty wild-west caricature of the United States that we’re totally complicit in promulgating.

Even if we don’t care about our own people – kindergartners in Newtown CT, disadvantaged young people in Chicago IL, random shoppers in the suburbs of Portland OR – we might want to think about how the rest of the world sees us . . . as barbarian gunslingers.  Which doesn’t translate well into the diplomatic swamps in which we keep wading and, to at least some extent, we must keep wading.

Aagh.  I’m too angry and tired to try to shape this blog into an elegant argument.  There’s a lot more I think I should have written and more topiarying that I should have done. 

Screw it.  Here’re my preliminary prescriptions regarding a less lethal relationship of guns and the United States Citizenry:
    --Every adult person has a right to own one rifle/shotgun and one (non-automatic) handgun.  Lawful purchase shall be predicated on proof of legal and psychological fitness to own a weapon, proof of such to be supplied (and at the expense of) the petitioning gun-license purchaser.
    -- Unless deputized, U.S. citizens cannot carry concealed weapons. 
    --No United State citizen has a right to own semi-automatic weapons, multiple-bullet cartridges, ‘cop-killer’ bullets, or any other munitions whose primary purpose is killing many people fast rather than protecting a person or a person’s family from an actual, specific threat (or for hunting for food).
  --Gun collectors, who acquire firearms for historical or aesthetic value, can purchase up to five (5) guns per year beyond the one shotgun/one handgun limit. They must register these purchases, disable their firing mechanisms, and pay an annual property tax of $300 per gun.

This is a ‘talking points’ start.  So start talking!    Fire away.  Happy Holidays. In terra pax homínibus bonæ voluntátis.


  1. I've never heard a convincing explanation of what the 'collective rights' interpretation of the second amendment would protect--the government's right to arm itself? How could a collective right be violated?

    The 'gun show loophole' is that the rules are the same at a gun show as they are anywhere else--dealers are required to to background checks, and everyone else is unable to do background checks. A good start here would be to at least allow private sellers to do a background check if they wanted, under similar conditions as dealers.

    What is 'armed to the teeth' anyway? What difference does it make how many guns I have if I don't misuse guns? (and if I do misuse guns, one is too many)

    Tasers are single shot and can be defeated by heavy clothing or even insufficient distance--the closer together the probes are (as a result of being fired close) the less effective the taser is. Pepper spray can be defeated by wind. And fear of death is a much more effective deterrent than fear of short-term pain.

    The initiation of force is immoral, but resisting force with force is often moral An initiating violent person should not be able to reliably pick a victim merely by looking for the weak, or looking for someone without a holster. If you are going to rape or rob or otherwise physically assault people, your life should be at risk during the attack. (Once the attack is over, it then becomes the job of the police to deal with the perp)

    Licensed concealed carry is not a crime problem--Our record is extremely good (although not quite perfect), committing violent crime at a fraction of the rate of the rest of the population. Open carry is legal in my state, but I carry concealed because I don't want the gun to be an issue, don't want my gun to disturb people who aren't physically attacking me.

    If we use mass shootings to justify laws, we need to consider more than just the availability to murderers. Mass shootings are invariably stopped with no more victims as soon as someone shoots back at the murderer--and it doesn't matter if the murderer is armed to the teeth and the good guy only has a concealed little pocket gun. Most often the murderer suicides, sometimes captured, sometimes killed--but never continues.

    Mass shooters want time before anyone shoots back, so they almost always pick a place where guns are not allowed.

    Ideally then, it is better to have a handful of people armed but invisible

    Is it really necessary to limit guns to those invented more than 100 years ago?

    The $300 annually per gun is telling--this punishes the law abiding while doing nothing to stop crime. How about a tax on publications, including blogs--would that be constitutional? What if the tax is only on technology invented after 1920?

    For real solutions--End the drug war. Empty the prisons of anyone whose 'victims' were voluntary participants--dealers, users, prostitutes, etc. Use the space to keep actual violent criminals in jail longer. Don't require places to forbid guns unless they have some security to actually prevent guns from entering.

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful reply. There's much I disagree with (such as that mass murderers are 'invariably' stopped by someone shooting back at them), but I certainly do agree with your suggestions about ending the drug war and stopping stuffing prisons with non-violent offenders. A tax on publications (electronic and otherwise) would be constitutional (there's already a tax on books -- a sales tax -- and a tax on successful book authors -- an income tax). The $300 per annum gun tax suggestion was deliberately hyperbolic.

  3. Mass shooters being stopped as soon as they meet armed resistance isn't a feeling, it is based on the results of actual incidents. I've asked for counterexamples, but I've never heard of a case where the spree murderer continued after being shot at, they either suicide, surrender or are killed.

    There is a legal difference between a tax specifically on a protected activity, and a tax on general 'stuff' that happens to include that activity.