It Is Not Enough To Be Right: Using Truth As A Weapon

As the old year comes to a close and a new one begins, it is natural to reflect.  And, to progressives, last year was marked by various victories and defeats.  For all the expansions in health care coverage, same-sex marriage rights, decriminalization or legalization of marijuana, and positive job numbers, there were setbacks in racial relations, police brutality, income inequality, and even Congressional representation.  But, it is important to note that none of these are actually wins or losses.  They are merely steps forward or back in a fight that is far from over.  It is easy to forget this, as many of these steps backward certainly felt like losses, and progressives–myself included–want so badly for the steps forward to be wins.

This reality was put into perspective by David Kaib in a piece titled, “Every inch won should lead us to demand more.”  The entire post is well worth a read, but there were a few portions I found to be especially good reminders that each step forward is not an end of a fight, but rather a toehold for a new attack.  His piece begins by pointing out that even our “victories” are not always what they seem.  He uses the example of the proposed minimum wage increase.  A push for $10.10/hour by President Obama and many Democrats is progress, but it falls far short of the $15 demanded by workers.  Settling for the smaller wage is not a win, it is a concession, further diminished by the fact that loopholes and partisan politics mean few will actually see their wages rise to $10.10 any time soon.  Victories are not made of half-measures.  There are numerous examples of similar concessions dressed up as progressive victories.  The Affordable Care Act has led to millions of people getting heath insurance, but to celebrate it as a win ignores that the real goal should have been universal Medicare-style coverage for all Americans.  A step in the right direction does not mean that the fight has been won.  And, to fawn over notable progressives is to be blind to the fact that they are still outnumbered in Congress by those on the fringes of the right.

Kaib says:

The inclination to declare premature victory seems to me a common affliction, as evidenced by the responses to the election of Barack Obama, Elizabeth Warren and Bill De Blasio. Another example is the victory laps taken in response to a small number of members of Congress embracing ideas like Social Security expansion or postal banking. Celebrating steps along the way is essential, but too often it seems like the first steps are treated as evidence of a changed game.

And, he is correct.  It is not enough for a few members of Congress to embrace progressive issues.  They need to fight for them.  They need to win over other members of their party.  They need to propose legislation, and most importantly, they need to pass it.  Now, the realities of being a minority party in Congress make the latter goal highly implausible, at least for now.  But, that does not mean that it should be dismissed as a goal.  Why admit defeat without fighting the fight?  And, it is not just our representatives who must wage this battle.  We must play our part by demanding it of them.  We must support candidates who take a bold stand on truly progressive issues.  A stalemate in Congress is no reason to propose anything less than everything we want.  Even if Republicans oppose voting rights, or women’s health care, or gun control, or environmental regulation, we should not stop fighting for them.

For many progressives, the thought of being on the “right side” of an issue is enough.  The thinking seems to be that patience will win out in the end, that sooner or later, everyone else will come around and see the light.  After all, if what is right is evident to us, surely everyone else must see it eventually, right?  And, fighting is so ugly and uncivilized.  Instead, we gather our facts and our altruistic ideals and wait for the world to catch up, hoping that truth or science or simply compassion for other humans will do our fighting for us.  And, that is why we have to settle for half-measures instead of full victories.  We cannot win if we are not willing to fight.

Kaib continues:

People love the idea of winning without a fight. You see that in the hope of many Democrats that the Republicans will be so extreme that voters will reject them without Democrats having to take a stand on anything. You see it in their insistence that demographic changes will lead to the demise of the Republican Party, despite the fact that those demographics are malleable and a product of politics. You see it when people offer charts and stats alone as if bare facts ever convinced anyone of anything, or their efforts to argue in favor of (mildly) liberal ends from conservative starting points. You see it in the efforts to avoid taking stances that conservatives will oppose (as if they won’t move to oppose what ever previously reasonable position liberals take.) You see it in the simultaneous claim that the ACA is a great success and a frustration its opponents are still pushing back.

But, we cannot win without a fight.  That is why we must not only be willing to fight, but eager.  We must identify the things that are worth fighting for and then take a stand, boldly.  Being right is simply not enough.  Truth can be a weapon, but we must wield it.  It gives us an advantage, but it will not defeat ignorance or folly if we do not use it.  It can change hearts and minds, but only if it is unsheathed.  And, that means charging into battle.  We can make the change we want, but we have to earn it.  Change will not happen unless we make it.

Kaib–and Frederick Douglass–agrees:

I love the idea of winning a fight. I love it because our opponents are wrong and deserve to be beaten. I love it because winning begets winning. I love it because, as Frederick Douglass taught us, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.”

He emphasizes the word “fight,” and that is important.  The fight–the struggle–is what matters.  Our opponents are wrong, and they do deserve to be beaten.  And, each step forward makes the next one more attainable.

Kaib then reminds us the value of having a “utopian demand.”  We can aim for small victories, but aiming higher can yield greater rewards.  It is not foolish to want more than what seems easily won.  This type of grand ambition is required to truly make any kind of drastic change.  Why settle for $10.10/hour if we deserve $15?  Why settle for insurance for some when we should have insurance for everyone?  Why settle at all?

There is no room for subtlety. Only bold stands will work.  The refusal to settle for anything less than victory is the only way to move forward.  Deep down, we know this, but sometimes we need to be reminded.  We must march, we must shout, we must vote, and we must fight, because we must win.

Negligence is just as bad as murder

Carelessness with firearms is an epidemic that is costing far too many lives.  While deaths due to negligence or improper handling of guns are often labeled accidental, the truth is that they are avoidable.

For example, a man in Texas shot his father-in-law outside a gun show when he was not handling his gun safely.

The response from a “democratic consultant” is about what you would expect:

Some people say that guns don’t kill people, the person pulling the trigger does.  They can kill you a lot easier with a gun.  And what we need is for gun owners to take it upon themselves to work with us to be safer on this.  Because right now the status quo sure ain’t working.

This is a reminder of a very important point.  Gun owners should want guns to be safer, and should work to make that the case.  Unfortunately, the pro-gun response was also about what you would expect:

I know all the nay-sayers are gonna come out and they’re gonna say ‘I told you so.’  This is not ‘I told you so’ this is not ‘I gotcha.’  This is no different than this little incident we saw a day or so ago where two kids were ejected from a vehicle because they weren’t wearing a seat belt.  We don’t blame the vehicle for that incident so we’re not gonna blame the guns for this incident.

But, I am not blaming the gun.  I am blaming the person holding it, as well as a system that allows people to handle weapons without proper training or safety precautions.  To compare a shooting death to an incident involving children being thrown from a vehicle is ironic.  Safety measures are repeatedly taken to make car accidents less likely, and to make the accidents that do happen less injurious.  Yet, gun advocates repeatedly refuse to do the same for guns, despite ongoing efforts from the other side.  So, yes it is, “I told you so.”  And, sadly, it will continue to be, “I told you so,” as these kind of “accidental” deaths continue to happen.

Similarly, gun owners are complicit in a system that allows children to get their hands on guns, often with tragic results.

An 11-year-old boy shot himself at Boy Scout camp near San Diego.  Details are not in regarding whether the shooting was intentional or not, but he should not have had access to a gun in the first place.  Gun owners with children should want to secure their weapons (and keep the unloaded).  And again, they have fought regulations that would mandate this.

Gun owners need to acknowledge that their weapons can be used to cause great harm to others, whether it is intentional or not.  I don’t think this man meant to shoot his father in law, and I don’t think that the gun owner meant for his weapon to end up in the hands of an eleven-year-old boy.  But, in both cases, someone is dead, shot by a weapon that was not handled safely or correctly.  Dismissing cases like these as accidents devalues the lives that were taken, writing them off as acceptable losses or collateral damage in the imaginary war against gun-grabbers.  Gun owners should want other gun owners to store and handle their weapons carefully to make sure incidents like these do not continue to happen.

But, as long as they do continue to happen, there must be accountability.  Shooting and killing another person, even if it is an “accident” should be a criminal act.  A person driving recklessly who crashes and kills someone is prosecuted, and the same should be true for someone with a gun.  Likewise, anyone who allows their gun to fall into the hands of a child by not storing it securely and safely should bear the responsibility for whatever that gun is used to do.  The gun owner in these cases is an accomplice to the death that resulted from their carelessness.  These are not accidents.  They are as bad as murder.  Negligence is no excuse.



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Large numbers of Americans have aligned themselves on one side or the other in the debate over guns in this country.  But, though each group may appear to be fairly united (and unwavering) in their beliefs, this is not actually the case.  Among those in the pro-gun camp, divisions are forming between factions ranging from responsible gun owners endorsing reasonable safety measures to a growing number of radical groups advocating everything from gun hoarding to open carry of semi-automatic long rifles to all-out revolution against the government.

Despite these divisions, the truth is that all gun-owners must accept responsibility for the words and actions of all other gun owners.  While this may seem unfair, especially for those in the more responsible group, this sharing of responsibility is the only way for gun owners to preserve their beloved right to bear arms.  Because irresponsible gun owners attract all the attention, they will drive legislation.  And, if they continue to act in ways that frighten and threaten the public, the response will eventually be to place restrictions on them and their guns.  And, like it or not, this will affect responsible gun owners.  Pro-gun lobbying groups like the NRA are strong, but even they are losing power as public opinion (and the courts) continues to slowly turn against guns.  So, in order to preserve their own rights, these responsible gun owners must join the effort to rein in the more extreme groups.

Of course, I have pretty vocally supported increasing restrictions on gun ownership, and I would be very happy to see a reaction to gun-extremists that includes new, stronger gun-control laws (as well as increased enforcement of existing laws).  But, the realist in me knows this is unlikely to happen.  Without the help of responsible gun owners, a far more likely outcome is that gun-control laws remain the same and these extremist groups continue their armed march to the fringes unabated.  And this march would likely end with more than a few casualties.

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So, who are these fringe groups that have me so worried?  The most visible in recent days is Open Carry Texas, with branches all across that state.  They gained notoriety for their practice of carrying assault-style rifles into restaurants (and for the restaurants asking them to leave).  Their stated goal is to show people that they do not need to fear guns, though their methodology is questionable.  The reasoning seems to be, “See how I’m not shooting you with my scary-looking gun?  Now you don’t need to be scared of guns anymore!”  Their strategy has largely proven to be a misfire, leading even the NRA to ask them to leave their guns at home, even calling it “downright foolishness.”  The NRA went on to say:

“[W]hile unlicensed open carry of long guns is also typically legal in most places, it is a rare sight to see someone sidle up next to you in line for lunch with a 7.62 rifle slung across his chest, much less a whole gaggle of folks descending on the same public venue with similar arms,” the statement said. “Let’s not mince words, not only is it rare, it’s downright weird and certainly not a practical way to go normally about your business while being prepared to defend yourself. To those who are not acquainted with the dubious practice of using public displays of firearms as a means to draw attention to oneself or one’s cause, it can be downright scary. It makes folks who might normally be perfectly open-minded about firearms feel uncomfortable and question the motives of pro-gun advocates.”

Of course, the NRA backed off this surprisingly bold and rational statement after OCT threatened to withdraw their support for the group.  But, the fact that they made the statement in the first place shows that someone among gun owners acknowledges that those on the fringe are going too far.  But, open-carry advocates are undeterred.  Their demonstrations continue, with the newest trend appearing to be taking guns to Target stores across the country.

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Another fringe group is not quite so well-organized as OCT, but is even more terrifying.  This group includes those like the couple who recently shot and killed two police officers and a civilian in Las Vegas, believing that they were beginning an inevitable revolution against the government.  While open-carry advocates can be intimidating when holding their weapons, these kind of “revolutionaries” have shown a willingness to actually fire them in public, killing innocent people in the process.  We can try to dismiss these people as mentally ill or mere outliers, but the truth is they are a growing group fueled by the language used by gun groups like the NRA.  It is very easy to see how statements like:

For you, as an individual, when do you draw your saber? When do you say, “Yes, I am willing to rise up and overthrow an oppressive, totalitarian government?” I hear the clank of metal on metal getting closer, but that’s not enough. The politicians have to hear it too. They have to hear it, and they have to believe it.


Our Constitution and our system of government guarantee that every American has the opportunity to write his or her name in the history books of tomorrow – to leave his or her imprint on the fabric of our nation. But in the end, history is always written only by a select few – the few who sacrifice of themselves to fight for the causes in which they believe.

which both come from NRA-supported groups, can lead to statements like:

There is no greater cause to die for than liberty. I will willingly die for liberty. Death, in a sense, is freedom from tyranny. Most notably is the suicide by cop routine. Yes, standing before despots is dangerous and most likely will not end well for you. I know this. My wife knows this. Soon they will come for us because they don’t like what we think, and what we say. They don’t like the fact that we simply will not submit to fascist rule.


To stop this oppression, I fear, can only be accomplished with bloodshed. May the best men of our beloved nation stand and fight tyranny, without fear and without regret. May we stand proud as free men instead of kneeling as slaves. May we offer our children a free and just world with our blood, sweat and tears as payment. Let our wives and lovers take vengeance upon our enemies in our absence. We cannot fail in this endeavor of Liberty, if we do we risk leaving our orphaned children to the will of tyrants. We, cannot with good conscience leave this fight to our children, because the longer we wait, our enemies become better equipped and recruit more mercenaries of death, willing to do a tyrants bidding without question. I know you are fearful, as am I. We certainly stand before a great and powerful enemy. I, however would rather die fighting for freedom, than live on my knees as a slave. Let it be known to our children’s children that free men stood fast before a tyrants wrath and were found victorious because we stood together. That we all cast aside our petty differences and united under the banner of Liberty and Truth. May future generations look back upon this time in history with awe and gratitude, for our courage to face tyranny, so that they could live happy and free.

which come from one of the shooters in the Las Vegas killing spree.  This kind of paranoia does not have a rational explanation.  But, the language groups like the NRA use to sell guns can easily be twisted by others as an excuse to use them.  And, the fight against imagined enemies and tyrants can have very real victims.

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A final group needing to be addressed is far less malicious, but even more deadly.  They are not overtly evil, just foolish, but the end result of their foolishness is heartbreaking.  I am referring to people who believe that requiring gun owners to store their weapons safely is somehow an infringement of their rights.  This carelessness has led to the deaths of approximately 100 children a year—deaths that are falsely labeled as “accidents,” but are in fact due to blatant negligence.  In fact, up to 70 percent of these deaths could have been avoided if the guns involved had been stored correctly.

I know most gun owners are rational people.  Polling actually supports this belief.  In regards to children and safe gun storage, 77 percent of gun owners think “parents with guns in their homes should be required to keep them locked and unloaded.”  Almost as many (72 percent) think “doctors and teachers should be able to warn parents about safe storage of guns.”  And, and overwhelming 81 percent of gun owners support “allowing law enforcement to charge adult gun owners with a crime when a minor gains access to a negligently stored gun and death or serious injury occur.”


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I grew up among gun owners.  I know many more.  And, the ones I know are otherwise responsible people who just happen to own guns.  They know that guns are potentially deadly weapons that must be handled safely and carefully.  And, they know that failure to do so can have fatal results.  These are the kinds of people who naturally get defensive when the media or anti-gun groups refer to “gun nuts,” as if all gun owners behaved in the same irresponsible way.  I think this type of name-calling is not productive.  Instead of alienating the responsible gun owners by lumping them in with the fringe groups, we should be appealing to them to help us limit the damage these fringe groups can do.  Responsible gun owners should be allies to anti-gun advocates.  It is not fair to tar them all with the same brush.

But, just like all men, good or bad, are responsible for the behavior of the worst among us (as illustrated beautifully with the #notallmen and #yesallwomen trends on social media), all gun owners are likewise responsible for the dangerous element within their ranks.  No, all gun owners are not militants or lunatics.  No, all gun owners are not going to carry their scary guns around in public or shoot them at innocents.  And, no, all gun owners are not willing to kill or die in the fight against imaginary gun-grabbers or a tyrannical government.  Most are normal people, kind and compassionate and responsible, just with guns.  But, to those responsible gun owners: your right to own guns means that radicals also have that right.  Your refusal to accept limitations on gun ownership means that anyone who wants a gun can get one (legally or illegally) whether they should reasonably own one or not.  Your beliefs and your votes have made their actions possible.  So, it is also your responsibility to help keep them from doing harm.  Radical gun owners have isolated themselves from anti-gun groups, and there is no real way for our message to reach them.  But, you can.  You can speak to them, and you can support legislation that will limit their access to guns.    You can stop spreading the propaganda that radicalizes them.  You can vote for legislators who are not in the pocket of the NRA.  And, you can even get rid of your own military-style weapons with high-caliber cartridges and extended magazines that have no real use in hunting or self-defense.  You can help us.  You can make the country safer.  And, you can protect your own right to your own guns at the same time.

We are never going to eliminate all guns or the constitutional right to own them, but we can take steps to make sure that they only land in the hands of those who know how to handle them safely and responsibly.  And, there are gun owners who can help us in that fight.



Little Victories and Acceptable Losses

English: Illinois Governor Pat Quinn addresses...

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation that will help protect the people of his state from gun violence.

Two separate pieces of legislation serve as a reminder of the current state of the gun violence prevention debate, as well as a guide as to just how that battle should be fought.

First, in Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill closing the so-called “gun show loophole” in that state.  It would also require gun owners to report missing or stolen firearms.

These are simple, common-sense measures that can go a long way in helping to keep guns out of the wrong hands.  Though permitted gun vendors have long been required to conduct background checks on potential buyers, there was no such requirement for private sales.  This enabled those unable to pass a background check to purchase weapons, so long as they bought them from private sellers.  It has been estimated that nearly 40 percent of guns are purchased this way, either at gun shows, via online listings, or on the black market.  Though this estimate is dubious, it is still indisputable that many guns are sold without the buyer submitting to a background check, allowing those with violent felony convictions, restraining orders, or mental illnesses to purchase guns they should not legally be allowed to have.

This is a victory for gun-control advocates, though a small one.  There is still much work to be done, but laws like these are definitely a step in the right direction.

On the other hand, gun-control folks were handed a defeat in New Jersey, as Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a bill that would have banned a .50 caliber semi-automatic sniper rifle.  This is especially upsetting since Christie himself called for a ban on these weapons earlier this year.

However, though this is a defeat, it is also a small one.  While it may be difficult to justify any reason that any non-military citizen would need such a weapon—which is designed to pierce armor from a mile away—it also must be recognized that these weapons are not responsible for any civilian deaths in America.  Due to the size and cost of the rifles (as well as the ammunition), these guns are rare, even among gun enthusiasts.  And they certainly are not the kind of gun that criminals can easily carry or conceal.  Even though there may be no need for these weapons among the general population, it is obvious that they are not contributing in any real way to the plague of gun violence in this country.

So, while this week’s victory was a small one, it is important.  And, one can only hope that it is the first of many like it.  If other states follow the example of Illinois, much progress can be made in keeping guns from those who should not have them.  And, though Christie’s decision is disappointing, these types of losses are acceptable, as they do little to hinder the forward progress of gun safety legislation.  It is essential that gun-control advocates focus on the positive steps being taken and accept that there will be bumps in the road.  By picking the fights that matter and accepting the losses that don’t, we can continue to gain ground in the battle against gun violence.

Stalemate in the Gun Debate, 140 Characters at a Time


It all started with a tweet:

The link is to an article detailing that 90 percent of all guns used in crimes in New York City come from outside the city.  This is largely due to strict gun laws in the city that make it difficult for criminals to legally purchase guns there.  So, guns are brought in from states with looser laws, largely through straw purchasers, buyers able to pass a background check who then transport the guns to New York (or other areas with strict gun regulations) and sell them to people who would not pass a background check.  The results of the study seem pretty clear: strict gun laws are effective in making it difficult for criminals to purchase guns.  If similar laws were passed nationwide, even the straw purchases that bring guns into cities would be limited.

Now, as far as tweeters go, I’m a tiny fish in a great big ocean.  I have fewer than 70 followers (and most of those are probably fake), so most of what I tweet goes largely unnoticed.  But, somehow, this one drew a bit of attention.

I soon received a response from a tweeter named War Kitten Cracka, who somehow saw my tweet and felt compelled to educate me:

I thought that perhaps Mr. Cracka (or is it Mr. Kitten Cracka?) did not read the linked article, or somehow missed the point it made.  So, I responded:

He quickly replied:

Now I was beginning to see what I was dealing with.  This shows that he wasn’t getting the point that the article was making.  Yes, criminals can go get guns on the street corner.  The point of the article was that the guns that ended up on the street corner (and then in the hands of our hypothetical criminal) came from somewhere other than New York City.  And it is precisely because of the strict gun laws in the city that those guns have to come from elsewhere.  Making these regulations universal throughout the country would make it just as difficult for criminals to purchase a gun in Virginia (or any of the other states mentioned in the article) as it is in New York, and would therefore help limit the availability of guns available in the city to anyone who could not pass a background check.  And, though this would not eliminate all illegal guns in the city, it could drastically reduce their number.

Of course, all of that wouldn’t fit into a single tweet.  So, I shortened my argument a bit:

Mr. Cracka replied with a string of tweets that came faster than I could answer them.  But, they deserve individual attention, because each raises an interesting point that should be addressed and debunked.  First, there were these:

This line of argument is similar to the NRA talking point that “The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”  The implication here is that a criminal is intent on committing a crime with a gun, but because loose gun laws in Virginia mean that it is possible that people there could be armed, he instead goes back to New York, where tyrannical gun laws have left the people defenseless.

I replied:

I think Mr. Cracka (and the handful of other tweeters who had by now joined the debate) picture a guy in New York City so determined to commit a crime with a gun that he drives hundreds of miles to Virginia, finds a private seller (or illegal seller) to buy a gun from, and then drives six hours or more back to New York city to commit his crime.  That is not the problem the article is addressing.  What is happening is that someone is legally buying lots of guns in Virginia, then taking them to New York and selling them (likely at a profit) to people there that cannot pass a background check and would not otherwise be able to purchase a gun.

A response from another tweeter, this one named Azz Hoe Cracka (perhaps a relative of War Kitten Cracka?) shows that these gun advocates did not understand either the article or my defense of it:

To clarify, legal guns are not the issue.  No one, anywhere, said anything about legal gun purchases.  The article, and all of my tweets, were specifically about guns bought illegally or through straw purchases that should be illegal.  However, this has been a common cause for confusion.  I have often been told that because gun dealers require background checks or because guns cannot legally be sold across state lines that there is no more need for new legislation.  But, the entire point is that guns are too easily obtained illegally, and therefore legislation is needed to prevent this.  As it stands now, private sales in most states do not require background checks and nothing prevents straw purchases.  These are what must be addressed.  Legal gun sales are not the problem.

The response from the first Mr. Cracka showed both a lack of basic understanding of criminal causation and a healthy dose of condescension.

So, for gun advocates the only thing that causes crime is an unarmed populace.  If only everyone had a gun, no one would commit crimes.  Things like racial and economic oppression, underfunded schools, police profiling, a failed war on drugs, or any of dozens of other factors have nothing to do with it.  It’s all about guns.  Got it.

Moving on, my earlier tweet had provoked a second line of debate:

This was another revealing response, because it brings up two separate issues.  First, he suggests that regulations limiting criminal access to guns would somehow make them unavailable to law-abiding citizens.  He then implies that law-abiding citizens somehow need an incentive not to become criminals, as if the only thing between a person and a life of crime is his ability to get a gun easily.  Though this second issue is interesting (and by that, I mean “ridiculous”), I responded to his first point:

This thread was later abandoned by Mr. Cracka, who chose to follow a different argument (though not before perpetuating the meme that putting more people in jail is the solution), but it did eventually draw a response from a new debater named BFD, which his Twitter handle reveals stands for “Big Fat Dave.”  Mr. Fat Dave and I engaged in a debate that I will get to in just a moment, but his response here deserves mention:

Not to generalize, but this is a common line of attack from pro-gun folks.  First, call the opponent a child.  This implies that I am naive and uninformed, which are the only possibly explanations for why I might want to keep guns away from people who are using them to kill other people.  Second, call me “she.”  This furthers the stereotype of gun advocates as masculine tough guys and gun opponents as feminine and weak.  These are both flawed and highly offensive arguments, but unfortunately not uncommon.

Before we get to the rest of my interaction with Mr. Fat Dave, let’s look at one last back-and-forth with Mr. Cracka:

This again perpetuates the myth that the only thing that can stop criminals is an army of well-armed private citizens.  Passing gun regulations (which would do absolutely nothing to limit gun ownership by law-abiding people) would somehow leave criminals free to commit their crimes unimpeded.  This is consistently the most often repeated argument against gun control, but it is among the most flawed.  Background checks, laws against straw purchases and trafficking, and even registration (which we’ll get to in a moment) would in no way keep gun owners from legally purchasing their guns.

Along with the illusion of a citizenry stripped of its weapons is the dual fantasy that no one is safe from imminent attack and that these gunslingers can somehow successfully thwart any attack through the miracle of gun ownership.  This fantasy persists despite evidence that the crime rate has been falling consistently for two decades, guns are rarely used in self-defense (fewer than 50,000 times a year, rather than the NRA-endorsed number of more than two million times annually), and that guns are far more often used for intimidation than self-defense.

Gun advocates do generally accept that the crime rate has fallen, but they argue that it is because so many people have guns that fewer crimes are being committed:


And, if I’ve learned anything in my time researching this issue, it’s that you can always trust a graph that doesn’t bother to spell “Germany” correctly.  But, it’s also important to note that “crime” is not defined in any way specifying a violent crime where a gun would be an effective means of self-defense.

However, this graph is actually a good demonstration of one of the biggest problems in the gun debate.  Anti-gun folks like me can point to various causes for a 20-year decrease in the American crime rate that mean guns are less and less necessary for self-defense.  But, gun advocates can point to the same crime rate drop and attribute it directly to the increased number of guns owned by our citizens.  Both sides can be completely convinced that their reasoning is correct, and both can be completely impervious to any argument.

Now, let’s get back to Mr. Fat Dave.  After my last dialogue with Mr. Cracka, Big Fat Dave jumped back into the debate with this:

In retrospect, I’m surprised that it took this long for someone to invoke the hallowed Second Amendment.  But, the question raised is valid, to a point.  Yes, the Supreme Court has determined that the “right to bear arms” does extend to private gun ownership.  However, they have also determined that regulations on ownership are constitutional and do not amount to “infringement.”  This second point is largely lost on gun advocates who like to interpret the Second Amendment to mean that no gun regulations of any kind should be allowed.

My argument was that these kind of laws already exist, but should be expanded to cover the entire country:

…which drew this response from another Tweeter, known simply as Doug:

This is another fallacy.  Many gun advocates argue that gun laws are universally strict, which is not the case.  Recent laws in Maryland, Connecticut, Colorado and New York, along with older laws in California, are far more strict than federal gun laws.  Additionally, individual cities often make their own regulations that far exceed those of the nation as a whole.

I brought this to Doug’s attention:

And, he replied:

Doug is committing the same error as Azz Hoe Cracka.  Again, the issue is not legally purchased guns, but those purchased illegally or without a background check.  But, changing the terms of the debate allows pro-gun folks to imagine that enough laws are already in place.  I responded:

But, Big Fat Dave was quick to jump back in the debate, bringing us closer to the heart of the issue:

The “not my problem, not my punishment” part is noteworthy, because it exemplifies another big argument.  Why should a gun owner who is not shooting people have to be responsible for those that are?  My answer is simply, “Because that’s the way it has to be.”  People are getting shot, and in order to help stop it, gun owners may have to jump through a few hoops.  These hoops won’t keep them from their guns, but they will keep people from getting killed.  But, Mr. Fat Dave was also questioning my earlier tweet:

NICS is the National Instant Background Check System, the method used by licensed gun dealers to determine whether a potential buyer is legally allowed to purchase a firearm.  This process, by law, can take no longer than three days, but because many of these background checks are now done online, it can take as little as a few minutes.  So, to be clear, having to wait a few minutes (or even a few days) is a huge infringement on Mr. Fat Dave’s constitutional right to be armed to the teeth.

I responded:

This is a question that I have long pondered.  Why do gun-owners, who would presumably pass a background check, object so strenuously to their use?  Luckily, Mr. Fat Dave had an answer:

Though I’m not entirely sure who “great white father” is, apparently Big Fat Dave believes he is keeping him from exercising a “fundamental human right.”  Here we have yet another logical stretch.  Yes, the “right to bear arms” found in the Bill of Rights has been interpreted by the courts to extend to private citizens owning guns.  But a legal right and a “fundamental human right” are far from the same thing.  Fundamental human rights generally refer to things like equality, freedom from slavery, torture or oppression, freedom of speech and religion, or even the right to due process.  Even if it were argued that guns were necessary to protect these rights (which is debatable), that does not mean that unregulated ownership of firearms is itself a “fundamental human right.”

But, Big Fat Dave wasn’t done:

I would contend that adding “an errand” is certainly not “obviously/non-arguably infringement.”  And, I did:

This brought my single favorite response of the entire debate.  A new Tweeter, TL671, a self-described Super Genius, said this:

First, claims of Super Geniuses aside, there is no proof that Martin Luther King Jr. ever said these words.  They have been largely attributed to him, but there is no record of them in any of his writings or speeches.  He did say, “justice too long delayed is justice denied” in his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail (though he himself was quoting Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren), but that does not have the same meaning as the quote used by TL671.

But, let’s assume for a moment that he did say, “A right delayed is a right denied.”  Is it at all reasonable to believe that the most famous and vocal advocate of non-violence in American history would have been in favor of eliminating all restrictions on gun ownership?  Of course not.

Still, it’s a catchy quote.  It’s just too bad for the gun folks that it’s a fabrication.

Coming down the homestretch, Doug and Big Fat Dave teamed up to grill me on the effectiveness of background checks and we found ourselves back on the issue of gun registration (I told you we’d get to it eventually):

Since Mr. Fat Dave was apparently getting impatient, I replied:

This quickly brought the debate to a close:

After all the back and forth, the issue of gun registration is somehow a “non-starter.”  This is another part of the pro-gun argument that has long puzzled me.  We register our cars, our software, our gadgets and appliances, we give our personal information to our employers and to social networks, yet under no circumstances should anyone know who owns any of the estimated 300 million guns in this country.  Why would any legal gun owners have any objections to registration?  There is only one answer: the fear of confiscation.  Though no gun proposal has even hinted at such a thing, it is a common belief that the government is “coming for their guns.”  So, even though registration would help track guns used in crimes, limit illegal sales and purchases, and punish lawbreakers, an imagined fear has made even the thought of it enough to send gun folks running for the hills.

But, Doug wanted to let me know that he’s not paranoid, so he sent this final message:

The linked article describes an incident in Canada where flooding caused people to evacuate their homes.  Police then searched the evacuated area for victims or survivors of the flooding.  As they entered people’s homes, they confiscated any firearms that were left unsecured or out in the open to prevent them from “falling into the wrong hands.”  The police announced plans to return all seized guns to their owners.

Got that?  In a country with an entirely different legal system, unsecured weapons were taken by the police for safekeeping when homes were evacuated, with plans to return them to their owners as soon as possible.  Don’t you see how that means that the government wants to use registration to confiscate all the guns in America?  Don’t you see?  I called it “confiscation paranoia,” but I probably should have used a stronger word.

So, after all these tweets (and many, many more that I didn’t include) where are we?  Has any progress been made in the gun debate by either side?  Have I convinced them to lay down their guns (or at least to register them)?  Have they convinced me to take up arms to protect myself from a tyrannical government?  The answer to all these questions is no.  Not one mind has been changed.  No progress has been made.  We are no closer to solving the problem of American gun violence.  If anything, my opponents and I are each more firmly entrenched on our side of the debate.  Just as I spent thousands of words debunking their arguments, they could surely do the same to mine, handpicking data to back their arguments.

I’m no expert.  I’m just a guy who wants people to stop getting shot and killed.  And War Kitten Cracka, Big Fat Dave, Azz Hoe Cracka, Doug, and TL671 are just people who want to own as many guns as they can without any possible interference or inconvenience from the government.  It’s just a matter of priorities and ours are clearly in different places.  And the more we debate, the further apart we get.

So, it’s a stalemate.  We’re no closer to a solution, so thousands of Americans will continue to die each year.  Families will mourn, protesters will march, politicians will give speeches, and the debate will continue, going nowhere.  As long as guns and a dubious “right to bear arms” matter more than actual human lives, those lives will continue to end.  And, that is a tragedy.


Since writing this post, it appears that War Kitten Cracka’s Twitter account has been suspended, and Azz Hoe Cracka has changed his name to MustachioedPistachio.

Thoughts on Trayvon Martin and the Tragedy of Gun Culture

TrayvonThis boy did not have to die, and there is plenty of blame to go around.

Trayvon Martin is dead, and the man who shot him has been cleared of any wrongdoing in his death.  In the aftermath of this heartbreaking and infuriating decision, it is difficult to find the appropriate target on which to focus the outrage over the injustice in letting a killer go free.

Of course, the most obvious target is George Zimmerman, the confessed shooter who followed an innocent teenage boy, engaged him and then shot him after a physical altercation.  The questions raised by his actions are numerous.  Did he target Trayvon just because of his race? Why did he keep following Trayvon after the police told him not to?  Why did Zimmerman get out of his car to confront him?  Why did he need to have a gun?  There are so many questions, but in the end, they may not matter as much as the question raised by the Florida legal system:  Why is it okay to kill a black kid for no reason?

(As an aside, I find it interesting how the two principles are addressed by the media and other followers of this case.  Trayvon Martin is almost universally called by his first name, while George Zimmerman is almost always identified by his surname.  To me, this reflects a sense of familiarity to the former; Trayvon was a kid, just like kids we all know.  He walked to the store, bought candy and a drink, called a friend on the phone, and put up his hood against the chill of a rainy night.  He got scared by a man following him and when confronted, he defended himself.  None of this is unusual behavior.  Any of us would have reacted the same way.  And, as much as we all know someone like Trayvon, Zimmerman seems foreign to us.  He saw a black youth walking through a neighborhood that was supposed to be safe and instantly saw him as a threat.  His unfounded suspicions led him to follow the teenager, call the police and then continue to follow him against their orders.  He exited his car, carrying a gun, to confront a kid doing nothing more than walking home.  And then, when the confrontation turned physical, he used his gun to shoot and kill him.  This behavior doesn’t make any sense to most people, hence the non-familiar use of his last name.

Of course, looking at it from a different perspective, it could be an issue of respect.  A young black kid who smoked pot and took pictures where he looked like a “thug” may not demand the same level of respect as an upstanding police academy reject with a white-sounding name who took it upon himself to protect his community from the menace of black teenagers.  This view is obviously bullshit, but it would not be surprising from a gun culture that loves to differentiate between “good guys” and “bad guys.”)

But, as much anger as I have toward George Zimmerman, he is not the only perpetrator of this terrible crime.  Equally responsible are the culture that led him to carry a gun in the first place, the laws that emboldened him to pull the trigger, and the court that absolved him from any wrongdoing.

Gun advocates, with their hyperbolic rhetoric, have created an environment where their supporters see a threat around every corner and in every home.  Despite decreasing crime rates, fear is escalating.  Homeowners are told that guns are the only way to protect their homes from killers and thieves.  Women are told that only a gun will prevent them from being sexually assaulted.  According to this skewed worldview, the police cannot be counted on for protection.  Only if everyone carries a gun can anyone be truly safe.  And escalating profits for gun manufacturers and proposals encouraging increased gun ownership show that this rhetoric is working.

On its face, a law that allows someone to protect himself from an attacker may make sense.  But, what Zimmerman did was not self-defense.  His act was one of aggression.  He pursued his target, first in his car and then on foot.  He caused the situation that resulted in a dead young man.  And, while it may be possible that he did not intend to kill Trayvon, but rather hoped to chase him away, the fact remains that Zimmerman’s actions directly led to his death.  He must bear responsibility for that.

According to the jury’s interpretation of Florida’s laws, George Zimmerman was not guilty in the killing of Trayvon Martin.  That does not mean he is not actually responsible.  It just means that the law is severely flawed.  Any law that protects the aggressor rather than the victim, a gun owner instead of an unarmed teenager, and a white (or, at least, not black) man over a black man is a law that has no place in a just society.  But, the fact that the acquittal of a confessed killer can be seen as a victory in some circles shows that our society is far from just.  And, that this victory can even be celebrated by some shows just how far off track we have gotten.  There should be no joy in the death of an innocent boy, regardless of his race, age, or the circumstances surrounding his shooting.  Any death is a tragedy, but especially one that could have been so easily avoided.  Placing the value of gun ownership above that of a human life is unfathomable, yet that is exactly what has happened in the minds of those who favor the laws that allowed this travesty of justice to happen.

There are many fingers to be pointed in this tragedy.  There is a killer and a gun culture that provoked his behavior and a legal system that enabled it.  They are all to blame.  Zimmerman may have escaped punishment, but that doesn’t mean the fight is over.  Unjust laws must be repealed and new, just ones must be enacted.  Rationalism must trump fear so that people don’t feel compelled to own and use guns against imagined threats.  Trayvon Martin’s life has ended, but the movement to prevent things like this from happening again is just beginning.

One Day in Texas: The Worst and the Best and the Worst in American Politics

In a week that has seen President Obama’s speech on climate change, debunking of the so-called IRS “scandal,” and Supreme Court decisions on Affirmative Action, the Voting Rights Act and marriage equality, fans of politics have had a lot to talk about (and it’s only Wednesday, as of this writing).  But for all the action in Washington, the real show appeared to be in the state of Texas.

The Lone Star State was the setting for a chain of events that perfectly epitomizes the current state of American politics.  It was a roller coaster fueled by partisan debate, knee-jerk reactions, passionate citizens and a filibuster that birthed a new political celebrity.

Let’s begin with the Voting Rights Act (VRA).  Texas is among the many states and counties defined by the act as having a history of discriminatory voting laws.  It seems that prior to the Act’s passage in 1965, the state took actions that made it very difficult for minorities to register or cast their ballots.  Because of this, the VRA’s Article 5 declared that the state would have to seek approval from the federal government before enacted any new voting laws.  However, this did not keep the state, and specifically its Republican legislators, from attempting to enact strict voter ID laws that would have disenfranchised thousands of minority voters.  They also sought to alter their electoral districts in an attempt to limit the influence of those that somehow would maintain the right to vote.  However, this attempt was thwarted after State Senator Wendy Davis, whose district would have been redrawn, challenged the redistricting, saying it violated Article 5 of the VRA.

So, after Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling gutted the VRA and ended the requirement for Texas to seek approval from the Department of Justice, the state wasted no time enacting the legislation that had previously been shot down.  Attorney General Greg Abbott issued a statement a mere two hours after the ruling:

“With today’s decision, the state’s voter ID law will take effect immediately.  Redistricting maps passed by the Legislature may also take effect without approval from the federal government.”

This means that Davis will likely find herself without a district when the next election rolls around, and Republicans will have effectively silenced a powerful contrarian voice.  And though this is a sneaky way to limit dissent, it is not illegal.  It is just cowardly, as is the voter ID law that will keep thousands of people—mostly Democrat voters, not coincidentally—from voting.  Rather than win a rational debate on the issues, Republicans prefer to subvert the democratic process by preventing the opposition from participating.  It appears the new GOP motto should be, “If you can’t beat them, cheat them.”

Davis, however, was nowhere near done fighting.  While she may not have any control over the Voting Rights Act and its impact on her seat in the Senate, she could certainly impact their ability to push through strict abortion legislation that would have been devastating to women in Texas.  It would have closed nearly all the state’s abortion providers, leaving only five in a state with 26 million people, as well as preventing any abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

This bill was defeated in its first pass through the Texas legislature, but Republicans are a determined bunch.  Governor Rick Perry called a special session of Congress to give the abortion bill (and a few other pet issues) a second shot.  These special sessions required a lower vote threshold for approving a bill, giving them a much better chance at passage.  However, this 30-day session was nearly at an end and the time to put the abortion bill up for a vote was running out.  If no vote was held by midnight Tuesday, the bill would be defeated.

So, Davis took it upon herself to stand up for the women of Texas.  And stand she did.  She filibustered the bill in the Senate for 11 hours, speaking continuously, not allowed to eat, drink, or even lean on the podium.  If she could speak until midnight, there would be no time for a vote.

But, Republicans were not willing to concede defeat.  Because of the lower threshold, they had the votes to pass the bill, if only they could end Davis’s filibuster.  So, they repeatedly challenged her, using Texas’s very strict filibuster rules to try to trip her up.  Finally, after three dubious violations, they succeeded.  Davis was stopped, just minutes short of midnight.  She was like a marathon runner who trips and falls with the finish line in sight.  Of course, in this case, she was like a runner clubbed in the leg with a lead pipe wielded by Republicans determined not to let a woman stop them from telling the rest of the women in Texas what to do.

Yet, as remarkable as Davis’s effort had been, something even more remarkable happened next.  The assembled spectators, inspired by the filibuster, raised their own voices, creating enough noise and chaos to drown out the Republican attempts to call for a vote before the deadline.

But, Republicans are a determined lot, and there is no shortage of dirty tricks in their playbook.  They called for a vote anyway, even though it was after midnight.  But, the continued uproar from the crowd finally forced them to admit defeat.

However, the celebration by Democrats and pro-choice supporters was short-lived.  On Wednesday, Gov. Perry called for a second special session of Congress to try for a third time to pass the abortion bill.  And, because Republicans will have 30 days to call for a vote, it will almost certainly pass.  The Texas GOP will impose their will on the women of Texas, no matter what it takes.

Of course, Perry claims that he is acting on behalf of the people of Texas, saying they “want to protect women and the unborn,” though the proposed abortion bill would do exactly the opposite, depriving many women of needed health care.  It is also not what Texans want, with recent polling showing that 74 percent of registered voters saying abortion decisions should be made by women and their doctors, not by politicians.

In his statement, Perry also said that, “Texans value life.”  This is especially infuriating given something else that happened today.  For the 500th time since the state resumed using the death penalty in 1982, a Texan was executed.  The fact that the person put to death was black female, Kimberly McCarthy, only adds to the perception that the GOP is fighting a war against women and minorities.  Nearly 40 percent of all executions in the US have taken place in Texas, and Perry has presided over more executions than any governor in US history.

If this hypocrisy did not involve human lives, it would be almost humorous.  Instead, it is tragic.  While claiming to value life, he is taking lives and destroying the health care for the women of his state.

But, there is some light at the end of this tunnel of death, deception and dirty tricks.  Rick Perry will run for another term as governor next year.  And, he might see a familiar face as his opponent.  There is already talk that Wendy Davis should throw her hat in the ring.  And, after her surge in popularity after yesterday’s filibuster, she would have a surprisingly good chance in a state that is not especially friendly to Democrats.  That would be the ultimate victory for a woman who literally stands up for the people of her state.  But, it might be too late to stop the damage done by the GOP.

If Stolen Guns are the Problem, Address Stolen Guns

The latest troubling issue that gun advocates are hoping to sweep under the rug comes in the form of a report from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, more commonly known as the ATF.

Though gun lobbyists and their GOP friends have successfully kept the Bureau from naming a permanent head for the last seven years, this has not kept the ATF from doing the work of monitoring gun sales and ownership.

And this monitoring has uncovered the fact that gun owners and sellers are doing very little monitoring of their own when it comes to the whereabouts of their guns.

This chart from the report details the guns reported lost or stolen in 2012 by Federal Firearms Licensees (that is, gun sellers licensed by the federal government):

More than 16,000 weapons were either stolen from or lost by licensed gun sellers last year.  That is a lot.  But, for every one of these lost or stolen guns more than 10 guns were lost by or stolen from private citizens.  Here is a state-by-state breakdown:

According to the ATF report, 190,342 guns were reported as lost or stolen in 2012.  While this number represents far less than one percent of the estimated 300,000,000+ guns owned nationwide, it is believed that stolen guns are used in up to 15 percent of crimes involving firearms (if this number seems low, it is because most guns used in crimes are purchased illegally rather than stolen).

This statistic may be surprising, but it is not correct.  In truth, the actual number of guns that were either lost or stolen last year is likely far higher than that in the ATF report.  But, due to limited funds for ATF audits and lack of reporting from private citizens, many lost or stolen firearms are not accounted for in the report.  As the ATF says:

“While law enforcement is keenly aware that lost and stolen firearms represent a substantial public safety problem, the scope of the problem is difficult to quantify. Several factors impair ATF’s ability to determine accurately the number of firearms lost and stolen from private citizens each year. Reporting by law enforcement is voluntary, not mandatory, and thus the statistics in this report likely reveal only a fraction of the problem. Additionally, even where state and local law enforcement are consistently reporting statistics, many states do not require private citizens to report the loss or theft of a firearm to local law enforcement in the first place. As such, many lost and stolen firearms go entirely unreported. Moreover, even if a firearm is reported as lost or stolen, individuals often are unable to report the serial number to law enforcement because they are not required to record the serial number or maintain other records of the firearms they own for identification purposes. As a result, many lost and stolen firearms enter secondary and illicit markets with their status undocumented and undetectable.”

It is clear that any gun violence prevention agenda must include measures for proper security and storage of firearms, both by gun sellers and private citizens.  This could be largely addressed through two methods.

First, sellers must regularly inventory their guns.  The fact that they are not already required to is baffling and should be immediately remedied.  Sellers of all products regularly track their inventory, and sellers of potentially deadly weapons should be even more careful in monitoring their products.  Yet, the ATF cannot currently require gun sellers to conduct an annual inventory.  And, due to budget limitations, they were only able to inspect about 13,000 of the almost 70,000 gun dealers nationwide, and only about half of all gun dealers over the last five years.  This must change.  Additionally, gun sellers should be required to properly secure all firearms in their shops to prevent theft.

Second, gun owners must properly store their weapons.  This can be easily accomplished through use of gun safes (which store guns securely) or gun locks (which prevent them from being fired accidentally).  Because there is no current safe storage legislation, even many gun owners with children do not take proper safety precautions.  A survey from 2000 found that only 39 percent of these gun owners kept their weapons both locked and unloaded, while 43 percent had at least one unlocked firearm and 13 percent had an unlocked firearm that was either loaded or stored with ammunition, a figure that represents 1.4 million homes and 2.6 million children with access to a potentially loaded weapon.  The obvious secondary benefit of keeping a gun in a safe is that it is much less likely to be lost or stolen.

So, why are these common sense rules not already in place?  Many gun advocates claim that measures like universal background checks are ineffective because criminals will just avoid them by stealing the guns they desire.  So, it would logically follow that they would support legislation that would prevent gun loss or theft.  Yet, this is not the case.

Their continued refusal to back such measures only reinforces the image that gun owners are reckless and more concerned with “freedom” (which is really just code for absence of gun regulations) than human lives.

Shifting Demographics, Shifting Laws?

A recent survey found some encouraging news for anti-gun folks:

A survey released earlier this week by the Pew Research Center finds that over 6 in 10 American gun owners are white men. Overall, 74 percent of gun owners are male and 82 percent are white. Just 7 percent of gun owners are African-American and 6 percent are Hispanic.

This may not mean much right now, as the huge number of guns owned by Americans continues to be a huge problem, regardless of who owns them.  But, it could mean good things for the future.  ThinkProgress paired this news with a chart showing a projected decline in the percentage of the population composed of whites, with Hispanics, Blacks, and Asians all increasing:


So, assuming that current ownership trends continue, it appears likely that gun control may follow in the steps of drugs, gay marriage, women’s health care, and other one-time minority opinions that are rapidly gaining support.  As American demographics change, so might the laws.  We can only hope that as the percentage of the population that owns guns continues to shrink, their influence over legislation will follow suit.

Of course, this is taking the very long view of a problem that has daily, immediate consequences.  But, on the heels of the recent discouraging defeat of gun legislation in the Senate, any good news is reason for optimism.

Santa Monica College and the Leaky Pipe Theory of Gun Violence

In a country plagued by scandals, both real and imagined, our collective focus can easily be drawn to each shiny new outrage du jour, with our dwindling attention spans unable to linger too long on the horrors of yesterday.  Then, a fresh new tragedy brings our focus back just before it can fade away.

Such was the case with the mass shooting in Santa Monica, California on Friday.  Though the specifics may have differed, this seemed to be on the surface much like any of the other in the parade of recent slaughters—multiple victims, a cache of weapons and ammunition, questions of mental health and a trail of blood and bodies.  But, it is this very similarity that is so noteworthy.  If it all seemed familiar, it is because it is.  We have seen this before.  And we apparently have resigned ourselves to the reality that we will see it again.  And we will if we do nothing to stop it.

First, a brief recap.  On Friday morning, a 23-year old man shot and killed his father and brother in their home before setting the house on fire.  He then hijacked a car and forced a woman to drive him to nearby Santa Monica College, but not before shooting at another woman driver near the house as well as numerous pedestrians and a city bus, leaving four people injured.  Once at the college, he shot and killed a groundskeeper and his daughter (the man died on the scene and his daughter died Sunday morning in a local hospital).  He shot another woman on the campus before entering the school’s library, where he fired 70 rounds at the students there before being shot and killed himself by police.

In all, five innocent people and the shooter lost their lives and many others were injured.  And, beyond that, a college campus and an entire city were terrified.  But nationally, this was little more than a five-minute segment on the news, quickly forgotten for sexier scandals.

For the sake of disclosure, let me say that I was in Santa Monica at the time of the shooting.  I work mere blocks from the college where the shooting spree ended.  Though I did not hear the gunshots, I definitely heard the sirens of responders and the deafening whir of the helicopters that rushed to the scene.  I was close enough to see the roadblocks and the police tape that crossed all the streets surrounding the school.  And I was certainly close enough to wonder what I would do if I was staring down the barrel of a gun held by a man determined to kill me.

But none of that scared me as much as the photos released by the Santa Monica Police, because while it may be easy to dismiss the actions of a shooter with alleged mental health issues as an aberration (though these sorts of aberrations seem to be happening more and more often), it is far harder to ignore the equipment with which he carried out his plan.

Look at this picture:


This is a man with bad intentions.  He is a civilian, but he wears protective gear associated with police SWAT teams or the military.  Yet, no flags were raised when he acquired it.

Now, look at this picture:


This is just some of the cache of weapons and ammunition assembled by the shooter.  The AP reports that he carried an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle, a .44 revolver and more than 1,300 rounds of ammunition in several cartridges.  The revolver, though potentially deadly, is the least worrying of the bunch, as it is slow and difficult to reload (at least in comparison to the rifle).

Much more troubling are the rifle and the ammunition.  The shooter (for the record, he has been identified, but I have no interest in using his name, as it is his actions and not his identity that concern me) possessed a weapon capable of firing a very large amount of bullets in a very short amount of time, as well as enough bullets to kill more than a thousand people.  Of course, that assumes that every bullet found its target, which is highly unlikely.  But, the weapon he used has proven popular in recent mass shootings including those at the Aurora, Colorado movie theater and the Newtown, Connecticut elementary school specifically because it is so easy to fire quickly and accurately.  And again, he was apparently able to acquire all of it without raising any suspicions.

Recent federal gun proposals would have banned the type of gun he used, as well as the extended magazines he carried.  And, background checks would have prevented someone with his history of mental illness from legally purchasing a weapon or ammunition.  But, that doesn’t matter because gun advocates fought to defeat the proposals.

But, in California, we do have stricter gun laws that should make it impossible for a shooter like this to do what he did.  Yet, he did it.

So, what does this mean?  Are gun laws ineffective?  Or, can they prevent shootings like this from happening?

The truth is that the gun laws currently in place fail because they are inconsistent, both in their content and their enforcement.  Someone who is unable to buy guns from a licensed dealer here in California can easily go to Nevada or a private seller at a gun show or on the internet.  Or, he can steal them or buy them from someone who has stolen them.  This is possible because the same rules don’t apply to everyone, and the rules in place don’t do enough to track guns and who owns them.  And, until they do, the gun violence problem will continue.

But the future of gun legislation is cloudy.  While states like California, Maryland, Connecticut, and Colorado have made progress in strengthening their gun laws, federal attempts to do the same have stalled.  Even Joe Manchin, the congressman who co-sponsored the recent gun legislation proposal puts the chances of getting that legislation passed at 50/50.  That is far from encouraging.

And this doesn’t even mention the fact that proper mental health care is severely lacking (and getting worse) and that gun advocates have blocked attempts to research the causes of gun violence, hoping that ignoring the problem will make it go away or pretending that no problem even exists.

Further, for every group that tries to get guns off the street, there is another seeking to arm as many people as possible.

If we can’t agree that guns are a problem, how can we agree on a solution?  How can we convince people to see that events like this are not aberrations but a pattern of violence that is escalating?  How do we make them care?  How do we make them see?

Think of gun violence as a leaky pipe—a crude analogy, of course.  But, just like an unchecked leak can cause a foundation to rot, so can gun violence rot the very foundation of American civilization.  Each drop of blood that is spilled brings us one step closer to collapse.  We are destroying ourselves and we are doing nothing to stop it.

That must change.