Abusers Should Not Have Guns, and Gun Owners Should Agree

As the gun debate continues, Congress finally held a hearing over the link between domestic violence and gun-related homicide.  Everyone, including gun owners, should naturally support efforts to protect abuse victims, but that sadly has not been the case.  Various proposals have been raised attempting to expand the regulations keeping domestic abusers from owning guns, but they have naturally met resistance from gun groups, including the NRA.

Current laws prohibit violent felons and certain people with restraining orders or misdemeanor domestic violence convictions from owning weapons, but these bans do not extend to other potentially violent people.  There are no laws in place to keep stalkers, those whose domestic violence convictions apply to attacks against people other than a spouse, or those whose restraining orders are merely temporary rather than permanent from owning all the weapons they please.  The proposals blocked by gun groups merely seek to broaden the bans to include these additional classes of potentially dangerous people.

Studies showing the increased risk for women when domestic violence and gun ownership are combined are numerous and terrifying.  Nearly half of women murdered by guns are killed by their intimate partner, and women are five times more likely to be killed by their partner when a gun is present in the house.  This threat even extends to mass shootings, as 57 percent of these kinds of sprees involve an incident of domestic violence.

The claim that keeping guns out of the hands of abusers is just an attempt to limit gun ownership simply does not hold water.  These are people who have already proven themselves to be dangerous.  Allowing them to own weapons that can be used to kill their partners (or former partners) is beyond irresponsible.

I have written before about how all gun owners are accountable for the actions of all other gun owners.  The case of domestic abusers having firearms is a perfect example of this.  As always, this type of legislation would do nothing to limit gun ownership for law-abiding citizens.  It would merely keep guns out of the hands of people with a history of violent or threatening behavior against their partner.  Responsible gun owners should want this as much as anyone else.  Surely they don’t condone this type of violence.  They should applaud any attempt to keep dangerous people from owning weapons, if not for their own safety, then for the safety of the 46 women a month who are shot and killed by their intimate partner.

Luckily, there are a few such gun owners who do support this potential legislation:

But not all gun-owners are siding with the NRA to fight these stricter gun controls. “I am a gun owner. I was shot and left for dead by my own gun,” says Christy Martin, a former championship boxer whose ex-husband was sentenced in 2012 to 25 years in prison for attempting to murder her with a firearm. Martin flew to Washington, DC this week to attend Wednesday’s hearing, at the invitation of Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control group backed by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “I consider myself a physically fit, somewhat strong woman, mentally strong, emotionally strong, but it didn’t matter,” she says, noting that her ex-husband had a history of stalking behavior prior to the attack, and that she’d like to “close up some of those loopholes for stalkers.”

And closing those loopholes is exactly what the proposed legislation, including a bill from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), seeks to do.  And, it should not be only the victims of these horrible attacks who support it.  But, the NRA has called her proposal “a backdoor attempt to limit gun ownership,” and said it, “manipulates emotionally compelling issues such as ‘domestic violence’ and ‘stalking’ simply to cast as wide a net as possible for federal firearm prohibitions.”

Downplaying the terror of domestic violence and murder at the hands of an intimate partners as merely “emotionally compelling” is heartless.  These are people who live in fear and are killed by a person they loved and trusted.  They deserve our help and protection, and keeping their partners from owning a weapon that can be used against them is the very least we can do.

Whatever the Problem, More Guns is not the Solution

Pro-gun folks are getting ambitious with their new proposals.  They used to merely oppose legislation that would hinder the ability of people to own as many guns as they want, regardless of their criminal history, mental health, or ability to handle their weapon safely.  Now they want to push legislation that would encourage or even require more people to own guns.

Take the recent commentary from NRA News Commentator Billy Johnson titled, “Everybody Gets a Gun.”  Though he conceded that his ideas “may be seen as ‘ridiculous’–even by ‘Second Amendment advocates,'” I don’t think this admission comes close to expressing just how ridiculous his proposal is.  It is flawed from beginning to end.  But, it is a telling indicator of where some of the more extreme pro-gun supporters hope to go with gun policy.

All emphasis in the following excerpts is mine.  Johnson begins:

As a country we have an education policy. Imagine if that policy was about limiting who has access to public education. I mean, let’s be honest, the danger in educating people to think is that they might actually start to think for themselves. Perhaps we should think seriously about who we give access to knowledge. They could use it to do a lot of damage.

As a country we have a far reaching public parks program. Imagine if that program was designed to limit who has access to those parks. You littered once in high school, sorry no park access for you.

As a country we have labor policies designed to ensure that people are given access to jobs regardless of gender, race, or creed. Imagine if that policy withheld certain types of jobs as only the purview of the government elite.

Here Johnson sets up his straw men, hoping that he can convince people who guns are actually comparable to any of these things.  But, let’s break them down, one at a time.

First, he compares the right to own a gun to the right to an education.  While it is true that only one of these things is mentioned in the Constitution, his argument actually defeats itself.  He claims that knowledge in the wrong hands can be a dangerous thing.  This is the very crux of the argument for gun control legislation.  None but the most extreme anti-gun advocates is seeking to outlaw guns completely.  Most are merely hoping for measures are put in place that limit who has access to them, ensuring that they do not end up in the wrong hands.  Even if Johnson is attempting to be sarcastic or ironic (and he may very well be, to be fair), he fails in this attempt.  Claiming that knowledge can be dangerous but ignoring that guns can be is idiotic.  Or, assuming he is being sarcastic, he is admitting that guns can be dangerous and we should “think seriously about who we give access to” them.  Either way, the argument fails.

Next, he says litterbugs should be kept out of public parks.  This is obviously a reference to legislation that keeps violent felons and those with violence-related restraining orders from owning weapons.  But, his analogy is offensive as it compares acts of violence with littering.  I think the victims and survivors of these acts would dispute the similarity to leaving trash on the ground in a public place.  Surely, even Johnson can see the difference.  And, if this is merely an attempt at humor, again, he has failed, as there is nothing at all funny about violence or trying to prevent it.

Then, Johnson compares gun owners to those affected by discrimination due to their “gender, race, or creed.”  And he tops off this failed comparison with the right-wing buzzwords “government elite,” hoping to appeal to the paranoia of many gun extremists.  One would assume that he is trying to make an analogy to the fear that the government will come take all the guns away from regular citizens, meaning only the government itself will be allowed to bear arms.  Again, this is playing into the extremist paranoia, and doing so through an apples-and-orange comparison between the right to discrimination-free employment and the right for unhindered gun ownership.

But, all of that is just the set-up.  Now, we get to the heart of Johnson’s proposal.  He continues:

The point is that as a country we often write policy to protect access to something; education, parks, jobs. But one for one of the most important protections, a constitutional right, we write policy designed to limit access. Among Second Amendment supporters it’s common to talk about U.S. gun policy. We worry that policies will encroach on our rights; we share our concerns about overreaching gun policy that fails to make any of us safer.

But we don’t spend nearly enough time asking what is the purpose of policy and what should the purpose of gun policy be? We don’t have a U.S. gun policy. We have a U.S. anti-gun policy. Our gun policies are designed around the assumption that we need to protect people from guns, that guns are bad or dangerous. But what would happen if we designed gun policy from the assumption that people need guns — that guns make people’s lives better. Let’s consider that for a minute.

Gun policy driven by people’s need for guns would seek to encourage people to keep and bear arms at all times. Maybe it would even reward those who do so. What if instead of gun free-zones we had gun-required zones?

It is a common tactic among pro-gun supporters (or “Second Amendment” supporters) to fall back on the Constitution.  Yes, the Constitution does have an amendment that refers to a right to bear arms.  But, there has been great debate over the ambiguously worded amendment and just what it actually does intend to protect.  The Amendment reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  It was only with the recent Heller decision by the Supreme Court that this was found to refer to the right for all people to own guns of any kind without restriction.  But, even after that, the court has upheld numerous restrictions, as various states and cities have implemented legislation seeking to limit gun violence.  But, gun supporters have been bolstered by the Supreme Court ruling, to the point that they believe their right to keep and bear arms should supersede the Constitution’s promises to “establish Justice,” “insure domestic Tranquility,” or “promote the general Welfare.”  These far-less-ambiguous promises are exactly what Johnson mocks with his earlier dismissal of education, public parks, and jobs.  Surely, if limits can be placed on access to these, the same can be done for guns.  But, Johnson calls such restrictions an “overreach.”  He then claims that gun policy “fails to make any of us safer,” despite proof that states with more gun legislation in place have lower rates of gun violence, and vice versa.

Next, Johnson makes a blatantly false assumption and then uses it as the basis for the rest of his commentary.  He asks, “what would happen if we designed gun policy from the assumption that people need guns — that guns make people’s lives better?”  The answer is simple.  We would be making policy based on a false assumption.  We might as well make gun policy based on the assumption that guns can make people fly or grow to be ten feet tall.  All are equally ridiculous.

But, Johnson is undeterred, next suggesting that what we really need are “gun-required zones,” an apparent reference to the erroneous belief that criminals seek out gun-free zones for their killing sprees, though that argument has been debunked.  So, now we have false information leading to a proposal that is itself based on the false assumption that people have a “need for guns.”

Now, we come to the big finish.  Johnson concludes:

Gun policy driven by our need for guns would insist that we introduce young people to guns early and that we’d give them the skills to use firearms safely. Just like we teach them reading and writing, necessary skills. We would teach shooting and firearm competency. It wouldn’t matter if a child’s parents weren’t good at it. We’d find them a mentor. It wouldn’t matter if they didn’t want to learn. We would make it necessary to advance to the next grade.

Gun policy driven by the assumption we need guns would probably mean our government would subsidize it. I mean, perhaps we would have government ranges where you could shoot for free or a yearly allotment of free ammunition. Sound crazy? Think about it. Education, healthcare, food, retirement, we subsidize things we value. Gun policy, driven by our need for guns would protect equal access to guns, just like we protect equal access to voting, and due process, and free speech. Our Founding Fathers believed that we did need guns. That’s why they codified our access to guns into the Constitution. But the idea of a gun policy that does justice to their intentions sounds ridiculous. What does that say about us? Even as Second Amendment advocates we can’t fathom a world where we would treat guns as a need.

Johnson has gone off the rails, contradicting himself at every turn.  He now claims that young people should be educated to use weapons, just like they are taught “necessary skills,” after earlier stating that education can be dangerous (unless maybe he is joking again; it can be hard to tell).  Then, in his most disturbing statement of all, Johnson says, “It wouldn’t matter if they didn’t want to learn.  We would make it necessary…”  Without making too many assumptions about Johnson’s political beliefs, wouldn’t this be the very type of government tyranny that Second Amendment folks are so worried about?  Johnson then calls for government subsidies for guns since “we subsidize things we value,” like education, healthcare, food, and retirement.  Again, aren’t these examples of government tyranny?  While I am surprised that he admits that those are things we value, guns clearly do not fall into the same category–at least not unless you are still buying into the false assumption that guns are something “we need.”

He concludes by saying that even the pro-gun crowd “can’t fathom a world where we would treat guns as a need.”  But, clearly he can.  Not only can he fathom it, he can come up with a dubious justification for it.  And, while this may be merely a tongue-in-cheek thought exercise, this kind of thinking can have real-world consequences.

For example, look at the recent legislation in Kentucky that seeks to arm survivors of domestic violence.  This shows the danger of treating guns as a necessity rather than as something that can be used to do great harm.  Rather than taking steps to keep people with a history of violence from gaining access to a weapon, Kentucky has now placed the burden on the abused, encouraging them to arm themselves, even though having a gun in the house drastically increases the likelihood that a domestic violence attack will result in the victim being killed.

The idea that guns make people safer is dangerous, and the idea that guns are something that people “need” is even more so.  While guns may be protected by the Second Amendment, regulations on them are also protected.  And, these regulations are necessary.  The right to own a gun is no more sacred than the right not to own one, or the right to be free from the fear of having one be used against you.  But, the NRA keeps pushing.  And, though Johnson’s proposal is admittedly ridiculous, it justifies laws like the one in Kentucky, where the answer to a problem of violence is more guns.  And, more guns should never be the answer, no matter what the problem is.

 

Shooting Down the Talking Points

The gun debate has received a lot of attention but has accomplished little other than to polarize pro- and anti-gun advocates, leaving them further from any sort of compromise that might actually help curb gun violence.

Part of this polarization comes from the way guns are viewed.  Some people are simply “gun people” who will defend their right to own and shoot guns against any attempts at regulation.  Others are on the opposite end of the spectrum, viewing guns as killing machines that have no place in a civilized society.  Most people, however, stand somewhere in the middle, believing that people should be able to own guns if they choose, but that certain measures should be taken to ensure that they are handled safely.  Sadly, the current debate is forcing people to side with one or the other of the more extreme positions with less and less room in between.

This is largely due to how guns are discussed.  Depending on which camp you sit in, guns are either “good” or “evil.”  But, like most things, it is not quite that simple.  This is not a black and white issue.  In reality, the entire gun debate is a study in shades of gray.

This was demonstrated on the most recent episode of “Real Time with Bill Maher,” with pro-gun advocate S.E. Cupp squaring off against noted gun control supporter Michael Moore.  A clip can be seen here:

This is a fairly typical example of how the gun debate is carried out in the media, and there are a few problems with it.

The first problem is the format.  Less than seven minutes are dedicated to the subject, leaving little room for actual debate.  Both Cupp and Moore have little time to do anything other than regurgitate talking points that do little to change opinions or further the discussion.  Making things even more difficult is the fact that Maher (and to a lesser extent, the other guests on the panel) interjects his opinion, meaning that there are now multiple voices talking over each other, with little listening being done by anyone.  This is the nature of television, of course, but it is unproductive and forces people to dig their heels in to support whatever position they hold rather than take steps to meet each other somewhere in the middle.

As a matter of full disclosure, I certainly stand closer on the political spectrum to Moore than I do to Cupp.  But, that does not mean that I think that his arguments can be blindly supported or hers easily dismissed.  Instead, they should be examined, one at a time.

Most glaring of these arguments is Cupp’s claim that submitting to background checks implies an assumption that gun purchasers have a criminal intent to use a firearm, saying gun owners are “treated as guilty until proven innocent.”  This is simply false.  Rather, it is a verification of eligibility.  If gun owners can acknowledge that guns are instruments capable of causing injury or death—not a given, as many cling to the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” semantic argument that Cupp, to her credit, manages to avoid—and that there are certain people who should not be able to own them (again, not a given), a background check system should be embraced.

Since gun supporters like to use the Constitution to justify their opposition, another right guaranteed by that document offers a useful comparison.  All citizens of a certain age are guaranteed the right to vote.  But, they must first register to do so, to prove their eligibility.  This in no way presumes that all voters are ineligible, but it does prevent those that are—whether because of a criminal record, lack of citizenship, or any other reason—from casting a ballot.  The right to own a gun is no different.

Presumably, Cupp would have no problem passing a background check.  So, her Second Amendment right to own a gun would not be infringed in any way, nor would that of any of the millions of other law-abiding gun owners nationwide.  But, people with a history of violence, criminal behavior, or certain mental health issues might be prevented from owning a gun, and lives could be saved as a result.

Cupp is not the only one to misinterpret the Second Amendment, however.  Michael Moore makes the claim that only guns in existence at the time it was written should be protected, even though the Supreme Court has ruled that this protection extends to all sorts of modern firearms.  Further, to make such a claim assumes that the rest of the Constitution and its Amendments have the same limitations.  This would mean that the freedom of the press would apply only to words printed on paper and not to television, radio, or the internet, none of which existed at the time of the Founders.  Likewise, the First Amendment’s freedom of religion would not protect relatively new religions including Mormonism or Scientology.  Those laws have been interpreted to cover societal and technological advancements and the laws protecting gun ownership do the same.  To argue otherwise is an unnecessary distraction.

The scale of the issue was also subject to dispute.  While much of the gun debate has focused on recent mass shootings, Cupp insisted that these incidents were decreasing.  She even restated this point in a tweet later that evening:

However, others were quick to counter her claim, including Mother Jones senior editor Mark Follman:

But, forgotten among these opposing tweets was that the frequency of these shootings is not what really matters.  What actually matters is that they are happening at all and that they should be stopped.  I threw my own two cents in on Twitter:

But, focusing only on mass shootings is not productive.  They may attract the most attention, but they account for less than one percent of gun-related deaths.

The fact is, shootings of all kinds are happening, and will continue unless something is done.  And, that something definitely does not include increasing gun ownership.  But, that did not stop Cupp (and Maher) from claiming that guns are essential for protection against all threats, real and imaginary.

In fact, Cupp made two claims that were especially troubling.  When asked why she might want a concealed weapon, she responded, “Why should I be able to hide a gun?  Clearly, you’ve never confronted the idea of domestic violence.”  The implication, of course, is that having a gun would protect her from an attacker.  While this thought makes some sense on the surface, research has shown that women who are victims of domestic violence risk having their weapon used against them and are up to eight times more likely to be killed if there is a gun in the house.

Cupp followed this with the unintended irony of declaring, “I just happen to be informed on gun issues, unlike most people who talk about them.”  While she undoubtably knows quite a bit about guns, the fact that she is so misinformed on one of her most basic defenses for gun ownership is disturbing, as there are likely many women who see her as a strong role model and will follow her example, unaware of the possible tragic results of keeping a weapon in a home plagued by domestic violence.

However, her statement does raise another point.  Gun advocates often claim that a certain level of knowledge on guns is required before one can weigh in on the issue.  Again, this makes some sense of the surface, but even a moment of thought shows this to be a flawed argument.  One does not need to be an expert on specifications and classifications of weapons to know that gun violence is a problem or that keeping guns out of the wrong hands is the best solution.  Just like one need not have taken drugs to recognize a drug problem or be an accountant to see that the economy is struggling, personal knowledge of firearms is not the issue.  It is just a way to dismiss arguments that run counter to those of gun advocates.  But, since Cupp likes to claim her position is based on facts, here is the only fact that really matters:

So, instead of gun owners fretting over the prospect of background checks or gun registries—even though the proposed bill would have explicitly prohibited them—they should be worried about the people who are dying.  Surely those lives are worth a little inconvenience or extra paperwork.

But, realistically, true gun reform is not something that will likely happen any time soon, if at all.  America is a “gun country,” and gun owners will fight to keep it that way.  But, the least we can hope for is that guns are only owned by those well-trained in both using them and storing them safely.  Moore was right to claim that practicing shooting a few times a year is not enough.  This is where expertise actually matters.  I don’t need to know how to shoot a gun because I don’t have one and likely never will.  However, anyone choosing to own a weapon should be an expert in its use and should do everything in their power to keep it from falling into the wrong hands.  And, there should be legislation mandating this.  Yet, there is resistance even to such common sense measures.

Cupp claimed that the hallowed Second Amendment protected gun owners like her from any legislation regarding guns (even though the Supreme Court has already ruled in favor of certain gun restrictions), which led to the quote of the night.  Though Maher waffled between pro- and anti-gun stances, he rightly stated that “the second Amendment is bullshit.”  And it is.

The Constitution is not a perfect document.  Indeed, the very right being debated was not included in the original draft, but rather added among a set of ten amendments four years later.  Much of the original text has been found in need of an update, leading to the abolition of slavery, expansion of voting rights, and changes in how legislators are chosen, among other things.  One of the amendments was even found to be flawed, leading to a repeal of the prohibition of alcohol.  Yet gun advocates hold on to the Second Amendment as though it is a right granted by God, rather than by men who were far from infallible.  So, yes, the Second Amendment is bullshit, and it is time that it is repealed and replaced with responsible gun legislation that properly protects the American people.

Bad is Bad, Regardless of the Roots

English: The Bill of Rights, the first ten ame...

The world is changing, and so should the Constitution.

As the debate over guns and gun violence protection continues, there is a constant search for new angles from which to attack the issue, and more specifically, the Second Amendment, which is at the very heart of the conflict.

As the left argues that the Amendment is obsolete, written by men with muskets, the right counters that all guns are not only protected, but necessary in order to preserve their freedom.  But, this week, a new narrative has emerged.  The accepted line of thinking has long held that the Second Amendment originally referred to the necessity of a militia to aid in the defense of a young nation with no standing army against foreign threats or potential government tyranny.  But, the hallowed “Right to Bear Arms” has been given a new origin, as seen in stories like this one or this one.

According to these accounts, the Second Amendment was enacted to protect against a threat much closer to home, namely the fear of an uprising by the slaves who were an essential part of the American economy of the time.  I don’t have any dispute with this spin, and actually find it to be an interesting theory.  But, I do object to the attempt to use this origin story as a reason to overrule the amendment.

First, the obvious disclaimer: slavery was awful, reprehensible, shameful, and unforgivable.  But, with that said, the vileness of slavery does not in any way discount the validity of a law enacted to protect it.  No matter the circumstances under which it was written, the fact remains that it is part of the Constitution of this country.  Pointing out its disgusting origins does not bring us any closer to overturning it.

And that is the heart of the matter.  Instead of focusing on where this law came from, we should be looking at where it has brought us.  We now live in a country with nearly as many guns as people, all justified by a single sentence written more than two centuries ago.  But, I would argue that what is needed is a different kind of history lesson.

The world has changed since the writing of the Constitution.  And the document itself has also changed.  Its true genius is not in its content but in its construction.  By allowing for it to be amended, the Founders made it possible for the Constitution to reflect the changing times.

Our sacred Constitution once legitimized the institution of slavery and the oppression of women, allowed for the prohibition of alcohol, and restricted voting rights for most Americans.  All of these things were seen as mistakes and were remedied by passing various amendments.  It is time for another.

The Second Amendment is a bad law, plain and simple, not because of where it comes from, but because of what it does and where it has brought us.  And the focus should not be on the past, but on the future, on a new amendment that would regulate or even outlaw guns.