29 December 2012

Guns, Guns, Guns - Part 4 of School Shootings, The Wild West and Irrational Argument

Guns don’t kill people.

No, it’s true.

For that matter, neither do knives, nukes or nunchuks.

Knaves, knuckleheads and nutcases kill people.

The weapons make it easier.

An unarmed nutcase is still dangerous.  An armed nutcase is a lot more dangerous.  Take away the weapon and you still have a dangerous nutcase who can improvise a weapon.

So if we focus exclusively on the weapons, we are idiots.  If we focus exclusively on everything except the weapons, we are idiots.  And in the current political/social din, idiocy abounds.  

Everyone has The Answer.  So far, we are not having a discussion.  We are having a who-has-the-biggest-political-dick contest.

This has its attraction, though - it’s easier to deal with trivia than confront actual violence and injury.  If one has never had blood on his/her hands (in the literal sense), it is easier to talk blithely about a society where everybody mindlessly packs a pistol.  If one has never been threatened with actual, immediate violence, it’s easier to claim that the cell phone is mightier than the sword.

And if one bloviates loudly enough, one doesn’t have to do anything useful in the real world.

Case in point: The DC Police are piously “investigating” NBC news anchor David Gregory.  Last Sunday on Meet The Press, Gregory was interviewing NRA executive director Wayne LaPierre.  To make a point, Gregory raised and gestured with a 30-round rifle magazine. He was asking something like “Why do we need these?”

Big magazines are illegal in the District.  So the DC Police must investigate!

Mind you, there was no rifle present.  I guess the magazine was dangerous.  Gregory could have gotten angry and beaten LaPierre with it.  When they have 30 rounds in them, they’re kinda heavy.  However, a hammer would have worked better.  And the DC Police would have approved - they let you have hammers in Washington.

In the meantime, the same police who are “investigating” Gregory are not investigating other people.  There are places in DC where the police are unwilling to go alone.  If you guaranteed that every firearm in DC were confiscated, there would still be places that they would be afraid to go alone.  Reason?  There are some nasty-ass people there.

Just as there are nasty-ass people in lots and lots and lots of places in America, and in the world.

Hassling Gregory about the single rifle-less magazine on TV is (1) cowardly and (2) stupid.

However, it is not (3) surprising.  Directing attention to the objects is effective.  They are black and scary looking.  And eliminating them by passing a law is sooooo easy.  If we make ourselves believe “no-guns, no-violence,” we can escape responsibility for solving the violence problems.  After all, we tried our best, didn’t we?

(Recall that I do have a “pox on both your houses” view.  Those damn 30 round magazines are stupid and defending them as a necessary incident of the Second Amendment is just dumb.)

The “assault weapon ban” is just an extension of the focus-on-the-objects fallacy.  Can they be used for hunting?  Sure.  (In some states, those based on the current U.S./NATO military cartridge, the 5.56 mm/.223 cal. cannot because the bullet is too small, but obviously it’s a lethal round.)

But “assault rifles” look dangerous.  They are black.  They have lots of sharp angles and edges.  Sort of.  Mind you, the legal definition of “assault weapon” is so loose that a fairly innocuous gun might qualify.  To meet the 1994 ban, a rifle need only have two of the following:

  • A folding or telescoping stock - That aids concealability and diminishes stability for long range shooting.
  • A pistol grip - The stock can be sculpted so that the hand is in a vertical position, but a pistol grip which is not a part of the stock qualifies.
  • Bayonet mount - Just a mount.  Not a bayonet.  Of course, it’s hard to imagine a less useful thing than a bayonet on a rifle unless you’re going to be fighting hand-to-hand.
  • Grenade launcher - I have to admit, that’s pretty assaultish.  Of course, that ammunition is illegal already.
  • Flash suppressor - There is a flash of light at the muzzle (end) of a firearm when it fires.  A flash suppressor directs and allegedly conceals partially that flash.  When I’ve had them, they have been designed as muzzle brakes, which redirect the exhaust gases upward to compensate for recoil.

It isn’t that these weapons are so pleasant that is the fundamental error in the public discussion.  The sophistry lies in the belief that evil and deprave hearts will give up if it becomes more difficult to acquire these - or even all - guns.

(By the way - None of the "prominent" assassins of the 60's used what would be considered assault weapons.  Oswald, Whitman and Ray used bolt-action hunting rifles; Sirhan, a .22 pistol.)

It is much more difficult to recognize why some citizens commit unjustified personal violence.  And it will take guts to face that and resources even to begin to fix it.

Of that, more later.

22 December 2012

More Guns Blazin' - School Shootings, Part 3

Those who expect a tightly organized, concise and cogent essay on The Answer to shootings and violence in America are not merely overestimating this wretched scribe - They are living in wolkenklukklukshein: “cloud koo-koo land.”  

There is one of the first conclusions that might be good for Americans: That the violence problem is so pervasive and so complex, that it has so many causes, and that the mixes of potential solutions have so many unpredictable effects, expecting a short discussion or a fixed battle plan is just idiotic.

Mind you, were I an advocate of the “it’s all about guns” school, I would be doing exactly what the real advocates are doing.  The Connecticut case has given that “side” a cause celebre, and created a gaping hole in the political and social solidarity of the “gun bloc.”  Moreover, the response of the “gun bloc” has been (largely) inept, even given that a response based on reason hasn’t nearly the drum-beat of emotion which is giving the discussion its current life.

All I can do tonight is continue the musings, chuck these potato peelings into the stew of the discussion, and hope that we as a society savor all that is in the pot.

To those in the “gun community” I say, guys, I hear you about giving them an inch and they’ll take a mile.  I like that ol’ Second Amendment, and I enjoy shooting sports.  But these fucking 30 round magazines are about to be shoved into our rectums, and that’s going to hurt.

“Shooting sports.”  OK, there is a good bit of sport or hobby-intensity to firearms.  Handling firearms takes skill which is both hard to develop and extremely culturally significant here in West Virginia.

Presenting firearms as “sporting implements” exclusively is one of the inane things that “firearms enthusiasts” have been doing for the last 50 years.  Every time pro-gun folks take a stand which denies or de-emphasizes the fact that firearms are dangerous weapons, we look like Neanderthal dorks.

Primer: Firearms were created as weapons to be used in war.  The science of edged weapons and maximizing human-powered mechanical advantage had reached nearly its highest level.  (The only real improvement I can think of in the modern day is the compound bow, where cables and cams permit the storage of significantly more human muscle power.)  Armor and fortifications were somewhat effective against muscle powered weapons.  The firearm introduced energy from a new source, deflagrating chemicals.  Those chemicals powered projectiles from man-carried weapons which could defeat most man-carried armor.  Moreover, bringing a combatant to a level of effectiveness with a firearm was lots easier than doing the same for someone using swords, etc.

Ere long, it was obvious that firearms also did a superior job of hunting game.

Live with it.  Firearms are weapons.

Most uses are either for violence to living things, or preparing for violence to living things.  That’s why the damn things were invented.

Although the Dark Prince of Hypocrisy, Mayor Bloomberg, may think it “dystopian,” the fact that there’s lots of violence in America and lots of people bent on evil things is a fact of our national life.

A lack of violence is preferable.  If evil violence is presented, avoidance is preferable.

Yes, avoidance.  Only a moron civilian goes out seeking to do random justice by force of arms.  In courses of instruction for citizens who carry firearms, one of the first lessons is to avoid the fight at nearly all costs.  If it means running when that does not put you or others at risk, run.  If it means backing down, back down.

If evil violence cannot be avoided, it has to be overcome.  Often with weapons.  And people get hurt or killed by weapons.  Back in the day, I cared for gunshot wounded people who were righteous and some who were unrighteous.  And nearly as I can remember, they all hurt about the same.  Saying that firearms are merely sporting implements or dipped in the righteousness of the Lord does not change their lethal character.

And that’s OK with me.  If you carry a firearm and do not think of it as a lethal weapon, you need to lock it away and quit carrying it.

Mass shootings - or for that matter the fact that criminal gangs are now very violence-capable - occur in part because semi-automatic weapons can fire quickly.  Large magazines (the boxes which hold ammunition in the weapon) make the pause to reload less frequent.  (On another day, we'll have musings about the many, many causes of violence.)

From a sporting perspective, I suppose it’s enjoyable to fire off a 30 round mag.  Once, in my experience.  And then, you realize that you are spending a hell of a lot of money on ammunition and that unless you are shooting at very short range, your accuracy will suck.  Senator Manchin has drawn fire (see how martial metaphors abound?) for saying on a Sunday news show that he never has had more than three rounds at a time in his hunting rifle.  What’s the problem?  That’s the truth.  

Large magazines in semi-autos are most useful, then, for short-range gunfights with humans.  Huge magazines - the 100 round variety - may be useful for attacking theater audiences, but little else.  (OK, if you are a nitwit, you can use one to ruin a barrel from heat.)

And if the gun community draws the line on the other side of protecting big mags, they/we are going to get our asses kicked.  And rightfully so.

Generally, Second Amendment protagonists (me included) don’t have a problem with the prohibitions in 18 USC §922 concerning what constitutes a legal weapon.  We don’t have a problem with excluding from general sale machine guns, exploding ammunition or sawed-off shotguns.  If we can identify other products for which there is greater danger than utility, we should be open to taking them off the general market.  

Here will be the acid test of the responsible gun community.  Who will frame that side of the conversation?  If it is the “hold ‘em at all costs” crowd, the conversation will be a fierce debate with no winners and lots of losers.

Haven’t we had enough of no-compromise, no-hold’s-barred political and social warfare?

Oh, part 4's a-comin’.

19 December 2012

School Shootings and Violence - The Revealed Truth, Part II

It is such a challenge to deal rationally with high emotional content events. 

Cultural norms are shifting.  We are rewarding behavior which is pusillanimous. There seem to be ever-diminishing positive consequences of accepting “the bitter with the sweet.”

Case in point: Some well-intentioned local agencies are offering special counseling to persons who are having trouble dealing with the 14 December school shootings. 

Local as in West Virginia. 

School shootings as in Connecticut.

We understand sadness. We understand sympathy. For that matter, counseling is a grand good thing. Number 3 Equity Court refers one or two folks a week into the skilled hands of professional counselors.

But this was a news event. One must wonder why someone who wasn’t there and has no connection to the event other than watching the news suddenly has acquired a “need” for counseling.

It’s hard to figure out a “why” there.  Wallowing in self indulgence?  Admittedly, that is sooo inviting.  Just buying into the “poor me” attitude which is gaining such popularity?

I’m thinking that those who genuinely need counseling after that event likely needed it prior to that event as well.

A couple of our friends decry the “Wussification” of America.  I cannot help but make take action a connection between the victim-seeking behavior and that process.

Also, as I rather expected, everyone with a publicist or press agent is buying into meaninglessly caring deeply. I skimmed over a headline today which extolled the virtue of a professional football player for visiting victims.

Give me a break.

There will be a part three coming.

16 December 2012

The Unified One True Answer to School Shootings, Violence & Firearms. (Part 1)

Just kidding.

Every hand with a pen and pharnyx with vocal cords has spent the last 48 hours giving us The Obvious Truth.

Just look anywhere. But it’s funny how all these truths are so inconsistent.

“Part 1" is in the title because no poor scribe can touch all the questions buzzing about, let alone any possible analyses or solutions. Today will be directed at musings, perhaps followed by other installments. 

Beats me.

The musings:

So many people want a piece of the tragic action, and want to feel deep personal loss or rather, like it’s a good movie, to suspend the reality of their real lives to wallow in some distant cathartic angst or grief.

Okay. 20 children were killed. So were several adult heroes. Who needs our assurance that we see this as tragedy? If someone is silent (contemplative?), have they paid their suffering dues?

Sadness is fine. “Golly, I’m sad.” That’s a part of life.

For that matter, golly, I’m sad.

But we should not be claiming a fresh and original piece of the clump of grief which has hit Connecticut. It’s not ours to claim. We have a duty to society to consider it, consider circumstances which lead to any bad things that happen, but it is merely self-indulgent to claim emotional disability over other people’s tragedies.

I’m sure as I write this on Sunday that in many places of worship, prayers are being offered for the victims and families. I hope that in many, the police, fire, EMS and other responders are remembered. This was their nightmare scenario, too. Likewise the neighbors have been shaken to the core.

I also hope that there are places of worship where prayers have been offered up for the victims of violence generally and about the conditions that lead to violence - maybe even for the wisdom to figure out what those conditions are.

Maybe God has given us a small test here: I wonder who is praying for the shooter? Not me, by the way. And I don’t assign any positive or negative index to that. It just is what it is.

Bear in mind this Sunday the teachings found in the book of James:

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Can faith save him?  If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?  Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.  You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!   But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?  (James 2:14-20)

No, this is not a religious piece. This is musings, remember? Nor does anyone have to accept the quote from James as divinely inspired or even accurately translated.

Does it make sense? Does it stand on its own? Is it a logical inclusion that great wishes – even great angst – are just so many hummingbird feathers unless and until someone does something?

Modern day “prophet” Larry Winget puts it a similar thought in a short and pithy way: “Don’t let your mouth write a check that your ass can’t cash.”

Also, we have to transition into what that something to do will be. Some sudden reaction to a single event is not a guarantee to create a workable solution and especially not to avoid unintended consequences.

If we identify the issues publicized (not created) with the excuse of the Connecticut school shooting as firearms PERIOD, we’re indulging in reactive and dangerously limited thinking.

Certainly, someone who is actively homicidally crazy and obtained any efficient, high-capacity weapon, that’s a problem. If that’s the problem we address and call it a day, I really have to wonder how smart we really are.

Ditching God?

A lot of the press is going really batshit over a calm and thoughtful give-and-take with former Gov. Mike Huckabee, who is a pastor. At the end of a thoughtful piece, he asked rhetorically why we wondered about God letting school shootings happen (the so-called theodicy question) when we had long excluded God from the schools.

If you read that literally, i.e., if that school and others in Connecticut prayed regularly, the incident would not have happened, the logic does not connect.

It sounded more to this scribe like a general observation.

God – the Christian, the Jewish, the Islamic, or the humanist collection of positive values is not nearly so much in evidence in American education as in  “The Good Old Days.”

Ah, a reference to “Good Old Days.” There is an invitation to irrational argument.  “The good old days when women could not work, when racial segregation was everywhere, McCarthy, polio…”

It’s as much a mistake to reject old ways which worked as to worship old ways which didn’t.

One of the old ways taught in schools that worked was the Golden Rule.   That was fine teaching. Must that be taught as Christian? Not in the “Here’s what the true God system says, children,” sense. 

But what a conversation starter!  What a lesson starter is “In the Bible, Jesus said, ‘Do to other people like you want them to do to you.’ – let’s discuss that.”

“Is that a good idea? Why? How would you feel if someone took your bike?”

Whatever tag you put on it, morality education, ethics education, or education in honorable behavior, it belongs in schools. Of course that sort of education is the parents’ job.

But fully half of parents aren’t doing their job as parents.

Our schools have been colluding with lots and lots of other elements in society in a multi-decade cultural suicide pact.

At the very least, addressing that has to be a part of the solution.

Silent dispatches:

Tap, tap, tap  – – Is this thing on?

This is been the longest hiatus in these dispatches for the past couple of years.

And the reason:  Life? The universe?  Nah.  Nothing so dramatic. Your irregular scribe has been beset with some minor health issues which have reduced “reserve capacity.” And clients, cases and courts have to come first.

It’s been rather like hiking in mud.  It takes more effort to attain ordinary results.

That being said, this scribe will not enumerate any little ailments. That’s unnecessary and quite boring.

These dispatches will appear with normal frequency, we hope. The proof will be in what the future brings.

Well, that’s nothing new, is it?