Raging Against the Machine

5 days ago, after the Portland Mall shooting, I wrote a blog post about guns in America. I truly tried to stay middle ground and research the subject well and look for ways that we can change different aspects of the gun laws and procedures that would make a difference while at the same time not proposing taking away law abiding citizen’s guns. Honestly I don’t want that.

If you would like to read my rational, well thought out, well written, kinder gentler version of “gun blog” – you may do so here: https://fishjello.wordpress.com/2012/12/12/guns/

Interestingly enough 4 days later after the Newtown Connecticut school shooting, there was a NY Times piece basically saying the same thing and quoting the same doctors I used in my conclusions. He had done a great job of succinctly putting into words things that could be changed that won’t harm the rights of legal gun owners. You can read that here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/16/opinion/sunday/kristof-do-we-have-the-courage-to-stop-this.html?_r=0

For 5 days I have attempted to have an honest and open and rational discussion with friends and family – some via social networking, but also some in person or on the phone – about what we can do to stop all of the gun violence in our country. I believe that we have to take back the discussion from the extremists and use the middle ground and work together.

I truly. TRULY. TRULY. do.

However, now I am angry. I am angry because of all of the asinine ignorant things I have read and heard in the last 5 days. (No, that’s not middle of the ground and it isn’t going to help the situation and if you see your argument here in my piece, maybe you SHOULD keep reading. Because maybe you are one of the people I am talking about.)

I am not calling all of these arguments completely asinine, but a lot of the ways I read them were.

I am now ready to rage against the machine.

Don’t think it’s not a machine – this violent, gun loving, child abusing, crime ridden country. Don’t think that 285 shootings a day or 569 rapes a day or the more than 6,000 people harmed by domestic violence a day isn’t a machine. It’s a well tuned, perfectly oiled machine, hell bent on continuing on it’s path.

Unless WE have the courage to do something to stop that machine, it will continue.

Violence in general is our problem. And I want to talk about that. I want to write all day and night about that. However I feel today I need to address a few things about gun violence.

I have a lot of friends that get a little riled up (or a lot) if someone mentions “gun control” or “gun regulation”. Why is this such a dirty phrase in our country? Somewhere in their brains they convert “gun control” to “give me your guns because we are outlawing every type of gun and burning them all and THEN we are going to let people come invade your country and you will be left with no defenses.” Or worse, I suppose, since I don’t really understand what all the fuss is about. Can some of my gun friends tell me? What is so scary about “gun control” – what goes through your mind when you hear that? Please educate me.

Over the past few days, when I have been desperately trying to keep an open honest middle of the road discussion about what can be done to help decrease gun violence in our country I have heard a lot of arguments. Most of which I absolutely don’t agree with. But I have TRIED to talk calmly and rationally because I think that is the key. Well, here, for one day, I am going to talk about all of those things I find so confusing. And why I don’t agree with them. And possibly just start posting my link on people’s pages on facebook in response to them.

1. “Even if we ban all guns, it won’t completely end gun violence. Criminals will still have guns. We can’t round up ALL of the guns so there will still be shootings all the time.” Ok. I get that. there are roughly 300 million guns in America right now – although we don’t know for sure because so many are unregistered or unaccounted for. I don’t see us a) being able to round up all the guns or b) being able to do so without a civil war starting or c) that being plausible at all. Honestly, I don’t know very many people who want to ban all guns. Or the sale of all guns, or to round up all of the guns. BUT, the whole “we can’t stop all gun violence, so why even try?” argument is SO off base.

Seatbelts don’t stop every single injury or death that results from an auto accident. But seatbelts help prevent a lot of deaths and bad injuries. I know that when I strap my son into his booster seat, it isn’t a guarantee that he won’t ever be hurt in a car accident. I also know it will help him be safe -ER. I know if we get into an auto accident, him being in his booster seat and me being in my seat belt and my airbags and crumple zones and every other safety feature on my car will HELP us to be safer in an accident. Do I think “WELL, if it’s not guaranteed to stop ALL of the deaths in auto accidents, why even bother putting my child in a seat belt? ” No, I most certainly do NOT think that. I figure if it LOWERS the risk, I will take it. If it LOWERS the number of deaths, let’s wear seat belts.

No, even completely banning guns wouldn’t completely erase all the gun violence. Even if we thought there was SOME way to get rid of all of the guns already in circulation. What I am  saying here is changing some of our laws about how we can buy guns, who can buy them and from whom, what kind of background checks we do, limit the number of gun purchases per month or year, stop the sale of high capacity magazines, make gun shows and private sellers follow the same rules the rest of the sellers do, use microchips when making guns to track illegal sales, use owner fingerprint technology that keeps people from steeling your gun and being able to use it. Those can ALL reduce gun violence without reducing the rights of the legal gun owners. Will it stop all gun violence? No. But will it lower that number form 285 a day? I would think that YES it would.

2. “People die every day in car accidents, but we don’t stop letting people use cars.”

Really? Ok, let’s go there. Cars and their use are governed by a very complex system of federal and state and local laws. We have not only determined legal standards (and continually change those standards I might add) by which cars have to be made to be the minimum amount of “safe” they can be, but we also have hundreds of other things we do to keep driving safe. As drivers we have to take a test to get a license to drive. Some states require drivers education courses be taken. We have to have eye tests and in the case of some illnesses, a doctors note saying you are fit to drive. We have to renew our licenses every so often to make sure that as we age or change, we haven’t gone outside the requirements of what is safe. On the roads and highways we have painted liems and arrows and cross walks and more to tell us where to drive, how to turn safely, where to park and not park, which way to go. We have speed limits and stop signs and stop lights and signs telling us “caution curve ahead” or “watch for falling rock” or “slick in spots” or “6% grade, downshift” or “one way do not enter” or “school zone” and a million other things. But that’s not all, oh no, that’s not all. We have police officers who enforce where we park, whether we are driving within the law, if we are obeying the speed limit, if we are following all the posted signs and all of the laws we are required to know to even get our license. We get tickets and pay fines and go to court for speeding, improperly parking, not using a tuns signal, not updating our license plates, having a tail light out. We have to have insurance in case we do get into an accident. AND THEN, then, if we disobey the laws too often or too extremely as in the case of a DUI or a accident that was the result of reckless driving, we can LOOSE the right to drive at all. We can even go to jail if we are too reckless with our cars.

In contrast we avoid any laws governing gun use and sale like the plague. Do we have to take classes to own a gun, or pass a shooting or safety test? No. (that’s not totally true – to get a HUNTING license many states require a hunting safety class. But that is for a hunting license  not for buying a gun.) Do we have to own insurance or do yearly safety checks or eye exams or get a doctors note saying we (most likely) won’t have a seizure while shooting our gun? No. Do we have to go shoot targets in specially designated areas which have posted rules and safety measures? Honestly the target practice laws vary state to state, city to city, and so do the firearm discharge statutes, but in my experience, you don’t always have to go to a target range to shoot a gun. And what do we do if you are caught illegally using a gun? Not much at all. The punishments also vary from state to state, but are minimal (as in a fine) in most cases. Until someone shoots another person. That’s when we start to care.

I know, this paragraph is a bit simplistic. Every state has different requirements  We DO background checks (though I think they could be much more in depth, we DO require a permit to purchase some places – which doesn’t require a usage test, just the background check. We DO require special classes and special permits in special instances, for example, if someone wants to carry a concealed weapon. The laws should require more on the part of gun owners and should be uniform across the board. And one of the first places to start, in my opinion, is private and gun show sales.

3. “There are already laws about buying guns. Not everyone follows them and THAT is the problem.”

Ok, you are right. There ARE already laws about guns and gun usage and buying guns. Those laws are riddled with holes. I have to show my state issued ID to do most things. I have to show it to buy some cold medicines, to pick up a prescription, to cash a check, to use my debit card, to be seen at my doctor’s office (or at least to have them bill my insurance). I have to present valid ID to board a plane, to walk into some state and federal office buildings, to get my taxes done at H&R Block. The government tracks the sale of sudaphed, because sometimes people don’t use it for a cold, but use it to make meth. But it doesn’t track the sale of bullets in large quanitites. If I want I can buy a gun at a perfectly legal gun show without ever showing an ID. These laws need to be the same across the board and enforced.

4. “The best way to fix this problem is to arm people.” No really. I have heard it all the past 3 days, arm the teachers, have armed guards at the schools. When I say that it’s not just at schools – it has happened at a movie theater, a college campus, a mall, a temple, the empire state building, a grocery store parking lot, and many many more places. When I say that the problem isn’t WHERE – it’s how and who and more – I have had people start suggesting to give movie theater employees tasers.  WHAT???????

Let’s collect ourselves a minute here. Take a deep breath.

So… you are trying to tell me, that if we want to stop gun violence, we don’t need to limit the amount of guns, or change the laws governing guns, or look at the violent culture we live in, or have harsher punishments when people are caught with an illegal gun or when people commit a crime using a gun as a threat – BEFORE they get to the killing people stage. You are telling me that instead we need MORE guns in the population (in fairly untrained hands) and also more OTHER weapons? That doesn’t make sense. Not to me and not to most rational people. I’m sorry. But stop. Think. A gun in a classroom? A 16 year old with a taser? Come on people. In the movie theater shooting the perpetrator went into the theater, then he left out the back exit, propping it open, then he came back in and started shooting. HOW in the hell is a taser in the hands of the 16 year old popcorn girl going to help that? Please. Let’s keep these conversations to reality here. More deadly weapons can not equal less deaths. It simply can’t.

5. Dear family – I apologize if this paragraph hurts your feelings. I will try to be as kind as possible. I am not making fun of your belief system. I am just trying to say that THIS is not going to fix it all. “We need to pray in school again. That would stop all of the school shootings.” Ok.

EDIT – see below.

Let’s put all of this aside: 1. More deaths have probably been caused in the name of “god” in all his forms than any other thing in the history of the world. That doesn’t tell me that praying stops death. 2. If I did believe in a god that was all seeing and all knowing and changes people’s lives and is also kind and benevolent and fair…. Then I would also have to believe that either he/she/it stops terrible things from happening (I’ve seen some pretty terrible things lately) or that he doesn’t. I would have to believe that either the god who people say “saved my life” every night on the news does that all the time for all of his children OR that he allows people to make their own choices and have the consequences follow. I just don’t feel like I could pick and choose which good things god creates and which bad things god fixes or prevents. I mean, why some things and not others? I think if I believed in that sort of god I would have to believe in the kind of god that would really want to stop 20 children from being killed, but also feel like what we do on this earth is our choice and we have to be free to do it and able to accept the consequences  even if it’s something he doesn’t really like.  I would have to believe that because otherwise, where was he when I got cancer? Where was he when my friend’s brother died? Where was he when my high school friend shot his family? Where was he when my mom got Alzheimer’s and was so despondent she killed herself? Where was he on 9/11? Where was he on Friday when 20 babies were shot to death in terror? If I believed in that kind of god, I would be forced to conclude that he doesn’t do those things because that’s not how life is supposed to work. We are supposed to go through things that hurt. We are supposed to die. We can’t live forever. We wouldn’t want to. We can’t have all wonderful and no bad, because how the hell do we know it’s wonderful if we have nothing to compare it to? God doesn’t stop psychopaths (not a reference to mental illness – a reference to the actions) because that is part of life. Dealing with things that make us think we are going crazy – that’s part of our world, our lives. Praying – in your homes – with your kids, that’s wonderful. Honestly – if something like praying or going to church or religion makes you happy and more whole, DO IT. Because we need all of the happy and more whole we can find. We do. If that’s what helps you DO IT. Believe it. Love it. Hold it close. Talk to others about it. (not necessarily me) But, don’t tell the rest of us that 20 children in Connecticut were killed yesterday because we don’t believe in your belief system. Don’t tell the rest of us that if we asked to have prayers in school every day our children would somehow be suddenly safer. Because that’s not how this world (that you believe god made) works.

EDIT – after having a good “conversation” with a family member about this – if what y’all mean by “let’s put god back in schools” is “let’s stop being a bunch of jerks to each other and put more good than bad into this world,” then I am for it. If what you mean by prayer in school is a moment of reflection during the day where christian kids can pray christian prayers an muslim kids can pray muslim prayers and kids can meditate or calm their mind or whatever each indivdual chooses, then YES, by all means, bring back prayers in school. If you aren’t telling kids what kind of god to pray to or what kind of “prayers” to say or how to say them, let’s do it. I’m in.

Let’s put ALL of THAT ^^ aside and ask this: if you are willing to say praying in schools will help the situation, why are you not willing to say that there are other measures we can take? If you are willing to force everyone else to do something that is against their belief system and in line with yours, WHY are you not willing to find ways we can change gun laws. Let’s take away the rights of people to pray how and when and where and to whom they want, but not take away the rights of people to own guns that shoot 50 rounds per minute? Some people have said in the same sentence that we need to pray in schools, but don’t touch their right to bear arms. The last I checked, freedom to worship who and how we choose is a right too.

6. “It’s a slippery slope to ban assault rifles”.

I don’t buy the slippery slope argument anymore. And trust me, I have used it in other arguments. We have laws that prohibit certain types of alcohol (absinthe for example), but all other types are legal – if they are legally produced. We have laws that limit how cars can be made – but cars are still legal. We have laws that limit the way you can discipline your children when it comes to corporal punishment, but you are still allowed to discipline your children. We have laws that limit certain types of prescription medication which is available in other countries, but there are an enormous amount of other prescription medicines on the shelf. We have laws the limit the use of certain words in music on the radio, but music on the radio is still legal. We have laws that say you can’t scream fire in a crowded theater if there is no fire, but you can stand on a street corner bad mouthing the president all day long. We have a lot of laws that limit certain parts of any one activity or product, but not all of them.

I know I am missing some of the arguments – I will be coming back – but for now, this is a good start. Please, people, realize – most of us don’t want to “pry your guns from your cold dead hands.” We want a safer place for our children.

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