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People, not Guns

Guns. There is currently no more emotional issue in the US and nothing that polarizes more. You’re either in favor of guns or you aren’t, and if you’re in favor of them the ownership of a gun is probably viewed as a fundamental right. There isn’t much room for compromise.

Into this debate we have a nearly constant litany of shootings, sometimes with legal weapons and sometimes not. President Obama has decided to act where he can, more or less working on tightening up the existing background check laws and enforcing them more uniformly and rigorously.

There was a time when gun advocates called for us to “enforce existing laws” rather than write new ones, but even this action is controversial. But it shouldn’t be.

Obama is doing what he can. He has to.

Obama is doing what he can. He has to.

The heart of the issue comes down to the Second Amendment to the Constitution. It’s a very odd one for many reasons, primarily because it is the only right outlined that has a distinct qualifier to it.

Where freedom of the press, religion, and speech are absolutely guaranteed the right to a gun has a limit. We rarely have the “intent of the founders” expressed this clearly:

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.

Regulation, in this sense, is not a series of laws that empower an agency to enforce them as necessary. It almost certainly refers to training – drilling in the proper use of weapons to create a unified fighting force. There is no mention of personal security, but rather the “security of a free State.”

You can't force respect.

You can’t force respect.

Over the years this has been interpreted in a number of ways by gun advocates, but rarely by the US Supreme Court. The decision in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) was the first time the Second Amendment alone weighed on a decision, and the court did what it usually does for constitutional rights – interpreted it as broadly as possible and declared that citizens do indeed have a right to a gun for self defense.

That’s where we stand today. There appears to be an absolute right to a gun.

Is Obama’s proposal, or for that matter any background check, constitutional? The short answer, based on Heller, is that such things aren’t. The existing framework for anything resembling keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people may not stand if properly challenged.  We need to clarify this, and may soon.

According to a Quinnipiac poll, Americans favor expanded background checks by over 89% – including 84% in households that own guns. Keeping guns out of the hands of “dangerous” people appears to be a no-brainer to the public, regardless of any basic “right” that is defined or assumed.  A law that would have broad support would do a good job of defining “dangerous”.

But who is “dangerous”? Who does not deserve this fundamental “right”?  It’s probably going to require a very good test case before we know for sure.

It must be all about training.

It must be all about training.

For my part, I believe very strongly that talking about guns is a losing issue for advocates of some kind of control. Guns, as a thing, are not the seminal issue here. What always matters with any weapon is training or the ability to use one properly and responsibly – and whether a person is capable of absorbing the appropriate training. “Gun control is being able to hit your target” was the way the old bumpersticker slogan went. The process of obtaining and verifying training is the personal touch that allows professionals a chance to see a potential gun owner up close and in person for a proper evaluation.

When Minnesota passed a “shall issue” concealed carry law in 2001, I predicted there would be chaos and death. After all, it was a big change and there would be a lot more people walking around with guns – the easy call was for mayhem. I was completely wrong. Nothing bad ever came from this law.

Why was I so wrong? The statute wasn’t a blanket issue of a concealed carry permit to anyone. In order to obtain this permit you have to pass a safety class and show that you can actually hit the target with your gun. It may not seem like much, but the pass rate is about 96% – which is to say that 4% of all applicants were screened out as not suitable. That’s a win.

The only reason we can talk about the Founding Fathers as a group is they got over their petty differences.

The only reason we can talk about the Founding Fathers as a group is they got over their petty differences.

Training, in general, gets us back to the militia standard of the original intent of our founders. They couldn’t have made it more clear, either. It’s not about guns, per se, but people with guns who know what they are doing.

I am always reminded of a documentary I saw long ago on Bryan Kremer, who made one of the longest sniper shots ever in 2004 while stationed in Iraq. When talking about the incident he only mentioned his NM140 MP 50 calibre rifle in passing – but spoke at length about his training. And when he got to the moment when he made the shot, he spoke mainly of his target. “I felt sorry for the guy, he should have trained harder. He should have trained harder.”

The issue is not guns and it never will be. All we can talk about are the guns when what matters the most are the hands that hold them. The founders knew this and the experts in our military know this. Gun control advocates need to focus on this if they are ever going to make any headway.

21 thoughts on “People, not Guns

  1. If what you’re trying to say is that guns don’t kill people, people do, I agree. Just so it doesn’t turn into people control. I agree that making sure someone knows what they are doing should be required & that would screen out a lot of the crazies. You can usually spot them a mile away when they pick up a gun. So sure this makes sense EXCEPT you don’t want bureaucrats saying “this guy looks weird so no permit for him”. I agree it works well in Minnesota.

    • I think a similar system is in place in many states for a CC permit. So why not have a permitting system? What’s wrong with that? If you don’t have the right kind of ID with the right permits on it any gun sale is illegal. That doesn’t cut out illegal sales, of course, but it starts changing the emphasis onto training and skills – which I think is inherently more important.

  2. All this is fine but we still need gun control. It’s way too easy to get a gun. This may not stop the illegal guns but it will at least start to close up the loopholes. We have to start somewhere.

    • I think a universal permitting system based on the standards now used in many states for concealed carry would do that. In other words, you have to prove you already passed the background check before you can buy anything.
      The NRA would hate this, of course, but I think the public would go along with it at this point.

  3. It comes back to enforcement; in other words, how do you enforce any of these ideas? And, if someone is willing to commit murder, why do we think this person is going to follow the rules? Murder is already illegal, yet it still happens all the time. Crack is illegal, yet I can get crack easier than I can get a gun. Recent studies show that it is easier to get heroin than oxycotin….what does that tell you. Throw in 3d printers, and all of these laws are mute. Guns are not the problem, a society that puts violence in the face of kids all day long, and an economy and culture that is degrading at an alarming rate. How do you fix the root of the problem and not a symptom (gun deaths)? How about addressing Hollywoods spiral into reality violence. I’m 43 now, and TV and movies now compared to when I was young and dumb…..wow. Remember when Friday the 13th and Freddy movies were considered gory? Now turn on your stupid box at 7 p.m. and watch one of the myriad of NCIS murder porn shows. I wonder why people are numb to the violence? No I don’t.

    • I do agree that the real problem is a social one – we honestly think violence is natural and solves problems. That has to change.
      We can’t legislate away gun violence overnight, I’m sure. We might be able to change the culture gradually. That’s why I would like to change the emphasis away from the gun as an object and towards the person holding the weapon. It doesn’t seem like a lot, I’m sure, but I think over the long haul it will help get a handle on this idea that guns are some kind of solution.
      Training is always the way to self defense, gun or not. You don’t need a gun for nearly all situations anyone will find themselves in. I’d like to start there and work out.
      But I don’t expect an overnight miracle, no. You are right about how sick our culture has become.

      • One thing that keeps getting more extreme though is the gun culture, and that is very concerning. Good guys with guns who are supposed to protect everyone, suburban dads are loading up on weapons and preparing for home invasions and mass shootings, presidential candidates are cooking machine gun bacon, gun rhetoric is more and more extreme and relentless.

        I know a couple guys on another forum who talk about home defense like they almost want it to happen so they’ll finally get to shoot someone. One of those guys thinks that the right to bear arms is both a natural right and limitless, and that one should be able to acquire whatever weapons that are in existence. And trying to question their reasoning or rhetoric or logic can provoke some pretty angry responses.

        I don’t know if this is just a weird cultural anomaly right now that we’ll look back on and laugh at one day, but it’s troubling nonetheless.

      • A very, very good point. The idea that guns are the solution to everything I think only highlights how totally irresponsible and irrational we’ve become. I would think that a focus on safety and knowing what you are doing would calm this weird culture down some, but I may be wrong. It’s strange at best, but really dangerous.

      • Also I might be stereotyping but some of these guys that I’ve been encountering don’t seem like the handgun or self defense gun type anyways. Not rural, no military or police background, not particularly macho in any other respect…like if we were 20 years back they wouldn’t even consider it. And they seem to be the loudest and most in favor of having as few restrictions as possible.

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  6. You make a lot of important points. Gun violence has its roots deep in both culture and personal irresponsibility, rendering it too complex of an issue to be solved by tightening background check laws alone. And proper training and competence in gun usage are crucial for any gun owners and potential gun owners, and do help to ensure safety and prevent violence to some extent.

    However, we live in a dramatically different culture and time period from when the Bill of Rights was written over 200 years ago. In modern America, allowing every citizen a gun is unnecessary and incredibly risky. The US military is now the most powerful and best equipped military in the world and no longer consists of informal volunteers who relied on their own weapons, making the original purpose of the Second Amendment antiquated. Guns commonly owned by American citizens are more lethal than any existing 220 years ago. Social media, the Internet, and other increasingly convenient methods of communication are making it easier for potential shooters to locate victims or places to attack than ever before.

    It is dangerous to allow citizens to use something that was designed for the intent of killing without restrictions. While, like you said, it is difficult to know who to bar from possessing firearms, strict restrictions on the types of guns citizens are allowed to own and increased background checks will make a difference in gun violence.

    • I don’t doubt that new restrictions would calm things down a little, which would be good. If we do come up with sensible, simple things which help us get some sense of “well ordered” to this strange “militia” we’ve created all the better. And weapons have indeed changed.
      But do I think it’s going to make a night and day kind of change by itself? No. There has to be more, there has to be a cultural part of this. And that will take time and a lot of honest, open discussion. So let’s start now!
      Thanks for your comments!

    • I guess it depends on how you interpret the intent of the fathers. I think you need to look at the time period that they were in to interpret their intent. They were fresh out of an oppressive government in England. They wanted to make sure that they had freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and a way to ensure those rights were protected from an oppressive government that inevitably grows. How do you protect yourself from someone with a gun? You get a gun yourself. The original people in this country did not need to protect themselves from foreign invasion, and the long view of the fathers was on the fear of a growing government. The current size and power of our federal government is indeed scary, and it does control the most powerful and invasive military industrial complex ever. How do you protect yourself from them. That is the question. The stereo type of the gun nut needs to change too. Most “gun nuts” that I know are what you would call “anal retentive” engineer types who admire the incredible accuracy and scientific advances in operation and machining, as well as optics. The mouth breathing morons that are portrayed are much less common than the media idiots would have you believe. Maybe their needs to be a new term “gun-nuttist” or something to verbalize the “gun-nuttism” towards people who own guns. The stereotyping has gotten that bad.

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