Guns N’ Illness: Part 1

My stance on school shootings is that there is no problem with gun violence in schools, so nothing needs to change and everything is just fine…

…says nobody.

Much the same as I did in A Non-Crazy View of…”Obamacare”, I like to open a discussion with something absolutely everybody agrees on: There is a problem. It doesn’t matter if you’re a liberal or conservative or Christian or atheist or whatever — all of us agree there is most definitely a problem. We Americans are united on this conclusion. Isn’t that some good news to open with?

With this common ground established, then, let us respect in each other that we only differ on how to solve the problem. That’s ok. Disagreement is good. Disagreement and debate are how we sort through multiple partial solutions in order to reach a more complete, truly effective solution.

Because there’s a lot to discuss here, I’ll restrict today’s entry to the liberals’ solution of gun control. Next round, we can talk about the conservatives’ focus on mental illness.

Before moving forward, I want to get an unfortunately necessary disclaimer out of the way so that the discussion can’t be derailed by the distraction this truth brings:

Partisan Politics is Broken

Yes, there are clearly and unquestionably Republicans who’s successful bids for office were thanks in large part to the National Rifle Association (NRA) lining their pockets. This means the politics on the public stage get bent toward the moneyed interests of the NRA instead of the interest of constituent voters (regardless of how much the two align or don’t). The Democrats have the exact same weighted dice in other arenas. Politics on the public stage is largely the voice of money and, depressingly, more theater than problem-solving.

This post is not about that, because to discuss/debate topics on that foundation is an exercise in futility and exactly why Facebook debates on such topics run about in endless, exhausting circles. Instead, what this post is about is how we can start to collectively address this problem ourselves. Despite the reality of moneyed politics, we do still have some degree of influence on our representatives, and that influence grows stronger the more locally you focus. You might not have the ear of the President, but you can much more easily pester your City Council or local school board.

With this in mind, when I talk about conservatives and liberals, I’m not talking about Paul Ryans and Nancy Pelosis. I’m talking about you. I often find that Democrats and Republicans I meet in person are far more nuanced and thoughtful than their talking head counterparts on TV. In other words, and more so than ever under our current President, I regard public, media-covered politics as theater and everyday engagement with people around me as reality.

You with me, liberal and conservative friends? Then with that out of the way, let’s engage this topic properly.

They’ll Just Do It Anyway

So I’m going to begin approaching this aspect of the topic by establishing a presupposition: With laws, we are only ever reducing the probability of violence, not removing it. To expect there to come a day in the foreseeable future where every single last person is guaranteed to never harm children en masse on school grounds again is an exercise in the absurd. Instead, we try to make it harder to accomplish the goal of shooting up a school so as to reduce the frequency of such incidents. For now, that is the best we can do, but that alone is a pretty darn big step forward. Fair enough? So keep this foundational idea in mind as we trudge through this muddy water.

First, let’s address the extremes. “Making guns illegal will only ensure that only the bad guys have guns” is a short-sighted, ridiculous argument, unless you’re an anarchist. By that logic, murder should be legal because murderers are criminals by definition and will thus break the law and murder anyway. But no, that’s not how laws work. Laws are not made based on an assumption that criminals will obey them. That’s not why we pass laws. Instead, the idea is that the harder it is to get (certain types of) guns, the more hoops the would-be shooter has to jump through, and hopefully, ideally, this rise in difficulty will prevent some from succeeding. Yes, criminals can use the black market, but not every criminal has ready access to the black market. The black market is harder to access than, say, Wal-Mart.

Let me stress again: The idea is not that a new law will make “criminals” stop because now it’s illegal. It’s about manipulating probability by raising the difficulty.

Good Guy With a Gun

This is an interesting argument, and I have to confess it appeals to me on some level. This is a curious reverse solution of the liberals’ pitch for tighter gun control in that the conservative argument is to arm more “good guys” so they can fight back. This shouldn’t be wholly dismissed; concealed carry training and better yet, veteran police officers and soldiers with experience bring some real defense to the table. Returning to the idea of manipulating probability, it makes sense that this could serve as a deterrent, again “raising the difficulty” and hopefully weeding out some would-be shooters.

There is, unfortunately, a problem with this: Defense by its very nature is a reactive solution. A police officer or trained civilian cannot spring into action until after something has happened. Awesome as our defenders may be, they are not clairvoyant, and some police officers will caution you that police don’t show up typically until after the crime occurred. We do not live in the world of Minority Report. What this means is that an armed response is a response to something that has already happened — at earliest, a would-be shooter pulling out his gun, but more likely (as was the case with last week’s shooting), they cannot respond until after one or more innocent people have been slain.

It’s thus critically important that while this is a solution, it is a solution that minimizes the body count after the fact; it does not prevent the attack.

One may argue, however, that such a solution would also serve to deter. Who is going to open fire with armed security present, or better yet, armed civilians all around? This question overlooks the ongoing pattern of these shootings: they are murder-suicides. An attacker who goes in ready, expecting, and even desiring to die is absolutely not going to be deterred by anyone else being armed.

I know a number of people with concealed carry licenses, and I do feel safer around them. They know what they’re doing, are well trained, and have a real, deep compassion for defending innocents. This should not go ignored, and while I do not believe the “good guy with a gun” is a solution unto itself, I am open-minded about it being a component of a larger solution.

Note: I am omitting from this discussion the idea of everyone being armed willy-nilly. It should be obvious that responding to an active shooter by starting a Michael-Bay-style gunfight is only going to introduce friendly fire to the mix. This helps no one. Instead, I am willing to be open to not so much the idea of the “good guy with a gun” but the “very well trained professional good guy with a gun”.

There is nonetheless a grave risk inherent to this solution: even trained humans make mistakes. Innocents can still be caught in the crossfire. Again, remember, I am framing this as manipulating probability, and this is one variable in that equation. We are balancing the probability of an armed attacker along with the probability of an armed responder’s ability to spring into action without making severe mistakes.

The Liberal Solution: Gun Control

I want you to keep one core idea in mind as you consider the liberal approach to this topic: liberalism is based on the root word “liberty”, so a liberal more often than not tends to seek solutions that preserve one’s liberty. You may find this contradictory in the current context since gun control is obviously restricting liberty, but the key here is to recognize the catch 22 at play: the liberty to own whatever guns one pleases vs. the liberty to live free of the threat of violence.

The liberal is faced with the dilemma of trying to restrict one liberty to preserve another liberty, thus weighing one liberty as intrinsically more important than the other.

There is a myth I want to clear up here: some conservatives have long feared that liberals want to take guns away from everyone. This is incorrect and a misunderstanding that really spread like wildfire during the Obama years. Liberals do not want to take all guns away from all people. Yes, there will always be exceptions, and I’m sure there are some on the far-left fringe who do want to go that far, but they are not representative of mainstream liberalism, at least here in the U.S.

Instead, the liberal typically wants to tighten the boundaries on gun ownership. This usually means banning weapons that are designed to kill multiple targets in a short amount of time, i.e. automatic and/or semi-automatic weapons. The liberal is thus largely uninterested in your shotgun or hunting rifle mounted in the back of your pickup truck. This is a common misunderstanding of the liberal approach, but pause and consider for a moment: you don’t have any old-timey pictures of an AR-15 mounted in the back window of your pickup truck, do you?

The liberal is usually only interested in the type of guns that keep appearing in actual mass shootings. I would ask that regardless of your own views, that you at least give them credit here that if nothing else, on the surface this seems to make sense, at least to the layman. If “Object A” makes an appearance every time a bunch of people are gunned down, then there’s some logic to turning one’s attention specifically to “Object A”. The liberal thinks that if automatic rifles can be removed from the open market, then our would-be shooters — at least those without shady backroom connections — are left to open fire on groups of people with their shotgun or hunting rifle, which likely isn’t going to yield the same result.

(Note: There is some important discussion going on out there about how certain types of weapons are severely misunderstood by laymen, especially the AR-15. This is beyond the scope of this post only because I can only cram so much into one post at the moment. I ask instead that you grant some empathy and if nothing else, understand the layman’s point of view for the time being. Of course, this nuance does need to be addressed in full, though I doubt I’m able to do the topic justice myself.)

They’re Coming for Mah Guns!

So now what do we conclude? Is it time to implement some restrictions on gun ownership? If so, how far do we go with implementing restrictions, and how much is too much?

There’s a lot more to discuss here, so let’s pause here and digest what’s on the table at this point, then return to this topic in the next installment. I want to address other dimensions of this debate such as mental illness, the liberty of the responsible gun owner, the American-specific concept of a self-governing people necessarily being a self-armed people, and possibly other factors I may have neglected thus far.

For now, I hope I’ve made the case that no matter how you decide to approach this topic, there is no clean, simple, easy answer. We need to get away from constantly villainizing each other and instead at least recognize that though we may be on radically different paths toward a solution, we are all trying to find a solution. We all care about this. We all want to fix this. Let’s not forget our common ground.

My Political Stance, Part Two: Uh, Forget Part One?

The whole point to my writing these entries on here is mostly theraputic. I have no grandiose delusions of actually being a notable blogger or embuing anyone with actual legitmate wisdom; rather, I want and need to practice writing and organizing my internal thoughts.

So that said, my last entry two months ago was really, really bad.

But that’s ok — it served its purpose to me at the time. My mistake was to try to approach my own disjointed lack of a political stance and try to outline what my political stance was, which proved to be an exercise in futility, first and foremost because I simply just didn’t know what I was talking about. I tried to approach a complex political science topic as a layman very much not versed in the political sciences.

So with no further adieu, I present to you:

My Political Stance (Revised!): Part Only: I’m Stuck (Spoiler!)

Here’s the deal guys — This is what I know I’m not at the moment:

I’m not a conservative. Change is the very spice of life. Being stuck in “the way things have always been” never ends well. Older is not superior to younger. I’m not going to literal hell for challenging old ideas. I do think traditions can be good and I do think tossing traditions and old established tidbits of wisdom out the window willy-nilly is certainly throwing the baby out with the bath water, but I don’t think that alone qualifies me as any kind of actual conservative. Above all, I am bothered by conservatism’s tendency to lean toward some flavor of authoritarianism.

I’m not a progressive. At least I don’t think I am? I don’t actually know what a progressive actually is. Seriously, not kidding here. It’s a topic that I find the more I research it, the less I think I actually get it. I do believe in equality for all, regardless of race, gender, religion, ethnicity, or whatever other sub-category of people you can think up. I admire plenty of progressive folks. I believe we’re better off embracing change and the future instead of planting our feet squarely in the past (and our heads in the sand), but I don’t think that necessarily makes me a progressive. Above all, I worry that progressivism might suffer an error of how more so than an error of what; I fear it may be short-sighted, unaware of possible authoritarian consequences of some of its mechanisms.

I still stand by my conclusion in Part 1 that I’m probably some flavor of classical liberal. I do fiercely believe in the freedom and autonomy of the individual. I am passionately anti-authoritarian; however, I also recognize some authority (ideally a bare minimum) guards us from a hazardous Wild West anarchy. For example, if you want to marry the same sex, two people, five people, the state of Virginia, or a cardboard cutout of President James A. Garfield, you should be free to have at it — just as long as you don’t pester me about it and allow me the same freedom to do my own thing. On the other hand, I worry about the long-term consequences of classical liberalism run a muck (or perhaps libertarianism) resulting in our society’s inability to ever achieve anything majorly significant while we’re wildly on entirely different pages. It took more than a handful of people to win the space race, after all.

So there you have it. I have no flipping clue what the heck I am because I have issues with literally everybody, apparently.

This is, in summation, why I more often than not refer to myself as a moderate or at most, a moderate somewhere on the liberal spectrum. I mostly want the government to stay out of our business, but protect our rights. Assist those in need, but not lord over us. Let us rule ourselves, but not to the point where we each individually wander off into an ironically collective oblivion. Rid society of the evils of prejudice, but not by forced homogeneity.

I do want to point out one very important detail here, though: note my stances outlined here have nothing to do with who I hate. I have been referring to ideas, not people.

I don’t feel I really have a place to fit in, here in today’s political climate.

My Political Stance: TL:DR Version (Part One)

Anytime I weigh in on politics on Facebook — which I try to keep to a minimum, as Facebook is hardly the medium for thoughtful discourse — I almost always tell people “I’m neither liberal  nor conservative” and/or “I’m a moderate”. That is partly true, at least best I can figure, but the breadth of my stance (and probably many folks’ stances) is far more nuanced. So, for anyone bored enough to be interested, here’s where I actually stand on all things politics. It’s long, complicated, and nuanced all over the place, so today’s entry will simply be Part One with more to follow.

(Disclaimer: My stances have evolved over time and likely will continue doing so as I become more educated in topics and learn to clean up my verbiage. This and related entries will either be updated or appended as time goes on, accordingly. Also, I’m totally am amateur on this topic and may not entirely know what I’m talking about.)

So today I’ll get the first obvious question out of the way:

Liberal or Conservative?

I’m both to varying degrees, but I lean more liberal. The problem is most Americans conflate liberal with Democrat and conservative with Republican, but that is not an apples-to-apples alignment.

I am a liberal in that I believe fiercely in the unalienable rights of the individual. I believe each individual is a unique person with unique beliefs who should be fully free to express, pursue, and advocate for those beliefs as long as they do not infringe upon the rights of others.

I’m pretty down with classical liberalism. I am passionate about civil liberties and economic freedom for all. “Live and let live” without the government deciding for us how the individual should live their lives, and provide economic freedom for all individuals to pursue their own endeavors without having to belong to a nobility or special class in order to access such opportunities.

I’m also a conservative (I think?), but I disagree with the broad definition of American conservative presented via Wikipedia, which is:

a broad system of political beliefs in the United States that is characterized by respect for American traditions, support for Judeo-Christian values, free speech, moral absolutism, economic liberalism, anti-communism, advocacy of American exceptionalism, and a defense of Western culture from threats posed by ‘creeping socialism’, moral relativism, multiculturalism and liberal internationalism.

I disagree with half of that list (I underlined above that which I do not believe), so I don’t know what that means for my idea of conservatism. My understanding of my flavor of conservatism is I believe in preserving those traditions which define our history but are not harmful to anyone. For example, I think maintaining the structure of government as outlined in the Constitution is a really good idea, but I’m really glad the age-old tradition of slavery (which, needless to say, was extremely harmful) is over. I’m for slow, gradual, thoughtful change as the default setting when time is not of the essence. The abolition of slavery and the civil rights movement are examples of when time is not a luxury and change must happen swiftly, but when those aren’t the kind of stakes on the table, I’m all for slow change just so that we’re careful not to forget who we are and where we came from — and more importantly, so that we know exactly what change we’re bargaining for and for what  ultimate purpose at the given moment before we pass a point of no return where “oops” is too late to say in the face of the unforeseen consequences.

I’m for conserving the values of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. I don’t know of any modern body of American conservatives I’d touch with a ten-foot pole (the Tea Party creeps the crap out of me), so I really don’t know what kind of conservative, if any, that leaves me to be at this point.

Here’s where it gets really muddy: I propose what is liberal and conservative is mostly defined by the point in time the question is asked.  With this in mind, I might be a conservative liberal, but I don’t fully agree with what’s outlined in the linked description there, either.

What do I mean by defined by the point in time? I mean that during the time of the American Revolution, the idea of denying a monarchy and establishing a country of self-rule of the people was wildly liberal. Then, the conservative stance was to side with the long-established monarchy, which was to adhere to a very firmly grounded tradition at the time. Yet today, conservatives by and large claim to advocate for the preservation of individual freedom, private property, and rule of the people, which today is to hold to long-held tradition and the established system. So in other words, I propose what is liberal today is conservative tomorrow, at least in terms of the liberal ideas that stick.

For these reasons, when speaking in the shorthand, I tell people I’m moderate, but even that word is problematic. There isn’t a well-defined “middle” line that if you cross it from one direction, you’re conservative, and if you cross from the other, you’re liberal. It’s a spectrum, so “moderate” is to say “somewhere in between those two extremes”, which, in truth, I would argue most of the populace resides on. But what other concise way is there to say “quite a bit of this, a little of that”?

I could go on for a few more hours on this question alone, but I think this is a sufficient start, for now. For Part Two, I’ll delve into where I stand on the “Left or Right?” question (which, no, it’s not the same question).

A Non-Crazy View of…Immigration

Remember when Reagan advocated amnesty for illegal immigrants and open borders?

Rather than […] talking about putting up a fence, why don’t we work out some recognition of our mutual problems, make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit, and then, while they’re working and earning here, they pay taxes here, and when they want to go back, they can go back, and […] open the border both ways […]

The above is taken from a 1980 debate between Reagan and Bush Sr. Both 1980s conservatives would be regarded as bleeding heart progressive globalists by today’s standards…perhaps paid off by Soros for bonus points.   And one of these two men is the dude one of our political parties has all but elevated to sainthood.

He had more thoughts on the topic later in 1984:

Because people are losing their minds over the topic nowadays, I’m going to discuss immigration.  This is a weird topic to me, and I disagree with pretty much everybody on it.  I like to think this is because the “views” presented today in media are extreme caricatures that misrepresent the issue.

 

Americans Like Multiplying

What I find really, really bizarre about the form the topic has taken today is that we seem to have forgotten that we have always been about Americans promoting American values and inviting more people to become Americans because that has a net result of more Americans.  More little flags in more little yards.  More workers for more jobs.  More democracy.  More voices singing quaint little patriotic songs as eagles soar overhead.  Remember when we were all about anybody and everybody packing up and coming over because even if your life to this point sucked — especially if it sucked — we’d take you in because once you become an American, we’ll make you awesome?

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

The idea has always been that every incoming immigrant is just a new American in the making, a proud new convert to the world’s shining city on a hill.

I honestly can’t imagine any modern context employing the words “wretched refuse” that wouldn’t end with building a wall.  Today, we’re trying to make America great “again”, which is confusing given that…

 

Isn’t the U.S. of A. the Cat’s Pajamas?

Or, to borrow a phrase I hear over and over again on a certain conservative talk radio show, “the greatest nation on God’s green Earth”?  (As an aside, how can it not be great and be the greatest simultaneously?)  I grew up being led to believe we’re kind of a big deal.  We’re the leader of the free world.  Home of the American Dream.  Big houses with picket fences.  Home-runs and hamburgers and 401k’s and everyone has two Hummers in their driveway…

Yet we get pissed off because other people want to bail and head over our way?  Heaven forbid someone want to live a better life here.  And for those especially desperate, given their far worse states in extremely non-American lesser countries devoid of flashy little flags in front yards, can we blame them for throwing caution to the wind and trying to make it into the Dream however fastest they can, be it legal or not?  Would you not be tempted to fudge the rules if you were stuck on the other side?  How is it we’re not excited about how flipping eager they are to abandon their homeland and slap “made in America” on their foreheads?

That’s not to say I’m proposing we go “screw it, anything goes now”.

 

You Can’t Ignore Laws

We can’t ignore laws.  If we could, then we could just will-nilly do whatever we darn well pleased, because the words of the law would just be arbitrary letters on paper, such as the letters on the paper of “8 U.S. Code § 1182 – Inadmissible aliens“:

An alien present in the United States without being admitted or paroled, or who arrives in the United States at any time or place other than as designated by the Attorney General, is inadmissible.

That one sentence is really what the whole mess boils down to.  That is the letter of the law and that law is settled, so we have to obey it.  That’s how laws work.  So if someone crosses the border in any way other than that which is “designated by the Attorney General” (which is to say, dudes in suits), then they have broken the law, and can’t hang out with us.

But wait!  That law is unjust, deporting parents and breaking up families, you racist fascist!  Well, hold on, that’s jumping the gun.  I said that’s the law and we have to enforce the law else laws mean nothing.  I didn’t say it was right.  As the infamous Edward Snowden would be quick to remind you, legal does not always mean moral.

What we can’t do is expect law enforcers to just pretend this law doesn’t exist.  What we can do is debate the moral rightness/wrongness of the law, then advocate for changing that law if necessary.  You can push for the judicial branch to strike down the law or the legislative branch to change the law.  Is that fair to illegal immigrants here?  No.  Do I wish it was?  Yes.  Does anyone care what I think?  No chance in hell.  You have to change the law; ignoring it is not a solution.

 

The Law is a Mess

I propose the heart of the problem is that the system for becoming a legal immigrant is a mess of red tape and hoops to jump through.  To get your big move rubber-stamped by the powers that be may very well take thousands of dollars and years of waiting.  So, honestly, do you blame someone, who’s current neighborhood challenge is staying alive, when they conclude they can’t wait that long and afford that much?  How in the world do we expect “the homeless, the tempest-tossed” to fork up that kinda funding and just hang tight a “few” years?  Are we going to propose changing the saying on our iconic statue, and if so, isn’t that the exact opposite of being conservative?

Has it occurred to anyone that perhaps we would have fewer illegal immigrants if we made legal immigration reasonably accessible?  Do you stay patient waiting at the DMV?

I’m not saying go all crazy with open borders so people can just run on over on a whim, but isn’t expecting them to win a bureaucratic war of attrition a little bit much?  Is that really the only two options on the table nowadays?

Why aren’t we encouraging folks to be anxious and eager to become Americans?

 

Make America Peppy Again

The whole motto of the current President, “Make America Great Again”, is the dumbest pile of bologna to come along in a while in that it’s literally the exact opposite of what we needed to hear.  The conservative Republicans of old were all about telling you how freaking amazing our country is.  They would point to the “flood” of “illegals” and say, “See?  We’re so awesome, they can’t even wait to get here legally!”

No one’s saying that.

That’s the problem.

 

Update 02/10 – I felt it worth adding a disclaimer in case my writing skill failed to imply the message accurately.  If any of the language here strikes you as particularly ‘Murican’ or nationalistic, it’s sarcasm.  I was trying to speak, with a bit of hyperbole, from a point of view I grew up drenched in during the 80’s. 

 

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