Friday, February 23, 2018

My gun-toting change of heart

This post reflects my personal opinion and only that. It is not an effort to convince anyone to accept my point of view. It is not intended to be directed at any person I know personally.

I'm done with the gun rights argument. The assassination of concert goers in Las Vegas (where two of my step-cousins were attending) was the straw that broke this camel's back. The shooting in Parkland, Florida where 17 students and staff were killed sealed the deal for me. I can't accept that unlimited rights and access to guns is a legitimate position.

My background is intertwined with guns. I grew up with BB and pellet guns. I have been hunting. I love guns. In college, I was part of a cowboy gunfighting group that performed around Oklahoma. At some level, I wished to have served in the military. I can shoot with some accuracy. I am not afraid of guns. I have field dismantled and reassembled an M-16 and M-60. I would have loved to have owned guns, including assault style weapons, the FN P90 and Steyr AUG. I don't have a problem with guns. They fascinate me. I can get into the joy of collecting and shooting them. This is not about guns.

This is about a culture that has become lost in the freedom of access to weapons. Much as there is a gold fever associated with the discovery of that precious metal, there seems to be a "gun fever" that clouds the thinking.

The argument of "right to bear arms" is not logical, historically accurate, or helpful in the current climate. First, the argument that the 2nd Amendment is a guarantee for individual rights to own and use weapons does bear up with the historical fact that England moved to remove personal weapons from colonists, or at least limit their access to powder. The right to bear arms was a provision directly aimed at limiting the national government from seizing private ownership. This is the most logical point made by the NRA and other lobbyist organizations (and that is what the NRA is now - a political machine for a particular platform). But that is the only argument that has feet to stand upon. But the fear that is drummed up by the organizations that cry "They coming to take our guns" is irrational and not helpful. It fuels emotions that override common sense approaches to this subject.

The counter argument to the 2nd Amendment based on technology is not valid. "The 2nd Amendment was written when guns could only be fired once or twice a minute" has no relevance. This is not about flintlock or muzzle loading technology versus semi-automatic, magazine fed capability. The reality is that the Bill of Rights must be applicable to every level of technology. The right to speech and vote have not been rewritten just because every person has the access to a platform of speech or access to new voting manipulation methods. But there is a counter argument to be offered by realizing that the access of militarized weapons and ammunition by citizens limits the ability of the legal police and military to protect the interests of municipalities, states, and the nation. With anyone having access to semi-automatic weapons and conversion kits to make them closer to automatic weapons, police forces are typically outgunned. I still remember the shoot out in Los Angeles between bank robbers dressed in body armor and using semi-automatic militarized weapons and ammunition. The police officers who responded in the standard operational fashion were already losing ground. Terrorists (domestic, religious, personal) having legal and nearly unrestricted access to those weapons push anarchy as a legitimate state of being; not just personally but as a culture.

"But those are bad people to begin with. We need to limit THEIR access to those." How do you limit access to people who look, act, and talk like everyone else? The signs are not obvious. The systems are not able to fill all of the cracks within it. Radicalized domestic terrorists do not always post their intent in public arenas. Violence is their manifesto because it brings more chaos and fear. Religious terrorists can use the rhetoric of their sacred speech to veil the threats and leave their comments up to interpretation (protected by their freedom of religion and speech). Personal terrorists (those who have gone into schools, public places, businesses; those who are domestic abusers, sociopathic in their mental illness, emotionally unable to cope with negative emotions) are not easy to see until they present themselves in a violent manner. If we as a nation truly wish to limit their access, then we have to make it a tighter system for all people. Terrorists do not necessarily carry an association card or access certain websites. They are property owners with jobs and shop in grocery stores with us.

Some want to say that this is a mental health issue, not a gun issue. As a person who suffers from mental illness, and has friends who work in that field, the label of "mentally ill" is not clear cut. Mental illness cannot be parsed and separated out into dangerous, potentially dangerous, and benign behaviors. Mental illness can move through stages and phases. I do not own many guns (yes, I am a gun owner). I have never felt the need to commit an act of violence or harm against myself, my family, or a stranger. I don't even know that I can commit an act of violence that takes a life against someone who would do harm to me or my family. But that does not mean that when my mental health is not managed, it may not happen. I take precautions to limit access to my weapons. Ammunition is not located in the same place as the weapons. I have gun locks or cables and the keys are not immediately accessible. Am I afraid of myself or someone in my family? No. I am afraid for them. I don't know what happens to make a normal, sane seeming person "snap". But we hear of it happening. Access to weapons increases the chance that something tragic can happen.

I would posit my own argument that gun rights have gone off course. They have gone off course because of 3 things. First, the right to keep and bear arms was written with the expressed intent to maintain a militia. The amendment was written in the ink of the fresh memories of the Revolutionary War. Volunteer units, as well as units of French military, were used to flesh out the Continental Army. Those units were disbanded following the war. Many of the Continental Army were released from service. But Britain was sent home, still smarting from the sting of losing to their colonists. The fear and threat of a return performance was in mind. But the fledgling government could not sustain a standing army capable of providing for the defense of the nation. They had written into the Constitution the provision for the defense of the nation, but there was no realistic way that a standing army could be paid for. The answer lay in the provision of those volunteer units.  But keep in mind, the Continental Army couldn't be provisioned during the war. They were short on supplies. The only logical means to fulfill the Constitutional mandate to provide for the defense of the nation was to provide for a regulated militia that could be called from the populous. Those Minutemen were still needed in those early days, as was seen in 1812, only 21 years after the ratification of the Bill of Rights.

We live in a nation and in states where a well regulated military can be provisioned. The Federal Government regularly debates how much money it can spend on the military. States have National Guard units that can be activated at any time. The argument that a personal militia is necessary flies in the face of the conservative "respect" they have for the military. Our service members are trained, equipped, and disciplined to serve the nation and the states. There is not a need for a civilian militia, contrary to the belief of so many who form themselves up in anti-government oriented organizations. But more on that later.

The rights that are "guaranteed" under the Constitutional Amendments are freedoms that are afforded to all citizens of the United States of America and its designated territories and organizations. Those rights were given, though, to promote the common welfare. They do no represent an effort to promote the welfare of the individual. The Bill of Rights was written to limit the Federal government's power and release some room for individuals to live without fear of too much authority by the government. But those "freedoms" are not the freedom to exact the life an individual wants at the expense of the community, state, or nation's welfare. One person's right or freedom cannot infringe upon another person's right or freedom.
We the People of the United States, in order to from a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The Constitution is about the corporate life of our people as a nation. The individual does not outweigh the communion of citizenry. We stand together. We fall together. We live together. We die together. The best of our nation is all of us. The worst of our nation is all of us.

The grand hypocrisy of gun rights conservatives is that they cry "We are a Republic" pointing to the form of government that we stand together under. Yet when it comes to their right to bear arms or other rights they feel are being infringed upon, we are a democracy and their individual rights override the Union, disrupt the domestic Tranquility, assume the common defence in adequate, demean the general Welfare, and demand the security of their Blessing of Liberty.

Third, the right given to keep and bear arms was brought forward in the memory of a rule that got bigger than itself. What arose was a rebellion, a revolution. It was a movement to undo the power that rested over them and a movement to usurp the rightful authority of the government. The momentum to keep a government in check had not subsided. Even though George Washington was a semi-national hero, he was not loved and admired by all. And many of his vocal opponents saw him having too much power and authority. The Anti-Federalist movement was one that wanted the ability to place a check and balance on the government outside of the Constitutional system. The Bill of Rights is filled with the fear of becoming what was once a reality - a power-hungry despot demanding ultimate allegiance to themselves. The answer was violence.

The ultimate argument for gun control is that we have not risen above our expression of fear and anger through violence.

The world is not getting more peaceful.
The world is not learning to sit down together.
The Kingdom of God is not more evident in the classroom, boardroom, legislative floor, chatroom and social media, or fellowship hall of the church.

Violence is still the answer when fear and anger reach a certain pitch. We are discussing arming teachers to protect students. How can that be an answer? How can we ask a teacher, who has ideally given their life in sacrifice to make the lives of students better, providing for a better tomorrow, to carry the burden of knowing that they ended one of those very lives? How can we ask church attendees to carry a concealed weapon into the earthly representation of a the Kingdom of Peace? How can we live with the weight of knowing that our neighbor who hates a certain race or people has the means to also turn their fear or anger upon us if we do something to spark their ire? How can we believe that our police forces, who know what weapons and mental states that are on the streets, can choose to protect themselves while preserving the lives of innocent, rightfully armed individuals?

I have had all I can take. I stand with those who say that gun violence must end through the limiting of types of weapons and ammunition available to citizens. I stand with those who believe that the NRA and the legislators who take their money and are swayed by their influence have had their day. I stand with those who believe that enough is enough. The death of innocents in public places and schools should be a wake up call. It is the day to say #NeverAgain.