Michael J. Thom Father. Nerd. Race fan. Musician.


Poorly Organized Thoughts on Guns and Society

So I've been fairly quiet on social media lately… well actually, not just lately -- always. I am indeed a consumer of social media and not much of a publisher, you could say.

But also it's in part because rarely does a social media post about any controversial issue accomplish anything other than further deepening the reader's existing inclinations. And most often, it spurs division among people who might have a reasonable conversation in person, but who happily resort to extremes and straw man arguments with the anonymity or at least separation afforded them by interacting via a web browser or an app.

However, even if for mere catharsis, I've felt compelled to commit a few [Editor's note: gazillion] words to page. Feel free to agree or disagree with me, and to comment below or not comment. If you want to grab a beer and talk through this stuff, I'd love that. But I'm not likely to engage online with anything other than genuine, factual discrepancies.

With all those disclaimers said, I want to discuss some things that have been in my mind lately. As you've probably guessed, it's mostly related to the murder of students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, on Valentine's Day.

The Rhetoric.

From both sides. Is Everytown’s “18th school shooting in the U.S. in 2018” statistic misleading? Yes. But does it matter? No. Spending one's proverbial breath writing an entire post about why it’s wrong and trust me things aren’t that bad is MISSING THE POINT. To explain away a statistic like that is to belittle the school shootings that really do fit that label, whether it's actually 15, or 10, or 5. If that number is greater than zero, it's too many.

And while reasonable people can disagree on how to reduce (or eliminate!?) this statistic, it doesn't help anyone achieve anything to continue debating points that don't matter. The number of school shootings isn't the point here. Neither is whether an AR-15 is correctly labeled as an "assault rifle" or not. Can it kill many people faster, easier, and more effectively than a handgun, knife, or slappers (a little nod to Goldeneye on N64 there as an attempt at levity...)? Why yes, it can. No matter what label you give it. (More below on that...)

The increasing amount of white noise is making genuine conversations impossible to have. Everything becomes a personal attack, or a straw man argument, or otherwise fails to connect people in a two-sided conversation where both parties are willing to hear the other's standpoint and consider it. This is very not good.

The Constitution.

I’m not going to have a constitutional scholarship discussion here; that’s largely because I am not a constitutional scholar. But also, I don’t think it matters.

First, let’s assume the Founders did imagine a future with smaller, more easily used guns that everyone could and probably would own. Second, let’s maybe even spot them the idea that being able to resist ones tyrannical government was something worth protecting (after all, they had some very recent experience with this!).

But the game has changed. The civilian guns have changed. What the government (via its modern military) is capable of (if we assume they actually would want to turn that might on its citizens) is vastly different than 250ish years ago, as well as vastly more powerful than that of the citizenry. It’s a whole different ball game.

So. The situation has changed. Even if we stick to a “Biblical inerrancy” perspective (whoops wait wrong conversation, I meant Constitutional Originalist), there’s nothing to prevent us from changing it. It’s been done 17 times before, since the Bill of Rights was introduced with the first 10. Since that time, an amendment has been ratified on average about once every 13 years. The last was in 1992. Whether or not a change to the Constitution would be required, it's time we do something regarding reasonable gun legislation, and hanging onto the 2nd Amendment just because it's in the Constitution is useless.

In fact, Thomas Jefferson himself acknowledged the potential for humans to progress in their thinking, becoming more enlightened with new truths and opinions:

But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.

- Letter to Samuel Kercheval, June 12, 1816

The Guns.

Okay, I love guns. Or maybe in truth, I used to. That's changing in me. But the physical things are quite cool. They're interesting technology. They are super fun to shoot. The challenge of getting better at target practice and other techniques is exhilarating. And, if I'm being honest, they make you feel powerful. They make you feel important, and capable. I'm not so sure those last ones are good things, but I can say from firsthand experience they have this effect.

And in theory I still like the idea of protecting oneself and one's family from bad actors, particularly in one's own home. However, when I think of "reasonable gun control" I think of things such as how easy it is to acquire a gun in most states, certainly here in Indiana. It is literally easier to buy a gun than get a driver's license or register a car, or to apply for a loan with most institutions, or adopt a rabbit. And while you might argue that owning a gun is the only item on that list that's protected by the Constitution (see above for whether or not I think that actually matters to the discussion), there are plenty of rights, such as freedom of speech, that, while protected, are also limited in many reasonable ways. Gun ownership simply has to be one of these things. "But it's already limited! Background checks! Etc.!" you say. And I say, 17 people died in a high school this week. I GUESS IT'S NOT LIMITED ENOUGH.

Also, the AR-15. Ah, what a nice piece of kit. Many have rails on all four sides of the barrel. Space to mount red-dot sights, laser scopes, lights, bayonets, and all kinds of other toys. Magazine capacities of 15, 30, and more. Collapsible stocks. Slings. And so forth. I don't own one, but there was a time that I wanted to, but just couldn't afford it. They are tons of fun!

But they also aren't a "personal protection" weapon. You can't carry one and conceal it. Without special ammo they're horrible at over-penetration (i.e. shooting through WAY more than you would want to, endangering the people around you even if you think you're just shooting the bad guy). Further, while not as big as using a shotgun to defend your home, they're much bigger to wield in (likely) close quarters.

A quick note about whether it counts as an "automatic" weapon. An automatic weapon just means a gun that reloads itself. The term automatic encompasses both "full-auto" (as in pull the trigger once, hold it down, and get lots of rounds fired), as well as "semi-automatic" (which is one shot per trigger squeeze). Both sides of this argument misuse the term: the Left uses it to make the AR-15 sound more exciting than it is, and the Right to make it sound like automatic weapons are already illegal for citizens to purchase. Nope, only full-auto.

Anyway, what the AR-15 does do super well, and better than any handgun, is make a newbie much more likely to hit his targets. And that's why they are so much more lethal when used in a mass shooting scenario than handguns, or knives, or baseball bats… Yes, you can kill with anything. But you can kill easier and faster with a gun, especially a long gun that's literally designed to help the military kill with more precision.

I'm not okay with that. Especially when those targeted have so often been among the most vulnerable in our society. Are you okay with that?

The Other Factors.

Many on the Right say it's not guns, it's bad people. Or it's mental illness. Or it's a lack of follow-through by local and federal law enforcement to act on tips. These are all valid, and some are true in many of the most notable shootings. I don't want to invalidate efforts to improve mental health awareness and remove societal stigmas that may be keeping people from getting help. Or organizations who are trying to reach out to at-risk youth. Or cities who are making actual strides in improving poverty and equality for those outside of the privilege I (and probably most of you, my readers) enjoy.

But. All these shootings have one, obvious thing in common -- a gun. Nearly always legally-acquired. So don't tell me "criminals will still get a gun" -- most of these people got their guns through typical, legal means. Making this process more difficult -- or perhaps, completely impossible for the types of guns we've been talking about -- would absolutely make a dent in the frequency and extent to which mass murders occur in the U.S.

This problem is uniquely American. I'm not enough of a social scientist to even begin writing about the social norms that have developed in the US that might be also contributing to these behaviors. But it is undeniable that more guns equals more gun deaths, both homicide and suicide. As one who considers myself pro-life, this bothers me. I want people to live not just before and through childbirth, but for as long as possible.

Why is the US so screwed up, and what can we do about it? I don't have final, clear, easy-to-implement answers. Clearly, nobody does. But I know we must do something, and I am more than willing to put aside any remaining personal affinity for guns if it means even the slightest chance that one fewer kid will die while at school.


Sorry I rambled so much. This really was mostly a dump of my brain. I didn't even say everything I wanted to, because I tried to keep at least a little structure to this. So forgive my writing style. And frankly, I'm impressed if anyone actually reads this at all, especially this far down the page. So uh, digital-high-five! And know that I still love you, dear reader, even if I pissed you off at any point -- or all the points -- above. Just my thoughts! Reasonable people can disagree with much of what I wrote, and I like to think you and I are reasonable people.

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