Forgive me. This morning, around thirty people were killed when a shooter entered an elementary school in Connecticut, going from room to room and shooting 5-to-8-year-old kids execution style. While this is a show and a blog about marijuana prohibition, it is also an opportunity for a discussion outside the standard right/left dichotomy in politics. For in the cannabis community, beside our common love of marijuana and hatred of prohibition, we are representing just about every other demographic in America. We are black, white, straight, gay, old, young, single, married, religious, atheist, male, female, Republican, Democrat… we are more diverse than just about any online community.
It’s also nigh impossible for me to process emotion without writing it out. So if you want to avoid a big diatribe about guns in our society, skip this post and find something else to read.
To begin: I like guns. Growing up in Idaho, my grandpa and uncles were all hunters. I still remember granddad’s gun cabinet with six rifles / shotguns and a few pistols. Yet I can tell you that to this day, I have never actually touched one of grandpa’s guns, because a) they were always locked up in that cabinet and b) he was the only one allowed to use his guns.
At age twelve I took my first hunter safety education course. Later that year, dad and I were out in the hinterlands shooting cans with my first .22 rifle. I even hunted big game once, but hunting never interested me – not from a love for Bambi, but just because it’s fucking boring traipsing around a cold forest all day. At age seventeen I joined the National Guard and got to fire M-16’s on full auto (and lob a grenade! fun!). By age twenty-one I was attending Sergeant’s School and got to tote around and fire an M-60 machine gun with live rounds.
So before we go too far, understand that I’m no hyper-liberal “ban all guns!” type (that’s Kaliko). In fact, I actually would allow law-abiding citizens to have some guns, like fully automatic weapons, that are currently banned.
But where I and folks derisively referred to as “gun nuts” (a term I despise, I prefer “gun fans”) seem to diverge is on that “well-regulated” part of the Second Amendment. Sure, I’d let you have an M-60, but the permitting, licensing, registration, and annual renewals I’d institute would be tougher to navigate than getting a Manhattan building permit. Why is it that we have one guy try to light a shoe bomb on a plane and I have to take off my shoes, another guy tries a printer bomb, so I have to take out my laptop, others try liquid bombs, so I have to not carry any liquids over 3oz when I fly, one dude’s got an underwear bomb and I have to go through the Rape-I-Scanner… but 31 school shootings since Columbine and we make guns easier to get.
However, every time you try to engage the discussion of some stricter gun regulations, gun fans will accuse you of wanting to ban all guns. And then the tropes start popping up:
- “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns!” – Well, no, only outlaws, cops, and the military would have guns. And then, anyone with a gun could be arrested immediately. Not that I’m suggesting this, but saying “only outlaws will have guns” doesn’t convince many people, because it’s the outlaws with guns we already fear.
- “Criminals won’t follow gun laws!” – Of course, they’re criminals. So, what, we don’t bother to make it tougher in any way? Criminals won’t obey traffic laws, either, but by licensing drivers, requiring operator testing and regular renewals and testing, creating “street-legal” design laws, requiring safety belts and airbags, and creating traffic laws that the vast majority follow, we have reduced traffic deaths and made it easier to catch the people breaking traffic laws.
- “Crazy people will just find another way to kill people – it’s the crazy, not the gun!” – Sure, they could, for instance, drive a truck full of fertilizer bomb up next to a federal building and blow it up. How many times has that happened while 31+ school / mall / theater shootings happened? Or they could go on a mass knifing spree, like in China. Or maybe strap on an IED. But given there are crazies and given that we’re less likely to address public health care than gun regulation, shouldn’t we start reducing crazies’ killing options?
- “If others were armed, they could have taken out the shooter” – Well, we already have a country where people are allowed to be armed, so why aren’t these Dirty Harrys stepping up? (Because they’re obeying the “no gun zones”? Why should they, if they really believe this?) And how many of the 5-to-8-year-olds need to be packing in class to stop the next shooter? Oh, just the teachers and staff should be packing? How well trained are they with firearms? Wouldn’t it be easier to just have armed guards at every public entrance to every public building?
- “Maybe these shooters go off because they know there’s no one to shoot back in a ‘gun-free zone'” – This is the “deterrent” trope – criminals wouldn’t shoot up malls, theaters, and schools if they know there are citizens with guns there. Except that almost all these shooters end it with a self-inflicted gunshot, so I fail to see how “possibly getting shot” deters them any, especially the ones wearing body armor. (Many of the people for this trope are also fans of ‘concealed carry’. So how is that deterrent if we don’t know anyone has a gun? You want deterrent, wear ’em openly, six-gun style!)
- “2nd Amendment!!!” – Yes, we have an individual right to “keep and bear arms” and it “shall not be infringed.” You know what else we have? A 1st Amendment right to speech, religion, assembly, and the press. But if I want to use my speech, there are some words and acts I can’t say and do in some situations (e.g. “Fuck you, you fucking fucks” as the closer for the Evening News is right out. Remember Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl Nipple? Outrage!). If I want to build a church, there are a whole bunch of building permits and zoning and code I have to abide by. I can’t just gather a million people on the Capitol Mall without a permit. I can’t start broadcasting my pirate radio signal without dealing with the FCC. But much of those protected First Amendment rights are harder to implement than it is for a crazy person to get his hands on a gun. “Shall not be infringed” in the 2nd is a lot like “Congress shall make no law” in the 1st; it does not mean “shall not be regulated”, especially considering the first half of the 2nd mentions a “well-regulated Militia”. (Plus, I’d love to know the stats on public mass shootings circa 1776-1789, so we can know exactly what understanding of that context the Founders had.)
- “We have a 2nd Amendment to beat back a tyrannical gov’t!” – Great! So, how well did all those guns stop the Patriot Act, workplace drug testing, warrantless wiretapping, the NDAA, and other examples of gov’t tyranny? Ask a busted pot farmer or Bradley Manning how well those guns beat back a tyrannical government. And then after you’ve finished cleaning your AR-15, watch this rad-r.us/Y2rXrM and this rad-r.us/Y2rYfp and this rad-r.us/Y2rXrN and explain how your AR-15 beats those back. Unless you think “bear arms” in the 2nd includes tactical nukes, predator drones, and anti-aircraft batteries, we’re fucked if the “tyrannical government” wants us.
- “Kennesaw, Georgia, has mandatory gun ownership and their crime plummeted!” Other than the fact that it hasn’t, explain to me how the low crime rates of a bedroom suburb of Atlanta with a population of 30,000 and a median family income of $75,000 inform us in any way about inner city Chicago gun deaths or how this would stop a suicidal school shooter?
- “In China, dudes have been going crazy and knifing people! Should we ban knives?” One thing you’ll find in any extended discussion of guns in America are its supporters playing reductio ad absurdum with everything else but guns and everywhere else but America. We should ban knives and cars and crowbars and anything else people can kill people with, they’ll argue. Problem is, knives, cars, and crowbars have legitimate “not killing people” purposes. Guns do not.
- “Switzerland has mandatory firearms ownership and low gun deaths!” – Yes, and every man is conscripted into the military and trained extensively with that weapon. Plus, Switzerland has been moving away from having people keep them in the homes and placing them in depots.
- “It’s just our culture saturated with glorifying violence like (insert video game or movie here).” – So we’re the warrior race? We’re just doomed to the occasional bullet spraying because that’s just how we roll? Given that we are a people who love first-person shooters and torture porn fantasies, maybe we ought not have guns and ammo available at the Wal-Mart? There is a kernel of truth to this, but like Trope #3, what do you think is more achievable, tighter gun regulation or remaking a 400-year-old culture of gun fetishists? (Like Trope #3, it’s a rhetorical question; we won’t do shit about either.)
- “Gun bans won’t work any better than drug prohibition!” – I suppose if guns and ammo grew naturally out of the ground this trope would make sense. But guns are something that must be manufactured. Sure, home gunsmiths might pull it off, but your average school-shooting crazy isn’t likely to also be a gunsmith or know one.
As a drug reform blog, the comparisons of “gun control” to drug prohibition piss me off the most. The apt drug comparison would be quaaludes (remember ludes?) Quaaludes are a chemical pharmaceutical that is difficult to manufacture. They used to be a very popular recreational drug, until the government cracked down on the suppliers of quaaludes’ precursor chemicals and strictly monitored the manufacturers. Now, you might get a prescription for ludes if you really need it, but finding them on the street is exceptionally rare.
Another apt drug comparison to the opposite extreme would be Oxycontin. Another drug that is a chemical pharmaceutical and very difficult for civilians to manufacture. Since it is a Schedule II drug, the DEA controls exactly how much is allowed to be manufactured in the United States. Since 1996, the DEA has green-lit an increase of 1,200% in oxycodone manufacturing, the excuse being “you have to be cautious not to restrict the quota to the point that when the legitimate parties go to the pool, all the fish haven’t been taken out by the illegitimate parties.” That’s right, the DEA allows over-manufacture of oxy so after all the black market users get theirs, there will still be enough for the law-abiding users. Thus, we have an exploding epidemic of Oxycontin abuse.
Hmm, we cut down on manufacture of ludes and now we can’t find them on the street. We increased manufacture of oxy, and now it is ubiquitous on the street. Is there a lesson there for gun policy?
From a 2nd Amendment standpoint, this would be the Constitutional way to deal with the issue. We have the right to “keep and bear arms”, ain’t nothing in there about “buy and sell arms”. In fact, interstate commerce (as we pot smokers know) is a very broad tool the government could use to deal with manufacture and sales of firearms. Also, there’s nothing in the 2nd Amendment about the right to ammunition (maybe Chris Rock’s routine on “bullet control – make ’em all cost $5,000 apiece” – is apropos here).
So why not this: you’re allowed to keep and bear all the arms you like. But when you buy a gun, it’s yours for life. Its serial number (or RFID) is matched to your Social Security Number. You’re required to submit to annual license renewals including mental health screenings. The only way you can dispose of it is at a gov’t center where it will be melted down. And most important, you are ultimately responsible for any harm caused by your gun. Perhaps even a mandatory “gun insurance” is in order. Someone gets shot or killed by your gun, you go on trial as an accessory. You better damn well keep it locked up! Only if you can show the gun was stolen from you despite your due diligence locking it up and you reported it missing immediately are you absolved from being an accessory (the shooter in Clackamas just grabbed the AR-15 of his friend who had obviously not secured it well enough.)
Now, I can already hear the “criminals wouldn’t bother to follow those laws!” screeching from the gun fans. Right, they’d have to go to the black market, where guns are far rarer, since people are now locking them up better and fewer of them are out on the open market. We all agree that nothing will stop a murdering lunatic from getting a gun if he’s really dedicated to the idea; the question is how easy should we make it for the less-dedicated lunatics?
I’d like to think that we are all equally saddened by dead kids massacred by gun-toting crazies. But the only solution offered by some gun fans is more guns. Arm everybody! Right, when cops that are well-trained in chaotic shooting situations miss their target more often than hit it, let’s add a bunch of untrained civilians and more bullets to the mix.
And it’s not as if the US is the only place with crazies and guns. How is it we are far-and-away the leaders in this statistic of gun deaths? There is nothing we can learn from other societies? When the nut shot up people at the campground in Norway, that was a once-in-a-generation shock for the Norwegians. Here, it is a once-a-month phenomenon, so numbed and jaded we are to the body count that two dead in Clackamas Mall just two days ago is passé (and lead to horrible Twitter jokes about “60 shots and just 2 kills? You’ll never make my Call of Duty squad!”)
I don’t have the answers. I would just like a better conversation beyond “no gun control!” on one side and “ban all guns!” on the other.