A couple of thoughts on improving the Gun Debate

We have witnessed yet another horrific mass-shooting (of children!) in this country.  As with each previous atrocity, people are crying loudly for politicians and elected leaders to "do something" about guns.

The talking heads in the media will repeat the calls to "do something", yet it will remain very unclear exactly what that "something" is.  Lack of specificity and over-generalizations have continuously poisoned this debate.  In response to this lack of clarity about what is to be done gun-rights supporters will "fill in the blank" with their own worst fears ("they are going to ban the very gun I was hoping to buy) and rush to the stores to buy up ever more firearms.

This is perfectly predictable because the past is a strong predictor of the future.

Also predictably, gun-rights advocacy groups will use the lack of clarity in calls to "do something" to spread fears of gun bans and raise even more money to push even harder for an absolute "all or nothing" notion of gun rights.

What is a thoughtful person to do?

I commend to you two very good articles that have been circulating since the recent shooting that are worth pondering.

1) There is a Way to Stop Mass Shootings (and You Won't Like It)
As a Christian, I think this piece hits the nail on the head (and it has little or nothing to do with guns or legislation - it has to do with loving the unloved).

2) Gun Reform: Speaking the Truth to Bull$hit, Practicing Civility, and Effecting Change
I remain very concerned with the poor quality of public discourse in this country: over-generalizations, false dichotomies, assumptions, and "fake news" seem to drown out or shout down nuanced and thoughtful reasoning.  This piece looks at just a few ways that happens when we try to talk about guns and gun violence.

Now I'll lay my cards on the table.  I am a 2nd Amendment supporter and a gun-owner.
Yet I also believe that there are common sense gun regulations and compromises for the sake of public safety that could and should be considered by lawmakers.

We will never, however, be able to reach those compromises and new regulations so long as both the left and the right reflexively reach for lines of argument that are, at best, unhelpful, and at worst foolish.

On the Left, people immediately work with the logic that "if we could reduce the numbers of guns or the access to guns, we would reduce gun crime and gun deaths."  This is no doubt true.  Followed to its logical conclusion it means, "if we could reduce the number of guns to 0, we would have 0 gun crime."  This is also logically true.  But it is totally unhelpful in actually reducing gun violence; it is analogous to saying "if we could reduce the number of automobiles to 0, then we would eliminate automobile deaths in this country."
It is logically sound, but it is not grounded in reality.

The Constitution, as consistently interpreted by the Supreme Court, gives US citizens the right to keep long guns and hand guns for sporting and self-defense.  That is not going to change.
Yet suppose that gun-control advocates really could repeal the 2nd Amendment; even still history has taught us that simply legislating prohibition not only fails, it invariably leads to more crime and violence.  Just look at the Prohibition of alcohol in the early 20th Century, or the War on Drugs that has dragged on for decades.  How did all that work out for us?

Prohibiting a product that people are long accustomed to enjoying simply does not work in "the land of the free."
Yet any time there is a mass shooting, the first response from leaders on the left seems always to be the same: "get rid of the guns."

Being an intellectually lazy people, accustomed to "sound bite" public discourse, we love "silver bullets" and simple solutions to complex problems.

The other issue I often see with gun-control advocates is that they often don't seem to know much about guns.  This is not surprising; if you don't like guns, you probably don't spend a lot of time at the range handling one (if you did, you might start to like them).  Yet, how can you craft thoughtful legislation, that takes into account the different types of firearms and how gun owners use them, when you know almost nothing about it all?
Gun-rights advocates frequently encounter gross ignorance on the part of those calling for more gun-control (including elected officials), like the many calls to ban "automatic weapons" which are, for all practical purposes, already banned for the average citizen; or again the frequent and loud calls by liberals to ban "assault weapons", and yet when those same liberals are asked what an assault weapon is, they either cannot give any meaningful description at all, or describe a weapon that either does not exist or is already banned. Even many of the characteristics targeted by the Clinton ban of the 90s have absolutely no impact on the actual performance or power of the weapons in question.  This ignorance not only makes Gun-owners roll  their eyes, it also serves to feed the fears of gun-owners that the gun-control advocates really do not care one bit about their culture or concerns.

Even the word "ban" itself is unhelpfully ambiguous: are we talking about banning new sales (as did the Clinton Gun ban of the 90s), or actually confiscating millions upon millions of weapons already in the hands of law abiding citizens?  The rhetorical ambiguity itself leaves room for fear and polarization to grow.

On the Right, the faulty thinking is just as bad, if not worse.  At least the position of the left is logically sound as an abstraction within a theoretical vacuum.  The position by many gun-rights advocates is at best a logical fallacy, and at worst it amounts to fear-mongering.  Many Gun-rights advocacy groups and enthusiasts hold to an absolutist, all-or-nothing approach: Even the tiniest step in the direction toward gun-control (such as banning "bump stocks" or high capacity magazines) will inevitably lead to a scenario where "they" are coming to "take your guns" (and who knows what else "they" will take while "they" are at it).

But appeals to fear will accomplish nothing good in the long run.  They not only shut down meaningful debate, but also could potentially lead to violence.
Furthermore, this line of thinking ignores the facts: we have regulated other powerful and potentially dangerous products (such as automobiles, computers, or pharmaceuticals) without stumbling our way into an all-out ban; there is no logically necessary reason why we could not do the same with firearms.

Gun rights supporters will object that possession of these other items is not constitutionally protected; and that is correct.  Yet the state can and does put some reasonable limits on our Constitutional Rights when there is a compelling public safety interest (for example, yelling "fire!" in a crowded theater is not protected "free speech" under the First Amendment).

Gun owners and 2nd Amendment supporters love to say, "Guns don't kill people; people do."  And this is true...but it is not the whole truth.  The whole truth is that, yes, people will and do kill others regardless of what weapons are available...but it is also true that it is simply a whole lot easier to  kill someone with a firearm than it is with a knife or a hammer or even a truck.  Guns don't kill people in and of themselves...but they do make it easier for bad actors to do so, and that is why some sort of regulation is a legitimate public interest.  Those of us who own guns have to be intellectually honest about this.

On the other hand, those on the left (particularly those who do not care to own guns, and would themselves be unaffected by gun-purchase restrictions), should keep in mind that any restriction on another citizen's rights, as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, is a very serious and weighty business; such moves and their ramifications (including the precedents they set for future restrictions of other rights in the Bill of Rights) ought to be thought through extremely carefully.  Certainly such considerations ought to include educating one's self about firearms and wading beyond bumper sticker slogans into the real details.

There can be a thoughtful give and take between the legitimate concerns of gun-control advocates and the legitimate concerns of gun-rights advocates.  But that will only happen if the Left and the Right can put down their dead-end arguments long enough to have a fruitful conversation.

I believe there could indeed be some meaningful improvements to current laws (and enforcement) when it comes to back-ground checks, mental health screenings, magazine capacity limits, introducing safe storage requirements (most gun homicides are accidents or suicides, not murders) and minimal training requirements for gun owners.
I believe we should ban new sales of "bump stocks" and I'm open to states imposing higher age limits on purchases, especially if there is evidence that this improves safety.
For reasons already mentioned, I do not support an "assault weapons ban", though I'm open to a conversation about whether certain types of weapons purchases should or could be subject to greater scrutiny somehow.

I think, beyond gun regulations, a great deal more could be done to improve school safety, including a serious re-thinking of "gun-free zones," which have proven to be a magnet for mass-shooters (who are, by definition, cowards).

While I do believe that there are some legal measures that could be taken to improve gun safety in this country, I seriously doubt if any gun-related measures in and of themselves will dramatically reduce crime or eliminate mass shootings, because these things are not fueled simply by access to guns.  They are also fueled by moral collapse, economic hardships, spiritual isolation, family breakdown, the drug epidemic and mental health crises that are currently devastating many of our communities.

Those are the issues that must seriously be addressed; they are daunting and it is clear at the outset that those problems do not admit of "quick fixes," nor can we legislate solutions to spiritual problems.  We need a spiritual solution.

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