Understanding the gun debate, part 3
By Massad Ayoob
As noted in the two previous parts of this discussion, one reason it’s hard to maintain honest dialogue on the topic is that so many of the gun prohibitionists simply don’t tell the truth about it. Here is a stark example:
In the September 2016 issue of American Rifleman magazine, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre wrote, "(Hillary Clinton’s) gun-ban website is rife with similar lies about federal law. Try this absurd pledge that Hillary would ‘Make straw purchasing a federal crime. When an individual with a clean record buys a gun with the intention of giving it to a violent felon — only so that felon can avoid a background check — it should be a crime. Hillary will fight to make so-called straw purchases a federal crime.’ As every gun owner in the nation knows, it is already a federal crime!!! A mega crime, which is almost never prosecuted."
The NRA expanded upon this last statement in the September 2016 edition of their magazine America’s 1st Freedom: "… in 2014, of the more than 6,252 illegal firearms Chicago police seized from criminals, Obama’s Justice Department prosecuted less than 1 percent of them under federal laws. And Chicago is not alone."
The Democratic Party has made "gun control" into a plank in its platform for some time, and larger than ever in the most recent Presidential election. Let’s look at some remarks from the highest profile Democrats in recent months.
In the same issue of America’s 1st Freedom just cited, Professor John Lott wrote, "While Donald Trump has called to end gun-free zones, Hillary Clinton, speaking in the aftermath of the Orlando atrocity, dismissed the idea as ‘reckless’ and as evidence that her opponent is ‘temperamentally unfit’ to be president. Other Democrats have chimed in. President Obama, in his prepared remarks after the shootings at Pulse, announced, ‘The notion that the answer to this tragedy would be to make sure that more people in a nightclub are similarly armed to the killer defies common sense.’ Bill Clinton asserted that if someone had a permitted concealed handgun at the Pulse nightclub, ‘it is likely that more people would have been killed.’"
Professor Lott continues, "But there are dozens of cases, most in the last five years, in which concealed handgun permit holders stopped mass public shootings. Last year, these cases occurred in such places as a busy sidewalk in Chicago, a volunteer fire department having a children’s day in South Carolina, a barbershop in Philadelphia, a store in Conyers, Ga., and a street in Winton, Ohio. In not one of all these cases did a permit holder accidentally shoot an innocent bystander. Nor did the police accidentally shoot these heroes upon arriving at the scene."
It should not be overlooked that the Obama administration has publicly excoriated the "militarization of police" and took measures to shut off surplus military vehicles formerly made available to police departments. Yet it was a vehicle of that type that the Orlando Police Department finally used when they breached the walls of the Pulse nightclub and rescued what hostages they could, killing the self-proclaimed follower of ISIS who committed this atrocious mass murder.
Earlier in this series, we’ve had the discussion about the First Responder principle as applied to life-threatening emergencies. We tend to think of the designated professionals — firefighters, emergency medical technicians and paramedics, and cops as the "first responders" to a potentially lethal eruption of flame, a life-threatening medical emergency, or a murderous gunman. But while these are indeed society’s designated first responders, in reality, ordinary citizens and potential victims already there at the scene when the crisis arises are often the de facto first responders.
It is they who scoop up a fire extinguisher and smother the blaze while it’s still confined to the stove top, and keep it from spreading into a conflagration that burns down the entire house and kills everyone inside. It is they who snatch the AED off its bracket on the office wall and kick-start the cardiac arrest victim’s heart in a time span when brain death occurs in as little as three minutes after the heart stops beating, while the EMS rescue vehicle may be more than 10 minutes away.
The armed citizen stopping a mass murderer works in exactly the same fashion, utilizing a firearm as an emergency safety-rescue tool that stops the life-threatening situation as soon as it begins. The defensive firearm is a direct analog to the fire extinguisher or the Automatic Electronic Defibrillator. But, in each case, the citizen/rescuer needs to have the appropriate tool for the task.
The Pulse massacre went down in Florida, where it is against the law to carry a handgun in a place of business (such as a nightclub) that earns more than half of its income from selling alcohol by the drink, presumably to be consumed on premises. This is true even if the citizen in question is one of the more than 1.3 million men and women licensed to carry loaded, concealed handguns in the state of Florida, and has zero "alcohol on board."
Let’s suppose instead that the ISIS-worshiping jihadi who shot down all those helpless people had tried the same thing in a similar establishment in, say, Arizona. A permit-holder in Arizona is allowed to carry a concealed handgun in a drinking establishment there, so long as he or she does not partake of any alcohol themselves. Think "designated driver," only with a gun as well as a safe ride home. Had the murderous coward of Orlando opened fire in such an Arizona bar, it is reasonable to expect that in moments, one or more of those permit holders would have become "designated protector" — designated by circumstances — and shot him down like the mad dog he was. But there was no such person inside Pulse in Orlando, and 49 innocent people lost their lives.
By contrast, there has been no case where an armed citizen has opened fire on a mass murderer and shot a bystander by mistake.
When a past President, a sitting President, and a Presidential candidate assiduously ignore reality and logic as in this matter, and all are well-known for stridently calling for bans on weapons in the hands of law-abiding citizens, it is no surprise that they also all belong to the same political party. Nor is it surprising that they mouth that party’s line on the topic.
What about background checks?
In recent years, the anti-gun side of the debate has confounded the public with arguments for the concept of Universal Background Checks. To the general public caught between the two poles of advocacy in this debate, a background check to buy a weapon seems to make common sense. Concomitantly, it would seem that the NRA was unreasonably obstinate in opposing the UBC.
Until one "looks at the fine print."
Under some UBC schemes that have been proposed:
• Your children would need background checks to inherit your firearms after you depart. (An adult offspring who had been adjudicated mentally incompetent or convicted of a felony would already, long since, have been violating the law to be in possession of a gun).
• A background check would be required for you to lend a rifle or shotgun to your best friend, brother, or next door neighbor for a hunting trip … and another for you, when you take it back.
• If you were to drop your gun at the gunsmith shop for repair, unless he could fix it on a "while you wait" basis, you would have to sign over possession to him: a "transfer," legally speaking.
• Every such transfer would have to go through a Federal Firearms License (FFL) dealer. This might require an unduly burdensome long trip, and not just for those who live in the remote backwoods: FFL dealers are thin on the ground in such metropolitan areas as New York City, the city of San Francisco, and the city of Chicago.
• Every such transfer requires significant paperwork. The FFL holder has to charge for her time and that of her staff. It is time that would be more profitably spent selling merchandise, and many would be motivated to increase the charge for doing the background check and handling the transfer. After all, it doesn’t involve a gun they are selling to you and making a profit on. The charge might go as high as $100 per gun, according to some who have looked at the concept in depth.
Beyond all this, which law-abiding gun owners see as nothing more than spiteful harassment of the law-abiding by gun-hating politicians and lobby groups, there is another simple fact: The background check does not keep criminals from getting guns. They steal them. They can manufacture their own crude firearms. They can smuggle them. They can buy them on the black market.
By virtually every estimate, there are well over 300 million guns in the United States at present. They are the ultimate "durable goods." You can discard an old refrigerator at the dump, but where does one "throw away" a deadly weapon where it can’t be found by a child or criminal who will do something horrible with it? You probably don’t know anyone who keeps their food in their great-grandparents’ icebox, nor many people who drive their great-grandparents’ automobiles … but there are a great many people, particularly in rural areas, who still own the heirloom firearms of their great-grandparents. There is no giant electromagnet that will descend from the sky and pick up every firearm. They remain, and occasionally get stolen. Heroin has once again become an epidemic drug of abuse in this country, even though the opium poppy cannot be cultivated within the borders of the continental United States. Does anyone seriously believe that universal background checks will be a significant impediment to the acquisition of deadly weapons by determined criminals?
Finally, a great many of the mass murderers who create the lakes of blood that prohibitionists are wont to dance in have managed to get through life without being processed by the criminal justice machine, and have no criminal records. Confidentiality laws can keep the authorities from learning of profound psychological problems, and those who suffer from such may not show up in the record checks. The monster who killed the Pulse victims had been investigated by the FBI for terroristic leanings, yet still passed a background check to acquire his murder weapons. In short, it is unlikely that background checks will stop mass murderers.
In the Presidential race of 2016, the Democrats’ primary came down to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Mrs. Clinton is unquestionably the most anti-gun White House-seeker in history, while Mr. Sanders was comparatively neutral on the topic … until the race. Deciding that her base was the far left solidly occupied by the self-identified Socialist Sanders, Mrs. Clinton sought the one area where she was even farther to port than he, and emphasized it: "gun control." She accused him of pandering to an evil gun lobby because he had voted against federal legislation that would have made firearms manufacturers civilly liable for crimes committed with guns.
A clearly rattled Bernie Sanders waffled on his previous position, thereby forfeiting whatever respect gun owners’ civil rights activists might have had for him. Let’s look at that for a moment, from a philosophical perspective.
When a child pornographer is arrested and convicted, no one considers suing Nikon or Canon or Sony because they made the cameras he used in the crime. When a drunk driver wipes out the proverbial station wagon full of nuns, no one thinks to sue General Motors or Volkswagen for manufacturing the vehicle he happened to be driving, nor bring suit against Smirnoff or Anheuser-Busch for producing the alcoholic beverages he abused. Yet the gun prohibitionists think it is a holy cause to sue the manufacturers of the firearm the mass murderer used to commit his crimes … the type of firearm used by millions of law-abiding citizens for hunting, target shooting, and protection of their homes, the same type of firearm issued to police to protect the public.
It is so illogical, so hypocritical, that it almost boggles the mind. Yet it is a song to which the prohibitionists march in virtual lockstep.
Guts and brains
A popular pro-gun bumper sticker reads "God, Guns, and Guts Made America Great." It’s a shame there wasn’t an alliterative G-word for "brains" that went along with that, because innovative intelligence and common sense did a lot to make our country great, too.
Debaters seek to win the hearts and minds of those who listen to the debate. "Hearts and minds" is far from a redundant phrase: it encompasses the two distinctly different worlds of emotion and intellect.
In the end, the "gun control debate" is largely one of symbolism versus substance. On the prohibitionists’ side is emotion: "Someone did a hideous thing. They did it with a gun. This makes the gun a symbol of violence and evil. Therefore anyone who wants one must be violent and evil. If we can ban guns we can ban violence and evil. Understanding criminals and penology and the need to balance human rights with the need for the mentally ill to be kept from harming others is altogether too complicated, but banning guns is simple, and we have to do something!"
Unfortunately, the sentiment of "we have to do something" is very, very close to "we have to blame someone, preferably someone we consider it politically correct to blame."
On the law-abiding gun owners’ side is the stark reality of logic — logic which is borne out by history. Citizen first responders are usually the most advantageously placed to handle sudden, rapidly-evolving life-threatening emergencies, but they must be equipped to deal with them.
The prohibitionists parade victims of violence, and their bereaved survivors, to play to emotions. Certainly, those displays are powerful. But among the gun owners, those who have saved their lives and their families’ lives with guns feel every bit as visceral on their side of the issue.
A few years ago, an anti-gun group staged a protest with a few people in a park across the street from the convention center where the National Rifle Association was having its annual conference and members’ meeting. The handful of protesters took turns reading for TV cameras the names of innocent people who had died by gunfire. It was suggested to the NRA that they invite each of their attending members to read aloud just one of the documented incidents in their "Armed Citizen" series of ordinary people who had saved their lives and others with lawfully-used guns. The line of speakers would have stretched for blocks reading the decades of cases published monthly. For whatever reason, NRA did not follow up on that suggestion.
While emotion runs strong on each side, in the end, logic and reality overwhelmingly favor the position of those who defend the civil rights of armed citizens. If it comes down to gut feeling versus logic, it is wiser to go with our brain than our guts. Check Gray’s Anatomy and see for yourself: our guts are full of feces.
Critical thinking and history, in the end, favor the position of the law-abiding armed citizen.