I’m A Little Soft On Gun Control

Was it just me, or did anybody else find President Bush’s statement today about the Virginia Tech shootings to be odd? Basically, the statement mentions his grief, then concludes with the statement that President Bush supports the right to bear arms, but laws have to be followed. WTF? Why choose that moment to flack for the gun lobby? I have to believe most Americans’ would place the “blame” in this instance on the lunatic, not on the two guns he was carrying. Now, if we find out more about the situation, learn that this guy went off the deep end and had easy access to guns in a jurisdiction without a waiting period or something like that, that’s one thing. But you’d have to be a pretty hard-core gun control advocate to say these shootings could have been avoided if only we had stronger gun control.

I guess I have mixed feelings about gun control when you get right down to it. I certainly abhor the NRA, I find all that militia and Waco freak mindset to be frightening in the extreme, and I think guns are far too easy to obtain in this country. But I don’t think there’s much evidence that having more legally-obtained guns leads to more crime, or more gun deaths. At least that hasn’t been the case in Minnesota, which has had a concealed-carry law on the books for a few years now. It was a controversial measure at the time it was implemented; naturally the gun-control advocates said it would increase crime and injuries resulting from guns, while the gun-nut crowd argued it would reduce crime.

As it turned out, neither happened.

Generally speaking, I think it’s a bad idea to have a gun around. I can think of three instances in particular where I happened to be somewhere and someone pulled out a handgun to show off. My immediate reaction was repulsion; I simply don’t want to be around a gun if I don’t have to. (It didn’t help that one of the people involved was Caleb Feeler, a person I had a great time around but didn’t necessarily want to see holding a gun.) But I also had a secondary reaction, which is that I secretly think guns are interesting and wouldn’t mind shooting one in a controlled environment sometime. I’ve never fired a handgun; other than a stint at a Boyscout camp the only time I’ve ever fired a gun was when my friends Clinton, Charlie and I blasted our physics books with a 20-gauge shotgun at the end of our junior year of high school. But those books had it coming.

I can’t remember if I’ve written about this or not, but one night several years ago someone rather violently tried to gain entry into our house in the middle of the night. It was terrifying, until it became clear it was our next-door neighbor’s son, who turned 21 that night and was so drunk off his ass he thought he was trying to get into his own house. But for a brief moment, before I realized what was going on, I had to ponder what I was going to do if this person actually got through our door. I considered getting a bat (outside and unavailable), a large knife (I had NO desire to slice or stab anyone), or a large frying pan, before realizing what I really wanted was a gun.

But what if he had broken in, and then I offed my drunk-ass next-door neighbor, a kid I really liked? No, a gun is not for me. If I’m ever in a situation where somebody’s running amok, I guess I’ll head for the windows like those lucky kids today who got out.

But I have to believe there are people in Minnesota today who got their gun permit, carry their weapon regularly, and have never caused a problem for anyone who saw the carnage at VTech and wished they had been there to maybe stop some of what happened. I know, it’s a one-in-a-million chance that would ever come to pass, but still, that gun-toting fool is probably right: They might have been able to stop what happened.

Basically, I think the Democrats made a smart move to deemphasize gun control as a part of their platform. I don’t think it wins them any elections, and the truth is there are far more important issues they need to tackle. But even more than as a matter of political strategy, I’m not sure where I’m at on the gun control issue. Again, I hate the NRA (even though my wife’s a member), hate the gun lobby and everything they represent. I think they harm our country a great deal through their various activities, many of which extend beyond mere gun advocacy.

But when push comes to shoot, I don’t buy that having legal guns in the hands of trained owners makes us less safe as a society, and in some rare instances, I might be pretty damned glad to have someone around who has a gun and knows how to use it.

Just as long as it’s not me.

I’m not sure how I feel about that.

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20 Responses to I’m A Little Soft On Gun Control

  1. Jim says:

    I’m with you on this. I used to think gun control was one of my big issues, but I’ve not only lost interest but have started to feel that gun control is ineffective at best. (Note that handguns are banned in DC, for instance). Which isn’t to say that the gun lobby isn’t completely repellent, because it is; almost as bad as AARP or AIPAC. And I myself would never own a gun, ever.

    I do wonder why it is that our society seems to have such a dramatic need for guns as compared to other similar countries. Frontier spirit? Wild West mentality? It’s weird.

  2. JT says:

    makes you wonder how many more of your children need to die, before the US looses its love affair of the device of Death.

    its the same ol screwed up way of thinking thats kept the world under a cloud of MAD (mutually assured Destruction) nuke policy.

    you dont defend against nukes by building more nukes and you dont defend yourself against guns by buying more.

    the rest of the world wishs you fucken nut jobs would wake up to ur selves.

  3. pipelineblog says:

    Thanks for the comment JT, though I question whether you’ll see this response.

    I largely share your belief; we would be far better off if there were no guns at all. My post is based on two primary beliefs; first, that gun control is a political dead end for Democrats, and since I want Dems in power I support that decision. Second, that given where we are as a U.S. society today, there doesn’t seem to be a statistical reality that having more legal guns in the hands of trained owners increases gun-related crime or gun injuries/deaths. I’d love to roll it all back and not have the weapons at all, turn into Canada or the U.K. or just about any other country. But that doesn’t seem to be a realistic path forward today.

    As for the “fucken nut jobs” bit, that stings, but only because it’s so true on so many levels. But know this, JT: This country is not a monolith, and there are an awful lot of people here (millions of them) who are just as disgusted with our leadership and some of our national and individual choices as you are.

    And, I strongly suspect America has a lot going for it that people in your country, whatever that may be, envy. So watch that broad brush, my man.

  4. pipelineblog says:

    Whoa! JT’s Australian! A fine country, though I’ve never been there myself. But your PM is just as big a nut job as Bush, right? Well, OK, that obviously is an overstatement, but he’s a big Bush supporter, especially regarding Iraq. So, duly noted, there are some nut jobs in both countries, unfortunately in some cases in leadership positions.

  5. DaveKingston says:

    I’m in favor of more gun control…things like mandatory training, waiting periods, background checks, etc. I think it should be harder for a high school kid to buy a gun than it is for them to buy an album with explicit lyrics. I don’t have a problem with the concept of trained people having guns. I’m not sure you can ever ban them in the US (too many people have too many of them), but we should do everything possible to make sure that those folks who have them are as informed and trained as possible. If it’s expensive and time consuming so be it.

    From a personal perspective, it is damn near impossible to have an accident in your home involving a gun if you don’t have one. I have kids. Little kids. I don’t have a gun in my home mainly for that reason. I don’t let my kids at houses that have guns in them. (Try having that awkward discussion with your neighbors. So, do you have any guns in your house? Looks like our kids will have to play outside together.) I can educate them when they get older, but I’m not going to assume that everyone who owns a gun is a responsible person with that firearm. And accidents are, well, accidents.

    I’ve always thought that there are two things you never want: a gun in a situation where you might use it, and a cop in a situation where you have a gun “protecting yourself”. You might use the gun, and the cop is just as likely to shoot you as the person you’re protecting yourself from.

  6. pipelineblog says:

    Dave, I agree with all of that 100%. I guess I draw a distinction between the types of gun control Dave advocates (training, waiting periods, background checks), and people who are just out and out anti-gun. I didn’t make that distinction clear at all, but one of the reasons I abhor the NRA is that they do oppose what I consider common sense-type controls (and the gun show loophole is nuts). When I talk about being soft on gun control, I’m talking about what I guess I would call the Abolitionist Movement, people who do not support the sale of guns under any circumstances, even to people who go through training, registration, waiting periods, etc. I don’t think it’s politically tenable and I think the impact on crime is questionable. And, frankly, though I hate to admit it because it’s such a nutjob talking point, also unconstitutional. People have a right to bear arms, and it says so right in the damn document. I don’t see how we get around that. If you’re going to go balls-out to protect the first ammendment, I don’t see how you can blatantly silence the second one.

    I wrote a few weeks ago about a tragic event that happened with a friend’s family that involved a gun, and I think about that often. Yes, I too would never have a gun in my house. Linus doesn’t play much yet at other people’s houses, but I do envision having that awkward discussion someday soon myself. But, St. Paul being a liberal hotbed, it’s less likely to be an issue here.

  7. Scott says:

    You are definitely being too soft Doug. Guns are far more likely to be the cause of an accidental shooting than they will be a deterrant to criminal activity. You’re anecdotal experiences seem to confirm this. Good thing you didn’t have a gun when the drunk neighbor was involved and too bad a gun was available in your friend’s family. The safest response is to run away. As for those who wish they had been at V-Tech with a gun, what are the odds they would have successfully shot the shooter and prevented the carnage versus the odds they would have shot an innocent bystander instead?

    Outside of basic rifles and shotguns for hunting, I don’t see the purpose of guns, especially handguns. They do not deter crime as statistics will bear out. They create situations where home accidents and other mistaken shootings occur. As for the constitution, the courts have placed limits on which types of arms people are allowed to own, so further restricting that right would not be constitutional. I think your concept of people can own guns if they have training, registration, waiting periods, etc. is too much of a utopian viewpoint that tries to straddle the middle ground.

    Just my $.02

  8. Charley says:

    I recall someone (Chris Rock?) suggesting that there should be no restrictions on guns, but that bullets should cost $10,000 a piece. This would reduce gun violence brought on by rage, as one would have to work for quite some time to save up enough to buy a bullet. I support this plan. I also support bats. If I were a wizard, I would conjure a spell to turn all guns into whiffle ball bats.

  9. jane says:

    I’m a former member. Just wanted to clear that up. (My gun-toting republican brother gave me a one year membership for my birthday a few years ago. They still send me lots of mail, which I always promptly return to them in their own postage paid envelopes. I’m sure they’ve burned through that $35 membership fee by now just in mailings to me, and my return of same to them. But I still have my membership card, just so I can say that I’m a card-carrying member of the NRA, and then prove it.)

  10. DaveKingston says:

    I just watched Penn and Teller’s Gun Control is Bullshit video.

    Very interesting.

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-2807602702866411553&hl=en

    Check it out.

  11. kelly says:

    I’ve owned guns, dont have one now, and I think most the hubbub gives the lefties to grandstand back in the day on. I will buy more guns in the future. I grew up with guns, and despite having injured my dear family members and friends in any number of ways, guns were never part of it.

    As for having a gun makes you more likely to shoot your drunk neighbor, maybe. Probably no more likely than you were to hit the guy with a frying pan.

    I’m pretty libertarian on this issue. If accidental deaths were an issue we’d not drive cars, let our kids go to play grounds, or have alcohol in the house. The chances of you dying intoxicated are statistically higher, etc. etc.

    The real reason, and this sounds fundamentalist to me, is to deter people in power. I know its nutty to say, but I want to be able to defend my family and myself in the event of a crisis….. or worse a civil conflict. People say it can’t or won’t happen. I think its more likely than me shooting my wife in a jealous rage with the pool boy.

  12. pipelineblog says:

    Scott, I don’t believe we should allow guns because they are a deterrent to crime, at least not in the aggregate sense. I did posit that in some cases, like if you are in the wrong VTech classroom or Luby’s cafeteria, it might not be the worst thing in the world to have someone in the crowd who has a gun and knows how to use it. Is there a chance that armed vigilante could instead miss the target and harm another student? Yes, of course. But let’s say you’re stuck in the back of the room while somebody’s playing target practice with your group of cowering bodies. The person next to you unholsters their concealed weapon. Do you tell them, “No, don’t shoot! You might accidentally hit a student!” Or do you want them to drop that fucker right then and there before he gets to the next ammo clip?

    Look, obviously we’re deep into hypotheticals here. The reality is that even with legal conceal and carry, there are very few (perhaps no) instances either way of law-abiding gun toters stopping a crime, or of law-abiding gun toters accidentally inflaming a crime.

    On accidents, yes, guns do kill kids. It’s a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. I think, once we accept that we aren’t going to eliminate all the guns, the next best step is to train the people who have them and regulate the fuck out of them by requiring trigger locks, gun lockers, etc. A trigger lock would have saved my friend’s brother’s life, I suspect.

    As for the constitutionality issue, it’s true the courts have regulated guns (and speech) using various tests. But I’m not comfortable, from a constitutionality standpoint, saying that just because the courts have limited a right in the past a right can be limited cavalierly in the future. There are tests that have to be met to balance when a right is taken away. One is rightly public safety, and while it’s true that gun violence overall is an epidemic in this country, it seems less clear to me that allowing people to buy guns in limited circumstances, with training, in the future necessarily contributes to that epidemic.

    The epidemic is a culture of violence and poverty that extends far beyond guns. Would I vote to strike the 2nd ammendment completely and abolish all handguns going forward? Sure. I’d get rid of carbon emissions, Republicans and the White Sox if I could, too.

  13. pipelineblog says:

    But Kelly, that’s only because you don’t have a pool.

    Lots of kids die in swimming pools by accident, too, although it can be argued that on a hot day a pool can in fact deter crime.

  14. DaveKingston says:

    I second you on the White Sox.

  15. DaveSimon says:

    A third on the White Sox (and Republicans and carbon emissions, too, though I’m not sure of th order.

    My disclosure: my first internship was with the National Coalition to Ban Handguns, as a sophomore in college. Oddly, the experience exposed me to more pro-gun rhetoric than I’d considered before, and I started to see their point, at least on the constitutionality issue. I remember there being an NRA ad just after Tianamen Square (it was 1989) that basically said, “if the studetns had guns, it’d had been a little more of a fair fight.” Probably would have been more of a bloodbath, but it did lead me recognize that the second amendment has a point, and that even the clause about a “well-regulated militia” is a justification, not a requirement. I still think the American gun culture is tragic and a stain on our society, but the fix has to be more creative than, as my organization would have had it, “banning handguns.” I think you need to amend the constitution if you want to ban guns, and that it’s probably more worthwhile to follow the Chirs Rock policy, or to tack some serious consequences onto bringing a gun into a crime — like stripping away basically all the privileges accruing from citizenship.

    The VT massacre brings up another NRA talking point — that if everybody had guns, than massacres wouldn’t happen because the would-have-been-victims could shoot back. There something seductive about this, when you think about a whole building full of students, professors, and service workers with no means to respond to a gun-toting madman. I’m willing to guess that fewer than 33 people would have died if everyone had been packing. (I’m also willing to guess that if the campus cops had said “hey, there’s been a double murder and the killer is at large and probably on campus, so lets blanket the entire frigging university with every single uniformed officer we can find, leaving no building unprotected,” fewer people would have died, too.)

    One final VT note that Doug might appreciate, given that he and I talked about baseball blogs and message boards last September. If I had been asked whether I knew or even knew of any (non-athlete) at Virginia Tech, I probably would have said no, unless I thought about it for half-a-day and came up with “well, there’s this guy who’s one of the main posters on the Motown Tigers website — you know, one of the five or six who manages to post in every single thread, and is a regular on the game threads? — who, inexplicably to me, goes to Virginia Teach. ” (Just seemed an unlikely place to find a diehard Detroit Tigers fan). Turns out, he was getting a Masters in hydrology, and a graduate hydrology class was one of the ones that got shot up the other day. He died. I found out from one of the Tigers’ blogs I read every day, and then went to Motown Tigers to follow an absolutely chilling blog — as fellow posters first put the call out for him to check in, and then the news about the the carnage, the location, the class, etc. starts to come out at the same time that the posters do some sleuthing to find out more about “Estrepe1” as he called himself.

  16. David says:

    So, just to be clear on your logic, Doug, in order to deter crazy people from shooting up college classrooms we should encourage more college students to carry handguns? As a college instructor, that terrifies me… Go back and review some of your exploits at Emporia State and decide whether more students carrying handguns would be a good or bad thing… Gun laws did not cause this tragedy to happen, but it certainly facilitated it. The only deterrant to buying lots of guns in VA is a self-disclosing check box on the application form that asks if you have ever been adjudated mentally impaired. Guess how many mentally ill people know what that statement means? Do you need to register your gun in VA? No. Do you need a license or permit? No. Do you need to pass a training course? No. Is there a waiting period? No. If you are 18 and have a credit card, you get a gun. I am not anti-gun; if you want to go out in the woods and plug thumper, knock yourself out. But I am absolutely astonished that our society permits people to wander around in public with handguns in their purse or under their jacket and essentially allows anyone but the most obvious criminals from purchasing weapons with little or no oversight.

  17. pipelineblog says:

    Although I did suggest the carnage may have been lessened by having a gun-toter in one of those classrooms, I’m not saying the reason handguns should be legal is that the deter crime. You’ve got the burden of proof backwards, Dave (Beimers). I’m saying the reason handguns shouldn’t be abolished is twofold, mainly that they are in large measure protected by the Second Amendment, and that there’s not enough evidence that handguns obtained through smart gun law regimes increase gun crime.

    Now, about those gun laws in Virginia. They sound pretty fucked up to me, too. So, to be clear: I do NOT support handgun abolition. I DO support waiting periods, background checks that actually work (meaning they would consult a centralized database to find criminal and mental health histories and DON’T rely on a simple questionnaire response from the buyer), and comprehensive training for handgun owners. If the gun control laws had worked in this instance (meaning the background check would have discovered that Cho had been involuntarily committed in 2005), the outcome may have been different here.

    Finally, I would be scared too if I was a teacher in a classroom full of guns. But we don’t get to choose what’s constitutional or not on the basis of our fears. A lot of people get freaked about people speaking out against the government, too. Statistically, you would not be in any particular danger by being in that gun-laden classroom.

  18. david says:

    Doug, I’m a little fuzzy on that last paragraph. You are right; we don’t get to choose the constitution based on our fears. Hopefully that will include not modifying the constitution to ban marriage between two individuals of the same gender, or to limit the expression of amorous lizards, for that matter. But I don’t really understand your last sentence… are you positing that if I’m teaching a classroom of 19 year-olds who are all packing heat, that statistically I’m not in any more danger than I would be if handguns were banned? Have you ever had a student scream at you for failing them (even though they didn’t bother to turn in half the assignments)? Would I be willing to fail a student if I know they are carrying a gun? No way in hell. Students threatening professors is not uncommon.

    The building across the street from where I work was the site of a shooting in 2003. A disgruntled graduate student decided to take his revenge on whomever happened to be available, which ultimately was a graduate student and two members of the faculty. The grad student was killed, but the injuries to the members of the faculty weren’t fatal. Perhaps it’s an isolated incident, but it’s very close to home, and don’t think faculty at Case Western do think about it whenever a student gets a little too riled up over their GPA.

  19. cfeeler says:

    who wrote this article

  20. cfeeler says:

    I am not sure how many Caleb Feelers there are out there, but I am feeling pretty confident that the author must be referring to me. The scariest thing about it is that I do not remember this incident.

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