by Phillip H.
When the Newtown , Connecticut school shootings occurred, I went through a series of stages, sort of akin to grief. First there was shock mixed with grief then a resorting to my own faith tradition to see what my real call to initial action might be. At that point I put aside my virtual pen, as there seemed to be a flood of posts coming forth on the shooting, the topic of gun violence, and how our Nation should respond.
Over the holidays, I went to the Bob and Rocco Gun Show in Green Bay, WI with my father in-law. He’s a gun owner and formerly active hunter and target shooter, but is now mostly a collector of ammunition and artifacts – his sarcoidosis has diminished his lung capacity, so he doesn’t shoot much anymore. I went as much to people watch and eavesdrop as anything, but one encounter there perfectly sums up my life experience as a liberal, employed-by-the-federal-government gun owner and shooting sports enthusiast.
Several private citizens – all apparently NRA members – were circulating in the hall asking voters to sign petitions for a Milwaukee politician to get on the next state ballot for an education position. Not being a Wisconsin registered voter, I didn’t pay much attention to their pitch. As my FIL was being pitched, the lady doing the pitch turned to me and asked if I would sign. I politely declined by saying I wasn’t a Wisconsin registered voter, so she wouldn’t benefit if I did.
Then she asked where I was from, and I said “Washington DC.” That’s the answer I give when folks not terribly familiar with Capitol Geography ask such a question – it’s easier then saying I live two blocks into Maryland from DC on the Southeast corner of the diamond. She asked what I was doing there and I replied visiting family. She asked me what I did – prefacing the question with “I guess you’re there for work?” and when I told her I was a federal scientists, she stopped. Cold. And Speechless. Apparently it had not occurred to her that a federal anything would be casually walking the halls of the Green Bay gun show. Ever. Sadly, we never got to my views on much – she began to rattle off the standard far right talking points about “Obama’s Deathcare” scooped up her materials, and left.
While this story is not about guns per se, it does illustrate what I think is the central conundrum at the heart of our gun debate. There are reasonable voices on both sides of the aisle. Dennis Saunders told us in his post how his position on guns has evolved over the years, primarily because he keeps bumping into these people. Yet for all the reasonable people who are trying to make some sense of this tragedy, trying to fit it into a solid context, and trying to move forward on policy issues that lower violence while helping those who may, truly, need help – there are still too many people on both sides of the gun ownership issue like this woman. People who never contemplated meeting the “opposition” face to face; never believed their opponents could be ordinary, reasonable, and rational; and thus never really thought through the conclusions of their ideology. All they do is bury their heads in talking points from others, never taking the time to decide anything for themselves.
So what are such folks on both sides ignoring?
- The last federal Assault Weapons Ban didn’t work, if you know how to read between the lines of scientific studies. As a trained scientists and science policy manager, I know how to do so, and it frustrates me to no end that the hard statistics on these weapons and their use get so little accurate play in the media. So the notion that we can enact gun bans for sales going forward and make a dent in violent gun based crimes is being solidly refuted.
- The weapons most commonly called assault weapons are designated based on looks more so than functionality. While in Green Bay my FIL gifted me with a Stevenson model 954 .22 caliber rifle. It’s an unusual gun, in that it has a scope, a laser sight, and a flashlight all mounted to a rail assembly above the barrel. It also has a 15 round magazine in it. Based on the initial read of the current bill being proposed by Sen. Feinstein of California my new to me .22 is an assault weapon. And while it could probably kill a person if used very carefully I would be hard pressed to see a situation where that would actually occur.
- Part of the reason the last ban failed was because it didn’t remove existing weapons from the streets, and the current proposed ban wouldn’t do so either. If we’re not taking them off the street, what’s the point of banning new ones?
- Our culture has grown away from being one where guns were universally owners, universally taught, and universally respected. I know many well educated folks who’ve never actually held a firearm, which makes me wonder how they think they know which ones should and shouldn’t be used by others. With that loss of cultural awareness, the rise of gun based gang violence, inner city murder, and school shootings as vivid, but extremely improbable, threats has been all too easy.
- While firearms ownership is a Constitutionally protected right, both it and our other rights are and can be circumscribed by all sorts of laws. The right to free speech which allows me to bang out these words is constrained by libel and slander law, and the right to peaceably assemble is proscribed by laws requiring demonstration permits. That aside, the Founding Fathers wanted citizens to own weapons for defense of the new nation (and wanted to know who had guns who might still have British sympathies and thus constitute a threat). Since private citizens no longer need to physically defend America against invaders foreign and domestic (our armies and police have that thankless job), one can safely assume the Fathers would have been open to adjusting the relationship between guns and society.
All that said, the Newtown shootings have not moved my liberal gun control meter all that much. I still think that gun ownership needs to be federally regulated (since it’s a federal right); I think there needs to be strict enforcement of the existing gun laws; I think we need to close the gun show loophole. I also believe that ownership of semiautomatic rifles designed for tactical situations (regardless of styling) should be a separate class of firearms licensing, one that requires additional fees, a more thorough federal background check, instruction and initial proficiency testing, and periodic requalification and background re-checks. I think liability insurance riders for homeowners with guns should be mandatory, and I strongly support a federal framework for concealed carry (again with a license or tax fee and extensive training and proficiency testing).
But that lady in Green bay doesn’t know all this about me, and likely it never crossed her mind to ask. Instead, she is probably still trying to reconcile how a federal bureaucrat – an enemy of America if ever there was one – came to be looking at Sig Sauer pistols and eating brauts in her Midwestern gun show.
A note to Readers:
The views expressed in this blog are my own. They do NOT represent the views, opinions or policy directions of ANY government agency or non-profit I have worked for or currently work for. As such, don’t write your Congressman when you and I disagree.