Site traffic has gone up, and so I want to take a moment to spell some things out explicitly. This blog and my writing on guns and American culture more broadly are about reflection rather than policy advocacy. I want to explore the place firearms occupy in our cultural and political landscape, and to evaluate critically how they are involved in distinctively American experiences of historical violence and ongoing social conflict. This is a daunting enough task without wading into policy prescriptions. That said, today’s debates about guns and gun control are so polarizing and so frequently lacking in nuance that it’s almost impossible to talk about these things without being pigeonholed – and so I want to make my positions, such as they are, very clear.
(1) I believe the State legally cannot and practically will not take any law-abiding citizens’ guns away from them, full stop. The Second Amendment guarantees a right to bear arms, and the Supreme Court’s decisions in DC versus Heller and McDonald versus Chicago enshrine that as an individual right more securely than ever before in American history. I suspect that this interpretation will only be cemented further if the Court decides to hear Drake versus Jerejian. The original intent and context of the “well regulated militia” clause are, at this point, entirely moot.
(2) I do not support a renewed or revamped Assault Weapons Ban (AWB). I have a variety of reasons for this, which I’ll outline at some other point, but suffice it to say that I feel that many AWB proponents are operating under a mistaken set of assumptions, that numerous politicians who advocate an AWB are misguided, and that the entire issue is a red herring. The more fundamental problem in America today is that life in general is cheap, with some folks’ lives valued even less than others. Fixing that – to the extent to which it is even possible – demands changing consciousness and deepening our capacity for compassion, not regulating barrel length or stock configuration. The issue of mass shootings, which at this point I think have become a fixture of life in contemporary America, complicates things (since you can kill a lot more folks a lot more quickly with a drum magazine as opposed to a ten-round clip) but that’s a topic for another time and there, too, I still don’t think a new AWB is the answer.
(3) Like 91% of Americans, I think we need a Universal Background check system. I’m glad to talk more about this, and about the potential complications and pitfalls (particularly when issues of mental health privacy are involved) but I firmly believe that this is one issue where we have to do better, and where we can.
(4) I find extremism – both pro- and anti-gun – repugnant. A defining feature of America is our Constitutionally protected right to engage in meaningful conversation with one another. At its best, this means dialogue – talking with one another, not at or over each other. Being made uncomfortable by an opinion different than one’s own is not the same as suffering a literal assault, and encountering people who live and understand the world differently is not an affront to one’s way of life. Confronting these challenges with tolerance and openness is a basic part of what it means to live together in a democracy, and here, again, we have to do better.
OK, that’s it. Thanks for visiting – I hope you’ll stick around.
Patrick, I read your op-ed piece in today’s New York Times and just wanted to say that I thouoght it was an excellent articulation of, indeed, an alarming situation in our country. I was appalled at photos of armed protesters against the Affordable Care Act several years ago. The recent confrontation in Nevada ratchets that up more than a little. As I follow events unfolding in eastern Ukraine, I can’t help but wonder if something like that is in store for the United States at some point–near or distant–in the future.
Again, thank you for sharing your interpretation of events with great reflection and articulation.
Thank you! I’m glad you liked the piece.
re your NYT piece on public guns,and Mr Bundy
Mr Bundy (no relation to Ted Bundy, yet) is criticized for armed resistance to federal authority, the latter under the nominal supervision of Eric Holder, US Attorney General
I recall Mr Holder as part of an armed takeover of a college building at Cornell
but Mr Google tells me it was at Columbia, in 1970, a few years after I graduated Columbia 1966, NROTC, which was a flash-point at Columbia, even back in 1966 when I was still there, watched the takeover from a classroom window, and precursor to the widely known 1968 takeover
the picture alone is priceless,
and other websites for the same information-
– SO !! Mr Bundy (not Ted) is running for AG – on the Holder ‘guns’r’us’ ticket !
for the Cornell armed takeover, 1969,
So Mr Holder let Cornell do the first armed resistance, and when that was not punished, then maybe he did his own, now safely – they wished to rename it Malcolm X NROTC
We may start to understand, that Fast and Furious has a long history for Mr Holder, guns for me and not for thee
Finally, the recently renamed ‘Uncle Tom’ Mr Justice Clarence Thomas argued in favor of gun rights, from his own experience of black self-defense,
(it was ok to call the Justice an ‘Uncle Tom’, b/c the caller is self-describer as black, good to know who ‘passes’)
Your op-ed in the NYT was interesting, but some food for your thought about an often misused statistical relationship. Your wrote, and I quote: “With over 300 million firearms in private hands in this country, there are nearly as many guns as there are Americans.” The statement is undeniably true, but equally useless in any constructive debate until placed in context. For example, in my house there are three adult humans and 14 guns, One of the humans has no interest in using firearms, another has different requirements (being left-handed, which for long guns often does matter) and that leaves me with 11, five of which are of the vintage and therefore all but never used persuasion. Saying there are 4+ guns per person in my house is statistically correct and otherwise irrelevant in any discussion related to firearms. It might be more useful to present an estimate of how many likely to be used firearms are in circulation and how many individuals are likely to use them. Admittedly, these data would be much more difficult to obtain, but the simplistic ratio you employed in the NYT piece is analogous to the drunk looking for his car keys under the lamppost (where there is light) as opposed to down the street where he lost them.
You probably were aware of this (or not) – but countries like Switzerland and the Czech Republic do not restrict “assault weapons” or even “large magazines” to their citizens and they have a much lower crime rate than ours.
Thank you for being a UBC supporter who can recognize that regulating cosmetic features (or perhaps even magazine size if that is what I am hearing from you) does not solve the problem, but changing the overall culture (and economic situation creating the culture) does.
On the issue of background checks, though – have you ever considered that people who are released from jail may have actually been innocent of the crimes they were incarcerated for? You may be released from prison, trying to re-integrate back into society, but a felony conviction won’t land you a nice job away from poverty-stricken areas where people are more susceptible to crime. You may not have committed the crime, and truly, you should pass a background check, but as of right now, you won’t because of your false conviction. Why should your right to self-defense be taken away at that point?
Cases in point: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/brian-banks-football-player-exonerated-in-rape-case-signs-with-atlanta-falcons/ – brian banks lived for 5 years under parole after release from prison. He probably could not have gotten a firearm during those five years.
“Ms. Butler said she realized her arrest was still on the books after she failed a criminal-background check while trying to buy a shotgun. She said she applied for jobs at restaurants and retailers, and was turned down every time. After she petitioned the state, her record was expunged last July — 17 years after she was released.
A study of 118 exonerated inmates led by Evan Mandery and Amy Shlosberg, two criminal-justice researchers, found that one-third still had criminal records, sometimes more than a decade after their release. They found that former convicts with clean records were less likely to return to prison than those whose records had not been expunged.”
What about defining who is mentally ill? Would your background check accidentally snare talking heads like Alex Jones, SE Cupp, Glenn Beck, Rachel Maddow, Ted Nugent? As much as I dislike them, they don’t pose an imminent threat to anyone. But given the political rhetoric these days with left vs right, I often wonder how quickly people would jump to label their opponents as mentally ill in the same way the Soviet Union did to its dissidents, if given the opportunity.
In short, if both the NRA and gun control lobbies quit fighting about arbitrary AWBs, arbitrary concealed weapons licensing, and arbitrary gun free zones, a lot of money would be left over to create a more robust background check system as well as provide affordable and temporally appropriate training for every current and prospective gun owner. The Czechs already have such a (albeit similar) system in place and they have done well for themselves.
Thank you for all this – it’s a lot to think about, and the links in particular are very helpful. I’m extremely invested in respecting the privacy of those who struggle with mental health issues, and acutely aware of our society’s problems when it comes to marginalizing and disenfranchising both them and folks who have served their time and deserve a second chance. I’m going to write more about how each of these groups (and the people who are in the center of a hypothetical overlapping Venn diagram of both) interface with gun rights issues down the line, and will make sure to tag you when I do. I firmly agree that most of what passes for debate on a whole suite of gun-control related issues is a waste of energies and resources that could be put towards a much more robust and healthy infrastructure (I’ll need to check out the Czech situation more – no pun intended; thank you for a pointer on this).
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Just ran upon your blog as a result of reading NYT’s The Stone blog. I’d like to share a conversation I had with a lady in Barcelona last summer. The memory sparked from your opening paragraph, especially “how [firearms] are involved in distinctively American experiences .” Marilu was my host mother who sat to chat with my classmate and I at the dinner table in her home each night. One night as my classmate complained of the “ladrones” who stole her wallet, Marilu asked if pickpockets were a common fear. We confirmed that yes, it’s a ubiquitous travel tip to hold you purse closer than necessary at home in Texas.
Marilu replied that Spaniards are afraid to visit America because they’ll get shot.
I got a kick out of that response, because truly I did fear losing my phone or purse on the subway and truly she fears getting shot in America. Upon researching firearm crimes and death comparisons in the two countries, the numbers support her fear. I agree that firearms are involved in distinctively America experiences.
Thanks for reading, and for sharing this story. My European relatives also seem gripped by certain conceptions about gun culture, some right, some exaggerated. Your story in particular makes me think about this really sad tale, about a German exchange student shot dead in the US – http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-27243115. “Celal Dede said he would not have allowed his son to study in the US had he been aware of the lenient gun laws….”I didn’t think for one night that everyone here can kill somebody just because that person entered his back yard,” Mr Dede told the German news agency dpa.
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