Rational, reasonable gun owners, where art thou?

A week ago I posted a short editorial piece explaining an aspect of the gun problem we’re facing in the United States now and the debate raging around it. I explained that, as a result of a perceived sense of heightened danger, a great number of Americans are beginning to feel, justifiably, that our unrestrained gun problems means potential death when spending time in a public place. The response was incredible, with the reception being overwhelmingly positive. However, like anything so polarizing, it drew plenty of negative response as well. Having been following gun control debates for years and especially in recent times, there is an undeniable trend among those speaking on behalf of gun “rights” that was highlighted especially well in this instance.

Granted, it could be argued that these feelings of fear that have risen noticeably since the Aurora, Colorado shootings last year are unjustified – fact is, gun violence, if anything, has been in decline since the 90s (some data, though, says it might be on the rise again). The problem with this line of reasoning is that it ignores the fact that “better” is not the same as acceptable – though there is disparate data regarding rates of gun violence (thanks mostly to NRA efforts to stifle the collection of such information; why do you think that might be?), the Center for Disease Control estimates that there are more than 86 firearm fatalities every single day in the United States (as of 2010), or 31,672 individuals every year.

You’d think that being the nation with the highest rates of gun ownership we’d also be the safest nation on the planet; turns out that’s not quite true. Even if you’d point out that despite that we do not have the highest murder rates by firearm in the world, I’d explain to you that the United States has an infrastructure in the form of police and such that is among the most extensive in the world as well as the fact that the firearm violence being committed in those other countries are most likely being done with American made weapons.

With those points aside, of which I am far from the first to make, I’ve noticed a distinct trend of gun “rights” activists who follow a pattern of argument that will typically include most if not all of the following features: Circuitous logic, hysterical hyperbole, extreme cynicism, severe paranoia, and quite frequently an insulting or even threatening tone apparently derived from a persecution complex. And their arguments almost always revolve around vague generalizations – almost never aimed at any law or proposal in general, just a zero sum game where any change at all to the status quo is equivalent to Kristalnacht. I could write a 100 plus page dissertation on how fundamentally wrong these arguments always are, but it’s been done and would not convince them – as they say, “you can lead a horse to water…”. But for those reading who may fall near this category (and I know you are), this is how you are seen by the rest of the nation and it does not serve your argument well at all.

I’m not one to jump to unfounded generalizations, but there is an undeniable trend here. It’s no secret that the internet draws the most extreme and encourages uninhibited expression of opinions, but this is also our Congressmen and women and NRA president LaPierre making almost exactly the same, irrational, illogical arguments. I feel like it would be easier to find any utilitarian use for a semi-automatic weapon that doesn’t involve killing a human being (a difficult thing to do, no doubt) than to find a logical, level-headed pro-gun advocate claiming things are just fine the way they are now.

Despite this, polls claim that a large majority of gun owners (and even NRA members) actually support some measure of increases firearm restrictions. If this is so, then where are you, Mr. or Ms. Rational Gun Owner? You’ve been noticeably absent from the discussion, allowing these alarmist paranoids to dominate your side of the conversation. If increased gun control were actually as bad and dangerous as these types claim it to be, you’d think a coherent, logical argument would have emerged by now. Subjective though some aspects of the debate may be, there are arguments in this debate which have more practical traction than others, and so far this does not describe those speaking for leaving gun legislation as it is.

Should we keep letting irrationality and paranoid, unfounded fear guide policy that could potentially stem the highly preventable extreme loss of life that occurs every day? We have to ask ourselves if we have the resolve to confront an interest group that is, by its very nature, militant and aggressive. We’ve heard their arguments, we’ve tried doing things their way – gun control is as lax as it has ever been and it’s not working. If guns made us safe we would be. With an estimated 86 deaths a day from gun violence their opinions are no longer relevant – your “freedom” to own tools created with only one use, human death do not supersede 86 individuals’ right to live every single day.

One final thought: It is often said that most gun owners follow the law and are not dangerous to themselves or others, but when you see such the type of irrational, even aggressive arguments I’ve described so frequently in the public, mainstream discourse, it becomes meritorious to wonder whether some of these people are merely looking to use their weapons to their “full potential” and spend their time fantasizing about an insurrection/civil war scenario where they’ll get to scalp liberals en mass. I’d like to think most would agree that these folks should be able to own firearms (but they do). Here’s a small sample of the type of thing I’m describing:

This was a real comment directed at me last week for my previous post on guns. It still amazes me:

I'm a bad man. A real bad man.

I’m a bad man. A real bad man.

And this one has been circulating for a few years. It’s so crass I had to verify that it was real (and it is):

And they expect us to take them seriously?

And they expect us to take them seriously?

Comments always welcome! Prove me wrong you responsible, reasonable gun owners – speak up for yourselves and make a real, adult argument based in reason and not hysteria and ridiculous hypothetical scenarios. All your over-the-top red-faced self-righteousness does is undercut any arguments you have about the endless law abiding and rational nature of gun owners. I love nothing more than to be pleasantly surprised!

Rigging the game, Supreme Court-style: The Voting Rights Act is under attack again

This week the Supreme Court began reviewing a case which may result in at least a partial discontinuation of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965. The creation of the 15th Amendment in 1964 outlined the Constitutional right for any and all US citizens, including previously disenfranchised minorities, to be able to participate in elections without barriers to entry like a poll tax or literacy test.

Credit davidlat

Given the heavily entrenched racism and voter intimidation common in many areas of the South, Congress saw it necessary to mandate the enforcement of these aspects of the 15th Amendment in the form of the Voting Rights Act. The Act stipulates that such areas where equal voting access may be curtailed must gain federal approval of any changes made in a state’s election procedures before they can be implemented. At present, the VRA applies to nine states and a number of other counties and municipalities which are classified as “covered jurisdictions.”

Though it is not looking likely that the entirety of the Voting Rights Act will be struck down, Section 5 of the VRA may be changed or removed. Section 5 of the VRA is the clause which dictates the ability of the federal government to give “preclearance” to “covered jurisdictions” when attempting to change their voting procedures; they cannot do it on their own. Essentially, Section 5 is what gives the federal government the teeth to be able to enforce the VRA and the 15th Amendment in practice.

So why, even after being being signed into renewal by Bush in 2006 for another 25 years, is this case even being brought before the Supreme Court? Those leveling the case against the federal government claim that the Voting Rights Act is no longer needed – it is outmoded and serves only as a mark of shame. The challengers assert that this is because the VRA still operates based on a coverage formula created in 1975; if anything, they say, discrimination in general has declined or disappeared – we have a (half) African-American president, after all, right? No, they say, the only function of the VRA, at this point, almost 50 years later, is to shame the states with a Scarlet Letter-esque legislative mandate (no doubt bringing them to tears on at least a bi-weekly basis).

I’ve got to say, the reasoning behind the challenge to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is pretty weak and baseless at best and at worst another transparent attempt by the GOP to suppress voters, particularly minority voters. In the lead up to the 2008 presidential elections we saw a number of states attempt to enact various suppression measures, such as requiring voter identification at the poll (supposedly implemented to quell acts of voter fraud – a matter found to be a non-issue, at worst); fortunately, these didn’t succeed in many areas precisely because of the VRA.

So let us just suppose for a moment that the issues meant to be addressed by the Voting Rights Act, have been, successfully, as the legal challengers claim. Then what burden is it actually placing on the state at this point? If your state is conducting elections fairly then the VRA should be a non-issue. I think many will agree with the claim that implementation of the VRA and the areas determined to need federal oversight based on a plan created in 1975 is outdated and unwise. So let us update the plan; the data is plentiful and readily available to make a accurate, modern assessments and if that is unsatisfactory, then lets get some grant money to sociologists. But let’s not throw out the Voting Rights Act, which even the challengers in court have more or less admitted has influenced racial discrimination at the polls in a positive way.

Without any serious, legitimate reasoning for this neutering of the VRA, it becomes rather obvious the level of pettiness and power play being attempted here. In a country where its white majority has remained unchallenged since the nation’s birth, it seems that many within this group are beginning to see the writing on the wall: whites will no longer be the majority and instead in many areas minorities, often times ones who do not speak English, will become demographically and politically very powerful, even dominant, and this terrifies them. With the GOP’s refusal to consider any platform other than “let’s go back to the 1950s – the good ol’ days before women’s suffrage and the Civil Rights Act” which for some bizarre reason is not gaining traction with non-whites and women they’re beginning to understand that the sun is setting on their hegemony – play time is over.

Hidden in a smoke screen of dangerous “colorblindness” (an issue to be tackled in coming weeks, do not fret) and false victimization, these challenges and the possibility that the Supreme Court may strike down the most significant clause of the Voting Rights Act may mean that these groups get what they want; they may even be able to generate a very pleasing outcome in the next few elections. But such victories can only be fleeting – the fact is, whites will never again be a power majority and will continually shrink as a group while others, Asians especially, gain more population numbers. So while neutering the VRA may work in the short term, in the long term it won’t matter and if anything will work against the GOP or whatever will remain – people are not as blind and forgetful as they may wish they were.

If racism is no longer present and the South has moved on past its unpleasant history, how about beginning by not raising that Confederate flag so righteously every day?