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!

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Colorado’s new marijuana DUI laws and the absurd

In Colorado this past Tuesday a new bill which aims to curtail and punish driving while affected by marijuana passed through a legislative committee unanimously. This comes off the heels of the successful passing of Amendment 64 in November which allows for the sale and use of marijuana for recreational use to adults.

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While there was no arguments made regarding whether stoned individuals should be driving – they shouldn’t – there was concern expressed by legalization advocates over the methods involved with busting a driver for a weed DUI and the legal THC level limit of five nanograms.

In Arizona the questionable practice of prosecuting motorists for a marijuana-related DUI without evidence by law enforcement officials was upheld by a court this month. This has been a controversial issue because, unlike alcohol, marijuana has no breathalyzer equivalency; though a screening may be administered, it does not work in the same way in determining current intoxication. Whereas alcohol is present in the body for a relatively short time (during which it affects cognition and reaction, as we all know) and is easily detected while it is, marijuana leaves detectable metabolites in the user’s system for up to two weeks after use (long, long after its effects wear off) – a urine screening cannot differentiate between someone who took a couple puffs last weekend but is now completely sober and someone who smoked minutes before the test and is actually “influenced.” Despite the obvious ambiguity here, Arizona decided to uphold their practices which can be used to convict a citizen of a DUI despite driving completely sober.

Though I doubt many would say they would prefer a driver who’s stoned off his rocker over a stone cold sober one, it seems likely there will be no especially consistent and fair way to enforce such legislation in practice without resorting to Arizona’s draconian approach, which is quite problematic. And then there is the question of medical users and whether they will get special exemption.

So let’s step back and rethink the primary purpose and use of a laws that prohibit driving while intoxicated on alcohol (and presumably, marijuana): to promote public safety. I don’t need to have a clinical study done to tell you that it does not impair drivers to nearly the same extent as alcohol. And surprisingly, there actually have been few scientific studies on the question, though there is this entertaining trial a television station in Washington conducted recently. The video doesn’t present a clear answer to the dilemma, other than that the five nanogram limit is probably far too low of a threshold and that in general the degree of driving impairment resulting from specific amounts of THC levels is difficult to quantify consistently from driver to driver. As the driving instructor and policemen noted, most of them could drive safely well past the arbitrary five nanogram limit.

So what’s to be done? Traffic cops should treat the situation as any other. If a vehicle is seen driving unsafely then it should be pulled over; if a violation has already occurred then write the ticket or bring out the cuffs. If the driver is visibly affected in some way, then follow standard procedures and administer the dozen or so sobriety tests – if passed then THC levels should be irrelevant.

No, this arbitrary legal limit of five nanograms is not intended to preserve public safety but rather to serve as a push back from legalization detractors as a way to punish individuals who are abiding a law with which they disagree. Instead, if legislators were serious about preventing vehicular deaths they would be in favor of public service announcements and other education campaigns (not laden in absurd DARE-like propaganda) encouraging individuals to use marijuana responsibly. They would also be more concerned about matters like why our labor laws are such that many Americans are so sleep deprived that thousands of major accidents occur on the road every year as a result of nodding off at the wheel or lowered reaction speeds, because they are unable to get the rest and relaxation needed to drive safely.

When it comes to public safety it is important to examine the issue from all sides. But when the efforts of our legislators are arbitrary and serve only to punish law abiding citizens, public safety is clearly not at the forefront of their intentions and the will of the people is not being served.