Wednesday, May 30, 2018

2nd Amendment Myths

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”  —2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified by the States and certified by Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, December 15, 1791.

Another week. Another mass killing. 17 incidences of school shootings this year alone. Almost one per week. More killing of our young people. “Thoughts and prayers” are everywhere; excuses proliferate; empty promises of action ring hollow; town hall “listening sessions” turn a deaf ear. Nothing is being done because the 2nd Amendment (and the campaign funds it generates) precludes action. All of the excuses for non-action read from an all too familiar script.

“I have an absolute Constitutional Right to own a gun of my choice.” All of our Rights are limited by the government’s overriding responsibility to protect the welfare and safety of the general public. My Right of free speech is limited by libel and slander laws. My Right to practice the religion of my choice requires me to extend that same right to others. My Right to be protected against unreasonable searches is overridden by a judicial subpoena. Reasonable regulations and processes wrap themselves around all Rights to which I am entitled. The weaponry of the 1790s is nowhere close to our killing capabilities of today. Our Rights must exist within the context of today’s realities.

“I am entitled to a gun as part of the defense and protection of my state.” In 1790, no standing federal army or state militia existed, as well as few centralized armories for storing military weaponry. Single-shot muskets were a necessary part of surviving everyday life on the frontiers, and our population was thinly scattered. State and national defense could be more economically and efficiently provided by convening a militia group as needed in an emergency, and then disbanding them until once again needed. The 2nd Amendment was therefore adopted to allow for this military defense strategy. Today, we have one of the biggest standing federal armies in the world, supported by the biggest military budget of any nation. We also now have a permanent “militia” – the standing National Guard in each state controlled by the individual governors. If one desires to defend his/her State today, one can join that state’s National Guard. The reality of 21st century life supersedes the needs and solutions of America 200+ years ago.

“The government is coming to take your guns.” It is the foremost scare-tactic employed by the NRA. Yet it has not happened. It is not going to happen – unless the killing gets so much worse while the NRA continues to resist even the simplest of reasonable fixes. Then there may arise a public desperate enough to stop the violence that they will use any means possible.

“Guns don’t kill people. People do.” If true, should we not then keep guns and people separated? We regulate automobiles, which kill thousands of people each year, and have recently been “weaponized” as another way to accomplish mass killings. We require a license, given upon completion of an exam that certifies “driving competency” and an understanding of the rules of car ownership. We require insurance to compensate those that might be harmed by our failures to drive safely, and revoke such licenses and provide legal penalties for abusing the privilege of driving. Like all Rights, automatic privilege is not the default. Rather, proof of competency is required first. That is why for generations one applied for a gun license, so that desire and authorization could be properly balanced consistent with all other Rights.

“I have the Right to carry a concealed weapon if I so choose.” A private property or business owner also has the right to disallow a concealed weapon on his/her premises. If “concealed carry” with no proof of justification is such a good idea, why do most all state legislatures, the U.S. Capital building, Secret Service protection rules, and public school and governmental office buildings disallow concealed guns – unless their legislatures (who do not allow it in their building) force them to? The hypocrisy of “it’s good for you but not for me” is striking.

“I need a gun for self-defense against a criminal.” Shooting another human being when being attacked requires training, experience, and mental calmness. In the hands of an amateur, such a self-defensive move can be more dangerous than from an attacker. Just ask any war veteran or police officer what that takes. Watch videos of inexperienced police officers caught up in a moment of escalating excessive force. Or ask Trayvon Martin, the young man in Florida killed by a self-styled “community watch volunteer” who panicked in the heat of the moment.

“Given my circumstances, I have a need for a gun.” For many people across the country, this is certainly true. The isolated resident in rural America can be highly likely to encounter dangerous wildlife that can harm persons, property or domestic animals.  There are also still many Americans who hunt game in order to feed their family. However, few of those situations require a military assault rifle either for defense or food gathering. A hunter who needs an automatic rifle to kill a defenseless deer is a danger to human life and should not be allowed in the forest. In the cities, there are few dangerous wildlife roaming the neighborhoods. In the infrequent times when that does happen, there are animal control or police professionals properly trained to deal with those instances.

“Mass shooters are mentally ill.” True, but how easily can we identify those with such illness? How do we feed that information into a system and process by which we can intervene quickly to prevent them from obtaining the weapons? This is especially difficult given that there are so many avenues for obtaining a gun that do not require the buyer to be identified.

“If you ban guns, only criminals will have guns.” This argument has been on bumper stickers for 70 years. Yes, some criminals will obtain a gun regardless of what we do or put into place. Nevertheless, we prohibit robbers from stealing. We prohibit tax evaders from not paying their share. We prohibit dealers in illegal drugs from poisoning our population. We prohibit business people from selling defective products. We do this even though there will always be those who choose to ignore those laws and inflict wrong on their neighbors. Do we simply throw up our hands and legalize all acts because some will not cooperate? Our laws define our expectations, which the majority of the people will observe. We should institute appropriate gun laws even while accepting that some minority of people will choose not to honor those rules.

“To prevent school shootings, we need to arm the teachers.” Teachers teach because they love their subject area, want to share it with inquisitive minds, and enjoy the satisfaction of seeing their students succeed. They did not get an education degree and teaching certification to become part of an armed defense force. Any more than the lawyer, the grocer, the manager, the movie theater operator, and the owner of Trump Tower took their job expecting to strap on a gun as they leave for work each morning. Protecting children in the school is the state’s responsibility for the safety of all citizens. We should not be spending millions of dollars in new gun sales for this inappropriate “solution.”

“These mass killings happen from copycat killers seeking notoriety.” Often true. Which is why the news media needs to quit glorifying these killers. Mass killers are typically people who feel powerless in their everyday world, and who see these acts as their one chance to get even – their road to fame, their opportunity to exert “power.” Plastering their face on our televisions screens, and telling their detailed life story, is exactly what they want. It is all about gaining attention through notoriety. The massive publicity about this “nobody” hidden in the shadows lays the groundwork for the next episode.

“I am not responsible.” It is the shared defense offered up by the gun manufacturer, the gun dealer, the trade associations and NRA, the elected legislator and politician, the paid lobbyist. Also the parent, the sibling and friend, the social worker, the lawyer and the courts, the law enforcement officer, our collective society as a whole. We say, “we are with you – the survivors,” but we are not. We promise to take action, but we do not. Collectively, we de facto accept the killing of our children in the classroom because we accept doing nothing to stop it. In the end, it has little to do with the 2nd Amendment. People continue to die, to be shooting targets in what has become an epidemic slaughter that can happen anywhere and any time. If all of us are not responsible, then who is?

© 2018   Randy Bell       

Friday, May 11, 2018

I Meets We

I am a human being. I am told that that means I am a completely unique entity. I exist inside a physical form unlike any other; even each identical twin has some distinguishing characteristic that sets them apart. Over time, that form continuously changes, yet there is always an “I” inside that continues on unceasingly. The human form is operated by a brain that makes all the other parts go, oftentimes seemingly without any overt assistance from me. It continues doing so until at some point in time the physical form collapses and comes to its inevitable end.

There is also a non-physical me that rides along “inside” my human form, but that transcends that form. If I should lose a leg, or contract a disease, that alters my form. But the I inside continues on, adapting as necessary to new conditions of physical existence, but still “I” nonetheless. Wrapped up inside of me are all the non-physical components of my life: my inherited ancestral consciousness of fears, love and survival; the experiences of my lifetime; the memories, which fade in and out over time; the thoughts and beliefs developed; the inspirations and talents that await expression and fulfillment. In the sum totality of the parts that I am, I am truly unique.

Notwithstanding my uniqueness, I continually seek to find my place to flower and grow in the greater world that envelops me. In that outer place, I am barely unique at all; I share a commonality with all other forms of human life. Each of our physical forms began from the physical union of our male and female parents; we are all therefore concurrently some part male and part female. Collectively on this planet, I am but one component of over seven billion other human beings, and one of approximately 3.5 billion of my designated gender. I am merely one of 325M Americans, 36M people over 65, 10M residents of my state, and 250K of my city. I am simply a one-line entry in the vast pages of census records.

I have certain spiritual, political and social opinions that may be similar to the opinions of others, but likely different in their combined totality that makes up a belief system. I live a daily life partly unique to I, but one that is also continually engaged with some portion of WE each day. I am fully dependent upon others for the food, water, shelter, transportation, and entertainment that sustains I. I am interdependent with all living things, both human and non-human, in the air, earth, and resources I share with WE. In this larger perspective of my existence, there is not much overly unique about I at all. If I am birthed, then I will engage in some experiences unique to me, as well as experiences that are common to some others even though I may interpret them uniquely to me. I will live within the law of continuous change that governs the life of all things. After an accumulation of those experiences appropriate for me, I will then die.

This is the struggle we constantly face. Which are my uniquely “I” experiences, and which arise from my being part of WE? When should I defer to the greater good of WE, and when does WE need to back away and leave space for I? Both the I and WE aspects of me need to find expression, our time to be nurtured in the sunlight of humanity. Without such balancing and nurturing, the individual human being withers, and gradually societies die. There are no absolute rules to direct us to easy answers for this balancing, just informed thinking and mature judgement to guide us through the difficult tangles of our personal decision-making.

Most all of our human, cultural, political and societal conflicts that arise are due to this continual effort to balance our see-saw choices between I and WE. For example, in my society I am told that I have a guaranteed right to own a firearm. But I also have a shared responsibility to help keep others safe. Is not my Right to own a gun subject to certain limits in order to meet my responsibility to ensure the safety of WE?

I have the Right to determine the unique religious beliefs most appropriate for I. But am I not also obligated to extend the same respect and unfettered capability to WE?

In the privacy of my home and place of worship, I am granted the Right to practice my faith as I see fit. But when I meet up with WE in the public place, where each of us is constitutionally equal to one another, am I not also obligated to refrain from inflicting my religious practices and symbols onto WE?

Behind the wheel of an automobile, I am king of the road. But am I not also obligated to limit my speed and keep my car well-maintained to ensure the safety of those WE who are also on the road?

In the marketplace of things and services, I have the Right to engage in the career or commerce that most fulfills the dreams and capabilities of I. But am I not also obligated to give those gifts of things and services to all who seek them without discriminating among the WE? Does private property exist in the public place?

As a parent, the decisions about my child reside in the judgment of I. But when I choose to withhold treatment that can kill the child, or abstain from vaccinations that can prevent the infection of others, am I not also obligated to keep We free from the threat of that illness?

I have a Right to speak the thoughts and opinions of I, no matter how odious to the conventional norms of WE. But when my words are intentionally designed to cause mental pain, or perhaps endanger the physical well-being of WE, or to thwart the aspirational goals of the society of WE, is such speech still to be protected?

I and WE live within every one of us. Each is in a perpetual dance for expression, often one in conflict with the other, sometimes each in harmony with the other. In those times of conflict, can I and We seek to find the harmonic expression? Which version of me will step forward in any given situation?

©   2018   Randy Bell