Friday, January 18, 2013

The bad pockets



It seems to me to pose a moral problem and a practical problem to restrict my gun rights on the basis of what happens in some drug-fueled free fire zone across town. . . If you infringe my rights because of the actions of lunatics, it fails the test of proportionate response: I am not a lunatic.




The gangs

If we are really going to have a broad national debate on gun violence, let us focus our attention first on where the biggest problem lies. America's violence problem is peculiar among other developed and civilized nations in that our problems are strongly localized. America is a peaceful country most places you go. Gun violence tends to concentrate around certain social and demographic factors: urban blight, government dependency and the drug trade. These factors are complexly interrelated, but it would take too much space to unpack all that here. Doubtless that is fodder for another broad national debate.

For the present, it is enough to look at who shoots wholesale not retail: gangs and gang-banger wannabes. We could look at this as organized crime, only it isn't very organized. It is more a set of circumstances that misguides many young people who have limited prospects to begin with, funneling them into a life that is often dangerous and sometimes short. And, unfortunately, these people often hit innocents with their crossfire.

It seems to me to pose a moral problem and a practical problem to restrict my gun rights on the basis of what happens in some drug-fueled free fire zone across town. I am not part of that problem. My rights should not be molested or infringed for it. Atop this moral reason is the practical one. Nothing you do to restrict me is going to have any effect across town. Former bans and restrictions have shown us that the underworld remains well armed regardless.


The crazies

The immediate catalyst for the current national discussion, the Newtown massacre, was by anyone's measure a national tragedy. It was tragic on more than one level. A seriously disturbed person murdered his mother, took her guns and went to a primary school, where he gunned down children and teachers. Then he shot himself.

In recent mass shootings, we note in many of them a common thread of insanity. In some, we also find the involvement of powerful drugs, of kinds used in grave mental illness. In each such case involving insanity, we can say that the shooter was not under adequate supervision--that is, not put away. That his supervision was inadequate is shown by his deeds. If there is ever a good reason to put someone away, surely this kind of madness qualifies. In case after case, we can say after the fact that there was warning that the shooter was insane, and in dangerous ways. But he was not restrained before the fact.

Here we need to reevaluate the trend in psychiatry to mainstream patients who, in former times, would have been committed or adjudicated incompetent and given the legal restrictions that go with it. At some point the professionals began to feel that it was inhumane to deal with patients that way, if they could think of any other. That more or less coincided with a manufactured public outcry against "snake pits"--as mental hospitals were styled--and the awful injustice of sending people there. Of course it was true that some public mental hospitals held unpleasant conditions--unsanitary, dark, smelly, etc. But instead of improving the conditions it was deemed kinder and wiser to empty out the hospitals.

There has been talk in the national debate about wanting to avoid stigmatizing the insane. The stigma is a product of fear. The fear is in some sense justifiable. It is not unreasonable, at least, to fear some of insanity's outworkings, such as those seen at Newtown, at Virginia Tech, at Tucson and elsewhere.

The idea that we can or should eliminate dangerous objects from society, with the idea that the insane will otherwise get hold of them and use them to endanger themselves and others, again fails on moral and practical grounds. If you infringe my rights because of the actions of lunatics, it fails the test of proportionate response: I am not a lunatic. The practical difficulty is that the dangerously insane are not dangerous because of guns but because of insanity. Some are dangerous no matter what. It one's purpose is to kill many others and one's self, it can be accomplished with a bus, an airplane, a bomb or even a can of charcoal lighter fluid and book of matches.


Focusing on Newtown

Bear in mind that I am working, as of the time of this writing, with incomplete information gleaned from news accounts and some of the reports may be inaccurate to boot.

Based on what can be read so far, there were failures in patient care and a significant failure in gun storage. The patient care aspect is still murky because of the reporting. It has been reported that what set off the shooter was that his mother was about to have him committed. That is uncertain. It is more generally reported that the shooter had a long history of psychiatric treatment and bizarre behavior. In a former era the question of commitment would have arisen early rather than later.

On the gun storage matter--well, what is proper gun storage? The idea is to reserve the weapons to the supervision of their proper and lawful owner. Put another way, it is to keep them from those who should not use them unsupervised. Whatever happened inside that household in Newtown, that was not it. The lawful owner was killed and the guns taken to do further evil. 

If either the guns or the murderer had been properly locked away, we wouldn't be having this national discussion.


 A side note

I have, of course, been a gun safety advocate for many years. I would like to share yet again an idea that you can use if your household contains an unstable person or others you might be worried about--the very young for example, or an irresponsible visiting relative. Perhaps your concern is that the neighborhood children are in and out of your house all the time with your children, and not all of the neighbors raise sensible children.

A gun safe is good. A higher level of security than that can be had using off site storage. A rental storage locker, at one of the many businesses that offer such things, will do. Some target ranges and gun clubs offer gun storage on their premises, which is better because you know that humidity control has been thought about and usually the insurance coverage is better. Of course I think you should have guns in the house, and the Second Amendment assures your right to have them, but there are exceptional circumstances in which that stops being a good idea.


Let's focus our attention where the problems lie

Our violence problems owe largely to criminal activity centering on the urban street scene and the drug trade. Dealing with that dreadful, entangling, hopeless world would require a lengthy examination of the factors that go into creating the mess in the first place. Factors relating to that nexus of bloodshed account for far more shootings than all our lunatics put together.

Horrific, crazy shooting episodes like Newtown's owe to the unrestrained actions of dangerously insane individuals. There seems to be an emerging national awareness that what we are doing for and about such people is falling short of what they need, and what we as a society need. It is not really a kindness to them when we give them a pill, let them alone and hope for the best, and it is not in society's best interests either.

Neither problem is well addressed by restricting your right to defend yourself with arms adequate for the world we live in. Our politicians seem to feel that the real problems are too difficult to address, too dangerous politically. It is dangerous to suggest too many changes to urban culture as now constituted. You might be accused of being racist, elitist or heartless. It is dangerous to talk about the insane, for you will surely be accused of stigmatizing the unfortunate, invading their privacy or wanting to throw them into a snake pit. Gun bans and magazine capacity bans and so on are easier answers. But, as so often happens, the easy answers are not the correct ones. Indeed, they are no answer at all. 

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