Monday, July 23, 2012

Aurora, Colorado Changes No One's Mind

"No one cared who I was until I put on the mask"  (Bane, in The Dark Knight Rises)
For two evenings in late June of this year I participated in a forum hosted by our local paper, the Tri-City Herald. Termed a "Community Conversation," the focus was on the Second Amendment and Gun Control. About a dozen people showed up for the facilitated discussion. My impression was that participants were evenly split between strong gun rights advocates, and proponents of greater gun control. I am a member of the latter group.
After the event, I was asked, along with others, to contribute an article describing my impressions of the conversation. I was just sitting down to do this when I heard the news of the shooting in a multiplex theater in Aurora, Colorado. My feelings on hearing of yet another case of senseless gun violence were a mix of shock, sadness, and anger. I had to step away from my keyboard to give myself time to decide how what happened in Aurora, would color what I was about to write.
I decided that rather than write about my own feelings, I would asked myself what the twelve people in that June “Community Conversation” would have to say if faced with one of the worst mass shootings in US history. Based on what I heard last June, here is what I think.
Gun control proponents would call for stronger restrictions on gun ownership, including re-instituting the 1994 ban on assault weapons (which expired in 2004). They would call for closing the loopholes on gun show sales, and on private sales. And they would want  restrictions on where guns could be carried.

Gun rights advocates would argue that there are already enough regulations. One participant in the June discussions stated angrily that there were already over 20,000 U.S. gun laws. According to a study published by the Brookings Institute, the 20,000 figure is a fiction popularized by the NRA, but in any case, gun control proponents would say that the sheer number of laws (probably around 300 major state and federal laws) tells us nothing about their stringency, breadth, or effectiveness.
I would hope that face-to-face with a parent or loved one of a victim of the Colorado shooting, one of our gun rights advocates wouldn’t parrot the NRA’s palliative, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” But as pointless as that phrase is, that’s what they stand by. Gun control proponents would argue that it begs the question of what guns the public should be permitted and what measures are necessary to ensure that the guns they are permitted don’t get in the wrong hands.
But the gun rights advocates in our conversation last June would bristle at the very thought of being “permitted” to own guns. They firmly believe that, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed,” and encouraged by recent Supreme Court Rulings, they see very little if anything they’ll accept as limiting that right.
Gun control proponents would argue that at the very least, private citizens should not own assault weapons; they are considered impractical for hunting (especially the .223 AR-15 used by the Colorado shooter), and are lethal in the hands of a deranged killer. This is where gun control proponents miss the point.

Gun rights advocates see themselves as the “well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State.” They are extraordinarily protective of their rights, and they are convinced that given the chance, our government would rescind those rights and confiscate their guns (if you doubt this, do an Internet search using the terms, “gun,” and “confiscation”). Some members of the gun community are of the opinion that the time for taking up arms against this "overreaching" government might be approaching.

Gun control proponents have difficulty imagining the violent overthrow of a freely elected American government, but until they come to grips with what they see as the paranoia of gun rights extremists on this issue, they will always and forever fail to convince the gun community of the need to limit arms sales. 
Finally, gun rights advocates believe that self defense is a “God given right,” and reject the notion of gun control proponents that “stand your ground laws” are an unnecessary and dangerous extension of that right. Faced with the Colorado massacre, they would have argued that if some theater patrons had been armed, they might have shot the gunman and saved lives.

The thought of this firefight in the darkened confines of that crowded, smoke-filled theater, against a heavily armed gunman wearing body armor and a ballistic helmet, would boggle the mind of most thoughtful people. But the gun rights blogosphere is full of articles, posts, and discussion forums promoting this very thing, right down to the type of weapons participants in the discussions own and would have been carrying.

In the final analysis, it is my belief that had the Colorado shooting occurred before we had our "community conversation," the same opinions and beliefs would have been voiced -- no one's mind would have been changed.

In my own opinion, with respect to the Colorado killings, both sides of the issue are wrong. Stricter gun laws would not have stopped James Holmes. He would have found some way, somewhere, to act out whatever crazed notion he had of revenge, renunciation, death, or redemption.

But gun rights advocates are wrong to use that as an excuse not to accept reasonable safeguards on the ownership and use of guns. To argue that because you can't stop the determined, suicidal individual from killing with a gun, you shouldn't do everything possible to prevent the spread of the most lethal of those guns in our society, is worse than pigheaded, it's criminal.

Finally, the vigilante ethos of a large segment of the gun community is one that any law-abiding person, especially anyone who argues we are "a Christian nation," must reject.

Batman, "No guns, no killing" 
Catwoman, "Where's the fun in that?"
(The Dark Knight Rises)

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