Wayne LaPierre and the NRA, the gift that just keeps on giving.
The NRA claims that new laws won’t prevent gun violence.
NRA logic being that laws don’t stop crime because criminals break laws anyway.
That’s right, criminals break laws, so according to the NRA there’s no point in passing any new ones.
So what’s the NRA’s solution?
A new law.
What? Sure, I’ll pause for a moment so that you can make the facepalm. Go on, get it out of your system. You’ll probably want to take a couple of aspirin while you’re at it, since you’ll be smacking yourself in the forehead a few more times before America gets to the end of this mess.
Sunday, on Meet The Press, National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre doubled down on comments he made last week when he announced the NRA’s proposal to pass a new federal law mandating more guns in schools (See Part Three of this essay series).
“If it’s crazy to call for putting police in and securing our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy. I think the American people think it’s crazy not to do it.”
I don’t think that’s what the American people are thinking.
And, come to think of it, I’m pretty sure that’s not exactly what Wayne LaPierre himself said originally either.
Originally what LaPierre called for was “armed security” in each and every school – if fact what LaPierre originally called for was armed security trained under some NRA program to be announced later. Not cops.
Which is what started all the hoopla in the first place.
LaPierre should have kept his mouth shut, but he didn’t. And now he’s changing his story and hoping nobody will notice.
And for the record, as one of those “American people” LaPierre thinks he’s talking for, allow me to say that the very last thing I want is for an armed gun nut like Wayne LaPierre or his NRA friends anywhere within ballistic range of any school, let alone the one my kid attends. Cops, maybe, but then we’ve got that already and so Wayne LaPierre’s newly modified plan is just so much hot air.
The NRA isn’t offering an actual solution, and in fact they are actively campaigning to prevent development or even examination of any gun control option of any kind.
During the interview, host David Gregory repeatedly pressed LaPierre on the NRA’s position, to which LaPierre responded with sound bites and stonewalling. Finally in exasperation, Gregory asked point blank, “Is there no new gun regulation you would support?” LaPierre refused to answer.
LaPierre refused to respond on the air, but his position and that of the NRA’s is well known and has been repeated on every news site, in every gun related forum, and in every public Second Amendment discussion since Columbine. Hell, before the blood was even dry in Aurora, Sarah Palin dutifully trotted out the standard NRA canard as noted in Part One of this series, to wit: criminals break laws, therefore new gun regulations won’t work.
Criminals don’t respect the law.
Criminals violate the law, that’s what some wit on writer David Gerrold’s Facebook page said in response to a comment I made there.
Criminals violate the law.
No kidding, right?
Thanks for pointing that out, Captain Obvious. And thanks for completely missing the obvious while you’re at it.
Criminals violate the law.
That’s why we call them criminals in the first place – because, see, if there wasn’t a law proscribing the activity in question, then we’d just have to put up with everybody’s antisocial behavior, wouldn’t we?
Pointing out that criminals violate the law isn’t an argument. It’s not a particularly penetrating observation either. It’s a non sequitur. Stating something that is so bleeding obvious as some kind of supposed profound insight is simply another form of moving the goal posts. The statement is a logical fallacy, a tautology, the kind used when you won’t, or can’t, address the real issue.
Pointing out that criminals violate the law isn’t an argument, it’s a sound bite.
It’s a sound bite, and not a particularly accurate one either. Laws, in fact, often do prevent certain behavior. Laws mandating severe penalties for, say, drinking and driving have had a marked effect on drunken driving. Do those laws prevent drinking and driving completely? No, of course not, but those laws are gradually changing the culture of the United States and reducing the number of alcohol related vehicle deaths and accidents as a result. It’s a long and painful process, but it is changing our culture for the better.
The primary function of law isn’t to prevent crime.
It would be nice if it did, but that’s not what laws are for.
And that’s where the NRA and LaPierre go off the rails with their proposal. The foundation of the NRA position to put guns into every school is that, according to them, laws such as Gun Free Zones have failed, therefore any new laws will likewise fail.
First, one doesn’t necessarily follow the other.
And second, to say that gun free zones have failed shows a profound lack of understanding of what those laws, indeed laws in general, were supposed to do in the first place. Nobody (OK, almost nobody) expected gun free zones to completely prevent gun violence. We expected those laws to give us options and legal recourse in the case of certain events. And they have done exactly that. But nobody (OK, almost nobody) expected them to stop gun violence completely.
Just as the law doesn’t stop crime.
That’s not the law’s primary function.
The primary function of the law is to provide society with legal recourse in the face of antisocial behavior, i.e. behavior that infringes on the rights and property of others or upon the security of the society and its people.
If you don’t have a law that makes a school a gun free zone, then when a kid brings a gun to school with the (maybe) intention of threatening his classmates, even if you catch him before he can use it, law enforcement’s options are limited. The school can (maybe) kick him out for violating a school policy, but the law can’t touch him, not really, unless he violated some local gun ordinance or specifically transmitted a threat. And so he goes home, gets the rest of his mommy’s guns and comes back. But if you have a gun free zone, then by law the cops can arrest him the first time and have him evaluated for potential violence and maybe save your kid’s life. And that has happened hundreds of times since implementation of the Gun Free Zones, something the NRA conveniently ignores.
Implemented correctly, laws gradually change our culture and society and make certain behaviors less likely. Laws proscribing discrimination are an example. Anti-smoking ordinances are another. So are laws regarding drinking and driving. Before there were severe penalties for drinking and driving, if you were caught behind the wheel while intoxicated, the cops could give you ticket for violation of the vehicle code (if you were, in fact driving recklessly or speeding or failing to signal and so on) or maybe for public intoxication (if your local and state laws proscribed such things) or for whatever they could dream up – but not for the real problem. They might haul you in and dump you in the drunk tank until you sobered up. Then in the morning, you’d pay your fine (if there was one) and they’d hand you your keys back. Society had no legal method of keeping you from drinking and driving or punishing you for doing so until you killed somebody. That’s why we passed all those laws. Now we’ve got a battery of legal options that we, as a society, can apply. In many cases, the threat of those laws do make the casual drinker think twice about getting behind the wheel. Certainly drunk driving laws don’t prevent people from drinking and driving, obviously not, but those laws give society the option of seizing privileges, property, and liberty from those who just don’t get the message and they do provide us with a standardized framework for mandatory sentencing and penalties for those who willingly break the law.
If a law does prevent crime, so much the better, but that’s not the law’s primary function.
In the United States, an equally important function of the law is to limit the power of government, business, special interests, and the majority over individual liberty.
See? That’s what we’re talking about right there, said a friend of mine when this topic came up. The law is supposed to protect us from government overreach, it’s supposed to protect individual liberty. Gun control laws infringe on my individual liberty, my Constitutional right as an American to keep and bear arms. Driving is a privilege, owning a gun is a right. That’s the difference right there. Thanks, Jim, looks like you just made my argument for me.
Yeah, not so fast, Pistol Pete.
See, the law also says that individual liberty, i.e. rights, come with responsibility.
The most common example of which (so common that it’s almost a cliché) is that you can’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater. That’s not technically correct. You can, in fact, yell “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater, and there are times when you should (for example, if there’s a fire), but you are responsible, by law, for what comes after. And nowadays, I’d be less worried about somebody shouting “fire” than somebody shouting “Gun! Gun!” and starting a panicked stampede accompanied by a firefight – see, because we’ve got laws that mandate fire detectors and sprinkler systems in public buildings and the example that led to the cliché of “Fire! Fire!” is mostly gone now.
If you incite a panic, then you’re accountable – and you don’t get to claim the First Amendment as your-get-out-of-jail-free card.
The law places limits on individual freedom in America, those limits have existed right from the beginning of the country. Those limits were pretty broad back when our rights were first conceived and incorporated into the Constitution, and they are still fairly wide today compared to elsewhere in the world, but those limits do exist both in principle and in law and always have.
All of our rights, our individual liberties, come with limits.
We don’t like to admit it, but it’s true. Our rights have limits. Freedom of speech has limits. You can worship as you like in America, but we aren’t going to allow you to burn witches at the stake, stone adulterers to death, mutilate your female child’s genitals, or sacrifice your firstborn on a stone altar to appease your deity. Your freedom of religion has limits. So does your right of free association, especially if your gathering disturbs the neighbors (which is notable since your right to assembly is in the Bill of Rights, your neighbor’s right to peace and quiet isn’t) or overwhelms the local services and so on. In fact, in a lot of cases, we make you buy a permit in order to exercise your right to assembly. Your right to petition the government for redress of wrongs is limited, there’s a specific methodology and a specific body of laws that you have to adhere to. Freedom of the press is limited, granted those limits are pretty broad, but they are there nonetheless. And so on, every single right you have as an American is limited. Including the right to keep and bear arms.
That’s why the entire amendment doesn’t just say “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
That’s why the amendment begins with the qualifier “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state…”
And that is, of course, why the NRA only acknowledges the last part and not the first, because The NRA wants the rights but not the responsibilities.
The Framers never intended that the right to keep and bear arms should be without limits or without responsibilities.
The commenter I mentioned up above, the one on David Gerrold’s Facebook page, initially said to me, “I assume that you’re a responsible gun owner and that any weapons you have aren’t going to cause me harm.”
Why would you assume that?
You don’t know me. You don’t know anything about me. Why would you make that assumption?
Hell, even a cursory examination of the information publically available about me shows that I’m a war veteran. How do you know that I’m not all eaten up with the PTSD and fighting the Vietcong in the jungles of my mind? How do you know?
Why would you assume that I’m a responsible gun owner? Why, because I write well? Yeah, so did Hunter S. Thompson and seriously, you really wouldn’t want to be in the same room with him and his pistol. Or, well, a lot of writers come to think of it. I’m just saying.
Why would you assume that I’m a responsible gun owner?
What assurances does current law provide you that I am, in fact, a responsible gun owner and that my weapons don’t indeed pose a threat to others? And if not a guarantee, then at least a reasonable assurance?
How do you know that I don’t just leave my arsenal of assault rifles and semi-automatic pistols lying around, fully loaded, where anybody, including my teenage son and his friends, can get at them? How do you know that I’m not mentally unstable? How do you know that I’ve had any training or education in firearms or firearm safety whatsoever? Because I was in the military? I could have been a nurse for all you know, or in the Air Force (Heh heh, sorry Zoomies, I couldn’t resist).
Why would you make that assumption?
What legal assurances does current law provide you?
And that’s the very crux of the matter, right there.
Let’s say I decide to raise dangerous animals. Lions and tigers and grizzly bears and baboons. You people are my neighbors, what reasonable assurances are you offered that one night my clawed and toothed menagerie isn’t going to get loose and eat your kids? Are you willing to just take my word for it? Are you willing to take my word that I know what I’m doing? Are you willing to assume that my homemade cages are strong enough? Are you willing to take the risk? Are you willing to just hope that I have insurance? Are you willing to just put up with the smell and the noise and have no options but to assume that I’ll be responsible?
Or do you want some laws giving you legal recourse should things go bad between us?
Who should be responsible? Me or you? Should I be responsible for giving you a reasonable assurance of safety under penalty of law? Or should you be forced into responsibility for my irresponsibility through a lack of appropriate law?
Of course you could always give up and move, or buy a gun to defend yourself, but should you be forced to relocate or become a gun owner because there are no other legal options?
If you own a car, you're responsible for certain things. We make you meet certain minimal requirements, we make you pass a test, we make you buy a license. We penalize you if you don’t use your car correctly, or if you operate it in an unsafe manner, or if you don’t maintain it with the minimum required safety features (or if you don’t use them), or if you modify it beyond acceptable limits. We make you buy insurance. If you drink and drive, you get to go to jail even if you don’t kill anybody. If a kid steals your car because you left it sitting at the curb with the engine running and the doors unlocked and they use your car to commit a crime, you may not be held criminally liable for their actions directly, but your insurance company is going to penalize you - and is allowed to do so BY LAW – and you can be held liable for civil penalties.
Laws don’t stop vehicular crimes, but they for damned sure give us, society, at least some assurance that the majority of people operating vehicles on our roads meet some minimal qualifications and that there are legal penalties for those that fail to live up to their responsibilities – and those laws give us, society, legal recourse when all else fails.
We don't even do that much for gun ownership.
There is absolutely no reason for me to assume that you’re a responsible gun owner.
And that’s the problem.
Because far, far too many Americans aren’t.
If Adam Lanza’s Mother had secured her guns properly, if she had been required under penalty of law to secure her guns properly, we might not be having this conversation.
As a gun owner myself, I don’t think that it’s unreasonable or unconstitutional that you should have to legally accept responsibility before you’re allowed to own a gun.
I don’t think that it’s unconstitutional that you should have to give the rest of us some reasonable assurance that:
- You’re a responsible adult. That you’re not insane or a mental defective, not a felon, and not a child.
- That you actually know what you’re doing, you’ve had some minimal training and a basic understanding of how guns work, where bullets go when you fire them, and how the safety equipment works.
- That you have a basic understanding of the gun laws that pertain to you and your legal obligations.
- That you’re not going to shoot up my kid’s school.
- That you’re not going to allow somebody else to take your weapon and shoot up my kid’s school, or wipe out a movie theater, or shoot my congressman in the head.
- That the law provides me, society, with legal recourse if you fail to live up to those obligations in any way. Period.
Or you just don’t get to own and operate a dangerous machine.
We're not talking about any unreasonable stuff here, we’re barely even talking about the level of legal responsibility required to operate a car in this country.
If you want to own a gun then here’s where the hammer meets the firing pin: the burden of responsibility should be on you.
It’s as simple as that.
If you want to own guns, if you want to sell guns, if you want to make guns, then you and the NRA and the gun industry need to give the rest of us a reasonable legal framework where we can assume that you’re a responsible gun owner.
Don’t stand in the blood of our dead children and tell us that the laws don’t work.
If the laws we currently have don't work, then stop fighting us, roll up your sleeves and help us. Let's get rid of laws that don’t work and make ones that do.
I refuse to accept that twenty dead kids are just the price we pay for freedom.
And you damned well shouldn’t either.
Addendum 1: Every time I write one of these, I hope it's the last. But it never is, there's always another massacre. Always.
The Seven Stages of Gun Violence
The Bang Bang Crazy Series:
Part 1, What we need, see, are more guns, big fucking guns
Part 2, Gun violence isn't the exception in America, it's who we are
Part 3, Sandy Hook, the NRA, and a gun in every school
Part 4, More dead kids and why we have laws
Part 5, Gun control and a polite society
Part 6, The Christopher Donner rampage, they needed killin'
Part 7, Still more dead kids and let's print our own guns!
Part 8, Let's try blaming the victim, shall we?
Part 9, Armed soldiers on post, sure, nothing to go wrong there.
Part 10, Big Damned Heroes!
Part 11, Two in the Bush
What do we do about it? How do we change our culture of gun violence? Bang Bang Sanity
Addendum 2: As noted elsewhere, I’ve been around guns my entire life. My dad taught me to shoot when I was a kid – in fact the very first gun I ever fired was my dad’s prized black powder .75 caliber smooth bore Civil War trench piece when I was about four years old. I still own my very first gun, bought from Meyer’s Thrifty Acres in Jenison, Michigan, for me by my dad when I was fourteen years old – a lever action Winchester 30-30. I got my first deer with that gun. I grew up shooting, at home, in the Boy Scouts, hunting, target shooting, plinking, with friends and with family. Thirty years ago I joined the military and spent my entire life there. I know more than a little about guns. I’m a graduate of the Smith & Wesson Rangemaster Academy, the nation’s premier firearms instructor school. I’m a certified armorer and gunsmith. I’ve attended pretty much every boarding officer and gun school the military has. I hold both the Expert Pistol and Expert Rifle Medals. I’ve taught small arms and combat arms to both military and civilians for nearly thirty years now. I’ve fired damned near everything the US military owns, from the old .38 revolver to a US Navy Aegis Guided Missile Cruiser’s 5” main battery – and everything in between. I can still field strip a Colt .45 M-1911 pistol and put it back together in under a minute, blindfolded – I happen to own several of them, along with numerous other semi-auto pistols and a number of revolvers. I used to shoot professionally and in competition. I helped to design, test, field, and fire in combat US Military weapons systems. I’ve spent my entire life in places where gun usage is extremely, extremely, common. I have a Concealed Carry Permit. I’m an Alaskan and I typically carry a gun in the wilds of Alaska on a regular basis. I am neither pro-gun nor anti-gun, a gun is a tool, nothing more. If you feel that I’m ignorant of guns, or that I’m anti-gun, or unAmerican, well, you’re welcome to speak your piece – just so long as you can live with what comes after.