Friday, November 23, 2007

Debunking more canards

In the controversy swirling around the US Supreme Court's electing to take on the Heller v. DC gun-rights appeal case, one of the best things that may come of it all is the bringing into the sunlight a lot of very important concepts- and, one would hope, the dismantlement of a number of misconceptions on the subjects of not only guns, but the US Constitution and human rights.
As one who has been involved in shooting sports and gun rights, I get to hear an impressive amount of sheer wrongness on the subject. Without really going into commentary on how American society has become so separated from its heritage since the end of World War II and the consequent rise of "media", television most especially, in the education of Americans about what a narrow coterie of fiction writers in California thinks it knows about history, law, and guns, debunking is the first order of business for persons concerned about the importance of both arms and the law.
One of the first things I will hear when in the company of liberals/lefties/progressives when the topic is raised is the familiar old bromide that "handguns are only for killing". In any technical or literal sense, that statement is false, and very much so.
In fact, few handguns are either designed or intended for killing anything. The small fraction that is are hunting guns, such as the well-known TC Contender, a large single-shot device normally equipped with a telescopic sight. Hardly the stuff of gangbanger fantasies.
A certain number of handguns are designed for target work. Many are of the .22 rimfire caliber, nearly the smallest commonly available one. What target handguns share is large size and features that work against both stealth and rapidity. Even a USPSA Open Division pistol is huge and heavy chunk, and not very useful for anything outside of its narrow realm of operation.
In fact, nearly all handguns are designed for personal protection. When one hears the statement that "Glock 9mms are only for killing", well, you're hearing something so far from the reality that it bears no relation to real life.
Personal protection handguns are designed and intended to stop. To stop a living thing, human or not, from doing what it’s doing, as quickly as possible. That is exactly, and only, why a law enforcement officer carries one, why a soldier carries one, and why a law-abiding citizen carries one.
In fact, killing is a problem for that purpose and all users of handguns for personal protection dread that potential side-effect. The use of a firearm may well constitute deadly force, but death is absolutely not the primary intent- stopping an anti-social activity is.
This is not a trivial or semantical issue- grasping this elemental truth is essential to the understanding of arms at all. Until a participant in the discussion on the right of humans to keep and bear arms can get past this critical thought-step, nothing that follows will be grounded in reality. In a non-military situation, to use a gun to kill a human being- for that express purpose- is a crime. It's homicide.
The police officer in the dark, stinking apartment hallway watching a gun pointed at his partner has no intent of killing the gun-pointer, no intent of committing a homicide. He wants to stop the miscreant, stop him from bringing harm to someone undeserving.
There is no difference in the use by civilians of handguns for personal protection- when the shopkeeper sees a savage, drugged-out robber pointing a shotgun at his spouse, he will use his gun to stop the robber, and killing would be a secondary, if awful, consequence.
I will add that I have two friends who both were faced with exactly these scenarios, and I can testify to their state of mind as regards whether they were stopping or killing. I hope the reader never finds him- or herself faced with the same sort of decision, and I am sure that the death of the attacker, should it be a consequence, will not be found anywhere as intentional.
Handguns are not for killing at all. They're for stopping. It's not a moral quandary about a law-abiding and righteous person taking a life- it's that person preventing harm to an innocent. With that foundational concept cemented into place, the issue of citizens bearing arms, including carrying in ordinary life, can be made clearer and more sensible.
Another question I will hear, then, is why carry? "I've never had a need for a gun" will follow soon. One widely-mentioned view holds that a "conservative is a liberal who was mugged", and that does have a certain amount of truth to it.
Another illustrative answer is that in fact, I've never needed a seatbelt in the million miles I've ridden in and driven automobiles... but I won't go past the foot of my driveway without wearing one. Same goes for riding in airplanes. Same goes for helmets on motorcycles. Same goes for business liability insurance.
Bond cards. Fire extinguishers. Criminal lawyers' telephone numbers.
The fact is, life has things go wrong, and some element of preparation for those things is just common sense. Never needed a gun? I did, and it served to help protect the safety of an innocent person, a neighbor. I didn't have to even touch the trigger in that case, and I am eternally grateful that was so, but not as grateful as the neighbor whose home was not invaded as a direct result of the presence of my gun, as she waited nineteen long minutes for the police to arrive.
In those discussions, what follows will be the insistence upon regulation of the right to arms- gun control. That is another issue where little knowledge is very often present, underpinning some pretty non-factual arguments.
I might as well dispense immediately with one more faulty "known fact", that gun-rights advocates demand a complete absence of regulation of the use and possession of firearms. I know and read thousands of gun-rights advocates. I have never heard one say such a thing, that no restrictions on the possession of firearms are permissible.
The bizarre and wrongful demonization of the National Rifle Association, an organization that is more concerned with the safe and lawful use of firearms than any other, and has been such a repository of expertise on firearms law that it formerly was frequently consulted by legislators to author and proof firearms legislation goes along with this.
Just like other basic rights, the right of the keeping of arms is related to upholding one's citizenship. The law provides the reduction of citizen's rights in the event of bad behavior. A violent felon may not own a gun, or vote, or get certain kinds of jobs, and so on and so forth. One may reasonably suggest restrictions on other, specific types of arms. Frequently we hear that rocket-propelled grenades are a good example of arms that ought to be prohibited. In fact, they are heavily restricted in the US and there's no problem in reality. Automatic firearms, machine guns as they are more commonly called, are sometimes cited as another type to be banned. But, the real-life fact is that there are hundreds of thousands of machine guns in private hands in the US and virtually none- as small a number as can be thought of- are used in violent crimes. There's no problem there, and imagining one where none exists probably serves more to illuminate the mind of the imaginer than any sort of solution to violent crime.
That same reality also pertains to personal carry by civilians. The real-life fact, again, is that ordinary citizens carrying personal protection guns are just about never- as close to never as a human activity could be- involved in committing violent crimes. 46 states issue permits for concealed carry (two have no restrictions on carry such as permits or licenses) and among those carriers, such a tiny percentage are ever charged, much less convicted, of a violent crime so as to be negligible.
While perhaps not a legitimate debating device, I can always point out to someone arguing against lawful concealed carry that I, as a permit-holder (non-resident permits) am far less likely, statistically, to commit a violent crime with a gun than my rhetorical opponent.
That does point to one of the odder things a gun owner is exposed to- the modern, "liberal" person who, upon discovering the presence of a gun, immediately insists that the bearer is about to shoot someone. I would like to write this off as more of the sort of view into the mind of the gun-ignorant, but it still is a cause for concern. Why would someone even think such a ridiculous thing?
Well, Hollywood, of course. There lies the primary fountain of firearms nonsense in this country and many others. I can recall a calm, thoughtful relative once asking me if it really was hard to shoot things, instead of how it looks on television.
Here's a simple, foolproof law of certainty for persons who don't know much, or anything about firearms: if you saw it on TV or a movie screen, there’s a better than 90 percent chance it's false. Whether the chilling totalitarianism of Dick Wolf's "Law and Order" television series or the latest Big Hollywood Star's anti-gun movie (Jodie Foster comes to mind), it's so full of nonsense that when an actual fact appears, it's a surprise.
Very much the same thing appears in the news business. I'm not here to explain what sort of person gravitates into journalism, but it does not require a statistician to discover that 80-90 percent of mainstream journalists vote straight Democrat, and spend their advocacy time on causes almost invariably well left of center.
Then, check out their editorials calling for the banning of guns of one type, another, or altogether. Those will have been preceded by news articles reading exactly like Brady Group press releases about how bad it is guns aren't outlawed. Then ask them one and all how many voted for G.W. Bush. Expect to hear some serious silence.
Thanks to the Internet, gun owners get their laughs at the ridiculous misrepresentations of guns, gun law, and gun owners almost instantly, now. And there are plenty of those laughs to be had. There are a lot of news organizations that couldn't put together a fully-factual, even-handed article on these topics even if they suddenly wanted to. I can refer you to my hometown Chicago Tribune again, where the journalists believe that the Brady Campaign, the current name for the largest (but not very large) anti-gun group out there at the moment feeds them solid and accurate information for publication, but the NRA, the Illinois State Rifle Association, and the other gun-rights groups present an extremist and minority distortion of reality.
Think about that- the Brady people know more about guns that the NRA people? How does that even make it through the smell test?
Possibly the most pervasive canard pushed by these groups is that of a huge, mysterious "gun lobby". With the current craze for casting corporations as entities with nefarious intent, shading the gun owners as part of this corporate-tainted political force is an easy sell for uninformed advocates trying to influence uninformed voters.
Gun owners constitute approximately half of the adult population of the United States. Suggesting that a group such as that comprises a "lobby" should be comical. Unfortunately, to many growing up and living in environments without experience of the realities of guns and gun ownership, most especially large urban centers like Chicago, hating corporate lobby-thingies is a facile thing. That doesn’t make it accurate.
There are several anti-gun organizations. At the moment, the Brady group, an amalgam and recasting of a couple of older and less-attractively named ones, is holding sway on mainstream media storylines about firearms. Others, broader advocacy groups of the progressive/leftist/liberal bent are strongly anti-gun as well- the inaptly-named American Civil Liberties Union is an especially loud one.
None come close to the dreaded NRA when it comes to being a grass-roots-up organization with an involved, informed, and participatory membership. Even at four million, the NRA represents a small fraction of gun owners, but compared to the anti-gun groups, it’s huge, active, and connected.
Yet, turn on CNN or open the LA Times and you’d think the NRA was a corporate-based bunch of mercenaries at the beck and call of firearms manufacturers. It would be hard to find a more inaccurate picture of a not-for-profit, but the deep and wide ignorance of mainstream media is so complete that I suspect that the journalists producing the anti-gun news articles are not even aware of the falsity of the assumptions underpinning their storylines.
The next time you see a Brady-type like Paul Helmke speaking through the media mouth that anti-gun laws bring safety and pro-gun laws endanger innocents, you’re getting nonsense that can’t be supported by fact or science. In the tidal wave of media demonization of the NRA, you’ll never hear the reality.
So here’s a set of questions you can answer for yourself and go around the mouthpieces: Where is the strongest, worst gun control in effect? Places like Chicago, and Washington, D.C. Where is the violent crime the worst? Where is the murder rate the highest? Those very same places.Try a different variation. What about the celebrated gun bans imposed on other parts of the Anglosphere, such as the U.K.? England now has some of the most onerous gun control in a democracy anywhere, put into place a decade or so ago. What’s happening to the violent crime rate? It’s skyrocketing, to the point where England has passed the U.S. for risk of violence. And it includes gun-involved crime, too. What’s worse is that it’s not confined to the deep-urban setting as it is in the US; it’s everywhere across the countryside. No place is safe.
How about the rapid spread of right-to-carry laws that swept the U.S. starting in the Reagan years? Did those states see increased gun-involved violence? Nope, far from it. Almost every place legal conceal-carry was liberalized, violent crime rates went down, and in some places, a lot.
How could a suggestion that gun-control laws prevent violent crime even be floated?
On a sea of canards.