Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Right to Bear 8 Arms: what are you, an octopus?

What is usually assumed when I tell people that I majored in Peace and Conflict studies in undergrad and grad school, is that I am a pacifist. (Actually, lots of assumptions are made ie. feminist, anarchist, loves Birkenstocks, vegetarian, loves The Greatful Dead, hates country music, etc... But I digress.) The term 'pacifism' ranges on a spectrum from the promotion of resolving conflict through peaceful means to a belief in complete abstinence from violence, even for self defense. From my experience in somewhat heated political debates, 'pacifist' is often used as a derogatory term attempting to insult us 'liberal, dove-loving, peace-sign waving, hairy armpitted hippies', as though calling someone a 'pacifist' would negate any rational or logical argument they might have. I guess this is similar to calling someone a 'War Monger', which I may have done in my angsty teens, thinking that I had dominated an argument from the use of that single term alone. In truth, although I advocate for peaceful resolutions to geopolitical conflict, I would consider myself a moderate pacifist. I do think that violence is sometimes (but rarely) a necessary means to achieve peace, when all other diplomatic attempts have been exhausted, or if a group of people are being tyrannically oppressed. I think that global foreign policy is much too hasty in deeming military action as the most effective means of resolving conflict, and I definitely believe a major paradigm shift is needed in the way world politics deal with conflict. Still, it is my personal belief that there are instances when violence is a necessary evil. Phew. That was hard for me to write.

So, why the lengthy preface to a blog post about gun control? Well, I just wanted to state my stance on nonviolence before delving into my opinion on the subject of guns, just so you don't assume that I'm someone who wouldn't roundhouse kick a sexual predator in the face. Because I would. So hard. I'd even sucker punch a kidnapper in the jewels, and not even feel bad about it. And just so you know, Rivers sleeps with a machete under the bed. So there.

That being said, let me tell you about my views on gun control, since it's a topic that's been blowing up the social media sphere like Walter White in an underground meth lab. ( Didn't get that joke? No? Breaking Bad, anyone? Season 3? No, I guess that show is a little too rated R for my target audience...)

The major argument I've heard in opposition to tighter gun control laws is the good old 2nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America written in 1791, deeming that the people of America have the right to "keep and bear arms". Before dissecting the reasoning behind the amendment, let's take a look at the mechanics of a 1791 gun...

For starters, a 1791 gun was a single-fire weapon that needed to be reloaded through the muzzle after each shot. They had horrible aim, often misfired and did not have even close to the velocity or range that a modern firearm possesses. In other words, every shot had to count. People bearing arms back in 1791 were able to hit one target at a time (if they were 'lucky') with vast intervals of time in between shots, and were often stabbed or wrestled to the ground while trying to reload their musket in battle. In actuality, most militia men relied on more old school 'arms', like bayonettes, swords, sabres and bows. Modern assault rifles, on the other hand, have the ability to take down crowds of people in a matter of seconds with precision and ease, as we have regrettably learned through the recent onslaught of mass shootings plaguing the United States. As opposed to the bearer of a cumbersome musket who could conceivably be 'taken down' by an unarmed opponent, citizens bearing assault rifles have virtually no opposition. I doubt that the founding fathers could even fathom such destructive weapons when they bestowed upon the People the right to bear arms. If the arms debate was pitted around how many crossbows, cannons and Excalibur swords a citizen could posses, I think I would be more understanding of the opposing argument. But the fact that Americans are up in arms (pun) about the possibility of losing their semi-automatic assault rifles (which are only meant for one thing-killing multiple people in a short amount of time) baffles me.

The 2nd amendment was ratified in order to ensure that "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." In essence, the right to bear arms was ratified as a safeguard against tyrannical rule, so that if the People felt their government was oppressive, they would be adequately armed for rebellion. Can you imagine what would happen if a group of extra-governmental militia people banded together to take out the president? Yeah, I'm pretty sure we call that terrorism, and there's actually a whole war going on to try and stop that, if ya didn't know. I think we can all agree that the original reason behind the right to bear arms is outdated. Citizen-organized militias are virtually illegal and I'd be willing to bet that any modern-day revolution would be quashed and quickly marked as treason. As a result, in 2008 the Supreme Court ruled that citizens unaffiliated with militias could still maintain their right to bear arms. In reality, it is no longer the 2nd amendment that is upholding this inalienable right to own guns (how many people do you know as part of a militia?). So let's not use that as an argument, k?

All this being said, I have to be clear that I am not completely opposed to gun ownership. I think that if having a handgun in your house makes you feel safer, and you've passed an extensive background check along with proper gun wielding and safety training, why not? Like I said, we sleep with a machete under our bed. If you like venison and a sweet deerskin loincloth, why not have a hunting rifle in your shed? Sure. No problem. What I can't understand is the debate over the right to own a semi-automatic assault weapon, or an arsenal of guns at that. A survey conducted by the Injury Prevention center at the US National Library of Medicine journal showed that gun owners own an average of 7.9 guns each. Please tell me the point of owning 8 guns. Unless you're an octopus,or have been watching too much Walking Dead and are preparing for the Zombie Apocalypse, I really don't get it.

Since 1982, there have been over 60 mass shootings in the United States, and, according to a recent study by Mother Jones magazine, most of the shooters obtained their weapons legally. The weapons used were predominantly assault rifles and semi-automatic handguns. I have heard the pro-gun argument that if a potential victim of a mass shooting had been armed, he or she could have shot the perpetrator before too many lives were lost. But as this study shows, there have been zero mass shootings stopped by armed civilians, although some victims were armed at the time of the shooting.

I guess my point in writing this blog is my ever present message of moderation and balance. I see no problem with a law-abiding citizen having a safely stored handgun in their home to protect against intruders. I know a lot of people whose minds are put at ease going to bed at night knowing that they have a weapon to protect them. But what I really can't wrap my mind around is how people can rationally argue the 'right' to own their own personal stockpile of assault weapons, or those who feel they're living under a communist government when they see a sign outside a store that reads "No Weapons Allowed".

There are tons of other disarming (pun) statistics that I could use in this post, but I don't want to bore you. Here are some links to the studies I've referenced, just so you know I'm not just pulling these statistics from thin air.

And I'd really be interested to hear your opinion on the subject. So please, go ahead. Shoot.