Friday, February 1, 2013

What Are We Doing?

America is a land of contrasts to be sure.  It's obvious in our choices of lifestyle. It's obvious in our politics. It's obvious in our various faiths.  We are at the same time a people of vast differences and similarities.   The similarities are just as obvious.  We all generally appreciate the rights and liberties we consider inviolate and traditional.   Most people, at least most thinking people believe that we set up this system of governance in our country as an attempt to better the overall condition of the people who live in this nation.   The general point of view of most people is that we want to be free from oppressive rule, protected in our homes, schools and other public places, free to worship or not worship as we choose, etc. etc.  It's a story as old as our country. We learn about this in grade school.  The world at large at one point in time or another has come to respect the United States as both a land of opportunity and a land where people are in most cases free.

It is therefore not surprising that an issue like gun regulations causes so much consternation within the citizenry of our nation.   Loud and passionate voices are screaming their respective talking points from both sides of the political spectrum.  Some believe that the right to bear arms is as sacred as any other we have.  Others believe that we have taken the 2nd Amendment, poorly phrased as it is and have narrowed its scope to a very focused application of the right.   Who is correct?  Well, it depends on your point of view.  There are massive amounts of case law that will support either point of view in a reasonable fashion.   The issue of an individual's right to bear arms is one of constant debate and discussion.   When tragedies like the Newtown incident that left over 25 people dead at the hands of a mad-man who used semi-automatic weapons occurs, it brings the debate into the spotlight.  Passions are rightly inflamed. Those who are victimized by the crimes are justifiably angry and asking for something to be done to stop this madness.   It is a reasonable response.  Those who would take issue with the manner by which action is taken are just as passionate about trying to stop governmental over reach into an individual's liberty.  No better example of this is the recent statements by Wayne LaPierre, Chief Executive Officer of the National Rifle Association (NRA).  The NRA is probably the best known of several guns-rights advocates and Mr. LaPierre has been quick to get in front of a camera and microphone to admonish leaders in government not to take actions around gun legislation that he considers worthless and simply something that would make us feel good about ourselves but in the end not do anything to quell this type of violence we seemingly see over and over again.

Why the dichotomy of opinion and point of view?  Why do the passions on this issue go so far afield from each other? The cynic in me believes that Mr. LaPierre is not so much an advocate of individual liberty as he is an advocate of the manufacturers of firearms.  To me, this is about money.   It is about big, big business. As the data from the statistics site called Statistic Brain shows, it is a VERY big business.  In the past 8 years, there have been an average of about 3.4 million firearms sold in this country.  In terms of revenue, including ammunition, the firearms industry generated over $11 Billion dollars last year.  There are over 400 weapons and ammunition manufacturers in this country, employing over 35 thousand people. So, yes, there is an enormous level of influence from the weapons industry on insuring people can continue to purchase the products they manufacture.  While I would like to think the issue of gun regulation is as simple as people who want to get stricter gun laws are simply opposed by the big, evil corporate players who are making money off of the carnage, the reality is not that cut and dried.  The matter of gun ownership or gun regulation is much more complex with opinions ranging from my own as illustrated above, to those who are almost religious in their zealotry regarding their 2nd Amendment rights to bear arms.  Every possible reason for not implementing stricter gun regulation or banning certain types of weapons is out there. From the idea that gun ownership is a tradition and part of our culture, handed down from those halcyon days of settling the frontier, to the father and son who go hunting together, etc.  We also have those who believe and I think do so delusionally, that any gun control legislation is a plot by the government to remove firearms from our landscape altogether, thereby encumbering the nation towards passivity and inability to respond to the government should those black helicopters come for us.   Of course, there are others, who simply believe that a responsible person doesn't need government oversight and can own and manage a firearm with reason and maturity.   I know many of the latter in the example.  I am one myself.  I own a firearm, and have for years. I keep it secure and away from possibility of misuse and theft.  Many people like me go about their lives with no incident that would lead me to believe I should get rid of the weapon.  I also go about my life with little to no reason to use the weapon in defense of myself and my  family.   In that instance I'm lucky.  I don't live in an area where the threat of danger is persistent to the point it makes sense to own a weapon for defense.  But, one wonders why we tolerate areas in this country where it is so dangerous to live that people do need to own weapons in order to be secure?  It's puzzling to me that we don't discuss that issue more.

However,  one thing is true and never will be otherwise. That is that those killed by gun violence will never, ever be able to voice their opinion on the matter.  They will never be able to support or decry this massive amount of gun ownership and advocacy in this country.  Their voices are silent. They are by virtue of the action of some lunatic, who in my opinion has no business being around a firearm let alone being able to own one completely stripped of their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  It is a shameful response we have to these incidents, whether it is Columbine High School, Aurora, Colorado, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Newtown or any of the numerous mass shootings that have occurred in our recent past.   The country must make some fundamental changes in how we approach this.  The status quo is not acceptable.  Parents should not have to fear that their kid might not come from school, or from the movie theater.  A 15 year old girl, who just recently had a highlight in her brief life that she would remember for the rest of her days by singing at one of the Presidential inaugural balls was shot and killed this week in Chicago.    No parent should have to put their child in the ground before them.  No sibling should have to wake up the next day and find their brother or sister dead at the hand of gun violence.  There is no squaring this circle folks.  Your and my rights to own a weapon do not supersede the right of a parent, grandparent, sibling or child to live.

There are all manner of approaches to this issue of gun violence.  Yes, mental health issues must be addressed.  Yes, this adolescent adoration of violence in movies and video games must be addressed.  But, at the end of the day, we will have to decide we are better than we are behaving, and yes, put paranoia aside and do something to limit the amount of guns that are available for the lunatics to get and use.    The picture at the top of this post shows several semi-automatic weapons that you can simply walk into a big-box retail store and purchase.  There is of course a "back-ground" check on these and any other guns you purchase from that store, which will remain nameless, but you can find it on the Internet in about 60 seconds.   However, what is not obvious is that people who purchase these weapons can sell them in gun shows to people who do not have to go through background checks. They can sell them privately to people who do not have to go through background checks.  They do not have to register those weapons.  They do not have to report them stolen.  They do not have to do the most basic things we do with an automobile.  Are our "rights" to bear arms so precious that we do not have to be sensible?  I think not.  It's time for this country to stand up as a citizenry and declare an end to the nonsense.   We are more alike than different, and as John Kennedy said along time ago regarding the threat of obliteration from weapons that are very tightly controlled:  "For in the final analysis our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet, we all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children’s future, and we are all mortal.”  Of course, the President was referring to nuclear war. 

I think we can have a sane approach to this issue and come up with a plan that will reduce the amount of tragedy we incur year over year because some mad man decided to go shoot someone.  If we can't get there on this most basic of issues, then we are truly lost as a nation. 

There are several interest groups that are looking for reasonable solutions to this problem.  One of them, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence has some interesting perspective on the matter. 

Get engaged in this no matter what side of the fence you are on.  The idea is to reduce and prevent where possible gun violence.  I can't imagine any thinking person would believe that we don't have a problem here.  What are we doing about it?


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