Every Tuesday, Gene publishes weekly updates to his chats.
- Gene's latest chat
On one Tuesday each month, Gene is online to take your questions and abuse. He will chat about anything. Although this chat is sometimes updated between live shows, it is not and never will be a "blog," even though many persons keep making that mistake. One reason for the confusion is the Underpants Paradox: Blogs, like underpants, contain "threads," whereas this chat contains no "threads" but, like underpants, does sometimes get funky and inexcusable.
Greetings, update readers.
Just a few words about guns, then I go away for the day.
There are some issues of intense public debate that seem perfectly simple when viewed from afar. In the United States in 1857, when citizens good and true -- people of rectitude -- were debating the merits of slavery, pro and con, the British and French watched from overseas and correctly thought us barbarians. Slavery had been declared repugnant and outlawed in most of Europe for at least a quarter century by then. Mexico, too. To those societies we were bizarre -- posturing and bargaining as though slavery were an issue with two valid sides. Conversely, the debates in some religiously totalitarian countries today over extending even the most paltry rights to women seem less quaint to us than horrific.
This is how we seem to others when we earnestly debate the peculiar institution of gun ownership in the United States. It’s instructive to watch Piers Morgan, the urbane Brit CNN anchor, reduced to sputtering, flabbergasted, impotent rage, when trying to conduct a panel discussion among American experts and pundits who are seriously debating whether a case can be made that the best way to reduce violence in the schools is to arm teachers to the teeth. It’s like a parody of Americans, ignoring the elephant in the room. A satirical British TV show could have actors read the actual debate aloud in American accents, and it would play to guffaws.
The comparison to the peculiar institution of slavery is not inappropriate: One reason we are blind to the absurdity of our debate is that guns, like slavery, are so entrenched in who we are that the pain and hassle involved in confronting the issue head-on, in all its ugliness, is too great. We’d rather look away, or tinker with the mechanics on the periphery, than really address the problem. It’s exactly what slavery really was: An addiction. We are an addict trying to bargain with himself, just to get through another day without taking the hard, cold look at how bad things really are. If we let Missouri in as a slave state, we’ll just let Maine in as a free state! That’ll solve the problem, by gum.
That’s what I’ve been seeing on TV in the last few days, as the NRA (mostly in hiding) has been trotting out its surrogates – the odious John Lott, for example – to urge calm. Shhhh. Nothing’s really going on here that a few more guns won’t fix. Lott has drilled down deep into the issue, and produced a geyser of crap. He actually articulated this pointless, misleading observation: Only one theater showing Batman in Aurora didn’t permit guns on the premises, and that was the one the shooter chose, no doubt out of fear that his fire would be returned. If ALL theaters had allowed guns, he probably wouldn’t have dared. This is the shabby level of discourse to which the gun defenders are sinking.
Shhhhh. It’s really about video games. It’s about mental illness.
It’s about guns. Foremost, it’s about guns. And the best way to understand that is simply to parse the numbers. The United States is the country with the highest rate of civilian gun ownership in the world. The second is Yemen, and it’s only half our rate. (Yemen, by the way, abolished slavery in … 1962. But they’re not as gun crazy.) We have among the laxest gun-control laws in the civilized world.
Our murder rate, by firearm, is staggering compared with other democracies that strictly regulate gun ownership, such as Japan and Britain. These are not totalitarian countries that oppress their citizenry by stamping out civil rights. They are free societies that don’t happen to be nations of addicts. (And no, people in those countries don’t kill each other at similar rates, using other available weapons.)
This is all plain to everyone but us.
There is a reason that the first step in facing an addiction is often impolitely stripping you down so you can see what you have really become, in your thrall to a substance. It’s depressing, but eye opening.
So, let’s break this all the way down, impolitely.
I see a debate between two groups of people, each making impassioned arguments. Let’s assume, for arguments’ sake, and because it is clearly true, that the vast majority of people on both sides of the issue are reasonable people. They don’t, however, have equally reasonable arguments.
Side One says this: We are a gun-crazy nation. It’s palpable. It’s killing us. To deny it is killing us is to deny reality, and we’re tired of that. This whole thing has to stop, even at the cost of telling people they cannot have the same unlimited access to firearms they have enjoyed in the past. Rightly or wrongly, the courts have found a constitutional right to gun ownership, but other constitutional rights – such as free speech and a free press -- have been limited by the courts, in some cases, in the public interest. This issue is equally important. Other nations, notably Australia, have reacted to increases in mass murder with significantly stronger gun laws, and most people agree it has worked.
Side Two makes these arguments: We like guns. They are fun. We like to shoot them at targets. We like to shoot them at animals. They give us a feeling of safety against criminals. We’ll need ‘em to repel the tyrannical government when they come for us, as they are bound to do because this country is falling to the socialists.
Call me nuts, but I do not see these as parallel arguments, worthy of equal consideration. This second argument is Missouri and Maine. And the only reason we don’t see this clearly, the way Piers Morgan does, is that we are drowning in the addiction. Other countries have shown that easy access to weaponry is not an essential element of a free society. It is a peculiar, corrosive element of a particular free society that has lost its sense of proportion.
There is a rural-urban divide here, and it is not insignificant. The argument for self-protection (the strongest one, to me) is coming from the parts of the country that are arguably least in need of self-protection. The residents of cities and suburbs, most victimized by violent crime, tend to be those more in favor of gun control. That is because they are the ones who see firsthand, up close, the danger of easy, universal access to guns. They are beset by its consequences. And no, outlawing guns in only those cities doesn’t work when you can drive an hour, walk into a gun shop and walk out with a Glock. This has to be a national effort, based on recognition of a national scourge.
Practically speaking, the most we are likely to get as result of Newtown is a new assault-weapons ban; the political conversation seems to be moving in that direction. It’s a start, but it’s only a tiny start on addressing our addiction. We’re still shooting up, daily.