I actually have a deep distrust and loathing for firearms and could never see myself owning one. OK, I do have a friend who once made a fairly compelling argument for owning a gun: after the Big One hits the Bay Area and all is in ruin. Natural disasters tend to bring out heroics, but sadly they also bring out the kooks and sociopaths. Sadly, I could easily see her point. If a large earthquake struck in Oakland today — which is quite a possibility — the city would be ill-prepared to deal with it. For one, our police force is down to just over 600 officers, hardly enough to keep up with their normal duties. I begrudgingly could see the benefit of owning a gun under such circumstances. And that scares me. As I said, I don’t like guns. At all.
My dad’s view of guns helped to color my own, though I wouldn’t characterize his stance on guns as hatred. He always said that you use a gun for two purposes: to kill game to eat and to kill people. He should know. In the early years of his life, he lived in rural Texas and his family shot small game to cook and eat. Later in life, he served in the military during World War II and was taught how to shoot to kill, for protection against the enemy. For my dad, that was the extent to which one needed a gun. He never understood why one would have a gun for any other purpose. I concur.
Having said that, however, I am aware that not everyone is me. I’m a longtime vegetarian, but I’m not about to advocate outlawing meat. Similarly, I support other people’s right to own firearms, but with appropriate caveats. “Caveats” make some people nervous. Some folks who like to go on and on about their right to bear arms take umbrage when you want to discuss responsibilities. They view any such discussion as a prelude to taking their guns away from them. I can only view such reasoning as delusional and paranoid.
Oakland’s first homicide for 2013 occurred Monday, January 7. A 17 year old boy was killed. He was shot multiple times in the middle of the day.
The most famous of all rationales used by gun zealots against further gun regulations is “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”
People do kill people, but guns make it easier to do so. So then the fallback, ancillary argument goes, “people kill people with dinner knives, cars, baseball bats, metal pokers, etc. Why not regulate those, too?” My answer: because none of those objects were specifically designed to kill people.
Stepping back a bit, let’s look again at my father’s premise that a gun is used to kill game and enemy combatants during wartime. Some gun owners aren’t connected to either activities. Some just collect guns to own them, like stamps or something. In those cases, then, the weapons probably are not fired very much. But others who do fire their guns may not go after game or people, but rather use them for target practice, whether the targets be bulls eyes on a range, objects hurdled in the air, cans on the back fence, or wildlife shot for sport rather than food. In each of those cases, shooting at the object basically destroys or severely mutilates the object. Guns are able to do these things because it is designed to propel small objects at great speeds.
So let’s expand my dad’s definition and generalize it a bit to say that guns are designed to destroy or mutilate. That is their sole function. One does not use a gun to cut food, drive to the store, hit a ball in a field, or move wood in a fireplace, the intrinsic purpose of dinner knives, cars, baseball bats, or pokers, respectively. These objects can kill, but they were designed for other purposes. Many objects that can kill were, in fact, designed for other purposes. But a gun is one of a few objects specifically designed to destroy (kill) or mutilate (maim).
Having established this, then the question, to me, becomes a great deal easier. Why in the world would society not want to regulate guns at least as well as it regulates, say, cars?
Let’s talk about cars. One has to be of a certain age to operate a car. One has to get a license, a little piece of plastic that says, “I can drive a car.” To get the license, one must take a written test to demonstrate a knowledge of the rules of the road, and then a driving test to prove that you can control a car. Finally, to own a car legally one has to have it registered. These three general requirements are universal in the United States for operating and owning a car.
What about requirements for operation and owning a gun? It’s a bit of a hodgepodge. There are some national laws which address restrictions and limitations to gun ownership, one of the earliest, according to Wikipedia, dating back to 1934, targeted so-called “gangster weapons.” (Interesting that this law took effect one year after the end of prohibition, an era when gangster activity blossomed and flourished.) More recently, we had the Federal Assault Weapons Ban from 1994, which expired in 2004. Apart from these examples, the only national law regarding guns is the most fundamental and oft quoted: the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution.
Similar to car laws, gun laws originate from the states. Unlike car laws, gun laws are not nearly as uniformed as this handy chart makes clear. Some states require gun registration, some do not. Some states require gun owner licenses, some do not. Perusing the list of state gun laws, one notices that most laws deal with what rights gun owners have rather than responsibilities gun owners must abide by. Rights include concealed weapons laws, with or without permits and “stand your ground” laws, made famous by the tragedy of Trayvon Martin.
Laws delineating responsibilities are fewer and farther between. For example, only five states — Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York — and the District of Columbia have any laws related to the amount of ammo a gun can hold. In each of these jurisdictions, the laws use the amount of ammo a weapon can hold as part of their definition of an assault weapon, which they all ban. Two states — Mississippi and Texas — have laws which explicitly prohibit any laws dictating various gun ownership criteria, including the amount of ammo a gun can carry. Mind you, these laws only address the amount of ammo a gun can carry. None say anything about the amount of ammo a gun owner can have in his or her possession.
I picked ammunition possession as an example because it has come up many times during the recent gun law debates in the aftermath of the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy. The other popular topics include assault weapons bans and the ease with which the various gun laws can be circumvented. For example, one must go through registration and background checks when purchasing a gun from a dealer, but are free from such requirements when purchasing a gun at a gun show or via a private transaction. This second circumstance really got me thinking, ‘huh?’
Think about it. I purchased my first full motorcycle from some dude in Hollywood who advertised it in the Recycler. I met him. He showed me the bike. I liked it. We agreed upon a price. I bought it. After I bought the bike, I immediately went to the California DMV to register it under my name. And before I could even drive it around town, I had to have a driver’s license with a motorcycle certification. (I already had one of those, having been tooling around on scooters for a couple of years.) If I had bought a gun from this guy instead, the sequence would have been as follows. I met him. He showed me the gun. I liked it (remember, this is a hypothetical). We agreed upon a price. I bought it.
And that’s it. No registration needed. And according to the chart, California is not one of the states that requires a gun owner license, so there it is.
Motorcycles, like cars, can kill people. But like cars, that is not their primary raison d’être. Yet there are more requirements and responsibilities connected with the ownership and operation of a motorcycle or a car or any other motor vehicle than there are for the ownership and operation of a gun, a device solely designed to destroy and mutilate.
That’s f-ing nuts.
On Friday, January 11, 2013, Oakland saw four homicides take place within hours of one another in four different parts of the city.
How did we end up in this place? When did the gun become so sacred a cow that it cannot be touched or discussed? And how do we get out of this place so that we stop randomly, cheaply, and consistently killing each other? When do the adults take over the conversation, so that we can have meaningful laws spelling out gun ownership responsibilities as well as rights?
The NRA, and those who follow their line of thinking, believe that restrictions on guns will only hurt law abiding citizens. Crooks and “bad guys,” they argue, will still have free and easy access to guns, and still be able to maim and kill at will. Maybe. What they never discuss is the fact that such a huge proliferation of fire arms in the country is the very thing that makes their availability to “bad guys” so easy in the first place. It simply should not be so easy to get devices designed solely to kill and maim. Period. Making it easy only invites more killing and maiming.
(Of course, as I’ve stated before, the NRA has a different agenda: to get people to buy more and more guns which will thus increase the profits of the gun industry.)
As stated earlier, the laws of the road are mostly created by each individual state, but they are largely uniformed. Nearly all have seat belt laws. Nearly all have some form of speed limit. All have requirements regarding the minimum age of the driver. This uniformity came about in part by the guiding hand of the federal government, which promises highway grant monies for states which adopt such safety rules. There is no requirement to adopt such laws, but if they don’t, then they don’t get the money. For example, the group Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety recently supported a bill by Senator John Rockefeller (D-WV) and Congressman Eliot Engel (D-NY) to provide grants to states that enact laws prohibiting texting or handheld cell phone use while driving.
Such a carrot approach is long overdue in the area of gun regulation. Grant money could be provided to states that start better regulating gun sales, ammunition sales, as well as the possession of guns and ammunition. The grants could perhaps go towards gun training classes, the medical costs of treating gun victims, the persecution of gun felons, and perhaps restitution to the families victimized by gun violence.
What cannot continue is “business as usual.” Kooks will continue to speak out against gun laws, including the unfortunate fellow who bellowed his opposition to gun laws on YouTube, of all things, including the threat that he’ll start killing people if such laws are enacted. (He has since apologized.) We can’t be held hostage by folks like that. We need to protect ourselves from folks like that. We need to better regulate instruments solely designed to destroy (kill) and mutilate (maim) to try to lessen the numbers of those who fall victim to them.
Behind each killing that occurs in Oakland, and in cities and towns across the country, are an untold number of relatives and friends grieving, a statistic which cannot be accurately codified, but should be deeply respected.
© 2013, gar. All rights reserved.