TLDR – 58 Days

Many, many years ago I had small children in the house.  (Nowadays, the children are still in the house; they’re just not so small anymore.)  As most parents of small children are aware, the general rule for child-proofing your house is:  if you don’t want them to do something, make it so they can’t.  Toddlers don’t have the capacity for much forethought, and they are naturally inquisitive.  As children increase in maturity, parents strive to teach them the lessons so that they will simply choose to not get into trouble, because we can’t child-proof everything for them their entire lives.

This approach of instilling virtues into our children so that they make good choices works well for individual people.  However, it does not work as an approach to the general public.  For the general public, you have to revert to child-proofing:  if you don’t want something to happen, make it so that it is difficult or impossible for someone to do it.  For example, in computer programming, the developer must assume that if a user can do something, then some user will do something. Software must be programmed to handle  just about any situation; if the developer did not anticipate an action, it is almost certain that some user somewhere will do that action and report a bug in the software.

In some cases, uncovering bugs  like this and fixing them in an iterative approach is acceptable.  In other cases, we must be more proactive in fixing bugs in the system.  Lives can hang in the balance.

Of course, I am not necessarily talking about computer programming.

I had originally planned to publish this on the 58th day since the shooting in Las Vegas that claimed 58 lives.  Immediately after such tragedies we hear talking heads say that “now is not the time,” and “we must give the victim’s families time to grieve,” and sentiments of that ilk.  One day per victim struck me as a reasonable amount of time to wait, at least to prove a point.

The point was, we stopped talking about it.  Even I, who had mostly written this column and had even set a reminder to publish it, never finished the various points and thus it went unpublished.

Amanda Getchell, someone who was in the crowd at the Las Vegas concert that was targeted by the shooter, wrote in an opinion piece in the Washington Post on 2 November that she is ready to discuss the shooting and talk policy, but the rest of the country seems to have moved on.  This is why no change happens; we demand respect for the victims, but then put these events out of our collective memory.  They fail to be relevant or to feel urgent.  But in those 58 days, there were 2 additional mass shootings that garnered national attention:  one in California, where a man killed his wife and then four others.  The other, at a church in Southerland Springs, Texas, resulted in the deaths of 26 people.  It happened just 3 days after Ms. Getchell’s opinion piece was published.

So now it is time to have a rational, nuanced discussion of gun control in this country.  It needs to be an intelligent discussion, one without vicious accusations being thrown about.  I don’t know the entire scope of what needs to be discussed, but I know what needs to not happen.  There needs to be no wild accusations of “they are coming to take all of our guns.”  There needs to be no slippery slope arguments, no strawman arguments, and no whataboutism.  There needs to be no uninformed discussion.  This is a serious issue, and people need to do appropriate research before wading in to it.

What should the talking points be?  It is important to recognize that yes, the United States is the only first-world country where shootings like this happen on a regular basis.  But it is also important to recognize that the United States is a large country with vast rural areas.  Guns are an important aspect of life in rural America.  Hunters provide food for their family.  Guns provide security in areas where police response times are twenty minutes or more.  Guns provide for self-defense.

Self-defense, however, is a tricky area.  Using a gun in self-defense is tantamount to being judge, jury, and executioner.  We have the concept of due process in the United States, and a proliferation of guns used in self-defense circumvents that.  De-escalation is not on the forefront of many people’s minds when facing such a situation.  In 2012, Trayvon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman in such a situation; in the altercation between the two of them, Mr. Zimmerman exited his vehicle to confront Mr. Martin (despite being told not to do so) and then used his firearm.  Indeed, in many high-profile cases, even the police do not put an emphasis on de-escalation.  The West Virginia officer who was fired from the police force for not shooting a man serves as a testament to that.

In rural America, some guns make sense.  In urban America, however, the situation changes dramatically.  Here, there is much more opportunity for mistakes to be made.  A wrongful shooting in self-defense (acting instead of understanding the situation).  There is no need – or place – to hunt.  Police response times are measured in single-digit minutes.  And the majority of American live in cities (approximately 5 in 8, according to statistics I have found).  Here, guns have one purpose:  to kill people.

Mental health issues are a deflection from the topic.  Yes, we need to address mental health issues.  It would be nice if, as a society, we valued treating mental health to the point where we adequately funded such programs.  We do not, and the same people that want to frame these shootings as a mental health issue are the same people that do not want to fund healthcare.

To say that shootings are a societal problem and not a gun problem is also a deflection.  Guns have not changed much in the past twenty years, but the number of mass shootings has increased, so – the argument goes – the blame should rest on society.  This is true; I do not blame the guns.  However, once something has been shown to society to be possible (mass shootings), it is not possible to undo that demonstration.  Society is forever altered, and we must adjust to match.  If that means better gun control, then that is how we must alter society.  Government is a key aspect of society, after all.

To say that we cannot enact stricter gun control because of the second amendment is an argument that carries a little more weight.  The second amendment is very broadly written and easily open to interpretation. This is why we look to other pieces of evidence as to intent:  what did the founding fathers want when they wrote this?  It is true that they wanted people to be able to overthrow an oppressive government, and be ensuring people the right to bear arms they thought they would be more secure from tyrants.  However, they were also opposed to a standing army.  To think that someone with  few firearms can effectively stand against our military is misguided; I have the highest respect for our military and their abilities.

What’s more, this is not James Madison’s America anymore.  This is our America, with our own realities.  It is a different, more urban, more universal America than anything Thomas Jefferson or John Adams knew.  We should not feel constrained by the founding fathers’ intentions; we can use them for guidance, but ultimately the decision must be ours, not theirs.  They were not omnipotent deities with such vision for the future that we must adhere to their words as if they were strict Commandments.

By definition, the Second Amendment cannot be unconstitutional.  It is part of the Constitution.  However, it can be a part of the Constitution that undermines the very purpose of the Constitution.  But how do we know the purpose of the Constitution?  Is there  a vision or a mission statement that we can refer to that says what the Constitution is about?

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

There ‘s one.

Do our current gun laws meet this vision?  Do they establish justice?  Shooting someone with a gun is not justice as we have defined it.  It circumvents due process and lead to vigilantism in cases like Trayvon Martin’s.

Do they ensure domestic tranquility?   Having to carry a weapon to feel secure is almost the opposite definition of “tranquil.”  That is more like walking on eggshells, afraid that the thin veneer of civilization will crack beneath your feet and you will be plunged into a fight every time you walk outdoors.

Do they provide for the common defense?  They might provide for self-defense, but our army now plays the role of providing for the common defense.  I say, no, they do not.

Do they promote the general welfare?  Being a potential target at any time – like at a concert in Las Vegas or at a movie theater in Colorado – is not something that I consider a boon to the general welfare.

Do they secure the blessing of liberty?  We might feel that being able to own a gun is a liberty that needs to be secured, but there are other liberties involved in living in America.  And the number of discharged firearms in and around schools in 2018 – one every other day! – would indicate that we are becoming less able to pass those liberties to our posterity.

If the Second Amendment is standing in the way of sensible gun control, then the Second Amendment must be revised.  I am not talking about banning all guns outright; we are too large and too diverse a country for that to be effective, and many people still rely on guns for sustenance and self-defense.  But shooting a rapid-fire weapon is not something that you find yourself needing to do at a moment’s notice; that is something that you plan ahead of time.  It makes sense to me that those must be strictly controlled and licensed, and we can ensure that those plans do not include murder.

And we should do this sooner rather than later, while we still have posterity to secure the blessings of liberty for.

EDIT:  To clarify the statistics on 2018 school shootings.  Everytown for Gun Safety, a non-profit group, tracks this statistic, but counts every incident of a discharged firearm involving a school (even one where no students are present) as a “school shooting,” even is no one was injured.  The statistic does, however, still show the danger; an accidentally discharged gun is an uncontrolled gun, and policies should not rely on luck.