Friday, April 20, 2007

Here Is the News Some More

It was probably inevitable that the stand-off at the Johnson Space Center would end tragically. [ "HOUSTON, Texas (CNN) -- A NASA engineer shot and killed another engineer and then turned the gun on himself at the Johnson Space Center Friday, police and NASA officials said."] Upon re-reading my earlier post on the then-standoff, I am relieved to see that I was making fun of the news media, and especially CNN--not the burgeoning tragedy itself. One tries to have standards.

I continue to reflect on this strange (to me, at least) idea that somehow MORE guns out there will make us safer. Specifically, I think of the college class I have been teaching this semester. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that everyone of legal age is permitted to tote a gun around wherever he or she goes; let's further say that I and my fourteen students take our guns with us to class. Just in case. Practical questions arise: Where do we keep these guns during class? Are we talking sidearms, that we can wear on our hips? Rifles? Shotguns? Do my students sit with Ol' Bess across their knees during class, just in case someone down the hall cracks and the Humanities Building becomes a shooting gallery? If we keep our weapons in our bookbags and briefcases, will we have time to get them out when the shooting starts? Do we move through the hallways and back and forth across campus with rifle over our shoulder, or handgun at the ready? And how do I know, then, who the badguys are? I mean, everybody is armed, and everybody is ready to shoot--how am I to know whether that fellow over there is a threat, or just on high alert against threats?

And what, precisely, would be the difference?

Second Amendment Issues, etc.

My friend Jerry, who is one of the four or five people who actually read my semi-literate ravings and who seems to think I need "grist" for my "mill" when in fact I think he means I need more fiber in my diet, poses this provocative question:

Why not a constitutional amendment to ban the manufacture, sale, distribution or ownership of handguns? That way, we could have a genuine national debate with people able to vote directly on the issue. Of course, I would prefer to simply repeal the Second Amendment.

Most interesting. And I have to admit...I can't think why not.

But then, being the sort of bloke he is, Jerry appends a long piece from The Patriot Post
("The Internet's Leading Journal of Federalism and the Founders," if they do say so themselves), Are gun-free nations or “zones” safer?, which, expectedly, purports to prove that they are not. (Sorry for the spoiler there.) Well, actually, to be fair, the piece starts off by saying that gun-free nations are safer—"at least for folks like Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Mao, Idi Amin, Castro, Pol Pot and Saddam, all of whom disarmed their detractors before slaughtering them by the tens of millions."

So you see what we have to deal with here.

Believe me, I understand, I really do, the sentiment at work here, the rather outre idea that someday Joe Sixgun will have to rise up and defend his family and property against an Evil and Tyrannical Government. But, Joe, buddy, do you truly believe that any number of semi-automatic weapons in your home arsenal will really help you that much if the E. and T. G. sends the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, National Guard, Highway Patrol, Sheriff, and Safety Patrol to your block? Even if all of your neighbors have Uzis too? I mean, I can sympathize, and the government certainly does bear watching-- especially these days--but come on.

The Internet's Leading Journal of Eighteenth-Century Thought continues:

History records the consequences of disarming people, both in terms of protection, in their person and property, from tyrannical governments and from criminals. Regarding the latter, “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.”

Okay. It seems safe to assume that I am unlikely to successfully defend myself against an Evil and Tyrannical Government, no matter how many bullets I have in the basement. So now I'm defending myself against "criminals." But if the "criminal" has a gun (see above re outlaws), and since, as the Bible has it, I do not know when the thief in the night will arrive, it seems to me that the "criminal" who drops in on my abode pretty much already has the drop on me, and so my efforts to extricate my firearm from its locked case and load it (the NRA and other Second Amendment enthusiasts like to stress their gun-safety efforts, so I assume that my firearm will be unloaded and properly stored, and the ammo tucked safely away someplace else, to avoid accidents) and bring it into play will pretty much result in my getting my head blown off. I think I'm better off letting the "criminal" take my TV set.

The "patriots"--you know: the ones who expect to be taking up arms against their government one of these first days--continue:

Thomas Jefferson understood that maxim. In his Commonplace Book, Jefferson quotes Cesare Beccaria from his seminal work, On Crimes and Punishment: “Laws that forbid the carrying of arms... disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes... Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.”

Curious to find Jefferson quoted, since he is more typically lambasted by right-wingnuts for not being "Christian"...but I guess he suits their purposes here. Or does he? Actually, it's not Jefferson being quoted at all but rather
Beccaria (with whom, I must admit, I am not acquainted)...and I find it interesting that The Internet's Leading Journal of Look-How-the-Founders-All-Agree-With-Us fails to quote Jefferson verbatim, while certainly implying that he agrees with their point of view. Short of digging out the Commonplace Book for ourselves, we don't actually know where Jefferson stood in re Beccaria's claim. For all I know, he quoted Beccaria so as to debunk him. After all, I am quoting from The Patriot Post, but it should be apparent by now that I think they're all wet.

There is also no small danger in relying too heavily on bygone times for guidance in current events. Naturally we learn from what has gone before, but that learning process teaches (to those who will learn) that sometimes what-has-gone-before need be amended, adapted, or jettisoned outright. For instance: Many if not most biblical prohibitions--dietary, to name the most obvious category, but others fit as well--although presumably apropos two-, four-, six-thousand years ago, are clearly
(again, to those who will learn) inapplicable today. The Bible is an important and useful collection, but to mindlessly parrot the words of the Bible--or of Jefferson, or Hamilton, Franklin, Adams (Sam or John), or anyone else--without weighing them against the context of modern times is sheer foolishness.

In other words, that which applied in the past--distant or near--does not necessarily apply today.
Beccaria may well have been right in his time and place; it does not automatically follow that he is right today, in our time and place.

There is another angle at play here which interests me. I haven't developed it yet--it remains a notion rather than an idea--but let's see what I can do with it.

In our post-9/11 world, we are often told, by right-wingnuts, that the curtailment of rights and liberties once enjoyed by Americans is "necessary" in order for us to be "safe." In other words, an American citizen could once go where he would go without having to show "papers"; he could board an airplane without first undergoing a body-cavity search; he could even borrow a book from his public library without wondering if the FBI would be scrutinizing his reading habits. But no more, we are told. That was then, this is now. The world has changed.

Indeed. If the world has changed that much in six years, has it not changed all the more in the 200-odd years since the Second Amendment was enacted? Why are other rights and liberties up for grabs, but somehow the right to tote a gun is sacred--indeed, the only sacred right, from the way some in our society speak.

And what does it say about that so-called society that we are more concerned about our "right" to carry killing machines on our person than we are about freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and the right to privacy? (I know that one isn't in the Constitution. I say we should put it in there. That's another essay.)

If the so-called, self-nominated patriots are really and truly concerned about an Evil and Tyrannical Government rising up against us, then they should be at least as vocal in their defense of the First Amendment as they are toward the Second.

The pen, after all, is mightier.

Could Jefferson have put it any better? Could

Here Is the News

If this turns into another tragedy I'll feel bad about making fun of it. But until then...

This on at about 4:55 p.m. CDT today:

HOUSTON, Texas (CNN) -- NASA evacuated a building at the Johnson Space Center in Houston after an employee with a gun was seen and a shot was fired, a NASA spokesman said Friday.

And once again we see the folly of NOT HAVING ENOUGH GUNS OUT THERE! (Sarcasm alert. See my mad rant from yesterday. Why, if all NASA employees were packing heat as God intended, they could have simply taken their fellow employee out of the picture as soon as anyone noticed he had a gun! Of course, one or two innocent shooters might get caught in the crossfire, if everybody starts shooting at once, but no one said there would be no danger involved. And, of course, you'd have to hope that your fellow employee was in fact carrying a weapon and not, say, a bundle of curtain rods, but, again, it's a dangerous world.

The man with the gun is white, slim in build, about 5 feet 9 inches, 50 to 52 years old and has blond hair, police said. He is clean shaven, wearing glasses and a blue-grey shirt with grey or blue jeans.

Okay, I'm lost. Am I to assume that, even though this guy has been identified previously as a NASA employee, no one knows his name? Maybe that's what he's ballistic about. Or is CNN assuming, wrongly, that his name is not significant? Or are the authorities withholding his which case, why not say so?

NASA spokesman James Hartfield said all of the employees that would have been in that building have been evacuated.

Wouldn't have to do that if all of the employees in Building 44 at the Johnson Space Center were heavily armed, as God (see above re) and the Second Amendment intended.

There is "extremely tight security" at Johnson Space Center, Hartfield said.

Mr. Hartfield strikes me as a master of understatement.

A NASA spokesperson told CNN that all employees have been told to go home for the day.

That would, I presume, include the employee with the gun. Problem solved.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

An Interesting Way of Looking at Things

It is so difficult to think of anything to say in light of this week's unimagineable tragedy at Virginia Tech.

Not that this stops the media, especially 24/7 TV news channels, from going on endlessly about it...even when they clearly have nothing to say.

I was, however, struck by a few lines that appeared at the end of a report by Leslie Eaton and Michael Luo in yesterday's New York Times, "Shooting Rekindles Issues of Gun Rights and Restrictions":

In Virginia and on gun-rights blogs, some critics were challenging Virginia Tech rules that prohibit gun owners from carrying their weapons on campus. A committee of the State House of Delegates has considered legislation to override the ban, which is common at many other colleges.

Yes, you read that right--the problem, they say, is that there WEREN'T ENOUGH GUNS at Virginia Tech this past Monday. Funny--I had thought that there were at least two too many.

No one can say for sure if allowing students and faculty members to carry arms would have prevented the rampage on Monday, said Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League. “But they wouldn’t die like sheep, at least, but more like a wolf with some fangs, able to fight back.”

That would look good on one's tombstone, no? "He Died Like a Wolf with Some Fangs, not Like a Sheep." Just as dead, of course, but, hey!

But Blaine Rummel, a board member of Virginians for Public Safety, an anti-gun group, disputed the notion that arming more people would reduce violence. “Virginia is second in the nation in the ease of getting handguns,” Mr. Rummel said. “If easy availability was a solution, Virginia Tech wouldn’t be in mourning today."

Indeed yes--the idea that more guns will somehow solve the problem of gun violence is positively surreal. But for reasons I cannot understand, the right-wingnuts are so terrified of anything that might, in their view, "restrict" their right to bear arms--even such innocuous ideas as waiting periods, background checks, and prohibiting semi-automatic weapons--that they begin to stop making sense at all.

A couple of side issues that have arisen the past few dark days:

  • One of my far-flung correspondents pointed out to me that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms...but it doesn't say anything about a right to own ammo. Guns don't kill people, after all; bullets kill people.
  • It has long seemed to me that the Second Amendment gives a right to bear arms (not, interestingly, "firearms," just "arms"), but does NOT say that that right is absolute. In other words, it does not guarantee me the right to own semi-automatic weapons, which are capable of killing so much more rapidly; it does not allow me to own grenade launchers or surface-to-air missiles, or ICBMs. In other words, it does not say I have a right to bear ANY and ALL arms that ever have been or even will be invented.
Is it really impossible to find a middle ground upon which we can support the intent of the Second Amendment without running the constant risk that some lunatic down the street will eventually snap and go on a shooting that probably will be stopped only by an answering rampage?

At the end of it all, is the status quo really the best we can do?