Today President Obama released a series of proposals put together by his administration’s task force addressing gun violence. The Washington Post has a helpful graphic here that organizes the proposals into seven categories: strengthening background checks (including closing the private sales loophole), banning “assault weapons” and high-capacity magazines, funding and training law enforcement (including new penalties for illegal gun sales or “trafficking”), increasing support for research in gun violence, promoting gun safety, promoting school safety, and boosting support for mental health treatment.
Most of these proposals are sensible and worthwhile, and I support almost all of them. The only ones I don’t support are all the ones in the assault weapons category (I’ve stated my opposition to categorical bans previously) and the law enforcement-related provision to “eliminate restrictions that force the ATF to authorize importation of certain firearms because of their age”, because I don’t know what that means and I can’t offer an informed opinion either way.
In particular, closing the private sales loophole to make background checks universal, promoting research on gun violence (which has languished in recent years), disseminating gun safety information to citizens, sharing information among police and teachers on how to deal with potential shooters, increasing funding for mental health, and providing better funding and training for police departments (many of which in this lousy economy have had to cut their numbers even as poverty and crime rates increase) are excellent ideas. I don’t give credit to the Obama administration very often, but in this case, aside from the assault weapons ban they did well. Now I hope Congress will pass these proposals, minus the assault weapons ban (which already seems to be drawing vocal opposition from various members of Congress).
I also support repealing legal immunity for gun manufacturers. I don’t like legal immunity in general; I think a big part of American civil rights is that everyone should be able to have their day in court. If we’re worried about frivolous lawsuits then write the law clearly and let judges decide which ones are frivolous. Setting a blanket ban on all lawsuits makes as little sense as setting a blanket ban on, oh I don’t know, all “assault weapon” purchases.
Finally, a rant about the assault weapons ban proposal, and the optics of gun restrictions in general (part of this is adapted from an email I sent out recently).
I do support making it harder for criminals and the mentally ill to obtain high-capacity magazines. However, I would point out that those magazines are dangerous only in Jared Loughner-type spray-and-pray shootings, which are relatively rare but of course get all the headlines and attention. I would not go so far as to say that high-capacity magazines should be categorically banned for everyone. Such a ban would carry the implication that everyone is going to be a Jared Loughner.
I’ve changed my previous opinion about the same limitations applying to so-called “assault weapons”, which are usually just semi-automatic civilian variants of military-grade rifles, e.g., an AR-15 is the civilian “assault weapon” variant of the military’s M-16. There is nothing that makes a semi-automatic rifle particularly more dangerous than a semi-automatic handgun, and those are everywhere (and very commonly used in gun homicides). Going after so-called “assault weapons” today is essentially the same as what it was when the last assault weapons ban was passed in 1994: people who don’t know much about guns banning certain guns because they look and sound scary.
Like I’ve said before, targeting “assault weapons” is a very knee-jerk reaction where people cry out to have their rights taken away so that they may be given a false sense of security. Just like how 9/11 happened and that somehow justified the Patriot Act, warrantless wiretapping, the Iraq war, and so on. It’s just such a reactionary, authoritarian, and ultimately unintelligent answer to some headline-grabbing mass shootings. And the supposed liberals calling out for this ban seem to be operating from a position of intellectual weakness. Here’s why.
1. Some assault weapons ban proponents seem to think that most gun deaths are from mass shootings. They’re not. Mass shooting deaths are just the ones that grab people’s attention because they don’t really see or care about the misery and suffering and – yes – violence that people endure on a daily basis, away from the TV news headlines.
2. Some assault weapons ban proponents seem to want the ban because they think it’s a quick and easy fix to gun violence. They don’t care about what actually causes violence of any kind; they’re only interested in banning the instruments of that violence so they think they’ve done their job and can return to their default state of self-absorbed complacency. Okay, no one’s explicitly said that to me, but I get that sense because of how a few of them dismissively pooh-poohed my call to vigorously eradicate poverty and gang violence, which is how and why many, if not most, gun homicides are happening. This suggests to me that they’re simply looking for a way to mitigate the number of deaths that occur from these shootings, without any real desire to actually stop violence from happening in the first place. (Short answer: you reduce violence by reducing people’s daily suffering. But I know that sounds too hard to these defeatist “liberals”.)
People who really care about stopping violence (gun or otherwise) should read this account of actual, everyday gun violence in the inner city and get back to me with some constructive solutions on how to stop it from happening and make these people’s lives better. Because until then they’re just blowing hot air to make it look like they’re doing something meaningful when they’re not.
3. Some of the assault weapons ban proponents recoil at the idea of banning violent video games or other forms of entertainment that may inspire people to commit crimes, even as they seek to deprive others of what could be a source of their entertainment (as well as what may save their lives). They dismiss the idea even though there’s evidence that one of the mass shooters they point to as a reason to ban assault weapons was himself motivated by a violent film (The Dark Knight). This suggests to me that they have a very selective defense of civil liberties – they will fight tooth and nail for the liberties that they personally enjoy but don’t give a rat’s shit about the ones that “only the gun nuts” care about. This is disturbing because I feel like our generation is already very apathetic about erosion of our civil liberties. We blissfully tolerate domestic surveillance and government invasion of privacy. Hell, we’re even okay with the idea that the President can just randomly decide on his own to kill us (and where is the outrage over those deaths, by the way?)
I feel like nowadays people don’t understand what the point of freedom is anymore. Yes, sometimes freedom seems like an inconvenience or a danger, and yes to some extent certain freedoms may need to be regulated – but always in a thoughtful and restrained manner, i.e., the opposite of the assault weapons ban. The whole point of liberty is that it’s not easy or safe, but we still accept that because life is not worthwhile without it.
Or maybe not. Ah, fuck that liberty crap. We should’ve let the British win.
JANUARY 17 2013 UPDATE: I stayed up last night for two hours reading this ridiculous Daily Kos diary, “Cars kill people, so quit picking on guns!”, so I might as well write about it to make it worthwhile. This diary (or perhaps more accurately, the comments following the diary) provides an example of what is so wrong with the gun debate: people who don’t know much about guns are ignorantly attacking guns because they’re scared. There were just a handful of gun rights defenders, the most vocal and brilliant of whom was KVoimakas, who effortlessly deflected the rather poorly-conceived arguments of the gun control advocates. Unfortunately, the idea of having a rational, intelligent debate about the issue was totally lost on them. This is what the conversation tended to look like:
Gun control person: Prohibiting alcohol isn’t the same as prohibiting magazines because regular people can’t make magazines!
KVoimakas: Actually, they can-
Gun control person: Whatever, I don’t care! I don’t care about learning more about the thing I’m trying to ban because I find it loathsome so I don’t want anyone else to have them either! Shut up you gun nut!
Okay, I exaggerate a bit. The actual dismissive comment was “Have fun with your guns, weirdo.” The term “gun nut” was used to refer to those who supported gun rights several times. I wonder how these same people would feel if I called for censorship of violent films and video games and dismissively told those in opposition, “Have fun with your movies, weirdo” and called them “free expression nuts”?
In other news, here is a rational, fact-based look at whether semi-auto “assault weapons” are really any more dangerous than “regular” pistols and hunting rifles. (The short answer: they’re not.) Here’s another similar take. Also, apparently I was wrong about the definition of “assault weapons”; the 1994 AWB did include semi-auto pistols with certain features (including a barrel shroud, which protects the user’s hands from the barrel’s heat. Apparently some people think we’ll all be safer if someone shooting a gun gets his hand burned, or something.).
Finally, I want to say to those who believe in restricting innocent people because it might “save lives”, if you care so much about saving lives, you know what else kills people? Poverty. I will happily join you in your impending anti-poverty crusade.