Guns for self-defense: What are we afraid of?

Gun rights advocates tell us the Second Amendment is the people’s guarantee that their freedoms cannot be taken away, whether by criminals or a tyrannical government.

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

It is the possibility of an criminal entering one’s home or otherwise assaulting one’s rights that motivates many to keep assault weapons that can inflict massive causalities. They also argue that their ownership of these weapons is a check on government tyranny. Never mind the fact that an AR-15 will do little to stop tanks and helicopter gunships.

But the fact remains that millions of us don’t own guns and we get on just fine without them. We don’t live in fear of someone breaking into our homes. We know its a possibility, but we also know that the police for the most part keep our streets safe. Many of us distrust our government, even despise our government, but we don’t feel the need to keep an AK-47 in the closet just in case.

So why do some of us need these guns and others don’t? I can’t pretend to know the answer to that. But the fact that I don’t feel that need to own a gun for self-defense keeps me from fully understanding the point of view of someone who feels otherwise. It makes it very hard to debate the issue when people are divided by a feeling that is so ingrained in their very fiber.

Still, of all the wealthiest, industrialized democracies in the world, gun ownership — and gun-related deaths — are far too high in the United States. Western and Central Europe are mostly free of gun violence. The United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Australia.

Our country has always been a special case with gun ownership, I suppose. We rose up, after all. We drove out the British. We formed militias, distributed muskets. And when the war was over and the British were gone, we held onto those muskets. We expanded West.  Guns were essential for self-defense and hunting and the occasional murder. Guns became a sport, too. They became a family tradition. Many fathers passed down guns from one generation to the next.

But assault weapons are something new. Semi-automatic High capacity magazines. Capable of firing off hundreds of rounds in a in a few minutes. Capable of wiping out a school or a movie theater or a church. These aren’t muskets. These aren’t hunting rifles. These aren’t for sport, even if some have adopted them as such.

When gun control advocates push back against the pervasiveness of guns that aren’t built for sport, gun rights advocates go back to the Second Amendment. They talk about self -defense and tyranny. The very act of restricting the size of a clip on an AR-15 is construed as tyranny. It will prevent someone from defending their home, they say.

Again, a lot of people tell me the right to bear arms should not be abridged because people need to be able to defend themselves. Why? Nathan Hegedus, a Stockholm-based writer who once lived in the U.S. recently wrote:

Buying a gun in our times, especially for self-defense, seems to me an aggressive or defensive act—a statement by the purchaser about how he feels about his community, his neighbors and his country. It means he doesn’t feel safe in his bed at night, that he doesn’t trust the police to stop the criminals, and he doesn’t trust his fellow citizens not to attack. You can mask it with talk of freedom or the Constitution but underneath it all is fear. Firearms have become a manifestation of a massive distrust of both government and the wider society, a physical manifestation of a deepening societal and political divide.

Hegedus points out that our country is going through tremendous change. It has been for much over the last fifteen years. We face globalization and post-industiralization. We’re on our way toward being a majority-minority society. Feminists and gay rights advocates are changing family structures. We have a black president! This country has changed so much. And yet, there are a lot of people who are not a part of this change because the United States is a very big place. There are communities and individuals in this country who feel like they’re being marginalized. Where they once felt mainstream, now they feel like they’re being pushed to the fringes. If you’re not connected to these changes and not sympathetic to them, how can you feel safe in such a place?

A gun advocate commenter on my blog recently wrote that in this world there are sheep, wolves and sheepdogs. He says he took this from the writings of retired army Lieutenant Colonel David Grossman, a scholar of violence, particularly the effects of training soldiers to kill. Most of us are live-and-let-live sheep, the commenter claims. But there are wolves among us who hunt and kill, steal and rape. Finally there are the sheepdogs, who keep watch over the sheep with their shotguns and their AR-15s. This is what this gun advocate would have me believe.

This commenter would have me believe that I am the sheep and he is the sheepdog. I disagree. I’m not afraid to defend myself. I’m not afraid to let out a little bit of the wolf if I need to. I just don’t feel the need to own a gun.

I think it comes down to faith. I have faith in my neighbors and my community. I have faith in the institutions of law and order. I have faith that many of the changes our country is seeing are good.

But I also face the reality that there are bad people out there and that there will always be a risk, however slight, of someone trying to do me harm. I’ve narrowly escaped bad situations before. They could come again. But I’m not going to let it dictate how I live my life. I’m not going to keep an assault weapon or even a handgun in my home. And a year from now when they run the Boston Marathon, I’ll take the day off from work and head down to Boylston Street and cheer on thousands of others who refuse to give into fear, too.

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Debating gun control with false equivalence

Is there a difference between callous, gutter partisanship and working hand in hand with the victims of a tragedy to make a difference? Some people would say no. But that’s because they choose to debate issues of national importance with fallacious logic and false equivalence.

This week I blogged abut the Arkansas politician who sent out the following tweet while me and the rest of my community were trapped in our homes as police hunted for the at-large suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings. The politician, Nate Bell wrote:

I wonder how many Boston liberals spent the night cowering in their in their homes wishing they had an AR-15 with a hi-capacity magazine?

This garbage infuriated thousands of people, including me. We were not cowering. We were not dreaming of holding a gun. We were waiting for the police to do their jobs. And they did.

Some people want to defend Bell by saying liberals are just as guilty of scoring political points in the face of tragedy. Perhaps some liberals are guilty of that, but one commenter on my blog would have me believe that demanding stricter gun control in the wake of tragedies like Newtown is no less repugnant.

Commenter David D. wrote:

How is this different than Pres. Obama using small children from Newport [sic] Connecticut to further his agenda? Do you condone this type of action, so long as it coincides with your personal beliefs, but respond with righteous indignation when someone dare do or say something that hits to the right of your viewpoint?

Let’s assume that David D is referring to Newtown, and not Newport.

Never mind the fact that the parents of those Newtown children who were murdered by a lunatic with an AR-15 are demanding stricter gun control, as are the victims of the Aurora shootings, the Tuscon shootings, the Virginia Tech shootings and many, many more.

Instead, let’s look at David D’s logic. He would have me believe that Bell’s cynical statement about “Boston liberals cowering in their homes” and “wishing” for AR-15s is somehow equivalent to Obama standing up with the parents and siblings of murdered children to demand meaningful gun reform. There is no comparison.

Bell’s statement was a cheap shot at the expense of people who were under siege. Obama’s actions were a response to a demand for reform by the victims and their families.

Describing our people as “cowering” “Boston liberals” was meant as a pejorative slur, and I think Bell knows it. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have deleted the tweet. A truly equivalent statement from the left side of this debate, would be something distasteful and callous. Something such as:

I bet all those police officers who are getting shot at in Watertown right now are wishing we had stricter gun control laws.

Isn’t that disgusting? If someone truly said this in earnest, I would happily condemn him. But I didn’t see such a statement. Did you?

I also expressed my frustration with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham’s eagerness to withhold the bombing suspect’s Constitutional rights by designating him as an enemy combatant. I asked why Republicans are so eager to defend the Second Amendment while they trample upon the rest of the Bill of Rights.

David D. disagreed with me again.

Let’s turn this around shall we, why is it that Democrats and other liberals [are] so protective of the First Amendment’s free speech, but so blithe about eroding the protections of the rest of the Bill of Rights, especially those rights afforded by the Second Amendment? Why is it that Mr. Bell can write words that so many find offensive, and you can publicly criticize a government official, and neither of you are even the least bit concerned about being yanked from your beds at night and thrown in jail?

Again, this logic crumbles under scrutiny. Liberals are not blithe about the Second Amendment. We just look at the entire text of that amendment and demand intelligent interpretation. The amendment begins:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state…

Liberals do not want to infringe on the right to keep and bear arms. We just think regulation of that right is justified. And none of the rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights are completely unfettered by reasonable controls, including the First Amendment that David D. referred to.

As we all know, I cannot stand up in a crowded theater and falsely yell “Fire!” without facing legal consequences. I cannot slander someone without facing legal consequence. I cannot invade the privacy of an individual and publish the results of that violation without facing legal consequences. The right of free expression does not allow for such abuse.

I argue that that owning weapons that are designed to inflict mass casualties, such as an AR-15 with a large-capacity magazine, is an abuse of the Second Amendment that should be curtailed. I do not say that “blithely.” I say that soberly. I say that as a reasonable person who is offering compromise. I am not asking that gun owners give up their hunting rifles and their handguns. I’m asking them to submit to background checks, national gun registries and reasonable restrictions on lethality (assault weapons bans, clip size limits).

David D. also wrote:

I also thank God each day that we don’t live in a perpetual war zone where the need to keep and bear arms is a necessity and not a right.

He is right. We don’t live in a war zone. So why are we armed to the teeth?

Political lowlights of the Marathon bomber manhunt

I spent nearly 24 hours trapped in my home because a heavily-armed, murderous terrorist was hiding in a boat just miles from me. I spent most of that time watching the news, following police scanners, digging into social media and texting my neighbors in a desperate attempt to be informed about the crisis that was facing my community.

While all of the Boston metropolitan area was in lockdown so that authorities could hunt for the surviving Boston Marathon bomber, some people decided to use the crisis as an opportunity to score cheap political points and to further flawed policies.

In Arknansas, state representative Nate Bell, a NRA-loving Republican, called Boston liberals cowards in this since-deleted tweet.

I wonder how many Boston liberals spent the night cowering in their in their homes wishing they had an AR-15 with a hi-capacity magazine?

Bell managed to crassly politicize an ongoing tragedy by dragging the whole crisis down into the muck of gun control partisanship. He also managed to call Boston liberals cowards.

Never mind the fact that the ongoing investigation will undoubtedly reveal that stricter gun control probably would have prevented these two young men from arming themselves with assault rifles.

The Tweet ignited a firestorm of criticism, which prompted the cowering Nate Bell to delete his original tweet. Then he posted a non-apology on his campaign Facebook page.

I would like to apologize to the people of Boston & Massachusetts for the poor timing of my tweet earlier this morning. As a staunch and unwavering supporter of the individual right to self defense, I expressed my point of view without thinking of its effect on those still in time of crisis. In hindsight, given the ongoing tragedy that is still unfolding, I regret the poor choice of timing. Please know that my thoughts and prayers were with the people of Boston overnight and will continue as they recover from this tragedy.

So he doesn’t apologize for calling Boston liberals cowardly. He doesn’t apologize for his crude attempt to score political points in the face of tragedy. He only apologizes for doing it while the Boston area was still under curfew. When would the timing be appropriate? After more people have died? After more bombs have gone off? After the amputees have been released from area hospitals? After the hundreds of people affected by these events have finished treatment for PTSD or completed a one-year period of mourning?

The bottom line is that there is no good timing for when to behave like a partisan hack and call the people of the city which fired the first shots of the American Revolution cowards. Centuries ago Boston bled so that the Constitution could be born and Bell’s precious Second Amendment rights could be codified. Boston is the crucible of democracy and freedom. Boston was the first city to drive British soldiers from its soil.  Boston is the city whose people ran into the carnage on Marathon Monday and used their belts and shirts as tourniquets while the smoke still hung over the bleeding masses.

But Bostonians cowered in their homes and dreamed of owning AR-15s? I don’t think so.

Speaking of the Constitution… aren’t our national leaders sworn to uphold that document?

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, took to Twitter to pressure President Obama to treat the surviving bomber as an enemy combatant and withhold his Constitutional rights, such as a right to a trial by a jury of his peers?

If captured, I hope Administration will at least consider holding the Boston suspect as enemy combatant for intelligence gathering purposes.

It’s become clear that the government will use the public safety exemption to delay reading the bomber his Miranda rights, but the president also made it clear that the kid, who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, will be tried in a civilian criminal court. This is a good thing, because we are a nation of laws. We have a Constitution.

Still, Graham and other Republicans will continue to push for this kid to get the Gitmo treatment, because it’s a political position they have staked out since 2001, never mind the damage it might do to our Bill of Rights.

Why is it that Republicans are so protective of the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms, but so blithe abut eroding the protections of the rest of the Bill of Rights. Treating a U.S. citizen as an enemy combatant takes away the rights guaranteed by the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments. Why is Senator Graham so ready to toss out those rights while fighting any legislation that tries to make reasonable changes to the Second Amendment?  Votes. Republicans have relied on the politics of fear ever since 9-11. They’ve relied on it since gay people started demanding the right to marry. They’ve relied on it since African Americans demanded an end to Jim Crow.

In fact, fear is common thread that runs through the politics of both these crass political hacks. One man would have us cling to guns in fear. The other would have us sanction torture and indefinite detention of a 19-year-old out of fear.

I am not afraid. I don’t need a gun to feel safe. I don’t need to waterboard a boy to feel safe. Last night as I listened to the sirens  and the urgent radio calls of police officers under fire, I did not give in to fear. I simply waited for justice. Both of these politicians would have us pursue a path that would deny that justice. Rather than try this boy, they would shoot him, torture him and throw him in a hole. That’s not what our country stands for. That’s not what our Constitution demands of us.