For Andrew

Can we talk about the guns yet?

We’re 800 dead people away from the 59 dead people now. Is that enough? Can we talk now?

Let’s talk about the 2nd Amendment.

I need you to know the rage I feel. I’ve written on this topic for days, wanting to share all my rage with you, but what I don’t want is to wind up saying something like that CBS exec said, that the Vegas shooting victims didn’t deserve her sympathy because it was a country concert and “country music fans often are Republican gun toters.” I understand the sentiment, but dividing us into camps will not get us anywhere, especially if you then conclude one of those camps deserves to be shot. I’m trying not to get fired myself, true, not that I have a job anywhere near as important-sounding in a headline as “exec.” But I do work for a very large company that would not take too kindly to any potential PR issues. More importantly, though, I’m trying to keep my rage in check. Because I want this conversation to get somewhere.

I hate it when liberals use that word, by the way, saying that we need to “have that conversation,” like the talking itself is the goal. It is not my goal. I want to discuss the 2nd Amendment with you because I want you to agree with me, I’m trying to convince you that these deaths can be prevented, and that the problem lies in the American perception of the freedom that that Amendment guarantees.

The advantage the NRA has in the argument is that when this issue comes up every few months, everyone looks to them for their rebuttal. We want to know what their response will be, because they are the loudest voice on the one side. The problem is, the loudest voices on the other side would belong to the most recent dead. They would have the strongest opinions in opposition to whatever argument against gun control the NRA puts out there, but they don’t get to have opinions anymore, because they are dead. 

So we hear the NRA’s argument, and we look to the other side, and there is no other side, because the other side is dead, a point that is not lost on us, the general public, we are not stupid, but we are easily distracted. The NRA’s argument only has to distract us for long enough for the general public to move on to the next thing. 

Okay. Calming down. I am trying really, really hard to keep my rage in check.

The NRA’s argument cannot be the only argument. They make poor arguments, and they make them at poorly chosen times. They made a statement on the Vegas shooting, in which they made a concession (and therefore made headlines) that bump stocks “should be subject to additional regulations.” The headlines tended to focus on that bit, but the final thrust of the statement was about passing national right-to-carry (concealed carry) laws so that people who get permits to carry in one state would be legally allowed to carry in any other state.

If you’re failing to see the connection between Las Vegas and the national carry law, it’s because there isn’t one. It’s a poorly constructed connection that I’m not going to waste time dissecting, but it comes from the same brain trust that points to Diane Feinstein as an example of the politicians flooding Washington who want to take away all your guns. And while there are plenty of people in this country saying that exact thing (me me me me me me me me me), none of them are in Washington, and what Feinstein said was in regard to the 1994 assault weapons ban (now lapsed — actually now 13 years lapsed), in which she said she would’ve made the law stronger but didn’t have the votes, so certain loopholes were written in, none of which matter now because once again, the law expired in 2004 and apparently no one tasked with its renewal remembered the AK-47 of Boston in 2000 or the TEC-9s of Columbine and San Francisco and they forgot the Type 56 (Chinese AK-47) of Stockton. And yes, Feinstein tried to institute a new version of the ban in 2013, one that would not automatically expire, which proved to be the only gun control legislation to make it out of committee since the 2004 expiration, but was voted down 60-40 because sixty proud Americans could not seem to remember the Smith and Wesson 910 used in 2006 in Goleta, California, which was temporarily limited to a ten-round magazine between 1994 and 2004 but was afterward freed to carry fifteen shots, and no one could recall the semiautomatic Glock and its fifteen-round magazine used in Virginia Tech in 2007 or the semiautomatic Glock and its thirty-one-round magazine that shot a member of the United States Congress and killed six others in Tucson in 2011 or the AR-15 used in Aurora and yes I could go on and on and on but the point is Feinstein was ONLY talking about these senseless killings, whereas the NRA is using her in the classic straw man argument saying she wants to take away ALL the guns. Which isn’t true.

I am here to talk about the 2nd Amendment. To provide balance to the NRA’s take on it, because the NRA cannot be allowed to dominate the narrative, just because they can still be counted among the living. I want to talk more specifically about the 2008 Supreme Court case Columbia v. Heller, where the majority opinion written by Antonin Scalia states — for the first time — that self-defense is implied in the “right to keep and bear arms.” Being an originalist, Scalia tried to fit every constitutional issue into the frame of reference of the founding fathers. He had a WWJD tattoo across his chest, except the J stood for Jefferson. He looked at the Second Amendment and said that whole militia business in the opening clause was like, just an example of the kinds of things you can do with guns. There was no limitative or prescriptive governance intended over the second clause of the sentence. The opening clause is meant merely to have a “clarifying function.” Everyone can have arms! Wait, what do you mean by arms? Oh, you know, those things a militia uses. Oh, ohhh! Those things! Great, thanks for clarifying. As proof, Scalia cites the state constitutions of Pennsylvania and Vermont, enacted before the federal version, both of those mentioning a non-militia aspect of the right to bear arms (“That the people have the right to bear arms for the defence of themselves, and the state”). Not to mention the seven states, including my home turf of Ohio, who enacted constitutions by 1820 — after the federally ratified Constitution in 1789 — which also mention the individual (“himself” or “themselves”). So. There you go. As Scalia puts it, self-defense was “how the founding generation conceived of the right.”

I am not here to debate that. I could, but I’m certainly not as articulate as Justice Stevens is in his dissenting opinion, where he points out that perhaps the founding fathers looked at the constitutions of Pennsylvania and Vermont and decided specifically not to included “defence of themselves,” because this was not the clarification they were going for. I could go through Stevens’ (and Breyer’s) entire dissenting opinion(s) and point out all the places where the use of rhetoric pales in comparison to Scalia’s, who gets into such a rhetorical groove that he even counts “antislavery advocates” from before the Civil War as members of his pro-gun squad. I could also go into the relatively unsanctioned benefits that Supreme Court justices are permitted to receive, including trips to Palm Springs sponsored by the Koch brothers, and I could point out exactly how right-leaning some of Scalia’s cited sources are, including the dude at George Mason University, my own temporary home, who accepted the position of Patrick Henry chair funded by the NRA for $1 million to bring 2nd Amendment issues into the public eye. I have been learning lots of things that have seriously delayed the writing of this post, and most of them aren’t worth mentioning, because once again, I am conceding this point. The 2nd Amendment protects the right to keep and bear arms for self-defense. There. I said it.

What I will dispute, however, is Scalia’s conclusion that “what is not debatable is that it is not the role of this Court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct.” I would offer the opinion that that is exactly the role of the Court. To provide constitutional guidance as we march uncertainly into the future, and not, as Scalia implies, to just go with our first draft as best we can for all eternity.

Perhaps I’m not being clear. How’s this: Originalism. Is. Nonsense. It’s the conservative fallacy to its most illogical extreme, the idea that what was considered right once will be right always. It’s assigning predictive abilities to a group of privileged white men in the eighteenth century that extend not just two or three hundred years, but according to Scalia, FOREVER. They may have been very intelligent, they may have been well-meaning, but they were not gods. They were not infallible. Their 2nd Amendment is not adequate for our world anymore.


Okay, full disclosure: I don’t want to take away all of your guns. I mean, I totally do, but more important to me than that is the pursuit of happiness, which relies heavily on the individual’s ability to feel safe and secure. While I may completely disagree with you that owning a gun makes you more safe and secure, I don’t doubt it makes many people feel more safe. I think they deserve to feel safe, even more than I deserve to be proved right.

But your right to a sense of safety cannot impinge upon mine. I was recently talking with a friend of mine online (happy birthday, Andrew!) who came out to say he was an NRA supporter, and he may take some flak for this but he was very concerned about his 2nd Amendment rights in the wake of Vegas. I said, that’s right, he should be, because I wanted to take all of his guns. He said I shared an opinion with Diane Feinstein, and that he totally understood my perspective, but he felt differently.

That comment is what prompted me to look up Feinstein, which is what led me down the NRA-rhetoric rabbit hole, and led me to the conclusion that the gun debate the NRA is so afraid of only exists in their own propaganda. But that propaganda has been so effective that it has led millions of conservative voters to believe in a debate (whether or not to take away all the guns) that does not exist.

Michael Moore thinks the 2nd Amendment needs repealed. Maybe it does, I don’t know. Scalia’s 2nd Amendment does, but my interpretation of it is not what Scalia’s is. I think the bearing of arms has more to do with the right of the people to retain the capacity to resist their government. In which case, the issue of Net Neutrality is much more relevant as a 2nd Amendment issue than whether or not bump stocks should be legal. But that’s not the current case law on the books, so maybe Michael Moore is right. Maybe the best way to fix it is to repeal it. But agreeing with Mr. Moore on anything means a lot of people will stop listening to me, so I hesitate to go that far. I think there are other ways to fix it.

What would a fix look like, though? Well, like I said above, it has to address the fact that I do not feel safe in this country right now, for the express reason that the NRA’s definition of safety is being granted a greater value than mine. But setting aside my own instinct for self-preservation, I don’t feel as though my loved ones are safe, and that’s enough to piss me off.

Let’s talk real-world numbers. You remember that whole anti-bank protest a few years ago? That Occupy Wall Street thing, where they coined the terms 99%, versus the upper 1%? Well everybody learned that that was a ridiculous statistic, did they not? Because in actuality it’s way more skewed than that. But 99 to 1 feels safe, right?

Or imagine it this way: a school of fish feels safe. Even when a predator drifts nearby, the fish don’t freak out, they just bunch in a little tighter, and sure the sea lion might pick off a fish or two, but for the most part, the additional eyes and lateral lines combine to make them not just feel safer but be safer, too. A single sea lion has a really hard time catching a single fish, even in a massive school.

But if you have a group of sea lions. And then some dolphins show up. And some sharks. And on the surface you’ve got birds diving down. What happens? Panic happens. Smaller groups of fish start breaking off. The combined defense is broken down. They panic because they have good reason to panic, because the odds of surviving this encounter are suddenly not good and dropping fast.

Let’s talk Vegas. 20,000 people at a concert. 20,000 to one sounds like pretty good odds. What happens, 600 people killed or injured. That’s 3%. One guy could cause three percent damage on 20,000 people. Those are not the kind of odds I am comfortable with legally allowing anyone to have in this country. Anyone. Even the most upstanding citizen, even my own mother. And yes, if it were up to me, nobody gets any gun ever again, but my logical side realizes that this is not an acceptable solution to people who use guns to feel personally secure, so in lieu of that solution, let’s try to work on something to get it back down to 1%. If you are only legally allowed to purchase the appropriate firepower to damage 1%, I’m not going to worry too much about that. If he was only able to kill 20 people and injure another 180, even with his giant stockpile of guns and legally purchased ammunition, even while firing into the world’s largest target, if even then he could still only harm one out of every hundred? Would that be acceptable? Is that safe enough?

I mean… no. But does it feel safe enough?

I look at guns like I look at drugs. In most instances, your possession or usage is never going to affect me. The vast majority of drug or gun users in this country will never harm another living soul with their hobbies. Do I recommend doing drugs or owning a gun, no I do not. The odds of you hurting yourself or someone you love are much much higher, so no, I do not advocate either of them. But with drugs, you should have a right to get yourself a little higher, and with guns, you should have the right to feel a little safer. Adults should have the legal authority to determine an appropriate level of their own risk-reward behavior, within reason—as long as you’re not putting others in unreasonable or immediate danger.

My nieces and nephews are getting to be that age where they start going to concerts on their own. So guess what. I’m not going to shut up about this until I feel they will be safe doing so.

Please rebut me, if you have a contrary opinion. I am absolutely not looking for a conversation, but if you think you are right, I want to hear from you, because I need you to know how wrong you are.

That may have been too much rage, right there at the end. Too aggressive. I did my best.

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