I’m seeing two numbers posted about “Mass Shootings” – one is 7 in 5 months. So more than one a month. The other is 355 thus far in 2015 – so more than one a DAY. The difference is data sets and definitions – a federal one I haven’t explored yet provides the lower set. The higher one is from a couple of tracking sources that both define “mass shooting” as “4 or more people wounded, including shooter, in a single incident.” I’m not sure how incidents were 1 or 2 people are shot at different locations over a few hours by the same person or people are counted in either of these sets… Bottom line… this is now normal enough that such definitions are part of the discussion. We’re debating what counts as a “mass shooting.” We’re not, however, doing a damned thing to try to prevent them (other, I suppose, than by increasing the firepower and armament of the police that are tasked with responding to them… which is then used disproportionately to….. meh – I’ll skip that rant). By the 4 person in a single incident threshold there were 2 today… and at how many more where only 2 lives were shattered. I know of 2 more of those just in Kansas. I’m sure there was probably another in, say, Chicago… Maybe the 4 people is too low for “mass shooting.” Maybe that’s really routine and we should set the bar at 8, or say it has to be a shooter not related to the victims, or something else to skew our statistics and distract us from the sheer magnitude and regularity of shootings of humans by other humans in our society that is unparalleled in raw numbers even in active war zones elsewhere in the world… really. (yeah, yeah.. per capita and all – we’re debating these sematics!)
I’m seeing lots of friends post about “no words” and lots of others post about “prayers.” Me.. .I have some words this time. Versions of this have been welling up for awhile now.
I’ve also been fascinated by the recent debate over refugees – people insisting that since the government cannot guarantee that no refugee would harm Americans in a terrorist act none should be let in. The Governor of Texas is actually suing to stop a private entity (a church) from assisting a Syrian family in a effort that was in process and finalized long before Paris. Think about that. It’s one thing for the Governor (as Sam Brownback has here in Kansas) to ban state level assistance – but in Texas the government is suing a private group to stop them… (while ignoring vast swaths of well decided case law saying the Feds oversee immigration issues) in the name of “public safety.” But how quickly that standard of zero tolerance changes when the topic is gun ownership and things like “open carry.” There, no level of threat, no level of demonstrated ongoing reality justifies any “infringement” of ownership- Yes, of course, The Constitution does not guarantee foreigners, even refugees, a right of entry while the 2nd Amendment does guarantee citizens the right to bear arms. Of course none of us think that right extends to, say, shoulder fired anti-tank missiles… (do we?). And we are Constitutionally free to utterly ignore national symbols like the statue of liberty and what her tablet says. That’s not binding, legally. Heck, it’s always been a fiction – we’ve always hated on whoever the current immigrant group was while celebrating that we are a nation of immigrants. Same ol’ same ol…. United States of Hypocrisy. God Bless it.
What most fascinates me in our limited debates on guns is that we never seem to talk at all about what “a well-regulated militia” means. It’s as if that first clause isn’t even there. The NRA and others who advocate open carry quickly quote “shall make no law!” and resist efforts to even prevent people on the terrorist watch list from buying guns (really?!). But what DOES that phrase mean? I actually agree with those who say it does not mean only the military can bear arms, nor do I think gun ownership should be tied to being in a national or state “militia” – but at the very, VERY least doesn’t it mean that gun ownership comes with a set of responsibilities to the public good? That the “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” language in the Constitution itself carries at least as much weight as the 2nd Amendment. Could we at least really enforce laws restricting convicted felons from ownership (aka real background checks). It seems to me we now have a standard where its is ridiculously easy to obtain guns and the police simply have no grounds intercept a person openly carrying. (side rant on that being true only for whites – blacks 12 year olds with toy guns and young men standing in a Walmart holding a toy they sell THERE can still be shot on sight by officers who feel “threatened” and that’s fine and dandy – but I’ll spare you that separate and unequal de facto public policy detour). Seriously – right now one can purchase – often with no background check at all (at gun shows, regionally storefront laws vary) devices whose sole purpose is to shoot large numbers of “targets” quickly and then “open carry” those devices outside other people’s places of worship while shouting angry words … without recourse. I will note that we have endured all sorts of limitations on our 1st Amendment rights in the name of public safety. It’s well established one cannot assert a right to falsely yell “Fire!”in a crowded theater as it could cause a dangerous panic. It’s routine (perhaps dangerously so) to see “free speech zones” fenced off from political conventions and other events – effectively saying you have the right to speak but only at a “safe distance” from that which you protest. You know – this is necessary for “security reasons” and so we accept a pretty dramatic limitation of a Constitutional Right to speech. But not guns, no sir. Interesting. Sad.
We’re in a pretty intense social debate about what religious freedom means – another 1st amendment right – with some asserting it goes so far as to allow any individual the personal right to negate any state law or corporate policy that they solely deem goes against their “sincerely held religious belief” – and predictably we’re seeing that tested by things like a ” Cannabis Church.” But most of us understand religious freedom is about being free to worship and believe (or not) as we see fit – not about picking and choosing what laws or employment requirements we will honor.
Similarly – could we not come to some agreement that “”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.” could bear the burden of requiring background checks to ensure one has not previously disregarded another person’s right to life, liberty and (property) rights in a way that reasonably causes the one convicted to surrender this right to weapons? Could we not discuss what exactly it takes to put a person on the “terrorist watch list” and what recourse a person has – and also discuss if perhaps people the government consider to be involved in enabling terrorist threats might reasonably have their legal access to weapons restricted – at least to the same degree that we already accept limitations one’s ability to freely travel (that is… associate – another 1st amendment right we routinely restrict in the name of security). Could we explore limitations or at least some system of accountability on larger magazines, types of projectiles, etc. Could we – again realizing that bad guys don’t just follow the law – try to find ways to make it more likely the bad guys have to pause and reload, can’t easily pierce body armor and safe rooms, etc? Can we at least discuss that “open carry” very often equates to “terrorize one’s neighbors” and at least return to a time when one’s right to bear arms in their own home is pretty wide open but taking it out in public requires some training (a license) and perhaps some liability insurance making it easier for people who are harmed when a responsible gun owner suddenly proves not to be to have some recourse to help put their lives back together? (for example – the family of the waitress shot in the head and killed for the audacity of asking a patron not to smoke in a non-smoking restaurant). Could we agree that yelling threats (protected speech right) while carrying a weapon (protected 2nd Amendment right) combines to a cocktail that crosses the “fire in a theater” safety boundary and thus give society legal recourse to check such combinations? Surely “a well regulated milita” means said gun owners won’t use that to intimidate and threaten others… surely. Heck, I’m not even trying to discuss making it illegal to leave a gun laying where your 2 year old can find it and shoot themselves, the family dog, the 4 year old, mom, grandma or the neighbor kid. However reasonable some restriction there might be, I know laws don’t make the bad thing go away – it creates a way to punish and intercept the bad stuff. So the guy that’s using his otherwise legal weapon to intimidate people walking into a mosque or a health care facility can be legally restricted from doing so before he actually shoots the place up. The Wild Wild West had such restrictions… can we have the conversation? Can we at the very, very least, stop allowing the industry lobby to block even data gathering on what is clearly an epidemic level problem? More than one a month? More than one a day? That’s not life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That’s insanity. (So… maybe we should get serious about mental health too.)