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Monday, January 21, 2013

Gun control, Executive Orders and the second amendment

Hello everybody!  How is everyone doing this week?  Normally I try and keep the mood light, and try and have some fun and hopefully make you laugh as you think.  Unfortunately, this topic is everywhere, and with the recent tragedies, there is no way to make light of it without coming across as a real dickhead.  Gun rights issues are fast becoming a sore topic across the country and all forms of media.  And the rest of the world is watching us to see what we do, and how we handle the issue.  I know that many other people who have a larger following, and more influence, have already spoken their piece on the topic, and that pro gun control is normally a Liberal issue, while anti gun control is a Conservative talking point.  I feel that I may offer a slightly different view point from either side, so I am going to attempt to write what I hope is a rational and thought-provoking article based on some of the statements that I have been hearing from people in the community.

A little side note here.  Even before I actually decided to write on this topic, I knew it was a divisive one.  I did not truly understand how difficult a subject it is to research.  There are statistics everywhere, but as they say, they nice thing about statistics is that you can make them mean anything you want. Also, there has been very little research actually done on guns and gun violence.  Yes the actual hard numbers are there, but what lead to the shootings, how many were at multiple shootings at the same location, how many were done by people with mental health issues, how many were truly accidental, how many were with legally or illegally obtained weapons?  This is information we need to find out in order to make an informed decision.  Hopefully, with this subject no longer seeming to be taboo, we will be able to starting putting everything together to form the bigger picture that is so badly needed right now. -Skeptical Okie

The 2nd Amendment Argument
O.k., I know that gun control is a big issue in this country, and probably always will be.  There is no easy, or complete answer.  Full out ban is impossible, and registration is also nearly impossible, due to the number of guns that are already out there, locked away and forgotten in cellars, attics and storage buildings.  What we need to do is forget political affiliation, and actually sit down at the table and have a discussion concerning firearms.  Right now, all sides are using the tragedy at Sandy Hook for their own purposes, and making the deaths of more than 2 dozen human beings into a stepping stone for personal agendas.  I do not want to use anyones death as a soap box for my personal views on guns and gun violence.  And before anyone says "Oh another Liberal minded Skeptic/atheist skinny jeans wearing, soy latte sipping bastard that wants to take everyones guns away"  just so you know, I am probably in the minority of the skeptical and atheist community in that I do own guns, and I do hunt.  I do admit that guns are a large part of our culture and history in this country.  I feel that as long as owners are responsible, careful, and knowledgeable about their weapons that will help to minimize recent events. (and yes, all guns, unless made to be non-functional, are weapons, even antiques.) Unfortunately, many Americans have such a cavalier attitude towards guns, even going so far as to refer to them as "toys",  that they have no problem showing them off to acquaintances and even strangers, much like you do with a new watch. At my current job, which firearms are NOT allowed inside of the building unless you are a law enforcement officer, I have seen people show off Glocks, Smith & Wessons, Berretas, and other handguns, claiming that the Oklahoma open carry law allows them to take the weapon anywhere they want, even into government buildings that normally have young children inside and are posted "No Firearms Allowed".  Actually, the open carry law does give businesses the right to allow entry to anyone carrying a gun, and I can not think of any government building that allows anyone other than law officers to have firearms on the property.  These same people will also claim 2nd Amendment rights to carry their guns with them at all times.  These are often the same people that demand a literal interpretation of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  The problem is that, for the most part, they have never actually read either one.  Neither version of the 2nd Amendment actually states that individuals have the right to carry a gun just because they want to.  There are at least 2 ratified versions that I was able to find.  They read as follows:

As passed by the Congress:
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.
As ratified by the States and authenticated by Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State:
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.
This is from Wikipedia. Notice that in the version that was passed by Congress, certain words are capitalized, whereas in the States version, no capitalization.  This can be interpreted in several ways.  One way is that the capitalization puts emphasis on those particular words, implying a more government backed militia and state (i.e. the country)  The second versions therefore would not have that same emphasis.  A second interpretation , and honestly more likely, is that because this was written before the era of cut and paste, there were copying errors.  But in either case, note the word "militia".  Basically, the 2nd Amendment was written to ensure that the people would have the means to defend the country, if they were needed.  This was also before we actually had a full time, professional standing army.  Remember that the army that won the Revolutionary War was made up of mostly farmers, businessmen, and outdoorsmen.  Very few had served in an army, or had any military training.  This was a provision to make sure that there were trained fighters for defense.  In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5 to 4 decision, made the interpretation  that the 2nd Amendment gave the right to own firearms to all citizens.  This is fine, and yes, I do support a persons right to own a firearm.  My problem is that a lot of the conservative, fundamentalist talking heads seem to think that people need to stock up on guns to protect the country....from itself.  They are nearly implying that before long, it is going to come down to firefights in the streets to defend your right to "Keep and Bear arms", which would be ironic to say the least.  This is a sticking point that is going to require people to grow the hell up, sit down, and actually work on the problem, instead of playground name calling and tantrums.

Gun Control
Also, just because it is called gun control, that doesn't mean that guns will be banned.  Gun control is just a generic phrase generally used concerning any and all legislation that deals with gun laws.  Gun control may be limiting the number of large caliber weapons, limiting the amount of ammunition able to be purchased at one time, or limiting the size of the magazines.  Unless you are planning on mounting an assault, or are a deer hunter that happens to be a terrible shot, these types of restrictions really shouldn't have much of an effect on most normal, honest gun owners.

The Executive Orders
In other politically charged and conspiracy fostering news, President Obama has recently signed 23 Executive Orders concerning guns.  People have been posting and saying that they will only allowing certain groups to own guns, the complete destruction of all guns, only certain styles or calibers will be legal, and basically a lot of other paranoid statements.  With about 30 seconds of searching, I have actually uncovered all 23 and I will now reveal them for the world to see!

Pulling from Newsmax and, they are as follows:

1. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background-check system.

2. Address unnecessary legal barriers, particularly relating to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, that may prevent states from making information available to the background-check system.

3. Improve incentives for states to share information with the background- check system.

4. Direct the attorney general to review categories of individuals prohibited from having a gun to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks.

5. Propose rulemaking to give law enforcement the ability to run a full background check on an individual before returning a seized gun.

6. Publish a letter from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives (ATF) to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers.

7. Launch a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign.

8. Review safety standards for gun locks and gun safes (Consumer Product Safety Commission).

9. Issue a Presidential Memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.

10. Release a Department of Justice report analyzing information on lost and stolen guns and make it widely available to law enforcement.

11. Nominate an ATF director.

12. Provide law enforcement, first responders, and school officials with proper training for active shooter situations.

13. Maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime.

14. Issue a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.

15. Direct the attorney general to issue a report on the availability and most effective use of new gun-safety technologies and challenge the private sector to develop innovative technologies.

16. Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.

17. Release a letter to healthcare providers clarifying that no federal law prohibits them from reporting threats of violence to law enforcement authorities.

18. Provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers.

19. Develop model emergency-response plans for schools, houses of worship and institutions of higher education.

20. Release a letter to state health officials clarifying the scope of mental health services that Medicaid plans must cover.

21. Finalize regulations clarifying essential health benefits and parity requirements within Affordable Care Act exchanges.

22. Commit to finalizing mental-health parity regulations.

23. Launch a national dialogue led by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan on mental health.

I personally didn't see "destruction", "ban", or any other buzz words that have been thrown around lately, did you?  The Executive Orders  of President Obama do not automatically "ban" guns or actually appear to do any thing at all. The orders are actually more of a "to do" list.  These are suggestions on courses of action that he hopes to take to try and resolve what is actually a serious problem in the United States.

Causes of Death
O.k. kiddos, and now for math.  I know, math sucks, math's boring etc, etc.  Here is the thing.  There have been a lot of numbers thrown out recently concerning the number of people killed by guns, and the number of people killed by hammers, cars, etc.  Then people go on a rant about "X number of people are killed by automobiles, so why not ban cars, or require people to register them?"   Actually, you do resister your car, and you have to have a license to prove that you can operate it safely, which a wouldn't be a bad idea for guns either.  I know in Oklahoma, you have to have to have passed an approved hunters safety course to get a hunting license, but just need a drivers license and the money to buy a gun.  Sorry to go off on a tangent like that, and now I'm back.  According to the F.B.I., more people were killed with hammers and other blunt object than rifles.  But a hell of a lot more people were killed with handguns than any other weapon.  The F.B.I.'s numbers for 2011look like this:

Murder Victims
by Weapon, 2007–2011

Weapons 2007 2008 2009 2010  2011
Total 14,916  14,224  13,752    13,164     12,664
Total firearms:10,129 9,528      9,199        8,8748,583
Handguns7,398      6,8006,5016,1156,220
Other guns11681969397
Firearms, type not stated1,7051,8251,8281,9331,587
Knives or cutting instruments 1,817 1,888 1,836 1,732 1,694
Blunt objects (clubs, hammers, etc.)647603623549496
Personal weapons (hands, fists, feet, etc.)1 869 875 817 769 728
Poison 10 9 7 11 5
Explosives 1 11 2 4 12
Fire 131 85 98 78 75
Narcotics 52 34 52 45 29
Drowning 12 16 8 10 15
Strangulation 134 89 122 122 85
Asphyxiation 109 87 84 98 89
Other weapons or weapons not stated 1,005 999 904 872 853

This information comes from the F.B.I.'s website.  The total deaths by various firearms were over 8,000 people in 2011 alone. I'm not even going to touch on the number of injuries, mostly because someone will point out that nearly everyone has smashed a finger with a hammer, but not everyone has been shot with a gun.   Like I've said, this is not an easy problem to work with.  For some people, it may be easier to ask one of the popes for advice on sex than to discuss any gun issues.  I am not advocating total gun control, nor am I saying we should look the other way and hope it all goes away.  What I am suggesting is everyone sit down, shut up, and listen to all sides, and see if we can't work out a solution that is beneficial to everyone.  But then again, that's the problem with compromise, no one gets everything that they want.

Assault rifles
I believe the main reason that the focus is on assault rifles is partly due to what they are, "assault" weapons.  Not home defense weapons, not target shooting weapons, not hunting weapons, and not hang on the wall weapons.  I have heard people say "They want to get rid of them because they look scary".  O.k., I can sort of see that.  But do you really need a 30 round magazine (also called a clip, but magazine is the correct term) of hollow point or full metal jacketed bullets?  Do you really need a weapon that looks like it was used in the raid on Osama bin Ladens compound?  And why does everyone focus on the rifles?  Nearly 5 times as many people were killed with handguns, they are easier to conceal, and because you can get much closer to a person before it becomes obvious, you don't need to aim quite as much as you do with a target that is 150 to 200 yards away.  I understand having a gun for personal and home defense, but unless you have military or police training, and even they make mistakes, it is all too easy to shoot the wrong person.  Just skim through the internet, and you'll find dozens, if not hundreds of stories of people shooting what they think is an intruder, and it turns out it is a family member or friend.  Not only that, but think about actually squeezing that trigger.  Not a lot of people can actually do that.  How many people have been shot with their own gun?  There are several studies, one of which is mentioned in NewScientist, that seem to point to a correlation that people that have guns are more likely to be shot.  This is not definitive, but it is food for thought. 

Hitler/Obama Meme
Lately, an internet meme that has probably popped up in everyone's Facebook feed is comparing Obama to Hitler.  It runs along the lines of Hitler declared a gun ban while surrounded by children, and then shows a picture of Hitler and another one of Obama, both surrounded by children, and allows the viewer to draw their "own" conclusion.  There is an old adage in debates.  When you compare your opponent to Hitler, you lose.  People are worried that Obama is going to magically slip around the legislative and Judicial branches of the government and affect totalitarian rule?  There is a reason that out government is divided into the Judicial, Legislative, and Executive branches.  This is a means of checks and balances that prevents each branch from becoming too powerful.  In case anyone has already forgotten, think back to early in 2012 when the health care bill was really being pushed.  That action had all 3 branches of government involved and they debated and argued, the Supreme court made rulings, the representatives and senators all had a say, and now it is basically sitting there until it goes into effect in 2014, for the most part.  If there was that much angry discussion over health care, imagine any Executive decisions concerning guns.  It'll make the Health Care debates look like a night out with friends.

The A.T.F.
Now I think we need to talk a little about the ATF.  This governmental agency is the one in charge of dealing with alcohol, tobacco, and firearms.  However, their ability to do their job is severely hampered.  They have not had an actual director in 6 years, they have the same number of agents they did in 2004, and they can't create a national gun registry.  There is a good article done by the NY Times that can be found  here .   And there was another one on NPR that you can find here .  The main bureau that is supposed to have this sort of access, and yet, they have so much bureaucratic red tape to deal with and so many restrictions, that they are rendered completely impotent.

Mental Health and Gun Issues
A subject that has come up several times is the state of mental health care in the United States.  There seems to be a growing trend of people with some form of mental instability being able to go out and legally buy a gun, and then commit a heinous act with said gun or guns.  These problems may be depression, schizophrenia, paranoia, anger management issues, or even a psychotic break.  Many people are going about, functioning normally, but actually may be suffering from one or several of these problems.  we have gotten better at diagnosing them, but only if someone notices.  A major problem with that, is that these problems often seem to lead to the person being, if not out right anti-social, then viewed as a loner, or quiet, or withdrawn.  This makes it hard for people to realize that there may be something deeper going on.  Issues like this really need to be addressed during the debates over gun rights.  One problem is, does a person with schizophrenia have any less of a right to own a gun than some one that doesn't suffer from the same mental illness?  What if they are on medication, and they take it as they are supposed to?  Does this change anything?  What if the mental illness was brought about by a case of extreme circumstances, and the person has made a full recovery?  As I stated before, these questions and others do need to be addressed before much longer.

Guns and Crime
In attempting to determine whether most guns used in crimes were legally obtained, stolen, or bought illegally, and if crime rates increase or decrease in an inverse proportion to the number of conceal/carry permits or an open carry state, I came on a disturbing trend.  There seems to be no data out there that people can agree on.  mostly it seems to depend on your political leanings or how you feel about guns.  I have seen numbers that say most guns used in crimes are legal, illegal, and stolen, depending on where you go to look.  The same for the carry laws, proponents give one set of data, while the opponents give another.  Once again, we need to have cold hard facts, not skewed by personal beliefs if we are to make an informed choice.

Arming our Teachers?
And finally to talk about schools.  Yes, right now almost everything is going to come back around to the shooting in Newtown.  There has been talk about allowing teachers to be armed while in class.  I do not think that the answer to gun violence is more guns.  In Texas, there are people offering free classes to teachers for conceal/carry.  My main issue is that a couple of 8 hour courses is not going to prepare someone to actually face someone else with a gun, especially when the second person has already shown a complete disregard for human life.  Most teachers are not former military or police, they haven't had the psychological and physical training to handle instantaneous life or death decisions.  Another issue is, what if the kids happen to steal or "borrow" the gun?  At the school I taught at for a brief period of time, that would be a major concern.  Yes, police on duty at the schools would be a good idea, but most municipalities resources are already stretched thin as it is, and they don't have enough officers for regular duties, let alone to have one stationed full time at a school.  Most schools wouldn't have the funds to pay for armed security either.  Once again, there is no clear answer.

I know that this is a murky topic, and for some people it is an emotional one as well.  I hope that I have been able to provide some unbiased information, or at least made you think a little about the rhetoric that is being spouted by both sides right now.  Unfortunately, when it comes to firearms in the United States, there is no right answer.  Hopefully, there is a best answer.

The Skeptical Okie

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