Point Blank. Finding your place on the gun control continuum

Hidden within the pages of our nation’s gun control history, you can find the story of the infamous Black Panther Party for Self Defense. If you are like me, you probably forgot the original “Self Defense” portion included in the title of the revolutionary group.  It may be harder to forget, however, the iconic image of Malcolm X peering outside a window with an M1 Carbine semiautomatic in his possession.  The Black Panther party, Malcolm X and many other repressed groups and individuals represented the need of the right to bear arms at one of its core principles.  Blacks were literally oppressed by the American government by being denied their due process of the law, which lead many blacks to believe that the police were not patrolling black neighborhoods to ensure blacks were receiving their constitutional protected rights.  Especially, when the government passed the Mulford act to thwart the Panther’s neighborhood and policing the police program.

First and foremost, when finding your position on gun control, you have to decide whether or not you believe the second amendment protects an individual’s right to bear arms.  If you fervently believe that the second amendment does not guarantee an individual’s right to bear arms, then you need to start there.  This article is not intended to persuade you to believe otherwise, however I would like you to consider what your denial of an individual’s right to bear arms would mean.  First, you would have to consider how the government would go about collecting all of the guns in America and discontinue their would be illegal distribution within the country. Second, due to the sheer amount of guns in the country, denying citizens the right to bear arms would not solve the issue of gun violence.  From this point forward, this article will be written from the perspective of the second amendment meaning that individuals have a right to bear arms (For transparency I do interpret the second amendment to mean an individual does have a right to bear arms).

To help find your position on gun control, you need to imagine yourself on a line.  Let’s establish extremes, on one point of this imaginary continuum there are no federal or state laws that can determine who can own arms or which types of arms a person can bear.  This extreme represents people who would not support a law, state or federal, that regulates whether or not someone with a cognitive impairment can own a gun.  On the other hand, keeping in mind that we are working under the assumption we agree that an individual does have a right to bear arms, we have an extreme that is similar to the D.C gun ban, which made it virtually impossible for citizens to use a gun to protect themselves in a reasonable manner.

Now that we have established some extremes, people owning guns with no practical way of using them for recreational uses or self-defense purposes versus people owning guns without any regulation, let’s answer the difficult question, which is “what problem regarding guns are you actually trying to solve?”  The task of determining the “issue” is often overlooked because laws regarding guns are often times legislated from a reactionary standpoint. For example, were you a person that advocated gun control after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, Columbine, and Aura or were you a person that wanted tighter gun restrictions due to the number of suicides or murders per year involving guns? Which according to the CDC, in 2011 there were 11,101 homicides from discharge of firearm and 19,766 suicides from discharge of firearm.[1]  Were you outraged about guns when that [insert minority here] was murdered on Tuesday? Or was it the suicide on Wednesday that aroused your inner gun control spirits? One has to wonder what criteria the individual murders and homicides fell under to miss the cut of news worthy attention.  Deciding what type of death the living can muster is important because the extremes of gun tragedies are derived from different pathologies.  The FBI found the distinction between the pathologies of murder so great that, in an effort to “bridge the gap between the many issues related to serial murder,” they distinguished between mass murder and serial murder.  According to the FBI, mass murder is defined as:

Generally, mass murder was described as a number of murders (four or more) occurring during the same incident, with no distinctive time period between the murders. These events typically involved a single location, where the killer murdered a number of victims in an ongoing incident (e.g. the 1984 San Ysidro McDonalds incident in San Diego, California; the 1991 Luby’s Restaurant massacre in Killeen, Texas; and the 2007 Virginia Tech murders in Blacksburg, Virginia).

This definition distinguishes between let’s say, the Virginia Tech shooter and the D.C Sniper.  Under the FBI’s distinctions, the D.C Sniper would be classified serial murderer because he had time between shootings and they took place over multiple locations. As defined by the FBI a serial murder is[2]:

Serial Murder: The unlawful killing of two or more victims by the same offender(s), in separate events.

The differences between the definitions are vital to finding your place on our imaginary gun control continuum because the gun control that you support is more than likely dependent on the type of shootings you are trying to reduce.  Due to the current political-social conversation going on, it would seem plausible for one to assume that most Americans are concerned with mass shootings.

In 1994, Bill Clinton signed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.   Title XI of the act outlines the infamous assault rifle ban, which one would have to conclude that the impetus of such a measure is aimed at reducing gun violence and mass shootings, and, at first glance, a ban on assault rifles seems perfectly sensible.  The assault rifle is, after all, that big gun that allows murderers to kill innocent people by spraying multiple bullets in a crowd with one pull of the trigger.  If you are familiar with guns, you might have been privy to my trickery.  The assault rifle is a large gun, but all assault rifles do not allow a shooter to spray bullets with one pull of the trigger, which is to say, every pull of the trigger fires one bullet.  To be terse, assault rifles are not synonymous with machine guns.

Adam Winkler’s beautiful analysis of the second amendment and the tandem of gun rights and gun control outline the history of the assault weapon. According to Winkler’s book, Gunfight:

“The term Assault Weapon comes from a World War II rifle called the sturmgewehr, or storm rifle. The sturmgewehr was developed as a lightweight military rifle that infantry troops could carry into battle when they stormed an enemy position. Since that time, gun manufactures have produced similar-looking rifles, which are now standard issue in most major armies.”

One of the most important parts of this brief history of the assault weapon is the “similar-looking” aspect.  Especially since the assault rifle ban was largely based on having a similar appearance to a military fully automatic weapon. Even though the federal ban on assault weapons flourished with symbolism, that is, misguided symbolism, it lacked meaningful substance. For example, a semiautomatic weapon was graduated to the illegal status of assault weapon if it had a detachable ammunition magazine and any combination of a pistol grip, a flash suppressor, telescoping stock, or bayonet mount. There isn’t anything in particular about the above features that make a gun unfathomably lethal.  To take this point farther, upon reading the banned items you may not have been able to conjure up images of the aforementioned items because you never hear about them.  This is partly due to the fact that they are not vital elements in mass shootings. In most cases, manufactures could slightly alter guns banned by the law to get around the provisions in the assault rifle ban.  The semiautomatic title comes from the gun loading the next bullet automatically, after the trigger is pulled.  This does not mean that the actual bullet is fired automatically.  That would make it a fully automatic gun (Winkler 192).

At this juncture, you should be able to revisit your imaginary gun control continuum and place an assault rifle ban, especially one with regard to form not function on it.  According to mother Jones, counting from 1982 to 2012, in a total of 62 mass shootings, 35 assault rifles were used in comparison to 68 semiautomatic handguns.  While semiautomatic handguns are primarily the weapon of choice for individuals evil enough to indulge in a mass killing spree, that does not mean the country should start banning all semiautomatic handguns, which would be about 70 percent of handguns in America.[3]

Equally, if not more important, than what type of gun is being fired is who is actually doing the shooting.  When I started to wrap my head around background checks and which stranger I should trust with a gun, I thought about whom I trust on the road next to me.  To investigate this inquiry I called the California DMV.  I questioned the operator, who seemed a little, let’s say, concerned about my line of inquiry. My original question was about restricted driver licensees. “How is it determined whether or not someone receives a restricted driver licenses?” The operator informed me that restricted driver licenses mainly applied to seniors.  When I further inquired about autism and mental illness for persons over 18 and applying for a driver licenses, I was informed that, outside of the run of the mill legal requirements, the DMV has no requirement. Which means, the DMV would have no way of knowing whether or not an individual that lacks the cognitive ability to drive a car unless a family member notifies them or there are visible symptoms.  I’m not advocating for banning all people with mental illness from driving and I don’t think people with autism should be prevented from obtaining a driver license. The point is that the DMV would not have a way to know about it, which is similar to the way we distribute guns.  While there is no constitutional amendment that explicitly guarantees an individual’s right to drive a car, an interesting comparison can be made between cars deemed street legal, regulated speeding limits, who can operate motor vehicles and the process of obtaining and using the gun.  The point of having provisions on driver licenses derives from the act of driving requiring high cognitive skill.  Guns need to work the same way.  In order to operate a machine capable of inflicting death, one should be thoroughly evaluated and able to distinguish which scenarios it would be necessary to inflict such a punishment.  Since the shooters of 39 of the 62 mass shootings in America had previous signs of a possible mental illness, determining who is mentally fit to own a gun and how doctors communicate that information so it appears on background checks is worthy of discussion and solution. Especially, since 34 of those individuals obtained guns legally[4].  The second amendment does guarantee the right to bear arms, but it does not guarantee the right blindly.

In terms of the second amendment and its purpose, I’ve heard many explanations that come from a place of delusion, entitlement and misconception. Some of my privileged, misguided and white conservative friends seem to think they’ll actually need to use their guns to protect themselves from a government that outnumbers them in terms of manpower and weaponry. The irony is that they are citizens of a government that has historically and disproportionately tilted the American dream in their favor.  There are times when I am curious to ask when was the last time government forces “randomly” pulled them over, denied them their right to vote, a fair trail, or met the side of a police baton from the hands of a police offer that did not view them as citizens. The condition of blacks in America, especially during to the civil rights movement needed guns to literally protect themselves and their communities from the government and not to mention the KKK, which is something that my liberal, rid-the-world of every gun friends should think about.

Being pro gun and pro gun control are not contradicting positions.  Supporting a ban on fully automatic weapons while being in favor for semiautomatic handguns is a form of gun control. Being anti gun and pro gun control do not have to be divorced neither.  The difficult part is finding your place on the gun control continuum.  We, the people, do have a right to protect ourselves by bearing arms, but also, by providing meaningful legislation to prevent arms from entering the hands of those that are not equipped with the mental arsenal to use them appropriately.

[1] CDC National Vital Statistics Data http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr61/nvsr61_06.pdf

[2] On FBI’s distinction between mass murder and serial murder (http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/serial-murder/serial-murder-1#foreword)

[3] On opposition to the assault rifle ban Winkler, Adam. “Gun Grabbers.” Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America. New York, NY: W.W. Norton &, 2011. 189-200. Print.

[4] To see the number of shooters with mental illness and legally obtained guns Follman, Mark, Gavin Aronsen, and Deanna Pan. “US Mass Shootings, 1982-2012: Data From Mother Jones’ Investigation.” Mother Jones. N.p., 28 Dec. 2012. Web. 19 Jan. 2013.

Thoughts? Leave a comment:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s