Sunday, May 12, 2019

Let's Talk About Guns

                                                                                                  written 5 May 2019
                                                                                             published12 May 2019

            Six weeks ago, a white supremacist shot up a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand.  A 19 year old white man in Poway, California, inspired by the Christchurch event, and influenced by hate sites on social media, decided to kill some Jews.  Two weeks ago, after easily acquiring an assault style rifle, he posted his hate manifesto, entered a synagogue and began shooting.  This was the 97th mass shooting in America in 2019: another lethal example of alienation, amplified by toxic social media, enabled by easy access to powerful weapons.
            My exposure to guns is limited.  Forty-five years ago, I walked into the Ace hardware in Fort Bragg, bought a .22 rifle and a box of cartridges and went out for target practice. A gun is a tool for extending one's will, and with any tool, practice improves skill and accuracy.  I appreciate a good tool, and enjoyed improving my skill, but noticed that after expending the entire box of shells, everything that moved looked like a tempting target.  
            I decided I didn't need that kind of tool in my life, and gave the rifle to my brother-in-law.  He is a hunter, proud that he cooks and eats what he shoots, and he enjoys feeding others. Another brother-in-law collects guns, and used to hunt.  He has accidently discharged a round from an "unloaded gun" at least twice. One of my nephews was recently shot to death, probably with his own pistol, although ballistics and gunpowder residue were not verified.  His girlfriend is now incarcerated.  A gun in the house increases the odds of gun violence, and gun suicides outnumber gun homicides.
            In 1871, the National Rifle Association (NRA) was chartered in New York as a nonprofit organization to advance marksmanship, firearm safety and competency.  The National Firearms Act of 1934, the first federal gun control legislation, was supported by the NRA, whose president Frederick testified "I don't believe in general promiscuous toting of guns.  I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses." During the 1970's, the NRA shifted from nonpartisan and aligned with the Republican Party.  After a contentious leadership change in 1977, it began lobbying heavily against gun restrictions, with generous funding from arms manufacturers.
            The NRA has recently suffered setbacks.  Growing public reaction to mass shootings has put the NRA on the defensive, losing support from several sporting goods chains and banks. Their political lobbying activities, prohibited by their nonprofit status, are now being investigated by New York State, which could disband the organization.  Last month, Maria Butina was sentenced to prison as an unregistered Russian agent, active in infiltrating the NRA to advance Russian interests. Butina's boss is suspected of illegally funneling money through the NRA to support the Trump campaign.  The NRA leadership is in open conflict over their advertising agency, including questionable payments, conflicts of interest, and promoting policies unrelated to NRA original values.
            The NRA argues that unfettered gun ownership is part of the second amendment of the Constitution, which reads "... the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed," but in 1776, "arms" were a handmade, muzzle loaded, black powder flintlock pistol or musket.  Perhaps ownership of those arms should be unfettered, but our population density is 33 times greater, and powerful modern weapons must be regulated.  Polls within the last year show that 2/3 of Americans support stricter gun laws, including background checks and mandatory waiting periods.
            Modern weapons could be treated like automobiles, another powerful, dangerous tool.  Most people have a right to own and operate a car, even multiple cars, but they are required to register them, take regular tests to prove they are safe operators, and have liability insurance to protect the larger public.  Failure to comply with these regulations mean loss of rights. In addition, guns might be required to have clear indicators of being loaded, have digital fingerprint trigger locks, and have every part etched with the gun serial number.  Ammunition might also have identification numbers on slugs and casings. 
            NRA president Frederick had it right in 1934. Promiscuous gun toting should be sharply restricted to preserve the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for the general society.