Those of you who know me know that I am generally opposed to increased gun control.   I find the status quo acceptable, though certainly imperfect. I have examined my views in the wake of yet another mass shooting, and I haven’t changed my mind. I’ll try to look at the inevitable slew of legislative proposals at the state and Federal levels with an open mind, but I’ll remain cynical.  I believe gun control will remain primarily a cultural issue (rednecks vs. urbanites), and a distraction from a real Leftist agenda.  I suspect some sort of Federal law will be passed, and I doubt it will do anything to make us safer, but it will increase the price of some guns, and benefit those who had the foresight (or crazy compulsion) to horde away whatever weapons or magazines are grandfathered in.  I’m not making a pro-gun argument here, though I may do that in the future.  I’m making an anti-gun-control argument.  This issue is interesting in terms of role reversal – usually it is the Right asking for authoritarian solutions to social problems and defending the erosion of individual civil rights.

True advocates of gun control want to ban all, or nearly all of the tens of millions of guns that are currently in circulation. Ain’t gonna happen, at least not in the next  few decades. The more incrementalist advocates want to ban “Assault Weapons.” This is a nebulous category. The previous Assault Weapons Ban focused primarily on cosmetic features . This resulted in the sale of dorky looking rifles which could legally accept large magazines, as long as those magazines were manufactured before the ban took effect. People on both sides of the issue generally agree that the 1994 AWB was a farce.  I’m trying to avoid statistics in making this argument, but I will say that “Assault Weapons” are used in a very small percentage of crimes and murders, and that the U.S. murder rate has generally declined before and after the AWB.  I will not deny that they seem to be a weapon of choice for mass shootings, which constitute a very small percentage of gun murders overall, but are especially horrible and newsworthy.

We also have the Title 18, Chapter 44, Section 922(r) law, which I can’t even begin to fully explain, but which basically outlaws imported “Assault Weapons” unless they have a certain number of U.S. made parts.  This was primarily a measure to protect domestic gun makers from cheap imports, disguised as gun control.  The argument was made that “gangs” (we know what that’s code for) were buying these cheap guns.  Under 922(r), many people unknowingly own guns which may actually constitute a felony, because a certain part is imported, rather than U.S. made, though that part makes no functional difference.  Naturally, these laws aren’t really enforced, but what if they were?  In addition to these Federal laws, many states, including Connecticut,  have more restrictive regulations on magazine capacity, mandatory registration, etc.

A Chinese variant of the Soviet AK-47 rifle, manufactured to comply with the AWB.  This gun was sold with a 5 or 10-round magazine, but was capable of using widely available and legally grandfathered 30 and 40 round magazines.

The Mak-90, a Chinese variant of the Soviet AK-47 type rifle, manufactured to comply with the 1994 AWB. This gun was sold with a 5 or 10-round magazine, but was capable of using widely available and legally grandfathered 30 and 40 round magazines.  Now, it is somewhat collectible.








The most prominent current legislative proposal for gun control comes from California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who was also the author of the original 1994 AWB  – .  In fairness to Feinstein, she experienced the murders of George Moscone and Harvey Milk in San Francisco.  However, as Chair of the  Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, she has been a steadfast supporter of the Patriot Act, FISA, all sorts of domestic surveillance, indefinite detention without due process, Extraordinary Rendition, as well as all of the constitutionally and morally dubious CIA drone strikes, and probably other bad stuff that we don’t want to know about.  Dianne Feinstein is no pacifist hippie nor friend of civil rights, but a super-wealthy authoritarian national security hawk.  Interestingly, she also, at least at one time, legally carried a concealed handgun in San Francisco.  Her new proposal would go much further than her previous one, banning the transfer of existing magazines and weapons that fall into the chosen categories, which might include most semi-automatic handguns, as well.  Presumably, those individuals who have these weapons and magazines can keep them until they die, at which point they will be turned over to the authorities, or something.  Sort of a very long-term “cold, dead hands” policy.  Of course, person-to-person transfers of firearms or magazines are impossible to regulate, so it will be impossible to say whether a person had a certain item before the ban went into effect, or whether he purchased it from someone in a cash transaction the day before, unless you catch him in the act of the transaction. For this reason, her proposal would require registration and conditional licensing of all existing “Assault Weapons” and a fingerprint database of their owners, as is currently required for fully-automatic machine guns (yes, they are legal, just very expensive and difficult to obtain). She has apparently proposed increased funding for the BATFE for this purpose.  Ultimately, however, to be effective, any gun control policy will have to be confiscatory.

This is where I have a real problem.  How will these laws be enforced?  They will be enforced by law enforcement, of course.  We’ll need more law enforcement, a lot more law enforcement.  At the Federal level, we’re looking at the BATFE.  They’ll need more funding, more everything.  There will be sting operations and entrapment (look at how the FBI catches “terrorists”).  At which communities will these efforts be targeted?  Probably not rich white folks.  Local law enforcement will doubtless get in on the game, too.  They’ll need more toys, more people, more money, and they’ll get them, because giving money to local law enforcement is bipartisan Nirvana in D.C., especially after 9/11.   It’s tough-on-crime and pro-government-employee-union all at the same time. Every police department will need a heavily armed “Assault Weapons Task Force.”

For some idea of how the Feds might deal with illegal firearms, consider the Waco Siege of 1993 .  I’ll certainly not defend sociopathic cult leader David Koresh, but I will condemn the ATF and FBI who initiated a militaristic siege of the compound, resulting in the deaths of 76  people, many of them children.  This, of course, was part of the rationale behind Tim McVeigh’s Oklahoma City bombing (19 children under the age of six killed). McVeigh may well have bombed something anyway, but you see my point.

We have a bad history with prohibition.  Our current War On Drugs has resulted in entrenched interests on both sides.  We have the huge, heavily militarized DEA  and ICE bureaucracies on one side, and we have the heavily militarized cartels on the other side.  It’s a horrible symbiotic relationship.  Prohibition keeps prices high, and ensures jobs for all sorts of federal and local cops.  HSBC, one of the largest banks in the world,  just got a little slap on the wrist for blatantly laundering money for the Sinaloa Cartel, arguably one of the most violent criminal organizations in the world.  The violence in Mexico is out of control.  The money goes to Wall Street, pretty much unhindered.  Our politicians are happy to pass laws regulating the private behavior of  individuals, but refuse to enforce laws regulating nakedly criminal behavior by large financial institutions.

We incarcerate black and brown people at a far, far higher rate than white people for crimes that white people commit just as often.  Our criminal “justice” system is completely out of control.  We have by far the highest incarceration rate in the world.  Many of our prisons, including juvenile facilities, are now private, for-profit operations.  This is a vast, cruel, expensive, and irredeemably racist system.  Of course, many people caught in this system, especially children, suffer from mental illness which goes untreated or poorly treated.  This system puts broken, hopeless, unemployable young people back on our streets every day.  It is completely indefensible.

We also have a bad history with violence.  The U.S. was basically founded upon a genocide (how many children?), and hasn’t backed away from its policy of violent world domination since.  We accept all sorts of state-sponsored violence as some sort of unfortunate accident.  In December of 2008, most U.S. politicians were steadfast in their support of Israel’s bombardment and invasion of Gaza, one of the most densely populated areas in the world.  According to the conservative estimate of the Israeli Defense Force, 89 children were killed in the space of three weeks.  Other estimates of child deaths are far higher.  The U.S. supplied many of the weapons for this attack, and replaced the ones that were expended.  White phosphorus, a horrendous (and illegal under international law)  incendiary chemical weapon was used on civilians, including children.  Going back further, we have Madeline Albright’s notorious 60-Minutes interview on 1990s U.S. sanctions against Iraq, which were estimated to have resulted in the deaths of 500,000 children    (see FAIR’s take on it here   ).  Where was the wall-to-wall angst then?  Where was the “Something Must Be Done!”?  The catalog of international horrors is endless, and goes back centuries, so please don’t think I don’t care about the ones I haven’t mentioned.  The Vietnam War, for instance, was pretty tough on the wee ones.

I believe that people on both sides of the gun debate are primarily motivated by fear.  Those on the pro-gun, mostly right-wing side are afraid of social disorder and want to protect themselves with guns.  Those on the anti-gun, mostly left-wing side are afraid of social disorder and want to be protected from people with guns, especially when horrific violence occurs in suburban enclaves that are supposed to be safe.  The NRA’s asinine call for two federally-mandated armed guards in every school may permanently cement their irrelevance in any sort of national debate.  The Right has little to offer here.  They love to harp about individual freedom, but we threw the Constitution out the window after 9/11, if not before that, and we heard hardly a peep, until the recent Libertarian, Ron Paul surge.  The Constitution is marginally relevant, at best.  Most gun rights advocates are opposed to true health care reform, and aren’t really interested in discussing mental health care.  They support virtually any overseas military adventure to “defend our freedom,”  and could give a damn about the 4th Amendment until somebody comes looking for their guns. We have become a nation of small, fearful people, and we accept the slow, steady erosion of our rights.

Perhaps the largest irony of the current gun-control climate is that pretty much every new “Assault Weapon” and high capacity magazine has been snapped up by panic buyers.  Prices on used guns and magazines are at completely absurd levels.  Untold thousands of these guns and magazines are suddenly gone from warehouses and are loose among us, along with millions of rounds of ammunition.

So here’s what I, as a lefty populist (with increasing anarchist tendencies), think we should do instead of focusing on gun control:

I want real universal, single payer health care, including universal access to mental health care and drug/alcohol treatment.  Those of us who have dealt with public schools, trying to get an IEP, trying to get basic mental health support for our kids, know how difficult this is.  Rather than two armed guards in every school, I want two mental health professionals and/or social workers armed with masters’ degrees or better (these people have largely been cut from our neighborhood school).  There are millions of “Assault Weapons” in this country, but very few mass shootings (I know, one is too many).  Most of the shooters are young white males with documented mental health issues, some of whom were literally begging for help.  I’m open to some sort of measure that prevents mentally ill people from legally buying weapons, but we’ll have to be really careful.  Some recent veterans who sought mental health services from the VA found themselves unable to buy a deer rifle, even though they posed no threat, because the VA, being a Federal agency, shared their list with the NICS people who do the firearms background checks.

Let’s end the War on Drugs to help pay for some of that mental health care.

I want to hear more kicking and screaming about the murder of children everywhere.  I’m sure we’re all against the murder of children, and it’s happening every day, all the time, all over the world, often funded by our tax dollars.  If we can take some message from the unfathomable darkness of the Newtown massacre, I hope it is this.  Every life matters, not just American, suburban white kids.  Some kids may have made the poor choice to be born in bad places, but we should still care about them.  People on the Right tend to use words like “evil” and “monster” when discussing the Adam Lanzas of the world, but what do we call those who calmly weigh the deaths of thousands of innocents against their geopolitical ambitions?

Toward this end, I want to dismantle the American Empire.  We spend more on our military (which is to say guns, really big guns) than most of the rest of the world combined.  We have eleven hideously expensive Carrier Strike Groups, each one of which is the match of most small countries’ entire armies and air forces.  I think we could maybe get by with two or three Carrier Strike Groups.  We can continue to back off of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We can start slowly closing down the hundreds of bases all over the world.  We can tell everyone that we’re really sorry about the last 150 years or so.  We can stop consuming so much oil and other resources.  Hell, we could even reduce the ole’ nuclear weapons stockpile.

If we could get half of this stuff done, I would grudgingly turn in my deer rifle (sadly, I don’t have an “Assault Weapon,” by current definitions) and arm myself with a musket or perhaps a sharp stick.

My inner Noam Chomsky tells me in his gravelly old-man voice that I’m full of shit, I’m dreaming.  Maybe so.  But those of you who are eagerly jumping on the gun control bandwagon are also dreaming.  You ask the government to make you safer, but look at that government! Look at how they made us “safe” after 9/11.  We cannot be safe.  But we can be better people.  Better individuals.  A better society.  When we ask for gun control, we ask for yet more authoritarian enforcement, more bureaucracy, more police, more prisons.  I’m asking for a more compassionate, but more difficult approach.  As those of us who live in Portland are well aware, we have made mental health a law enforcement problem with tragic results. Mental health care is everybody’s problem.  I challenge you to find a person who’s life hasn’t been touched in some way by mental illness.  Democrats have a lot of political capital right now, and they should spend it wisely.

Again, I suspect that some sort of gun legislation will be passed, because it’s easy to do, and politicians love an easy win with a lot of opportunities for grandstanding.  The NRA will complain, but, ultimately, the gun industry will survive largely unscathed, and this, not individual rights, is the NRA’s real concern.  A ton of media attention will be focused on the issue, Climate Change will continue to be ignored, Wall Street will continue to run amok, the social contract of the New Deal and the Great Society will continue to die by a thousand little cuts.  Likely this legislation will be ineffective in reducing violence, and if it is actually effective in removing guns from circulation, it will require Draconian and expensive enforcement measures, money that could save more lives elsewhere. Mental health care will get some lip service and not much else.  A lot of (mostly) white, working class men will have even more reason to vote against their economic interests.

Maybe you really hate guns.  Maybe you’d really like to poke those rednecks in the eye.  Understood.  I’m asking you to consider the costs, and the alternatives.  If you do feel strongly enough to call your representatives in support of gun control, please also call them regarding mental health care, endless war, increasing wealth inequality, and all the other issues that continue to make us such a troubled and violent society.



6 Responses to “What are we really asking for when we ask for gun control?”

  1. pete says:

    I struggle with the gun control issue. Though I’m not a fan of guns, I’m a proponent of “freedom”, as are many folks on the pro-gun end of things. I just gotta wonder where we draw the line? I was ribbing my libertarian hunter co-worker today, asking him “So are you alright with chemical weapons? What about anthorax?”. He smiled and said “Oh, I think we should probably each have our own nukes!” We then segued into the abortion issue, in which he told me that it is murder. It was a fun can of worms to open, but I concluded that as much as we both espouse a desire for more freedom, the freedoms that we want are often not the same ones. Anyway, thanks for the rant. It was thought provoking, for sure.

    • nathaniel says:

      Pete, I think it is all about drawing the line. I’m saying, let’s just leave the line (and there is certainly a line) where it is, and focus on stuff that really matters. As for the pro-gun Right, I’ve tried to talk to those people, and it was largely fruitless. They espouse “freedom,” but tend to be so caught up in their “oppressed white conservative male” fantasies that it’s hard to communicate. If you don’t adhere to a very orthodox Fox News conservatism, they don’t want to talk to you. There are exceptions, of course, but as far as PR goes the pro-gun Right is their own worst enemy. It’s all ball tugging and tough talk. A Libertarian, you can talk to. A Libertarian is a thinking conservative.

      Also, thanks for being my first commentor, and showing that things actually work. I promise I won’t sell your email for less than top dollar.

  2. Miranda says:

    I find myself agreeing with everything, point by point, here, and still not necessarily sharing your conclusion. As fucked up as the government has been and still is, and as much as I agree that this could be another bottomless hole into the prison industrial complex, the notion that no action is better than some action still doesn’t sit right with me. We’re a ridiculously car-happy society, and yet the guvmit regulates cars – there are (weak) emissions standards, licenses get suspended and revoked. The guvmit regulates housepaint and tylenol and licenses to give manicures. Imperfectly, on all counts, but without excessive damage to the fabric of society. If anything, this makes me think of the pitfalls of waging a legal war in the absence of a culture war. I’ve seen first drunk driving, and then homophobia, shamed into their respective corners. I can’t credit the same kind of success to the white-knuckled, Supreme-Court-obsessed pro-choice movement. Sorry for any typos, inarticulateness, and the like, and long may you blog. Just post an alert to fb when you put a new post up, k?

    • nathaniel says:

      I agree that the government does and should regulate all sorts of stuff. The distinction I would make is between regulating industries and large institutions and regulating individuals. I would like to see far more regulation of banks and other large corporations, and generally less regulation of individual people. I suppose the original AWB mostly affected the gun industry by banning the manufacture (for civilian use) of high capacity magazines, etc. However, it did little or nothing to solve the problem it was meant to address, because so many of the banned items were already circulating. Regulation of cars has actually been quite effective. Cars are vastly cleaner and safer than they were twenty years ago, and old cars mostly go to the junk yard. Also, having a smoky old jalopy is not a felony, as possessing a certain gun might be under some of the proposed laws. Unlike cars, guns don’t really wear out. A rifle can easily last a hundred years, so regulating at the manufacturing end will succeed only in raising prices a bit. To reduce the number of guns, or certain types of guns, they’ll have to be actively confiscated. Guns have a substantial and very passionate constituency that will put forth a lot of effort to stop any sort of regulation. It’s not just the NRA. In spite of their tough insurrectionist talk on the Internet, I suspect most gun advocates would eventually turn over the goods or bury them safely in the back yard, but some crazies will be pushed over the edge. I’m not saying that confiscating a bunch of guns won’t eventually make us marginally safer from being shot, I’m just saying that (a) it will be a very bitter, costly, and sometimes violent process, and (b) the problem is not primarily guns, but violence, which is a nebulous thing that is difficult to address with a single piece of legislation. Like abortion, guns are a perfect divide-and-conquer issue. There will be endless legislative and legal battles, and the Left and the Right will remain at each other’s throats while what remains of our collective wealth is plundered.

      I hope to address the myriad and often conflicting statistics about guns and violence in the future, though it may be a fool’s errand.

      • Bruce Fields says:

        “Regulation of cars has actually been quite effective.”

        I also like to hold up the crash fatalities as an example here:

        There’s been steady progress making cars safer over recent decades. I doubt there’s any one reason–it’s just a lot of work by a lot of people over a long time: improving regulation, technology, education, etc. There are engineering sub-disciplines dedicated to studying how to designing safe highways and to figuring out exactly how a car behaves in a crash.

        It’s not really my thing, but in the little time I’ve spent looking around for gun research, I don’t see the same depth–I keep running across the same stuff.

        Which is why this:

        is the sort of thing I’ll keep harping on.

        In the US about as many people die from gunshot wounds as die in car crashes, and I think it’s worth a comparable investment to figure out what would help. I don’t claim to know what that is.

  3. nathaniel says:

    Bruce, I’m with you here. As I said, the Right has nothing much to offer in this debate. They do their best to squelch scientific research into anything they’d rather not talk about (climate change, cough, cough). I would love to see detailed (and unbiased, to the extent possible) studies of all kinds of violence in our society, with guns or otherwise. I want these studies to consider all the surrounding circumstances, social, economic, cultural, geographic, mental illness, whatever. Otherwise, politicians will make decisions based upon “common sense,” which in Politician Speak means “I don’t have any facts, but I’m going to make a decision anyway.” I honestly think that real study would find that gun bans, especially of the type currently on the table, will not be the most effective way to curb violence, and that other approaches may be much more effective, if more expensive and difficult. Bring on the Science!

    That said, a study that concludes that if every gun magically disappeared, no one would get shot is not going to be very helpful.

Leave a Reply to pete Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>