Thursday, May 9, 2013

Gun Violence: Safe, Legal, and Rare?

I wrote this little piece in a somewhat backwards fashion and got what I deserved, which is a discussion elsewhere--at LGM, which devolved into a discussion of Safe, Legal, and Rare rather than the competing world views of Pro-choice and Pro-Gun.  This morning TPM reports that another 5 year old has been shot in the head.  Down in the thread of comments below the post the commenters get into a tussel with a self described Texan and Aggie in which he accuses the "libtards" of wanting to end all private ownership of guns entirely. He specifically makes the argument I pointed to: that regulations and even what you might call "common sense" behavior like gun locks, gun safes, choosing not to own guns in a household with children are all a slippery slope to the end of "private ownership" and the Second Amendment.  He and other commenters make the argument that the deaths of the numerous children are ephiphenomenal, not caused by "assault weapons" and therefore not regulated by the feds (can't be stopped by normal regulation) and also that they might be a false flag--that is, that they somehow didn't happen.  One "liberal" commenter makes the rather common argument that given the deaths of children in gun owning families eventually there will be fewer gun owning families, a natural evolutionary progression and he and the other conservative posters react angrily that it is the liberals who will cease to exist because they are (presumably) all excercising their rights to abortion and therefore have no children at all.  Unfortunately I can't link directly to the comments because Disqus is acting up for me but if you check the link you will see these comments in all their glory.  They pretty much reflect the argument I make below which is that consciously and unconsciously the two sides mimic each other and have learned from each other in a thoroughly unpleasant and useless way.

Original Post: It has occurred to me during the last few months of active public debate on our gun laws that the pro-gun lobby makes essentially the same argument as the pro-choice side of the abortion debate: there is an irreducible number of "used as intended" deaths that result from the existence of guns or the existence of abortions and society simply has to accept that because: freedom.  On the gun side the Second Amendment and a religiously fetishized approach to the idea of the gun toting individualist with rights over and above the government and society/neighbors. On my side, lets say, the pro-choice side the idea of the autonomous right of the individual to determine her own fertility and family and the uses to which her body is put.  This essay at Kos doesn't make the comparison but as you look at the list of reasons they give for why, from a right wing perspective, the "problem" of gun violence is no problem at all you can't help but be struck by the similarities.

I'm not arguing that "both sides do it" or that the pro-choice side is kooky and amoral like the pro-gun side. Actually, I think just the reverse. I think that the pro-gun movement reflects much of the ideological blindness that the anti abortion side does.  Neither the pro-gun side nor the anti abortion groups take seriously the notion of limiting harm from an obviously harmful practice. They are much more concerned with maintaining a right to control the debate, and a right to prevent erosion of an ideological stance which, ultimately, is about a lot of other things besides the ostensible goal (gun ownership/end of abortion per se).

 This is why, on the pro-choice side, we have fought a losing battle from the moment we allowed the phrasing to be:  "safe, legal, and rare." That phrase accepts the notion that there is something wrong about abortion, something that needs to be controlled and limited.  We did it because we took the right wing opposition to abortion as an opposition to actual abortions  and we thought we could get some agreement on creating conditions where the necessity for abortion was limited, not the access to abortion.  But since what the right wing was really opposed to was safe sex, family planning, and female autonomy they just used the leverage of "safe, legal, and rare" to chip away at everything simultaneously.  Now we are on the verge of losing the actual ability for women to control their fertility even though, technically, we haven't lost Roe v. Wade yet.

What's the analogy on the pro gun side? Well, its a bit complicated. We make a huge mistake accepting the pro-gun side's assurances that they are at all interested in limiting gun violence and negligent deaths. They aren't. This is the tribute vice pays to virtue.  Second Amendment absolutists have the capacity to be horrified by tragedies and unnecessary deaths on a personal level, but they rigidly separate the reality from the principle and they are quite capable of permitting the deaths of thousands to protect the right to bear arms.  This is why obvious precautions to prevent random gun violence, to prevent negligent homicide, to prevent children from shooting children, to prevent criminal possession of guns, to prevent crazy people from getting guns are all stymied-- not because it wouldn't work and it wouldn't save lives but because it would chip away at the generic individual's freedom to assert the right to own guns.  And because the idea of the individual's right to own guns is attached to other cultural goods that the right sees as threatened including Republicanism, whiteness, masculinity, dominance, wealth.

 In other words, if we were to take seriously the notion that gun people want to prevent actual deaths, we'd be wrong. They see actual deaths, even tragic and accidental ones, as the natural price you pay for the right to bear arms and the right for them to occupy those positions (Republicanism, whiteness, masculinity, dominance, wealth). The deaths, even of children, is nothing but a sad but rightful societal cost, like the deaths of soldiers.  And they see even attempts to limit unnecessary deaths as part of a slippery slope to preventing gun ownership.

 I'd argue that they take this hard line because they know, having observed it in action over the last thirty years--that this is exactly the tack their side took with respect to abortion rights.   They know their side went for the easy lay up--the imaginary "late term abortions" and that their side has ceaselessly trumpeted the "deaths" off millions of "innocents" and used photos and "victims testimony"(hell, survivors of the "holocaust" of abortion are actually brought on stage to testify to their mother's botched abortions)  to shape public opinion. I suppose that's a roundabout way of saying that with the right its always projection--the very thing they accused the President of doing (using emotion, using the victims, pictures of the dead, using the children) are all things that their own propagandists pioneered quite successfully in mobilizing their voters against abortion rights.

In other words I think the far right gun fetishists have been quick off the mark in countermobilizing against gun safety laws and even the limited gun regulations advanced because they know and understand the script surrounding a hard right (gun ownership, right to privacy/female autonomy) which is under attack legally and socially.  In fact, they wrote the script.

Here's the Kos piece:

  • Even though many more more people are getting shot in recent years, thanks to advances in trauma care the victims are significantly less likely to die from a gunshot wound than they were 20 years ago. This means our policy of allowing high-capacity magazines is more important than ever, since you may have to pump more bullets into your modern super-criminal if you want to make sure the doctors can't revive them later.
  • While fewer households own a gun than 20 years ago, the people who do own gunsown a lot more guns. The obvious conclusion from this is not that less universal access to firearms reduces gun violence, but that crackpots hoarding guns are such an intimidating presence that they keep their entire neighborhoods safe via home-defense osmosis.
  • Violent crime in general has declined a whopping 75 percent in the last 20 years. Gun-related homicides, however, have declined at only about half that rate: 39 percent. While you might expect the massively reduced rate of violent crime to have produced an equal decline in gun deaths and wonder why it did not, SHUT UP. Also, let's say video games.
The good news, however, is that we've finally found a level of gang violence, suicides, accidental shootings, accidental shootings of children, school shootings of children, theater shootings, politically motivated shootings, drunken fatal whoopsies, and other mishaps that we can live with. Well, over a thousand Americans every month can't live with it, ha ha, but nobody's perfect, right? Now let's all go out and buy some ammo before the government gets it all, because liberty is a twitchy little bastard and who knows what it's going to make us shoot at next.


  1. Hi aimai! I've linked to this great post over at LGM. In the comments, it looks like people may have misunderstood some of your arguments. I didn't know if you wanted to weigh in or not.

  2. Hey bspencer. If I'd known anyone would ever read it I'd have been more clear in what I'm arguing. I'm really making a few separate arguments here that need to be teased apart and I just kind of threw it down on the page. Can't blame anyone for getting confused. But I appreciate the link. It will teach me to use this space for unformed essays. On the other hand, one must keep writing forward and not erasing or nothing would ever get put up.

  3. Of course, maybe I misunderstood it, too. That'll teach me to do a quick read-through... I've been told I haven't been clear before, too. It's frustrating, because we're always so clear in our own heads. ;)

  4. I think one of the hidden interlocutors in my head wants to talk about how wrong we are to draw a hard and fast line between the way "they" think and the way "we" think--which I frequently see people do and am frequently guilty of myself.

    It is not the case that gun owners/gun fetishists are (exactly) more willing to tolerate a high number of pointless deaths than the anti-gun lobby. Its just that they either define these deaths as incidental, or in some sense a normal cost of doing business. And that is true for the pro-choice side, as well. I, personally, don't consider the fetus to be fully human so I don't even consider most abortions to involve any real kind of "death" at all but even if I did think it included some kind of death I would never lump that death in with, say, infanticide. On the pro-gun side they just don't see negligent homicide of a child by another child, which we now know is incredibly frequent, as avoidable at all. They treat it more the way a normal person treats the 1/3 of all first trimester miscarriages: just a cost of doing business for an organism, society, which is too big to be controlled or dictated to.

  5. aimai,
    And now for a completely different perspective....sorry :-(
    Have you considered that you maybe taking a too short a view of this?
    i.e. Pro fire arms arguments are analogous to Anti abortion ones.
    While I fully accept that similar tactics are used but the subject matter makes the linking rather tenuous.

    A Fire arm IS a human invention(tool)non human it will never be a human. It can be used against another person *against that person or person's will* with impunity ... stand your ground nonsense.
    Neither is there any medical therapeutic grounds for it's use.
    Nor is it ever a natural biological event.

    Assisted pregnancy terminations are and of human beings, ideally one is *only performed by the assent of the patient*, the mother. Hopefully gone are the days of forced/coerced terminations.
    In other species there are innumerable examples of aborted off spring, desertion and active infanticide in order to protect the species by that the "breeding" parent(s).

    Sadly modern man (especially Americans) tend to see our selves OUTSIDE nature and as such invent cultural practices accordingly. i.e. Deities with whom we have varying degrees of personal relationships. We often infuse those cultural justifications into survival experiences. i.e. Before planting sacrifice something or someone to the god of fertility et al in this way we feel that we are able to influence said god(often regardless of statistical probabilities of success).
    One only has to read what happened on Rapanui (Easter Island) to see how the prevailing religions changes because of real physical problems.
    Again the Moriori (Chatham Island) they avoided the Easter Island disaster by birth control but lacking in the technology they practised infanticide to survive. Can you imagine their problem dealing with birth defected children or exploding population in a limited resourced environment. I have no doubt that if they had 'the pill or surgical expertise they would have used them first, all evidence suggest they loved their off spring like we do.

    Part of this equation is the availability of food etc. There is the well documented effect., that links and number of births in a cooperative species like homo sapiens .
    Imagine an America with say 6-700 million or if China's one child policy hadn't happened ... how many Billion then. All we have to do is look at Africa,India or Shri Lanka to see what happens with uncontrolled birth without the technology to support it... wars on wars ad nauseum. As for the environment strewth ! today the 400 PPM level has been breached.
    One (apocryphal ?) example I've read was where a tribal African was told that statistically only 2 of his 7 children are likely to survive to adulth ood …. his reaction was “ I must have more children..... to look after me when I'm old”.

  6. still there?
    Part 2
    The other factor in this discussion is the Nature's realities. Birth rates of species directly relate to their chances of survival from natural predation. i.e. many animals have many off spring where survival to adulthood is low and vice versa. e.g a Turtle ...doesn't breed until 35-40 years lays many eggs but 1in 1000 survive to breed. Yet the elephant has one sometimes 2 but 40% make it to breed without people.
    Now with humans now with little predation breed for times when they did.

    I would argue that it is Birth Control is largely the reason we (humans) are still here today.
    i.e. The richer the society the lower the birth rate . Population stats say for India/Pakistan/ Bangladesh are much higher that the major western nations

    Clearly Birth control is PART OF NATURE and in the absence of of our 'black plague etc ' susceptibility and roaming packs of sabre tooth tigers, marsupial lions , Gigantic bears we need to consider BIRTH Control and abortions are integral part of that (NATURE)
    As I say to my live in sister in law a nun and fanatic of catholic doctrine … If you don't want abortion ….Don't have one. And if the heathen Lefties ever make it mandatory I'll join your picket line …. until then Don't tell others they can't have one... it's nature”

    Now Back to the fire arms as tools they in and of them selves have no justification beyond obsolete culturally generated emotions to exist.... Does our existence as a species depend on their existence ownership?
    Again in the absence of Said sabre tooth tiger packs or marauding Monguls Um No ! They are clearly a want not a need . So as for some hyped idiots wanting to make their ownership mandatory.... Go Away!
    PS and I didn't go into the purpose of societies because the same reasoning applies.

  7. Exterminator,

    Your method is a little too highfalutin' for me. I don't really care about "our existence as a species" as a form of argumentation since it doesn't affect people's behavior at all, on the ground. Nor does it explain what people think about what they do, which is of far more interest to me. As for the difference between a want and a need I agree with you, but up to a point, which is that it is irrelevant to this discussion since what matters in a discussion of any social phenomenon is how society determines who is entitled to wants and who is entitled to needs. Sex and Sexism, Race and Racism, Class and Classism, Culture and Convention are all more important ways for (me) to think about how people get to the point of asserting rights over and against other people's rights or how people's interests are repressed by the majority or the minority.

  8. Ainai,
    Thank you for your response.
    I guess the point I'm making is that we are all driven by Brain chemistry which in turn defines our basic instincts and therefore our psychology.

    Part of that psychology is clearly effected by what we understand as cultural mores.

    The further extrapolation is that as animals the only Absolutes are in those instincts albeit modified by culture.

    On the pragmatic/parochial level the point I was making is that firearms as one of those cultural dependant issues.

    The notion that fire arms are for protection I ask against what? Have a *close* look at stats from those countries that aren't awash with domestic fire arm and you find that such weaponry is in fact counter productive to the good of societies as a whole.(the point of societies)

    Pregnancy and associated issues are a part of nature that we share to then superimpose some cultural more over the top to ban assisted pregnancy terminations is an attempt to debase it to a discretionary want rather a reality/ need is try and put humans above physics, biology and so on.

    Ergo the real issue isn't logic it is emotional i.e. what emotional need is it about Fire arms that resonates in the US.
    Judging by the polls (an unreliable measure other than in trends) it would indicate that most US cits don't have the do or die conviction.
    Ergo there is something else (emotional) being triggered... I'd suggest fear instinct (fight or flight) but the question is of what?
    What is it that makes the rump of US society so prone to this fear which other countries don't experience? (at least to the same level).
    To that there are many options.
    Considering a lot of issues I think it's because we Americans (the 40%ish.. on both sides) drink the Kool aid of We're the greatest and always the most righteous. US history has proven that from the Mexican/ American wars to today's hegemonic support for dubious regimes and out right wars
    If one is absolutely objective much of what we as a country do is for what? help our Corporations even though the support isn't often reciprocated.
    This leads me to the segway to who is pumping this fear (of loss of importance/dominance our life style yarder yarder) are those same corporations and specifically the military manufacturing Complex. The fire arm manufacturers need a sense of anxiety to justify more military spending. One way of doing that is desensitising the public to firearm and their consequences. This sensitivity has effected those countries with out major Military Manufacturing to where by “gun control” is the “cultural norm”.
    In short if one examines the power elite in the USA they aren't really the people but the '1%er' to maintain this power they use the age old divide and conquer by throwing or pumping up the natural fear response of “ 40% emotionally driven intellectually lite....the great unwashed” in your terms the 'undereducated poor'.

    The racism, sexism and hyper religions are simply the means to an end ….the end is to maintain power with the status quo.

    I understand your point but I'm really trying to focus on the underlying “disease” rather than the “Symptoms”.
    There is no way in this blue green earth I'll ever sanction any of those symptoms. Where we differ is the methodology. I prefer antibiotics or surgery rather than analgesics.
    The problem to me isn't which group holds the power rather that it's not Human (everybody) equity ( as in fairness ...not necessarily equality).

    I guess with that perspective said ...I interpret your comment as suggesting that I read not comment. As your intention isn't to go to that depth. It's your site and Unless asked to explain or comment
    that is what I'll do
    thanks for your responses
    "and all the fish" ;-)