Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Victor: Your Answer is Here Because I'm too Long Winded For My Own Browser

Oh, bloody hell, lost my own very long response.

Basically what I want to say is that its clearly not as simple as all that--and maybe it shouldn't or can't be. There are all kinds of places where we as a society privilige the privacy and separation of the home sphere and we permit to parents and siblings a lisence that we don't to anyone else,and we take into consideration needs that they have (for support, for companionship) that are not taken into account with respect to other situations.  Although its true that the law comes down pretty hard on certain kinds of crimes and removes parents from the household and jails them for committing those crimes it is not the case that children are removed from the custody of the parents because the parents have committed a crime.  And the state should be leery of removing children from parents because the need of the child to maintain a stable family relationship with a parent supersedes what we might consider even the right of the child to a more perfect parent.

In the case of negligent homicide and accidental death its also clear that people who identify with the negligent parent tend to see the incident as "accidental" and people who do not identify with the negligent parent, or the idea of negligence and error as human conditions, see the incident as falling under a kind of strict liability in which intentions don't matter.  In addition, people (on all sides) resort to a kind of ethnotheory that mashes together theodicy, chance, guilt, probability, and identity to produce a kind of bastardized combination of a "just world" theory of the event.  If you identify with the gun owner racially, ethnically, politically you find a way to see the incident as "just an accident which could happen to anyone. Couldn't have been prevented. They have suffered enough."  If you don't identify with the gun owner racially, ethnically, politically, regionally or at all then you prefer to see the accident as something that is their fault--almost deliberate and criminal. They should have known not to do those things because they should have known not to be the kind of person who would end up in this situation.  That's why I say its a variant on the "Just world" theory--both sides prefer to see the world as just and things like tragic deaths not being wholly destructive to "good people."  When you identify with the parent you seek to see them treated as victims because if it were happening to you you would want to be treated as a victim, not a murderer, because you are a good person and bad things like punishment shouldn't be meted out to good people.  If you don't identify with the negligent parent you want them to be treated as a criminal because its obvious that bad people are wholly responsible for the bad things (like the death of a child) which happen to them.  There are no accidents when it comes to the lives of bad people--in a sense the death of the child and the punishment that comes after is wholly expected and wholly justified.

Southern Beale posted a link to a long article about what happens to parents who accidentally kill their babies by leaving them in the backseat of the car on a hot day.  This happens horribly more often than one would like to imagine, and it happens to good parents who get distracted and forget the child is there, or think they've dropped the child off.  Sometimes these people are charged as if they committed intentional murder. Sometimes they are released because the police decide that they have been "punished enough."  As a parent who had to drive two children lots of places when they were infants and toddlers I have always known that it was merely a matter of luck that I never made that crashing mistake.  In fact for years after my children left car seats entirely I still take a panicked look back into the car as I leave it, just to check.  But I'd say that the attitudes of the commenters and police officers in the article Southern Beale linked to split along pretty much the lines I laid out above: if the person is adjudged a "good person" then the accident was an accident and out of their control. If the person is judged a "bad person" then they could have avoided the accident (in some way) and the death is more or less wholly attributed to their actions and their (perhaps even unconscious) intentions.


  1. aimia,
    Interesting, and I do get the point you're making.

    However, imo, there are some major differences between guns and car seats, where the analogy doesn't work for me - no one keeps a back car seat in an airless closet over the boiler, that children can crawl in, or lock a sibling or friend in, killing them.

    And there's no National Rear Car Seat Association, advocating that people need to have car seats in their homes, so that they can force "home invaders" to sit at bay until the police come, or lock them in that hot airless closet until they die.
    And open-carrying of rear car seats won't accomplish anything, except give people a place to sit when they're waiting in line, or duck behind in case someone open-carrying a gun, starts shooting.

    A gun is, in and of itself, a deadly weapon, designed to be a deadly weapon - especially modern assault weapons. And car seats are places for passengers to park their fannies for the ride to wherever...

    The old single-shot handguns, hunting rifles, shotguns, and bullets, could kill, sure, but they weren't specifically designed (for uses in assaults or defense by a military force) to cause as much damage to intergan organs as possible, once the bullet enters the body.

    No manufacturer is out there, designing deadlier car seats.
    Gun manufacturers are designing more lethal guns and bullets all of the time.

    Now, having said all of that, I'm not advocating for ALL guns to not be allowed in the hands of the public (though I wouldn't cry if they were), I just want assault weapons made illegal.
    People who want a simple handgun or shotgun to defend their homes - no problem.
    People want a hunting rifle or two, to supplant the families protein intake - no problem.

    But even those guns should require mandatory training, testing and licensing, registration and fees, and insurance - just like cars.

    And while I'm sure that there are several times people would have have loved to have had the option of locking some adult passenger in the backseat of their car who was annoying them by "driving" from there, the intended victim would get out pretty quickly and safely.

    Not so if someone is annoying someone who has a gun.
    How many have we read about someone pulling a gun on someone, not to shoot them, but to scare them, or get them to stfu, only to have the gun discharge, and either wound or kill the person they were trying to scare?
    Too many for me.

    So, I'm sorry if the people whose children died via a gun, are nice people or not.
    Imo - leaving a loaded gun around for a child to kill himself or someone else, is a lot different than a tired and harried parent locking their child in their car to die.
    The latter is, truly, an accident.
    The former, is an accident waiting to happen.

  2. I am all for a total repeal of the 2nd amendment, frankly. I wouldn't even bother with this whole "background checks" nonsense if it were up to me. However, that being said, whats interesting *to me* as an anthropologist is the way people think about the problem of suffering, negligence, and death within or near family units and especially the way they think about it when it comes to things like guns as opposed to things like car seats.

    There is a reason why, in public at least, the community that surrounds the little boy who shot his sister has closed ranks, even going so far as to attack a German film crew for filming the story as news--its because guns have come to symbolize (for them) a certain way of life. Far from representing, to them, a tale of parental negligence and folly they see it as an accident, an act of god. I'm not saying that that belief is not a direct result of the machinations of the NRA and the GOP--of course it is. But I think if you go back further in American cultural history and read Albion's Seed you will see the roots of this childish, isolationist, fatalism in the particular background of that community.

    From an societal standpoint as it turns out both kinds of death are "accidents waiting to happen." I can't find the link but the article about the heat death/forgotten babies makes the point that, in fact, simple engineering would prevent many of these forgotten baby situations. It would be possible to limit the number of accidental deaths from gunshots, too, if the gun people weren't so wedded to a very particular notion of gun ownership centered on "freedumb" and spite rather than utility and thoughtful control.

    You don't leave a car on and running--the key doesn't let you. Why are guns left out, left loaded, left "running"? Because of tradition and because of attitudes about non-gun owners which are completely ideological rather than practical. When I think people are out to steal my car I take steps to secure my car. Gun owners believe people are out to steal their valuable guns but take the opposite steps and keep their guns less secure.

    1. Very true.
      And I especially love the last paragraph.

      And the roots of all our problems in this country, go back to race and population density - The City Mouse v. The Country Mouse.

      From roughly the early 18th Centuries, in urban areas, there was always, through immigration - both external international sources, and internal "immigrants" from England, and more rural areas within the colonies - cheap labor available.

      Not so in the more rural areas, so, slavery was the only option for cheap labor, because of the low population density (and, for awhile, indentured servitude).

      The "Origianl Sin" of this country, slavery, was codified into the Constitution, to get the more rural Southern states to ratify it.
      And that 3/5ths of a vote, was a way to keep the House of Representatives from going completely into Northern, more abolishionist, hands.

      And so it is with guns - city v. country.
      I grew up in NY City, and then suburban Upstate NY - so, I wasn't sorrounded by a gun culture. Hell, the kids up here in the upstate part who hunted with their parents, couldn't even show me their parent's guns, because they were locked up - let alone let me handle one.
      But, you go further into more rural areas of NY, and you'll find people who have handled guns their whole lives - since childhood.

      And, no matter where you look, at economic or social or political issues, or whatever, what you see, is deep blue large cities and medium blue smaller cities, sorrounded by purpleish-blue suburbs, and deep red rural areas.

      Slavery was a consequence of the economics of low population density, and the need for cheap, easily replaceable labor.

      Racism today, is still its bastard child.
      And gun ownership, its kissing cousin.

  3. Victor, I agree. The longer I live and the more I study American Politics the more I come to this conclusion: in our beginning will be our end and it all goes back to the original sin of slavery.