Sunday, October 6, 2013

Gun Control and Gun Violence - Is the Right to Bear Arms Absolute?

I’m writing now in the wake of another tragic shooting here in the United States.  For most of us, we have never experienced the current pandemic of senseless violence that we read about and visualize every day.  I challenge you to find a newspaper tomorrow morning, or listen to a news broadcast, that will not report on dark and pernicious inclinations and accomplishments of evil practitioners. 

If that challenge is not sufficient, then find an American over the age of 70 to attest that the world is better today than it was during his youth.  

I listened to the every word that President Obama said at the ceremony honoring the fallen Navy Shipyard personnel.  He spoke well, and his reference to congressional inaction with regard to gun violence didn’t trouble me at all.   It was beyond shameful when craven congressman couldn’t pass any piece of legislation in the wake of the Newtown catastrophe.   This was a bipartisan failure that broke congress’s already abysmal performance level.

I’ve never been a gun control supporter, and I’m still not persuaded by their arguments.  I do believe that some classes of weaponry should not qualify as an absolute constitutional right of law abiding citizenry.  Should folks be able to purchase unlimited numbers of weapons and ammunition?   Explain why background checks somehow don’t apply to gun shows and ‘private sales’?  I have some flexibility on these issues.

Although I would support some restrictions on gun ownership, I do not accept the views of gun control zealots that lack of restrictions are responsible for recurrent episodes of senseless violence.   Somehow, these folks demonize the NRA while they give a free pass to Hollywood, the video gaming industry and the music business, all of whom bathe us with violence every single day.   Do we believe that the media can’t influence us, especially those of us whom might be vulnerable?   To those who deny that media can influence our behaviors, explain why gazillions are spent on advertising for this very purpose.

Is the NRA a Scapegoat?

Criminals will not surrender their weapons or fail to procure new ones because of more restrictive laws.  These guys do not obey laws.  That’s why we call them criminals.  Get it?   

Outlawing assault rifles – red meat for the gun control crowd – will keep these guns from law abiding citizens, not others.  And, even honest gun control fanatics admit that these classes of weapons account for a very small percentage of violent American deaths, which are largely caused by handguns.   That’s where our collective outrage should be focused, although this is a more difficult and elusive target.

I’m hostile to the argument that’s often issued as a question, “Who needs an assault rifle”?   The fact that it is a right means that there is a legal entitlement that doesn’t require an explanation for exercising it.  How often do courts permit speech, for example, that many of us don’t understand the purpose or need for its expression.   Indeed, having a right means you don’t need an explanation.

I am aware that no constitutional right is absolute including the Second Amendment.   Personally, I do not feel that I should be entitled to purchase unlimited numbers of any kind of weapon available.  But, if I did so, I don’t think that I would be threatening the fabric of America society. 

As far as keeping guns from the mentally ill, a goal that every thinking person supports, explain how you would do this.  I don’t have a clue.  What’s your definition of mental illness with regard to this issue?   Depression?  ADHD?   Having seen a psychiatrist or a counselor in the past year?   On Paxil or similar medicines?  Being regarded as a loner in school?   Being moody?  Should a family history of mental illness be relevant?

While there have been obvious lapses in mental health that we should address, it’s an easier task to look backwards after a catastrophe has occurred and recognize missed opportunities than it is to do so prospectively. 

I vigorously support stronger background checks, even if this is not a proven remedy for reducing gun violence.  These are guns, not toothbrushes.   Guns can hurt people.  Stronger background checks by themselves would not restrict weapons that eligible folks can purchase and should be palatable to the pro gun crowd, in my view.   I am perplexed that one can purchase a weapon and not be required to have sufficient training in its safe use and storage.   Cars can hurt people if not used properly.  You cannot obtain a driver’s license without demonstrating that you know the rules of the road and can manage the vehicle safely.  Should we relax these requirements?

The explanations for the horrible violence that is our new reality are deep and complex.  Gun ownership may be an easy target, but I think that this argument misses the mark.   

What do you think?   Do you think that the primary reason that so many thousands of murders occur in America each year is because of lax gun laws?   While I’m willing to listen, that argument is no bull’s-eye for me. 





10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Are "lax gun laws" the cause of tens of thousands of murders in the USA yearly? No. Consider the fact that USA once had no gun control at all, and we didn't have regular, recurring public massacres in those times.
For the main answer to the question posed, I recommend reading the text of a speech given in 1940 by the famous journalist Walter Lippmann (titled "The State of Education in This Troubled Age.") His remarks still ring true 73 years later. I can't cut and paste the whole 6 page speech here.

Michael Kirsch, M.D. said...

Agree with your politically incorrect view. Sure, there's some room to tighten up some of our firearms laws, but let's not pretend that this straw man is a game changer. I'll stand by my NRA scapegoat belief. Appreciate your comment.

Third News said...

I vigorously support stronger background checks, even if this is not a proven remedy for reducing gun violence.

So you have a paideutic on background checks -at that, "vigorously supported" but you acknowledge it is unproven -Good grief.

We already know existing background checks do not prevent battues, nor mental illness, nor rain on Tuesdays. The idea of an expanded vegete check determining the unpredictable is a sugar pill for society.

Noetically, the armed, who are ready defend their own lives, and hopefully others like me, have proven to be the only effective method.

Michael Kirsch, M.D. said...

@TN, appreciate our comment. Your view is legitimate, but others are as well. While I own no gun, I support gun ownership and are skeptical that laws that restrict weapon types or ammo amounts are constitutional or will make us safer. I contrast this with more vigorous background checks which, in my view, do not infringe on on the right to bear arms. I think we need a more effective filter on the front end. Presumably, you disagree. Do you feel that there should be some required training and education so we can be assured that the new gun owner knows how to safely use, maintain and store the firearm?

Anonymous said...

The media shares some degree of blame for these high-profile public shootings. By giving national coverage to the deeds of mass murderers, they are planting seeds in the minds of others. Going into a school/church/theater and shooting everyone in sight was not even a conceivable option when I was a kid growing up in the 70s. Nobody even thought about such things.

Third News said...

From a personal perspective, I care not for gun ownership, and the ‘zealot’ schesis is detrimental to an intellectually clean discussion, as is, the ad captandum vulgus prevelant after tragic shootings.

The Constitutional paltering of those who wish to subvert its protection is the engrenagement of some who seek regulation; whilst others, are simply asking for the fantasy of a life without danger –only guaranteed in death- but for their immature wish, they are periculous to all our liberty.

Ignoring what would be an invidious law, human beings are unpredictable –I think a gift, not a curse.

Making a mental illness determination would be not only be prejudicial to the applicant’s gun ownership -would this lead to conservatorship? Or, perhaps just a bureaucratic orgy of control over a person’s right to drive, vote, or any governmental interaction?

Do you have faith in an individual's unbiased judgement, eclipsing a document that cares not, how smart your are, how ugly, how thin, how beautiful, how young, how old, and most important, a Constitution that has a natural sepiment between logic and emotion. I prefer to trust what I know guarantees my liberty.

With respect to training, I can guarantee I can find people who have killed or maimed with household products. Are you are also proposing we evaluate each of those, and work out a protocol for ownership?

Mental illness and violent acts have proven to be interosculant but our previous deontic failed under governmental institutional care. The commorants were subjected to an unforgivable brutality and the government addressed their negligence by dumping patients into society, and without care.

The argument is not that the dangerous mentally ill should have have access to a gun -nor any weapon- but I'm certain prevention begins with proper care, and within society

Third News said...

Anonymous, people did think of such things, and without the internet, video games, and the Mainstream Media.

Since you grew up in the 70s, then you likely never read an obit listing a person's death from cancer -they did

http://listverse.com/2008/01/01/top-10-worst-school-massacres/

Michael Kirsch, M.D. said...

I don't think the media is the proximate cause of today's wanton violence, thought they are surely a contributor.

With regard to TN's comment: "Making a mental illness determination would be not only be prejudicial to the applicant’s gun ownership"...
are you suggesting that no mental illness screen be implemented? I point out in the post that doing so would be problematic, but I do not favor making no effort to separate mentally ill individuals from firearms. Your comment regarding household products doesn't support your argument, in my view. Sure, folks have died from cleaning products, etc. But these products are not violent by design. Do you truly see no value or societal right that those who purchase firearms must demonstrate they are capable of safe use and storage?

Third News said...

Our goal should to treat all who suffer, and not just the those we find politically discommodious to ignore. The treatment of the mentally ill needs to be addressed independently from the dithyrambic nature of gun politics.

My reference to dangerous household products was not cavilic. Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons reported that 7 million+ accidental poisonings occur each year. Without endeictic facts, I am confident many of these products, are, but for, the contenement, and the convenience of the user –thus replaceable with innoxious, albeit expensive, and time-consuming solutions.

Michael, if society has deemed that we need to embrace safety above freedom, then let us start with 'products that are not violent by design' but are wastive, have no lifesaving pupose, nor, are protected by our Constitution, yet kill millions directly, and are linked to carcinogenic pollution.


With respect to your “I don't think the media is the proximate cause of today's wanton violence, thought they are surely a contributor.” accitement, though an oft-repeated apophthegm, I have yet to see it proven.

Michael Kirsch, M.D. said...

@TN, First, I am delighted for your erudite insights. Wondering how you stumbled upon a medical commentary blog.

We do not favor safety above freedom. Otherwise,we would have a highway speed limit of 35 MPH, or might ban cars altogether. Similarly, this is why do not demand for companies to make safer products that would double the retail price for us. Beyond safety, most of us will not spend more for climate sensitive products or services, favoring our own economics over the greater good. Nothing newsworthy here - individuals and nations tend to follow their own interests. Finally, I agree that many of our beliefs cannot or have not been proven, but this does not make them false. Indeed, some hypotheses should never be tested as the outcome is either known experientially or is not worthy of testing.

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