Coop Scoop: "Gun Safety" And Its Discontents
Gun safety advocates might be well intentioned but are skimming the surface
June 1, 2022
I guess have to begin with a disclaimer. I am not an apologist for Assault Rifles. And my notion of gun control (wtf is “gun safety?”) probably runs much deeper than yours. You can only comment if you read this entire essay.
Let’s begin here with what a lot of folks get wrong.
The Pathetic Liberal Gun Prayer
"Oh Lord, we thank you for assisting us in instituting Divine Prohibition in 1920. Thou hath cleansed the land not only of the Devil's Drink but also hath thou banished the evil repercussions of Alcohol. Thou hath banished forever alcoholism and domestic abuse.”
"Oh Lord, we thank thou for banning killer Devil Drugs in 1934. With your mighty sword you cut down in one striking blow all marihuana, opium and coca plants, thereby erasing the curses of drug degradation and addiction. Thou hath cleansed the land of evil organized crime and cartels who wished to poison our children with the leaves and powders of Satan."
"Oh Lord, we thank you for granting our wish that on the Solstice of This Year, all 20 Million Assault Rifles circulating in the Land will be buried forever deep in the Earth. With one click of your heels they shall disappear and the evil they portend will be stemmed. And those that harbor such Unholy Devices shall piously respect Your Command and shall dutifully and wholly surrender them to You in fear of your righteous force. And those who might covet or lust for Such Weapons shall forever refrain from acquiring them through sinful or devious means."
If I have angered you with this sarcasm, Good! At least, perhaps, I have your attention unless you retreat immediately into your favorite ideological constructs.
Frankly, I am not religious and do not believe in miracles but if you subscribe to the last graph in that prayer you really demonstrate a radical mis-evaluation of reality and you have no real idea of what gun control is and isn’t.
First, do not mistake me for somebody who believes nothing can be done about gun violence. On the contrary, I have an agenda on gun control that is most likely deeper that yours with the difference I want my ideas to actually work.
If you do not want to read on, I offer this quick, superficial and incomplete summary of my position. You reduce gun violence ONLY by regulating gun owners and by providing all the community social services that continue to be shredded.
Let’s lay out some inconvenient facts. Gun deaths are higher than ever before in our history.
Relying on FBI data bases, just about TWO PERCENT of gun deaths in this country are the result of Assault Rifles.
Murder by hands and feet and clubs are TWICE the number of those by black rifles. Hear that?
Every weekend, there is a gun death toll greater or equal to that of the Texas massacre taking place in myriad urban centers like Chicago and Baltimore.
They attract little notoriety or public grieving because the victims in these cases are about 85% Black and Latino (a number about the same as the shooters). The weapon of choice: millions of handguns, including six shooters.
The bullets from these weapons do not tear you apart like those of an AR-15. Nor do they come at you at a hundred rounds per minute. But they rack up almost 50 times the number of deaths on a yearly basis.
Mass school shootings are certainly among the most horrifying of all events. They are actually much more rare than it seems. This is a big country with 350 million people and tens of thousands of schools. The odds of any school child being shot is just about the same as being hit by lightning
The FBI estimates that there are currently 20 million AR-15’s in circulation in the US. But there are probably more because, with passage of time, they can be BUILT at home for a few hundred dollars. And they are being built as I write.
The half-life of such a rifle is probably about 50-75 years. They do not degrade quickly
If you think banning them is going to do ANYTHING other than create a massive surge in their purchase as legislation goes forward (if it does), then you have seemed to have not paid much attention to our current culture. There is always a surge when a Democrat is elected to the Presidency. There is surge after every mass fatality event. There is a surge underway right now.
Look no further than our sorry rather insane resistance to life-saving vaccinations if you believe that any number of AR-15 owners are going to voluntarily surrender such weapons!
Those who argue that prior Assault Weapon bans and other equipment restrictions have “worked” overlook the fact that these tiny successes (and they were tiny) worked in culturally liberal states and had ZERO EFFECT in Red America where there is a higher concentration of mass shootings to begin with.
People ask, why does anyone need an Assault Rifle? Nobody needs it. But lots want it. Is this not the basis of our consumer culture? Do you need a 550 horsepower car when 150 will do fine? Do you need a 10,000 square foot house?
People buy AR-15’s mostly as a cultural totem, now encouraged by Asshole Republicans. And the more you yammer about banning them, the more coveted they will become by a rather unstable minority. AR’s are now integral to the cultural identity of millions.
I own five handguns that I use strictly for plinking. My interest in guns is pretty much centered on making my own ammo and experimenting with it. I don’t want or need an AR and I don’t care a bit if they are banned. And such a ban will make no difference anyway. It’s a dead end that will not cure any problem. Expending political capital to try to pass this uphill, feel-good measure is more or less a political felony. A giant waste of time bound to create very ugly reactions. One day or two weeks before such a ban would be instituted we will see the emergence of MAGA AR-15 Clubs as already existing AR’s will be excluded from the ban.
You will see right-wing Sheriffs in the Southwest and Mountain States instituting “AR-15 sanctuaries” much as they did for the unvaccinated.
Many AR owners are not simple pawns manipulated by “the gun lobby” but rather avid voluntary participants in a “gun culture” which is hardly subject to legal banishment.
The Texas shooter paid nearly $4000 for two high-end legal AR’s. He could have bought an unregistered one on the black market or assembled his own for less than half that price.
Should sales of AR’s be age restricted? Of course, they should. Why not? But be advised that the number of AR school shooters under age 21 are quite literally one or two handfuls. Age restriction is only a very small part of effective gun owner regulation (which I will get to in a moment).
Further, if AR’s disappeared tomorrow, I can name 10 different types of handguns and other rifles that an discharge about the same number of rounds in a minute that an AR can. A 9mm Glock costs about $500.
Check this out.
To deny that mental illness plays a role in most mass school shootings is about as blind as Trump insisting that the vote was stolen. Of course it does. And just because Republicans use mental illness as a catchall distraction, that does not mean it is not a factor. Call it what you want, but when somebody goes in to mow down kids (if they are not wearing a Russian Army uniform and under command) I would argue we are looking at ipso fact some sort of very serious mental dysfunction.
Proof? That’s easy. Have you not noticed that virtually all of these shooters final goal is “suicide by cop?” Indeed, anybody can write in advance the profile of these shooters as they are remarkably similar. Deeply alienated. “Loners.” Quiet and reclusive. Obsessive. And determined to die while taking a dozen or so kids with them.
Just because gargoyles like Texas Governor Abbott hypocritically offload all such violence as “mental illness” does not mean it is not a real factor in school shootings. (Just sixty days ago Abbott cut $200m in mental health care in his state budget).
And it’s not just the MAGA-ites who are hypocritical about mental illness. WOKE liberals are now preferring to call such folks “neurodivergent” and demanding respect and sympathy and adamantly denying that mental illness is a factor in such spectacular blood baths.
But as leftist writer Freddie de Boer lays it out, things are much more complicated than that facile notion:
“Perhaps people are so invested in the idea that mental illness could not be at play in the Uvalde, Texas, shooting because they simply want to keep the focus on gun control, where (I agree) it belongs.
An uglier potential reason is that these people support the mentally ill only as far as they can maintain a vision of them as entirely pure and blameless; their antipathy to “ableism” extends only so far as they are never put into a position where they must sympathize with people who have committed heinous acts. But this is no support at all.”
“If progressive mores only dictate respect for those who struggle with their mental health when they are inert and unthreatening, then that “respect” is a farce. I have watched with increasing frustration as the narrative that those who become violent must therefore not be mentally ill has spread among progressives. It’s a cartoonishly childish stance, the most facile and shallow form of moral support, a caricature of liberal regard for the voiceless. It’s the schizophrenic who cannot stop hurting themselves and others who need your support the most.”
“What the insistence that mass shootings can never be the product of mental illness shows me, more than anything, is the contemporary addiction to moral simplicity. If Ramos did indeed suffer from a psychiatric disorder then that would not in any sense absolve him of responsibility for what he did. But it would complicate the moral dimensions of the act, compel us to consider mitigating circumstances, suggest that he was perhaps deserving of sympathy as well as condemnation. And in 2022, in a society that’s obviously broken and seemingly impervious to positive change, all people feel they can hold on to is their judgment, their searing and perfect moral righteousness—“mental illness doesn’t do that.”
Let me add a rather crude sidecar: if you don’t think whole swaths of this country are fuckin’ crazy, then you are either among them yourself, or you have spent the last five years living in Andorra.
So if Im poo-pooing an AR ban just what am I proposing? There’s a long list that includes:
— Rigorous universal mandatory background checks including all private sales and transfers of weapons. And, enforcement! Lie on a purchase application and go to jail. More than a million gun sales have been blocked by background checks and that means the applicant violated Federal law. I am not aware of any prosecutions, however.
— Stricter and more universal “red flag laws” where the warning signs of a potential shooter are identified and acted upon.
— A national gun registry ( do you know the AR data base is full of giant holes?)
— Much stricter compliance of gun vendors with record keeping (that currently is laughable).
— Mandatory 8-12 hours of safety instruction before release of a weapon.
— Mandatory liability insurance.
There are a possible dozen other such measures but I suspect you get my drift.
Such measures will be difficult to impossible to pass, but at least they MIGHT do something more important than what is a cosmetic ban on this or that type of gun (and be advised that off-kilter killers are turning more to DYI-IED’s that are outside the parameters of our current debate).
Such a package of measures would need the sort of strong, defiant political courage that most Democrats lack. I heard Kamala Harris literally throw out the line yesterday that “we should ban AR-15’s” THAT’S IT? No thought? No research? No nothing, frankly. And now Joe Biden is promising to do “something right away.”
I can’t think of a worse idea. American gun violence has a long and complex history and myriad aspects to it. Anything done as a quick and dirty reaction to this massacre is bound to be more politically motivated than anything else and bound to fail. I would prefer that Biden say that he will propose a comprehensive short, medium and long term package of reforms that do more than sate emotional rage.
Republicans are accomplices in this debate. Democrats are weak, timorous and for the most part just as happy to reduce this national plague to a one-liner slogan as the MAGA folks are.
Why nor propose a robust package like the one above and mobilize voters for it so that we might at least have some middle term success instead of a short term flop?
Now comes the part you really do not want to hear. We like to think we are in control of a world that is in fact chaotic by nature and aggravated by our corrupt politics and culture.
Too many people immediately buy into superficial quick fix measures because that way “we are finally doing something.” I guess that’s true if you think self-gratification is the same as full sexual contact with a partner.
Ban Booze! Ban Drugs! Ban Pornography! Ban Social Media! Ban Assault Rifles! And while you are at it, throw a 100,000 troops into Iraq or Afghanistan to “build democracy!”
And note, even the above recommended measures that I support would be merely scratching the surface, I fear. Rather, I know.
This society has mocked and degraded and mostly ignored any notion of social solidarity or mutual cooperation (again please note Pandemic response). We harbor sick, very sick, and errant notions of “freedom.” We are terribly individualistic and we really don’t give a fudge about others…certainly not the younger Blacks and Latinos gunning each other down in massive numbers every weekend, every day with virtually no notice or concern.
We forge ahead creating the deepest economic divides ever. As a society, we apparently don’t care if students can any longer afford college, if young couples can actually buy a house, if anybody except ME ME ME can achieve basic economic security. And certainly don’t care about young people, gripped by despair, in the de-industrialized heartland where the best job in town is selling Oxy.
As a society, as of today, we actually think that Facebook is more responsible for gun violence than is good old fashioned poverty and the ensuing drug trade that we make illicit via ass-backward prohibition.
Unless you are some sort of gross racist, just why do you think that gun violence – shooter and victim—are predominantly urban “people of color?” (a term I find reprehensible btw). Is it in the genes of Blacks to shoot each other or might there just be some factors involved that stem from social conditions we have ignored or created or aggravated, huh? Maybe?
We live in a country where millions have no access to basic preventive health care let alone available, affordable mental health care. Community mental health clinics are more or less non-existent and school-based facilities, as inadequate as they used to be, are dying on the vine.
Republicans and Democrats just don’t want to pay for it with the Republicans actually in need of mental health care themselves.
Our society is now a turbo-charged alienation machine. Our government is ever more remote from the ground. Our institutions are in tatters. And the angst and alienation that grips tens of millions is a volatile cocktail.
In the decade before the pandemic, suicidal attempts by young people spiked by 50%. We do not have all the data yet, but it’s thought a similar increase has occurred just since the start of the pandemic (which is not over but apparently we don’t care much about that either, except for the price of pizza, toilet paper and gasoline).
A record number of Americans died of gunshots last year. About 100,000 and 60-65% of them were suicides. A record number of Americans – more than 100,000— also died of prescription drug overdose last year. Those numbers only go up, but, um, we are working on it, right?
Parts of America remain functional and I guess some folks live in blissful ignorance. After all, forget about the guns deaths, more than a million Americans died of covid last two years and millions still think the whole thing was a hoax. This, while the government, seems to have abandoned us on this issue.
We are an empire in decline. I suspect only more decadence is in front of us unless we experience some sort of cultural revolution and we start funding and building cooperation, mutual solidarity, compassion and strong social institutions. Either that, or lock and load.
There is one other pending question here. What is the actual state of the gun control movement. My pal Micah Sifry objects, saying what movement? We have a “gun control lobby” that actively undermines any real movement:
Unlike many other causes that people are fighting for in America, the struggle for a saner set of gun laws has no diversity of tactics. It’s a monoculture, one that’s gotten very good at converting outrage into requests for money that keep organizations going while the problem they claim to be solving gets worse. And yet, like the other parts of the gun crisis cycle, nothing in the advocacy space changes. Why? We should look hard at this question, because when change organizations keep making promises and failing to deliver, they add to the cynicism that already permeates our society, that it’s not worth trying to push for anything because nothing will change.
Read all of Micah’s piece. It’s a hard truth that you deny only at our collective peril.
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