Thoughts, Prayers, Guns
The Second Amendment is a shitty excuse to die.
Travel anywhere in the world and you’ll find that people expect Americans to love three things – baseball, beer, and guns. And not necessarily in that order. In the wake of another brutal shooting in Florida where at least seventeen people were shot dead by suspect Nikolas Cruz, a former student at the school, teenager, and, most troubling of all, legal owner of an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. Just so you have this straight in your head, please take a moment to picture not a handgun that some banger holds in the palm of his hand and sticks in his waistband while he sells nose candy on the streets of LA. It’s a bloody massive firearm not all that different from the size of your leg into which you can easily slot thirty-round magazines and empty them through the muzzle nearly as quickly. It is, in short, a very efficient way to kill.
So we’ve got a few things to think about here. Firstly, what’s a teenager doing wandering around in a city with a rather obvious gun? How is it possible that he could have bought it legally in the first place? What is going on that there are more gun deaths in America so far in 2018 (it’s only half-way through February yet, remember) than there were in almost every other western country in the ten previous years? And here’s the real one for you – when is it time to call bullshit on the thoughts and prayers?
A teenager with a gun wandering around a city is not altogether outside the general view of what cities look like nowadays – or ten, twenty, thirty years ago, for that matter, to be fair. But honestly, when you think of a dude taking his gun for a walk, you probably don’t picture someone with something that looks like it should be (and is, as the AR-15 is just the civilian version of the M16 that you’ll in every action film since Vietnam) in the hands of a soldier heading into battle. Is this the new normal? Are we prepared to accept this? Did I hear someone say “Second Amendment”? Indeed, I think I heard a few people say it over the last few hours. So let’s unpack that, shall we… A little of our history here – the Second Amendment to the Constitution was adopted in 1791 (the eighteenth century, indeed, you heard that correctly) and forms part of what we lovingly call the Bill of Rights. It says (as ratified by Thomas Jefferson – yes, that one), “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”.
A few things come to mind here. First, the Bill of Rights was written at a time when the United States was an incredibly young country that had just won independence from the British Empire by force of just that – not so much an arm as a well regulated militia bearing arms against an imperial force. Ironically, it’s based on the Bill of Rights that was written more than a hundred years earlier guaranteeing the same rights of protective arms to those in Britain. But let’s take it at face value. This is a legal document guaranteeing that as long as it is well-regulated, all people have a right to own a firearm. Sounds simple. It’s not. What could you bear as arms in 1791? I suppose, if you had the money, you could get yourself the cream of the crop of modern lightweight (relatively speaking) weaponry, a Kentucky long rifle. It was bulky, blatantly impossible to hide, being four to six feet in length, and was muzzle-loaded with something like a .40cal projectile and could fire maybe a few rounds a minute if you had a lot of practice.
Yes, it’s ridiculous to think that the great minds who signed the Bill of Rights thought that weapons would never improve but these are the same people who believed that the Constitution was a living document that would change with the needs of the people and I would go so far as to say that not one of them would have predicted the sheer level of advancement of any technology discussed and regulated by the Bill of Rights in the twenty-first century. Was the right to free speech conceived with the lightning speed of communication of the internet, the right to be free of unwarranted search and self-incrimination with the understanding that hundreds of years in the future, every word and action could easily be monitored on a continual basis? We shall leave the Ninth Amendment aside for a discussion some other time about religious freedom, bigotry, racism, and immigration policy. Let’s just say that, while these intelligent people could have been expected to see a continual improvement in portable firearms, just as they would have seen an improvement in communication and evidence-gathering, it would have been considered lunacy to think that what we have now would not have required a whole new series of amendments to govern what was unthinkable two centuries ago.
So, given that a person can legally purchase a gun, we must ask the question: why would such a person want to do so? There are two things that you can do with a gun – you can use it for target practice or you can kill things with it. While I admit freely that I have no objection to the first from a purely sport and recreational perspective, when done in the confines of a target range and safety precautions are observed, most people are not going to their local firing range with their AR-15 to shred paper targets. When it comes down to it, whether in self defense or aggression, we buy guns to kill. End of.
And just like that, he’s got a gun with the intent to kill – still legal, of course, since intent to kill isn’t a reason to arrest someone; it’s a perfectly valid reason to purchase a firearm, usually the only reason someone would have to do it.
Why are there more shootings, gun deaths, school shootings in particular in America than in other countries, by a rather noticeable margin? It’s not a social issue. There are people of all social classes, various races, religious backgrounds in most countries throughout the Americas and Europe where these things are infinitely more rare. If you were thinking of blaming the scandalously high rate of young people being killed by guns in America on poor people, people of color, immigrants, or religious extremists, you would be – well, you’d just be wrong. You’d just have named several groups of people who are often blamed for things but our suspect in the latest school shooting? White. A supporter of the Trump Administration. In other words, from the outside, an “average American teenager” in the words of many – a fan of beer, baseball, and guns – and most certainly not an outsider, those people of whom so much of twenty-first century America has gained a rather unseemly fear.
There are more shootings because there are more guns. I’m going to say that one more time in case it seemed too simple. There are more shootings because there are, to an unreal proportion, more guns. How do you buy a gun in Florida? You buy a gun. A few forms, proof of identity, and you can own a purpose-built killing machine for less money and far less regulatory effort than a used motorcycle.
While that sinks in, let’s talk about what we can do about this. Let’s start with this one. I’m not going to be original here. Stop selling civilians firearms. Just stop. No, it won’t eliminate all gun violence. There’s the black market. There are people in the military who have weapons and can use them. But you can bet your bottom, top, and every other dollar you have in your pocket right now that if you stop selling guns to people, a lot less people will have guns. Take away the guns people already have. Yes. I know it requires a reinterpretation of the constitution in a modern light – possibly even an actual amendment, although I don’t think that is necessary, but what do I know; I’m no constitutional scholar, just a very, very angry citizen wishing people would stop shooting children! Take away the guns people have, stop selling them guns, and suddenly if you have a gun, that’s a crime.
And there’s the difference. You could be arrested for having the gun. Not just for using it to kill people. Everyone knew this suspect had the weapon. In almost every case of gun violence committed in America in the past ten years, it was no secret that the perpetrators of the crime had the weapons. They just hadn’t killed anyone with them yet so they weren’t breaking the law. How do we prevent people from killing each other with guns? A good start might be to stop people from having the guns. No, it won’t stop violence. No, it won’t stop gun crimes. But you can be damn sure it will put a massive dent in it and if we can’t fix a problem completely, at least we can do something to make it better.
Thoughts and prayers. That’s what we offer to the people of Parkland, FL. Seriously, thoughts and prayers. I’m not sure if that’s supposed to be a tasteless joke or simply a way to feel like doing something without actually doing something. Did you really pray for the people grieving this week? Do you pray? Did you think about them – I mean, did you really think about what could be done about this or did you just look at the pictures in the news and think, “not again!”, then go about your day as if it hadn’t happened? I’m sure some of you thought and maybe even (although I’m not exactly sure what you thought would come of it) prayed.
It’s what we do every time. Mindless platitudes, outpourings of emotional support for people who don’t need support, people who need change, who needed change last week before this happened. What will we do next time? More thoughts and prayers.
Let’s put down the praying and take up the real thinking. Because real thinking addresses the hard issues like giving up your “right” to have a gun just because you can so that other people can’t have them, either. Real thinking finds solutions to problems instead of just wringing your hands and saying violence has been around since before humans evolved from our primate ancestors. It has and it will always be a part of humanity but the desire to hurt has, in past centuries, been tempered by the harsh punishment that follows it and the inability to kill and hurt in large numbers. No more the case, this.
So we must think. And since thinking has gotten us nowhere in all the years of this debate, we must do something. Demand action. Demand gun control. Not gun registration, not identification, not stricter checks on gun ownership and safety. Let’s stamp this out once and for all. We can mobilize on issues we care about. Prove to everyone that stopping the death and violence that we see nearly every day is something we care enough to fight about, march about, and demand change about.
Think this isn’t a women’s issue? Really? Because it’s only another example of mostly men exerting the same type of dominant behavior that leads to rape, sexual violence, domestic abuse. Not to mention that these are mothers’ children being executed at the hands of a vicious killer with a weapon he bought himself at a shop without so much as a question as to why anyone would want to buy death.
Read my lips – no more guns. Please, for the love of humanity, say it with me. No. More. Guns.