Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Gunning for kids.

I don't know if anyone's been following that strange case out of the tiny east-Arizona town of St. Johns, but I find myself sitting here with my mouth agape, so I figured I'd include you in my...agape-ness. An 8-year-old boy apparently picked up the .22 rifle that his father had recently taught him to shoot, then used it to kill both Daddy and a boarder who lived with them.* That's already strange enough. But the county prosecutor, Criss Candelaria, who stated when the arrest was made that he would not charge the boy as an adult, now appears to be reconsidering and has vowed to prosecute the crime "to the fullest extent of the law." I can't imagine how that would be allowed to go forward, frankly. With an 8-year-old? Of course, I used to think the same thing about 13-year-olds.

I've said this before on SHAMblog, most notably in a three-part series of posts back in late December and January, but I reject this approach to so-called criminal justice, and with a level of moral certainty and clear-minded singularity of belief that applies for me in few other areas of life these days. How in God's name (or anyone's name) can you try a third-grader as an adult? And if you find him guilty, what then? (How'd you like to be the executioner strapping that convict to the table?) Thing is, that's not how they'd approach it. They wouldn't try to execute him now; they'd keep him in jail till he turned 18 or maybe 21 and then begin the process of enforcing the penalty** because, after all, we're not barbarians. We don't go around killing children. Uh-huh.

I've never quite understood why we base the aggressiveness of the prosecution on the ugliness of the crime in the first place, especially where kids are concerned. If an 8-year-old somehow gets hold of his father's black-market Uzi, smuggles it into his day-care center and kills 50 other kids, how does that make him any less of a child? (For that matter
and I've also said this beforeif someone is a bad shot and "only" kills one other person, is that a lesser offense than if he kills 50? Are we penalizing criminality? Or marksmanship?) I understand society's outrage and the need for some sort of reasonable "closure." That doesn't change the fact that a child is a child. Personally, I'm somewhat surprised that this doesn't happen more often. I think it's only the fact that most (but not all) adults are fairly vigilant about securing their guns that prevents us from seeing cases like this on a weekly basis. I don't think it takes a "bad" kid, necessarily, to kill a parent or a playmate. What the hell do kids really know about the true nature of guns or the chilling permanence of death? Give even the happiest, most well-adjusted 5-year-old a pistol and he's going to shoot his best friend. It's only a matter of time.

I've also heard it said by apologists for such tough-minded prosecution that recidivism among young offenders is high, so we might as well catch them as early as possible. Gee, maybe the recidivism rate is high because we seek to punish them more than help them. Ya think? It strikes me odd that you can seriously blame a child for his own failure to rehabilitate (especially when prosecutors concede that many of these cases have their origins in parental abuse. That seems to be a factor in the St. Johns case as well.). Then again, lots of things strike me odd.

When we watch mystery films and TV crime shows, we insist on a satisfying denouement, and feel cheated if we don't get one. We want the bad guy to get his comeuppance and the good guy to get his reward. Regrettably life isn't a feature film. And you only make things worse by trying to force the issue.

Here, by the way, is a news item in which the Arizona boy tells his side of the story to police.

* To be clear: The boy shown in the photo is not the child at the center of this case.
** and I have no doubt that the courts would intercede, ruling such an approach unconstitutional. That's not the point, though. The point is that anyone would even consider taking such a course, if indeed anyone did.

37 comments:

Anonymous said...

I can't decipher what really happened here by the story. The kid showed no signs of abuse or behavior problems so was it just an accident? Did the kid not understand shooting his father and the boarder would kill them? The boy's father taught him how to use the gun so the kid should have known that much. This story is not passing my smell test. I hope the prosecution is investigating this thoroughly with journalists in the town in hot pursuit. Even thought it is macabre, I find it ironic the father taught the son how to kill him.

Anonymous said...

This is going to sound odd, but this story reminds me of Nigel Jaquiss' 2005 Pulitzer Prize story from the Willamette Week about the sexual abuse of a 14-year old girl by Gov.Neil Goldschmidt, which was a long held political secret. The fishy factor was high in both cases.

roger o'keefe said...

I think we can all agree that 8 is too young for prosecution in adult court, though I disagree with your cynical armchair assumption about how dangerous the average kid would be, given a gun. I do think there is something definitely wrong with a kid whose Dad teaches him how to shoot, so he immediately turns around and shoots his Dad!

Crime is a serious problem as we all know, and violent crime in particular demands a stern response on the part of law enforcement and policy makers. If society owes its citizens one thing it is safety. That goes for the local level all the way up to the national level, which is why so many of us questioned Barack Obama's experience and resolve in fighting the fight that needs to be fought. The world is too dangerous today to entrust our safety to people who are soft on crime, soft on terrorism, whatever.

Oh this will tickle you Elizabeth, my verif word is "nosaudeez".

roger o'keefe said...

By the way Steve, I tried to get into that song you posted, but "out to lunch" is the correct phrase. Too much for me.

RevRon's Rants said...

Roger, I agreed with your comment, right up to the point where you decided to sidetrack the thread so as to repeat your "I don't like Obama" mantra. We get it, already. And some of us don't agree with you any more now than we did the last half dozen times. How about giving it a rest - and perhaps even giving the guy a chance? Hell... I even gave Bush a chance. Didn't take him long to blow it, though. Just a thought.

Steve, I had access to guns at a very early age, as did my son. However, the training both of us had was not restricted to firearms handling technique... there was a strong sense of responsibility tossed into the mix. And a good dose of respect. Methinks there's a much more pertinent factor in this equation than the kid's age or his having access to a weapon.

Steve Salerno said...

Ron, I don't disagree. (Isn't the latter a wonderful three-word phrase? It's the perfect cop-out.) But I think you'll agree with me that if kids had access to guns--trained or not trained, responsible or not responsible--there would be a lot more schoolyard disputes that ended with a bullet being fired instead of a punch being thrown, or a kick, or whatever. Look at how many lifers reflect on the crimes that got them sent away in the first place and say some version of, "I can't believe what a reckless A-hole I was when I was [fill in appropriate age, usually under 20]." Gang members, f'rinstance, think nothing of popping somebody else in order to uphold their code of machismo. They have no real sense of empathy, nor a true grasp of consequences, even for themselves; they can't comprehend the finality of "life in prison without the possibility of parole." And yet we somehow expect 8- and 12-year-olds to think their actions through? I think half of them probably think that shooting somebody is a lot like a cartoon, or PlayStation: You just press the reset button, all the characters spring to life again, and you start over.

RevRon's Rants said...

I've had such access pretty much all my life, as did the vast majority of our peers. Only one shooting occurred that we ever heard about, and it was a true freak accident.

I would have to agree that much of what we've seen of late is attributable to what I would define as a global dissociative state, where repercussions simply aren't real until one faces them. Plenty of precursory factors came into play: the representation in popular movies of death as being painless (John Wayne takes a bullet and keeps on ticking), the encroaching narcissism that began in the 70s and just got worse, a legal system that leaves people believing they can skate out of anything, and the ready availability of even the most disenfranchised to see how the "other half" lives. Resentment, greed, desperation, and entitlement are not a healthy mix.

My gut feeling is really that the father might have pushed his son one time too many, and the kid saw the gun as his revenge. Unfortunately, children don't think too much past the moment; certainly not to the degree where they would consider the reality of a prison term. I think the kid need some real help, because whatever the reason, he will eventually realize that he has committed patricide. He certainly doesn't need an extended vocational education in crime and buggery. Maybe a good ass-whipping, followed by some real education & guidance. And the tools with which to deal with the guilt he's very likely to face in the future.

roger o'keefe said...

Ron, with all due respect the guy isn't even in office yet and already you want me to agree to suspend all criticism of him? In my view he's given us all the evidence we ever need to question his fitness for leadership. Of course I want the man to do well; I'm an American and I love my country. I don't want to see it go down the toilet. That's all the more reason why in these troubled times I'm going to be extra vigilant in looking for signs of ineptitude or even a simple lack of respect for this country or the office he holds. And I think that's a fair criticism to make in light of his circle of friends.

Stever Robbins said...

Roger, I'm puzzled. You say you love your country, therefore you're going to be vigilent about watching for Obama's ineptitude.

Er, to what end? How is watching a public official so you can catch him being inept an expression of love for your country? What are the action implications of discovering that he does something inept?

I love my country, and I just spent eight years watching it stand for legalized torture, subversion of due process, repeal of habeas corpus, wars started with poor intelligence, and tens of billions funneled in no-bid contracts to the company the VP was CEO of.

Well, I watched closely and I saw it. And my seeing it and "catching them" in no way helps my country do any better.

Rather than spending your time watching for Obama's slips, why don't you go out and volunteer at a soup kitchen, or teach high school students business skills (or reading, for that matter), or start a neighborhood watch program to keep your neighborhood safer?

In my book, that's how I would express loving my country. Bush/Obama bashing, as emotionally satisfying as it may be (really just an expression of my feelings of helplessness), does nothing to benefit me or my country. Or Bush/Obama, for that matter.

(And yes, I spent yesterday morning washing the feet of homeless people at a foot clinic. Last year I taught high school kids entrepreneurship as part of Junior Achievement. Before that, I volunteered as a Big Brother. Haven't spent much time on community safety, though, under the theory that having healthy well-educated people in my community will lead naturally to increased safety.)

RevRon's Rants said...

Roger - Get a damn clue, man! This blog post is about a little kid who killed his dad and another man. It was about what could lead up to such an act and how participants think it should be handled.

The discussion wasn't about Obama or people's opinions as to his fitness for the presidency. If that's all you're interested in talking about, then by all means, start a blog about it. But please consider allowing that others might like to hold a discussion about a topic apart from your own issues. Can you do that?

Anonymous said...

How many times do I have to say it - Leave Roger alone! -I am dying to hear his answer to Stever's question - as its an insight on how the other half of America think.

As for the actual story - can you please tell me Ron - exactly why does an 8 year old need to know how to use a gun? Is it to kill dinner ? to protect himself? - both things his father should do for him at this age? How come you can't drive till you're 16 due to the danger you place on yourself and others but you are allowed to handle guns?

Where is the logic?

Londoner
glad to live in a gun free zone:)

Steve Salerno said...

I have to confess that on reflection, the "get a clue" remark was a bit over-the-top. I fully understand how such remarks are made in the heat of battle, and believe me, I very much appreciate how high the exasperation factor can soar in dealing with those who seem to be single-issue thinkers. Still, I've said many times that the blog is open to all ideas--as long as there's an idea there. And I don't think Roger's extension of the argument to its more global implications was that far afield, really.

RevRon's Rants said...

Londoner - I'd like to hear his answer, as well. And I acknowledge that the "get a clue" was inappropriate, and I apologize for it. As Steve noted, it was blurted out in exasperation over Roger's attempts to redirect a discussion that I feel deserves to run its own course.

As to the "need" for a kid to own a gun... It's as much a part of the culture in which many of us in the US were raised as it is a compelling need. Having raised my kids in the country, where there was no shortage of poisonous snakes, rabid skunks, and feral dogs, I taught them how to handle (and respect) a gun at an early age. My son had a .22 of his own at about 8 years of age, and knew that my own gun was always loaded. Since he was never allowed to have toy guns, there was little chance for confusion, and he never gave me cause to regret having made firearms available to him.

I've hunted pretty much my whole life; sometimes out of necessity, sometimes as part of a social ritual, but most often as an activity that takes me away from the trappings of man and reminds me of my more primal nature. And there have been a few times when a gun was all that stood between me and an ugly fate... even outside of combat.

Actually, when I was growing up, a farm kid could get a provisional driver's license at 12 years of age, and the local sheriffs would generally look the other way at a kid driving a tractor or his dad's truck.

Glad to live in a relatively free zone! :-)

Steve Salerno said...

This ("this" being gun control) to me is one of the toughest debates there is. I go round and round in my own thinking, but the sticking point for me is the realization that there are always going to be bad apples, and in a nation the size of America, especially given the stresses and strains of urban living, there are going to be quite a few of them concentrated in certain small areas. If guns are around, they're going to be used for nefarious purposes. That's simply fact. The crime at the heart of this post wasn't an "urban thing," of course, but I think most of us recognize that fixing our blighted inner cities is a foremost priority as America moves forward. The problem isn't going away, so how do we even meaningfully address it while guns remain in wide circulation?

OTOH--again, in a nation the size of America--is it practical, or anywhere close to practical, to simply ban guns? I don't know that it is. Besides, it seems highly likely that banning guns would merely result in the scenario that law-abiding types like Ron fear: Only the bad guys will have guns. And we certainly don't want that, either.

Btw, Londoner, I'm not saying it's right, but the gun tradition is so deeply interwoven in the fabric of American liberty (and life; and death) that I'm not sure you can really look at us from outside and diagnose the problem. In the American mind, a gun isn't just a gun; it's a kind of metaphor for manifest destiny. Without guns, we'd still be answering to the Queen. (Sorry.) The American Revolution could not have taken place. And--say what you will about America's handling of its native population--the exodus west, through the plains to California, would not have been possible had the settlers (and supportive Army regiments, Custer notwithstanding) lacked superior firepower over the "Indians." Then there's the storied tradition of Colt, Browning, Gatling, Thompson, the roles such men and their inventions played in our erstwhile tradition of "never losing a war," etc. Hard to just cast all that aside.

RevRon's Rants said...

"The problem isn't going away, so how do we even meaningfully address it while guns remain in wide circulation?"

As it turns out, Steve, the most effective means of reducing crime has been by *increasing* the number of guns. In every state where concealed or open carry of firearms has been legalized, the instances of violent crime have diminished, contrary to the dire warnings of gun control advocates.

Some years ago, I heard a report on NPR of a study that had been conducted of the crime statistics in the Tombstone, Arizona area during the late 19th century. While it was generally assumed that gunfights occurred on a daily basis, it turns out that there were actually very few. The conclusion offered was that if one walks into a place carrying a gun, they might tend to get cocky, but if everyone else is also carrying, everybody tends to be pretty judicious in expressing their aggressive tendencies. :-)

As deeply ingrained as gun ownership has always been in American culture, it would be impossible to eliminate citizen ownership of firearms. There's a book titled "Unintended Consequences" that chronicles the gun culture in this country, and offers a very disturbing - but highly likely - scenario that would follow such an ill-advised legislative move.

Steve Salerno said...

But yanno, Ron, after Virginia Tech, I heard a couple of people opine that what we really need to do is arm college students; that way they wouldn't be defenseless. I believe I blogged about that. Seriously, can you imagine? Just what we need on a typical Friday night at Sigma Delta Magnum: a bunch of wasted, armed teenage males getting into shoving matches over girls and parking spaces and everything else teenage guys find to argue about. If you're going to put guns into even wider circulation, how do you contain/plan for that? Or let's even say that a couple of guys (and/or gals) were armed when that college shooting spree erupted. Who's to say they wouldn't have made matters worse by firing randomly at the shooter, catching their fellow students in cross-fires, etc?

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve, I don't advocate arming everybody, and certainly not the students on a college (much less, high school) campus. However, had the instructors been allowed - after appropriate training & qualification - to carry, the body count at the VA Tech debacle - and the notorious Luby's massacre - could well have been significantly reduced.

Clamping down on sales to convicted violent criminals or people with diagnosed psych problems is essential, as is putting real teeth into the punishment for crimes committed with firearms. Taking more "bad apples" off the street, while eliminating their advantage over law-abiding citizens would go a long way toward reducing the incidence of violent crimes.

As I had noted on a previous thread some time ago, I and all my peers owned guns, frequently went out hunting sans parental supervision, and never had anything bad happen. But we were taught to be respectful of each other and of a set of core values that were infinitely more real than the politicized and heavily postulated "values" of today. Plus, having hunted, we knew first-hand that shooting some living thing is not the sterile event depicted in movies and video games. Watching an animal die by your own hand is not something to be taken lightly. Such a dose of reality might serve to minimize one's tendency to pull the trigger in a confrontation with another human being. But once a person experiences taking a person's life, they've taken a giant step down a slippery slope, from which there's no real return. For that reason alone, I believe hunting serves as a deterrent to violent crime.

Anonymous said...

Londoner, you must remember that the U.S. is comprised of mini-countries (states) within one large one. I live in California where gun control is quite vast. The same cannot be said for my neighbor Nevada where gun control is quite lax. Each state can basically decide on how guns are operated to some extent, though no state can ban guns out right for its citizens due to the Second Amendment "right to bear arms." Rob lives in Texas with a different culture around guns and each state has different ideas about owning guns. Just to give you some perspective of the U.S.

Steve Salerno said...

But to me, though, our eminently reasonable dialog epitomizes the problem: In a society that condones private gun ownership, where do you draw the line and who gets to do the drawing? How can you and I, as (presumably) mature adults who are entitled--in our ideal scheme of things--to possess weapons for our own sporting use and self-protection, then turn around and say to someone else (e.g. a college student), "No, you can't have one." Seems to me that once you open the gates to private gun ownership (which of course is pretty much what we have), you've inherently thrown away all oversight and any intelligent way of administering the system or assuring that guns only end up in the hands of reasonable people. And as a practical matter, that is the unfortunate stance that the NRA takes: They fight every level of restriction tooth-and-nail, invoking the old "slippery slope" argument. There has to be something between "no guns" and "every A-hole can have a gun if he wants one." Don't you think? Clearly as a society we haven't been able to find it. And let's face it, the background-check approach doesn't work. There are plenty of people with criminal records that I'd trust with a .44 much more than I'd trust several of the people in my own extended family who've never served a day behind bars.

RevRon's Rants said...

As usual, Steve, I think we need to strike a balance between absolute control and unfettered ownership. Our current background check is less than effective primarily due to interagency rivalries that prevent the establishment of a common, comprehensive database listing individuals who should not be afforded the right to own firearms. Had such a comprehensive database existed, the shooter at VA Tech would not have been able to buy a gun through legal channels (and probably wouldn't have been able to afford one on the black market).

Ironically, the ones who reap the greatest benefit from movements advocating gun control are the firearms dealers themselves and the NRA. Both groups know that no politician in his or her right mind will ever commit political suicide by signing their name to anything resembling actual gun control, much less, the reversal of the second amendment. Yet, whenever the specter of gun control is raised in legislative circles, the price of any firearm being studied goes through the roof (along with the gun dealer's profits), and the NRA sees its membership swell dramatically. It is actually in these groups' best interests to have some form of "gun control" on the table, or at least on the visible horizon.

As to the folks (like your relatives) who slip through the cracks in the qualification process, keep in mind that attempts to idiot-proof any system merely result in the creation of better idiots! :-) The risks to our safety are part and parcel of the freedom that we demand.

Anonymous said...

But to me, though, our eminently reasonable dialog epitomizes the problem: In a society that condones private gun ownership, where do you draw the line and who gets to do the drawing? How can you and I, as (presumably) mature adults who are entitled--in our ideal scheme of things--to possess weapons for our own sporting use and self-protection, then turn around and say to someone else (e.g. a college student), No, you can't have one.'"

Well, that is the point of my post. Each state's population can vote accordingly to how it handles gun law. After the deaths of Harvey Milk and Mayor Moscone in San Francisco, gun control became quite popular. The citizens decided gun control was important.

Law makers started drafting laws about how citizens could own guns. Also, there is not a lot of hunting being done in San Francisco or nearby areas. I have a brother and father who hunt, but do not own automatic weapons to shoot their neighbors. They have guns and licenses for those guns. They have yet to shoot anything, but ducks and deer.

We (Californians) cannot buy guns at our local Walmart like the citizens of Nevada can. We must buy our guns in special stores, go through background checks, and have a waiting period. Yes, a stray student will get a gun, but ususally that is an illegal gun the parents were not meant to have in the first place. Sure a college student can get a gun in California, but the wait is long whereas a college student in Virgina can pick-up one that very day.

People are going to kill people if they really want to, whether it be by guns, knives, poison, or other means. That kid at Virigina Tech was a human time bomb. If he could not get his hands on a gun, he probably would have built a bomb in his dorm. He was determined to kill someone from what I have read about him.

Why didn't the English professors who were reading his papers (he was an English major) not warn the officials? After the shootings, an English professor came forward and said she was "disturbed" by what he wrote. I guess she was not "disturbed" enough to contact the dean or the proper officals. As an English professor, if any of my students had written papers like that, I would have reported them to the dean and monitored the student. The Virigna Tech massacre was a series of misjudgements not just one student's violence. Of course the excuse will be "hindsight is 20/20.

Anonymous said...

"Having raised my kids in the country, where there was no shortage of poisonous snakes, rabid skunks, and feral dogs, I taught them how to handle (and respect) a gun at an early age. My son had a .22 of his own at about 8 years of age, and knew that my own gun was always loaded."

Ron and Steve, them good old days are over, and while I agree that in the country guns are necessary for protection but the real danger today is the rise of mental illness and our inability to recognize it.

And its funny you should call it a free zone as for me freedom from fear is the ultimate in freedom. If you need to carry a gun in suburbia to feel safe - I wouldn't call it being free.

Here in London we have had a huge rise in knife crime over the last two years and the biggest hurdle in decreasing the number of people carrying knives is the fact that they believe they need them for protection. The result is that we have at least one teenager killed a week by knives that somebody carried only for protection.

Londoner

RevRon's Rants said...

"Ron and Steve, them good old days are over..."

Not where I live, they aren't! :-)

Can't say that I've ever felt fearful, even in the middle of Houston. Even in RVN, I carried a gun because it was a logical thing to do, not because I was afraid (though I admit to being scared shirtless a number of times, weapon or no weapon!).

If it isn't guns, it's knives, baseball bats, tire irons, or Tasers. If someone wishes to do someone else harm, they'll find the tool to do it. I feel fortunate that I have the freedom to carry very effective tools. The crazies will always be there.

There are killings here, granted, but rarely incidental killings, perpetrated by folks who carried a gun to feel safe. And home invaders here have developed a very short life expectancy. :-)

RevRon's Rants said...

I neglected to mention... My son and daughter are alive today only because my son had a weapon and was prepared to use it the night my daughter's drug-crazed ex boyfriend came to her apartment, ready to kill them both. The ex died in their living room after kicking the door in. So I'm probably not the right person to be advocating gun control to.

Anonymous said...

I'm not so sure I like that argument Ron because killing someone for being in a drug craze is a bit OTT. Maybe a bang on the head with some home appliance would have knocked him out giving him the chance to turn his life around - the quick use of a gun killed that possiblity.

In addition, having lived in South Africa, the four gentlemen who entered my home with guns only had them because they stole them off people who kept them for protection, and its the first thing they asked for before they ransacked the house. How we survived - G-d alone knows.Maybe that's why I feel like that about guns.

Londoner

Yekaterina said...

In response to both Ron and Steve's comments about gun ownership being such an integral part of the American culture, therefore immovable, I ask you, do you think the foreign cultures whose traditions include the practice of Female Genital Mutilation might need to rethink their deeply entrenched traditions, maybe evolve a bit, or should they continue on practicing FGM because they have always practiced FGM, having their particular cultural reasons for doing so, which we on the outside couldn't possibly understand?

Times change. The daily life of most present day Americans is not even vaguely similar to the life of an American who lived two hundred years ago when a child having access to a gun might have actually made sense. In today's buy your dinner at the local Giant Eagle bang-bang-shoot-em-up (blood and guts for entertainment) society it makes zero sense for children to have access to guns without adult supervision. That said, there is a big difference between a father taking his 8 year old child out to shoot or hunt (together with him) and on the other hand allowing the child access to a gun without his supervision.

As far as Ron's assurances of only knowing of one freak gun-in-the-hands-of-a-child accident, I wish I could say the same. I know of many, two of the instances resulting in death. Both of the kids involved were older than eight and had parents who insisted their child knew better and could be trusted to be responsible with a gun.

Steve Salerno said...

Ykat, let me just clarify that when I wrote my "ode to guns" (as part of the American experience), I wasn't necessarily justifying it. I was simply explaining it. I think you can tell by the rest of my comments here (as well as other posts I've written, if you want to look them up) that I am also deeply troubled by the gun problem.

Good to see you again.

RevRon's Rants said...

Londoner - From your armchair position, I can see where it might be easy to condemn such an act. But my son didn't kill the man because he was drug-crazed. He killed him to stop the ex-boyfriend (who was much larger than my son) from killing his sister and himself. And to be blunt, when someone is trying to kill you, it's not the time to "make nice." It is time to do whatever is necessary to stop your assailant. Wagering that my son would have been able to physically overcome the guy would have been reckless and irresponsible, placing both my children's lives at risk. While your "theory" might be noble, it simply isn't sound practice; not if one is motivated to protect one's self and loved ones. Frankly, you are fortunate that the men who ransacked your house didn't kill you and everyone else there.

Yekaterina - Comparing a culture that encompasses gun ownership to one that allows female genital mutilation is beyond apples and oranges... more like apples and cyanide. And blaming the availability of firearms for the actions of people is no more logical than blaming spoons for obesity or automobiles for DUI deaths. If the proliferation of firearms were truly the cause of horrific crime rates, Switzerland would make 1920's Chicago look like Disneyland. In Switzerland, everyone over the age of 18 is enlisted in the militia, trained, and issued a machine gun, which they keep in their home. Yet violent crimes using firearms are very rare in that country. In keeping with that trend, in this country, the instances of violent crimes are lower in states that have less restrictive gun laws.

Yes, shooting, hunting, and gun ownership are part of the culture in which I live. That culture isn't borne of an obsession with killing, but of both an appreciation for the culture of our forefathers and a pragmatic awareness that our right to keep and bear arms has been key to our culture's ability to survive and remain free. Were it merely a symbol, it might well be outmoded. But it remains a fundamental safeguard against *anyone* who would harm us or deny us the rights that so many have fought for - including criminals or our own government.

Having grown up around firearms, I had neither an obsessive fascination with them nor an unrealistic perspective that their use was devoid of serious repercussions. They were simply an element with which I was always familiar and knowledgeable. My children grew up with the same perspective, and I believe that perspective - and a deeply ingrained respect - precluded the horrible outcome that we hear about so often nowadays.

There were kids as young as 6 in the rifle club to which I belonged, and frankly, not a one of them lived in a home where the guns were locked away. Yet there was not even one "accident" or instance of violence among them, and as far as I know, none of the members grew up and became criminals. The same held true for the vast majority of such clubs, and the percentage of untoward acts involving firearms has always been significantly lower among such groups than among the general population, despite the increased prevalence of firearms being available to the group members.

I would suggest that those who are so quick to judge and condemn would do well to look past hypothetical theories and ill-informed prejudices before passing judgment. There's an old joke that a conservative is merely a liberal who has been robbed. Well, I lean to the liberal side, but have faced too many situations where I had to decide between taking another's life or sacrificing my own. I made my choice, and despite the deep (you have no idea how deep) regret I will always feel, I remain steadfast in the belief that the choices I made were the right ones. And while my most fervent wish was and is that it had been I who had to face my daughter's ex that night, and that my son might have been allowed to retain the innocence he lost that night (an innocence I gave up many years ago), I am supremely grateful that when faced with the situation, he acted as he did. And to those who sit back in their place of safety and pass judgment, I hope you never have to face a situation more perilous than the exchange of hypothetical ideas on a blog.

RevRon's Rants said...

"I am also deeply troubled by the gun problem."

Steve, a substantially greater number of people are killed in this country every year by the careless or reckless use of automobiles than are killed with guns. Do we therefore have a car problem? And going back to another of my earlier analogies, more people die from obesity-related complications than are killed by guns. Do we therefore have a spoon problem?

So long as we try to control human behavior by assigning blame to inanimate objects, our efforts are doomed to failure. Prohibition didn't stop alcoholism, the 1937 Drug Law didn't stop drug use, and the Firearms Act of 1934 only served to make criminals out of the soldiers who returned from WWI with souvenirs that were legal when they collected them; both were effective only in creating a new class of criminals.

We need to apply common sense when crafting legislation, rather than passing ineffective knee-jerk laws that ignore the culture and values of a significant part of the populace.

Cosmic Connie said...

Ditto what Ron said...about everything. It took our families a very long time to recover from this tragic incident, and it is something that will haunt Ron's kids -- and him -- for the rest of their lives. The memory of visiting the kids at their apartment the morning after it happened (the scene had NOT been cleaned up) is something that will never leave me. It happened a little over twelve years ago but it is still so painfully clear in my memory.

Given the dynamics of the relationship between the daughter and her ex-boyfriend (who continued to stalk her even when she tried to break up with him), it seemed there was no way this story could have had a happy ending. It's easy to sit back and imagine idealized hypothetical situations in which none of the parties involved had access to firearms...but this was real life, not ideal life, and I thank whatever deities are out there to thank that my stepson had a gun, and knew how to use it.

Steve Salerno said...

Connie, Ron: Your contributions on this thread, particularly insofar as your grim personal experience (which Ron shared with me once before), represent a compelling Exhibit A for why this is no black-or-white issue and should not be approached as such. I suspect that we'll still be debating gun control when whatever confluence of unfortunate circumstances rings down the curtain on humankind...which, then again, is but four short years from now, if the Mayans can be believed.

Cosmic Connie said...

"...when whatever confluence of unfortunate circumstances rings down the curtain on humankind...which, then again, is but four short years from now, if the Mayans can be believed."

Well, Steve, as quite a few folks have noted, but it bears re-noting:
2012 is the new Y2K!

The New-Wage con artists have been exploiting it for several years now, and I suspect that the exploitation will only get more frenzied as the Final Year approaches.

OTOH, them Mayans were pagans, so who needs 'em? According to some Christian prophets -- and those are the ones we can really believe -- The End is coming even sooner, and we're now in the series finale of the human drama.
http://tinyurl.com/6qzh7y

In the first episode of the final season, those three comets hit the Earth. Yup, happened in summer of 2008. What? You missed it? Well, to tell the truth, Ron and I did too; we were too busy cleaning up after Hurricane Ike. But a religious web site wouldn't lie; we're now deep in Tribulation Time. I believe the Rapture episode is scheduled for early this coming year.

Take THAT, Mayan smart-alecks.

Steve Salerno said...

Ron, I think the car vs. gun argument is a bit disingenuous. The gun--in its very concept--was designed to kill. That was its purpose from the beginning. If you research the history of the gun, it was always intended as a deadly weapon, and the other uses--hunting, plinking, target-shooting--developed as ancillaries. In fact, target-shooting was originally intended as practice for the killing of animals and (potentially) other humans, and still serves that purpose among law-enforcement agencies, militia groups, etc. When guns are used to kill people, they are, therefore, not being misused; they are being used in the intended manner. They are fulfilling their purpose.

Outlawing guns would not cause a great deal of disruption to the lives of most people, with the exception of avid gun buffs. Most of us could do everything we do now, except for participating in gun-sports themselves, which to the majority of us is (at most) a peripheral activity.

Take away cars, however, and you have a whole different story. Cars were designed to take you from place to place, and when they are involved in death and destruction, it is in some sense almost always a perversion of the intended use. The only exception I can think of is when a bad guy tries to use his car to run down a cop or some such.

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve - I disagree that the analogy is disingenuous, simply because it was offered to point out that the responsibility for destructive acts lies in the people who commit those acts, rather than in the inanimate objects they use. if we focus upon the objects themselves, as advocates of increased gun control suggest, we divert attention from the true source of the problems. Throughout our history, the focused attempts to modify behavior by regulating the objects rather - than the perpetrators of the behavior - have failed. In that context, I feel that the analogy has merit.

"Outlawing guns would not cause a great deal of disruption to the lives of most people, with the exception of avid gun buffs."

I wonder how effectively you could argue that position to someone who has been the target of violence, or in the extreme, a survivor of the Warsaw ghetto. IMO, such a statement is indicative of the "it can't happen to me" mindset that is usually abandoned when a person is confronted with a situation that proves the mindset wrong.

Steve Salerno said...

Ron, I spoke (wrote) carelessly earlier. I didn't mean to say "outlawing." I meant to say "eliminating," as if we could magically just purge the world of guns--just for the sake of argument, and comparing the two (guns vs. cars). I don't care about the intent of malevolent people; the simple fact is, if there were no guns, then incidents like Columbine and VTech would be so much harder to orchestrate. What are the killers going to do, learn how to build bombs? That is a much, much harder undertaking, with much higher odds of being discovered (and/or blowing yourself up before the fact, as our friend William Ayers learned). That's number one. Number two, only a gun allows me to kill people at a distance. What am I gonna do if I'm pissed off at you, but you're down the hall? Throw rocks? Scream at you really, really loud and hope to hurt your feelings? Bring a bow and arrow to school? And how many times am I going to be able to reload my bow before somebody steps in?

Ron, I could take the same argument you made about guns and make it about nuclear weapons: They're not inherently dangerous. So should we all own one? Yanno, like, just to have it around as a souvenir?

RevRon's Rants said...

"if there were no guns, then incidents like Columbine and VTech would be so much harder to orchestrate. What are the killers going to do, learn how to build bombs? That is a much, much harder undertaking..."

Don't kid yourself, Steve. Bombs are easy to make with components any 10 year old can purchase without raising an eyebrow, and done correctly, they are eminently stable. A $20 bomb, constructed from plans readily available on the Internet (or well-known to most farmers) could wreak far more death & destruction than did the kids at Columbine.

"Number two, only a gun allows me to kill people at a distance. ... Bring a bow and arrow to school? And how many times am I going to be able to reload my bow before somebody steps in?"

I knew a sniper who was deadly at 200 yards with a crossbow. Absolutely silent, and the bolts flew at a speed that rendered them all but invisible, both factors that pretty much preclude detection. And you can buy a similarly capable crossbow at many sporting goods stores, with no background check or paper trail. Is crossbow control far behind? It would seem logical, wouldn't it?

I've heard people offer the nuclear weapons argument before, but it really boils down to common sense. Nuclear weapons *only* function is to kill mass quantities of people and incinerate vast areas in an instant. That hardly makes them an equivalent to a simple firearm for the purposes of implementing sensible legislation.

I do not suggest that there should be widespread access to *any* kind of weapon of mass destruction, or even for individual ownership of weapons like .50BMG rifles, which are only useful for taking out vehicles and human targets at up to a mile. But at some point, we need to quit blaming the "things" we use and assign responsibility for - and exercising control over - behavior where it truly belongs: with the perpetrator. And if we weren't so eager to fill our prisons with pot smokers and minor dealers, we'd actually have plenty of beds available for truly violent and dangerous criminals... but that's a whole 'nother rant. :-)

Steve Salerno said...

OK Ron, you get the last word. At least where I'm concerned. Now if anybody else wants to take up the cause, they're welcome to it.