Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Back by popular demand: I was worried then, and not much has changed.

Inasmuch as several of you have asked, off-blog, here's a link to the opinion piece I wrote (on guns) for the Los Angeles Times in 1999.

While I'm on the subject, here's something else that occurs to me: Why can't we seek a technological solution to the general proliferation of guns and, more particularly, the introduction of advanced weaponry in places (e.g. schools, churches, stadiums, malls) where such firepower doesn't belong? As I tweeted just yesterday, we have parking structures and other societal settings where spikes embedded in the roadway will shred your tires if you back up in defiance of a warning not to. There is no due process in this scenario; you simply break the rules and you emerge with a set of blown tires for your troubles. One would hope (or at least I would) that protecting the lives of our kids and neighbors merits as much thought and compliance-planning as parking regs, no? The spiked gratings are a simple, low-tech approachbut they workso I'm fairly sure that in today's enlightened times, we could devise something a bit more advanced to prevent the next Sandy Hook. How about a TSA-like screening device paired with an enforcement component of some kind? Tasers, lasers, a jolt of electricity, whatever?

This would be an entirely passive systema high-tech booby trap, if you willthat, by neutralizing the would-be assailant, ensures that an individual bent on murder-suicide is able only to achieve the latter goal at worst. It avoids the delay, crossfires and other added risks of a full armed response, and assures that no oneat least no one inside the protected perimeteris killed before the cavalry arrives. What do you think?


RevRon's Rants said...

I'm afraid such a mechanism would be doomed from the outset, Steve, if for no other reason than the difficult to establish requirement to prove intent on the part of the individual who receives the "welcome." It would, I suspect, fall under the category of "set guns," which automatically inflict bodily injury on anyone who passes a trigger threshold. Legal precedent is that the use of set guns is illegal, and subjects the person who sets the trap to liability for any harm done.

While the spikes you describe incapacitate a vehicle, they are not designed to inflict harm upon or incapacitate the person him/her self. The only way such a system could work would be to establish a secure entryway that would lock the suspected perpetrator in a secure, bulletproof space once a metal detector was tripped. And you can imagine the cost in implementation as well as personnel, as well as the headaches resulting from false positives that such a system would entail.

Furthermore, to reiterate a point made in an earlier post, an individual who wishes to inflict mass casualties can and will find other means of doing so that would not cause any red flags such as bringing a firearm onto the premises would. And if you're thinking of a technological means of disabling the weapons themselves, keep in mind that such a mechanism would require additional features to be built into the weapon itself, and the unlikely passage of a regulation that requires the retrofitting of all firearms with the disabling mechanism. Not to mention the potential failure of such an inherently complex mechanism, or the fact that only law-abiding people would subject their weapons to such a retrofit in the first place.

I think that the best we can hope for is a ban on cheap spray & pray weapons, as well as on high-capacity magazines, along with a buttressing of the background check system and the implementation of a mental health system to identify individuals who are deemed unqualified to own weapons in the first place. It's a complex problem that must be addressed, but if it is to be effective at all, it will require more than an ineffective unilateral approach.

Steve Salerno said...

Ron, what I think this really comes down to--in my mind--is that we need to reinterpret the 2nd Amendment (so I'm guessing that everything I say from this point on is moot, as is 97% of what I've said thus far, since that ain't happenin'). As I see it, people probably should be allowed to keep guns for home defense--your own perimeter defense, or castle doctrine (despite the inherent dangers of that tactic)--but I see no legal need to have all those guns out in public. And I would like to see a law passed that simply banned taking guns out of your home and into public places, and enforced that doctrine with immediate consequences as described in this post. (I'm not sure how we'd handle hunting; maybe those guns would be locked up at the hunting venue?) I've been doing research for an assigned piece about whether guns are simply incompatible with the condition of being human, and you know, Ron, few people are more trained and psychologically vetted than cops, and yet in one recent year, cops killed 247 civilians through "misconduct" (if not outright homicide) using their service weapons. That's 10 Sandy Hooks. This goes back to my previous post about how potentially unstable so many of us are. Bottom line, if we can't trust cops with guns...who can we trust?

No, I'm not suggesting we disarm cops. I'm just sayin'...guns in public places are a disaster waiting to happen. And so are guns kept in the home for self-defense, btw. Castle doctrine notwithstanding, look up the stats on what too often happens to people who keep guns around.

And I gotta repeat, I am especially disturbed by this whole currency about the need to keep and bear arms to protect against "government tyranny." What is the mentality behind that? Such thinking was big in the 80s and even 90s, then quieted down for a while, but now appears to have returned with a vengeance since Obama is in the White House.

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve, if we applied a real effort toward preventing criminals and mentally unstable people from possessing firearms and required that all owners prove their proficiency and knowledge of gun safety, I think we'd eliminate a lot more Sandy Hooks than we would by simply eliminating the guns. Truth is, even many law enforcement agencies' qualification requirements fail to establish proficiency.

As to the elimination of guns from public places, you know that's not going to happen. If an individual is okay with the notion of murdering someone, there's no reason to believe they would abide by any law forbidding them from carrying a weapon. And while I haven't checked the statistics, I'd wager that the incidents such as Sandy Hook occur far less frequently in states where open carry is legal and widely practiced.

Years ago, I heard an interview on NPR's "All Things Considered" with a researcher who studied the shooting deaths in a supposedly lawless area during the late 1800s, and he discovered that contrary to what he expected, there were very few shootings over the course of the 10 years upon which the study was focused. The conclusion reached, and which he described in the interview, is that if someone walks into a place wearing a gun, he might tend to be pretty cocky, but if everyone else is wearing one as well, the tendency to incite violence is greatly inhibited. And while I'm not suggesting that everyone should be armed, I do believe that the visible presence of numerous armed citizens whom are known to be both mentally sound and proficient in the use of their weapons would be a strong deterrent to such incidents. Proper certification and qualification processes for these qualities are sorely lacking at present, and I think they could have a significant effect.

That said, there are some areas, such as schools, family law centers, and women's shelters, where I believe only certified peace officers and security personnel should be allowed to possess weapons (and where such individuals should be posted on a regular basis).

Steve Salerno said...

But I ask again: How can we know who the good guys and bad guys are, or are going to be? Let's assume you're a good guy today; do we know that you're not gonna snap (or just get incredibly piised-off at someon) a year or two from now? (Do YOU know?) When I raised this argument over Christmas, someone said to me, "But it's the same with cars. Are you gonna lock up everyone who might drive drunk?" In that scenario, however, there are stop-gap measures that kick in before mayhem occurs. Cops pull over drunk drivers all the time and get them off the roads before they kill. There is no analogous intervention when it comes to guns. I'm pretty sure that Sandy Hook was Adam Lanza's first felony. So he took his own life and now he's off the streets. Do you feel relieved?

RevRon's Rants said...

Had there been a mechanism in place to prevent unstable individuals from having access to guns, Lanza might well have been little more than a page eight, 2" column in the local paper, rather than a couple of weeks' worth of filler for the talking heads (who would do well not to glorify such incidents and their perpetrators, IMO).

As to predicting who will snap, we'll never have a 100% foolproof system for identifying violence-prone individuals, but we'd eliminate far more of them than we do now, and would, I believe, reduce the number of incidents more than we would by attempting to eliminate the firearms (aside from those I mentioned previously).

I'll feel relieved when we begin working on a realistic solution to the problem, rather than screaming at each other and demanding a simplistic, ineffective, and typically hyper-partisan response (and I think you know that is not how I characterize your suggestion).

Cal said...

In addition, I wish someone would invent a personal portable metal detector. So if I go to a party or am about to honk at a guy that cut me off in traffic, I know that he has a weapon.

This way, I can decide to leave the party or avoid other situations where I know someone is packing heat.

Dimension Skipper said...

In all this post-S.H. "gun certification vs mental health" debate, I haven't heard too much discussion of something which concerns me... That is that mental health is not just a simple binary proposition set at birth and irrelevant after death. People who are mentally stable at one time can later become unstable. So do we do yearly re-certifications? Will many peopple who SHOULD have mental healthcare try to hide their conditions simply because they want to be able to get (or hold onto) their guns? How do you get the guns away from someone who is suddenly found to be unstable? What about people who are mentally ill with some diagnosed condition, but are fine so long as they take their medication? And of course, how do we determine WHICH mental illnesses should preclude gun ownership and which should not?

The following article only barely brushes up against some of those questions, but at least does so within the confines of actual existing CT law...

Despite Tragedy, Conn. Gun Seizure Law May Have Prevented Others
By Nancy Cohen, NPR
December 23, 2012

On the more immediate SHAMblog subject of what might be doable with passive defensive school security measures there's this...

School Safety: Inside One School’s Extraordinary Security Measures
By Alex Perez & Matthew Jaffe, ABC News
December 19, 2012

Steve Salerno said...

DimSkip: Points taken, and all very relevant to the piece I'm working on. We walk on very thin psychological ice indeed, (too) many of us.

Cal: You must have missed that graph in the 2nd amendment that specifically forbids personal metal detectors. ;)

Dimension Skipper said...

Another quickie point... How do drug addiction and alcoholism fit into the gun, "yay or nay," equations? Do they fall under mental illness? What about recovery from those conditions? And then what about relapse from recovery? What about weaving all this in and out of the unending "War on Drugs?"

I fear that handling all these questions with any sort of thoroughness and effectiveness while still respecting individual rights of most law-abiding responsible stable citizens, especially as those rights are currently defined and accepted, is in the end quite impossible. I'm not very hopeful about reasonable compromises being reached either. Maybe America and its legislators will prove me wrong, but I doubt it.

Lastly... Am I the only one who finds it disconcerting that there are so many different gun laws from state to state, perhaps even county to county or other sub-levels? Even if I owned a gun and had a carry permit, I'm not sure I'd be able to keep myself up to speed on the various laws from region to region wherever I may travel. Just sayin'. Myself, I think I'd at least like to see some sort of overarching consistency at the national level, but I can understand too why that might not be achievable either. There's a big difference between New York vs Montana, cities vs wilderness.

Dimension Skipper said...

Oops... Sorry. Turns out I have one MORE "one more thing" to add after all...

I just wanted to point out this Snopes-verified item which popped up a few days ago. Take it for whatever you feel it's worth, but I found it interesting re former president George Bush and Mr LaPierre of the NRA...

George Bush's 1995 letter of resignation from the NRA


I was outraged when, even in the wake of the Oklahoma City tragedy, Mr. Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of N.R.A., defended his attack on federal agents as "jack-booted thugs." To attack Secret Service agents or A.T.F. people or any government law enforcement people as "wearing Nazi bucket helmets and black storm trooper uniforms" wanting to "attack law abiding citizens" is a vicious slander on good people.

. . . .

I am a gun owner and an avid hunter. Over the years I have agreed with most of N.R.A.'s objectives, particularly your educational and training efforts, and your fundamental stance in favor of owning guns.

However, your broadside against Federal agents deeply offends my own sense of decency and honor; and it offends my concept of service to country. It indirectly slanders a wide array of government law enforcement officials, who are out there, day and night, laying their lives on the line for all of us.

You have not repudiated Mr. LaPierre's unwarranted attack. Therefore, I resign as a Life Member of N.R.A., said resignation to be effective upon your receipt of this letter. Please remove my name from your membership list.

[signed] George Bush

Steve Salerno said...

More excellent points, DimSkip. Thanks. (You know that you just made it onto some 2nd Amendment zealot's hit list, right?)

RevRon's Rants said...

Any solution we come up with is going to be messy and less-than-perfect. No doubt about it. Some who should be allowed to possess firearms will be denied access, and others who should be denied will fall through the cracks. And yes, we would have to take changes in individuals' mental health into account. Do the imperfections in such a system justify abandoning it and pushing for "solutions" that have no chance of significantly eliminating the tragedies, while at the same time denying responsible citizens the right to own firearms?

The variance between different states', cities', and even municipaities' laws is a source of confusion, not only to responsible gun owners, but to the law enforcement community as well. I'm not convinced that a federal standard would be the appropriate solution, even if it differentiates between urban and rural environments in determining appropriate laws. I'd be more in favor of providing better education to the public as to the differences in regions' laws, effectively placing responsibility upon individual citizens for compliance, just as we do with traffic regulations.

As to LaPierre's overly-broad condemnation of law enforcement officers, he presents a strawman, albeit one for which we've seen too many valid examples. Perhaps if law enforcement personnel were also required to re-certify, not only in proficiency, but in their general mental state, many of those examples would be eliminated, and the 2nd Amendment zealots wouldn't have the Ruby Ridge and Waco incidents and their like to support their admittedly paranoid assertions. The daily heroism of a thousand good regular cops can be offset in the public eye by one Ruby Ridge or Waco. By the same token, lumping all law enforcement personnel together with those who choose that career path in order to compensate for their own deficiencies actually encourages the us-versus-them mentality that is so widespread among LE personnel, and which has actually served to prevent the sharing of information that is so essential.

Steve Salerno said...

Ron, no one is out to tar-and-feather cops as a class because of a few bad apples. I'm not, at any rate. My whole point about cops is that they carry guns, and because they carry guns, people who shouldn't get killed sometimes do. I think we can all agree that the gun is the only common and omnipresent denominator in all gun homicides; yes, that's a tautology, but it makes a point that very much needs making. When guns are present, people die. When guns are in a home for defense purposes, the people in that household are 500-700%% more likely to die as a direct result of the presence of that gun than from any other cause, including intruders. (The stat variance is because I drew the numbers from several different studies.) In a large study done for the Annals of Internal Medicine, the principal author concluded that "41% of gun-related homicides and 94% of gun-related suicides would not occur under the same circumstances had no guns been present." Another study by the Harvard School of Public Health echoes those findings, reporting that you are far more likely to use your gun to commit suicide one day than to have to defend yourself against a threat from another person.

The bottom line is always the gun. Sure, I guess you could concoct a fatal brew of household solvents or culture your own botulism, but no one does that because the gun makes malfeasance so much more convenient (and is more available and easy-to-use in impulse moments of fury and/or panic).

Why not try to take away some of the guns, or keep them out of the wrong hands somehow, and see how many people instead become home biochemists or munitions experts? It didn't happen in Britain and I don't think it would happen here.

Anonymous said...

Steve, you can argue till you're blue in the face but the only point you made that I agree with is that the Second Amendment isn't going away. I'm sorry if in your more cynical or close-minded moments you force yourself to assume that everybody out there is a threat to you, but I'm a responsible gun owner and on behalf of the members of my breed I resent the implication. I only hope that you or no one in your family is ever in a position where circumstances cause you to end up swinging over to my side.

Anonymous said...

No offense Steve-o but some of your arguments are ridiculous. Especially this idea of zapping everyone some machine thinks is carrying. Do you have any idea how many false positives you'd get?!

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve, I would posit that the studies themselves fail to meet the standards normally set for research, in that their "conclusions" are based upon supposition, rather than hard data. How can they accurately project the outcome of situations, based upon an unmeasured variable? If the guns weren't available, the only thing they can accurately project is that the frequency of GUN RELATED deaths would decrease. Duh!! They have no means of objectively quantifying how many of the perpetrators would have resorted to other means, had their instrument of choice been unavailable.

On the other hand, the ready availability of firearms has not universally led to increases per capita in violent deaths. Reference my earlier example of Scandinavian countries that issue a machine gun to each adult citizen (to be kept in the citizen's home, under his sole control), yet has not seen the escalation in gun violence we've experienced. It would seem only reasonable to qualify and quantify all variables before coming to a conclusion. And the single valid bottom line is ultimately the mindset and intent of the perpetrators, not the tools they used.

My personal experiences are not consistent with the dire statistics you describe regarding the increased likelihood of gun owners to become victims of gun violence. I've always had guns in my home, as have a good many of my friends & acquaintances, yet none of us has ever fallen victim or even known anyone who has. In high school, many of the students kept a gun in their car or truck, yet we had no rampages. I've even brought a gun to high school with me to show it to a teacher who was an amateur gunsmith, yet nobody called the principal, much less a SWAT team. Perhaps the level of training we received, as well as the values ingrained during our upbringing, had something to do with it.

And once again, I am not bearing the banner for unrestricted, unregulated gun ownership. I do support RESPONSIBLE ownership, which IMO eliminates the spray & pray weapons and high-capacity magazines. I do support requiring individuals to establish their proficiency with their firearms, if not prior to purchase, at least prior to obtaining a hunting license (a regulation that is in effect here in Texas). We aren't going to eliminate DUI deaths by outlawing alcohol, but we've made some good strides via education and the establishment of stiffer penalties. And it would make just as much sense to outlaw beer bongs, while leaving the beer itself to be regulated as it currently is. The analogy might seem like a stretch, but from the perspective of effectiveness and intent, it really isn't.

Finally, I won't be dismissive of you or your concerns, as I recognize they are borne of a genuine desire to stop the slaughter. One that I share, by the way. I just believe that the focus first and foremost on the tools is an emotionally-satisfying but ultimately ineffective means of resolving the problem at hand. It would be no more effective than (and please excuse the 2nd Amendment zealot battle cry) attempting to eliminate obesity by focusing upon the elimination of spoons. Haters gonna hate, killers gonna kill, and obese people gonna eat.

Dimension Skipper said...


No, the 2nd Amendment isn't going away anytime real soon, but OTOH why can't it go back to being interpreted like it was for a couple hundred years or so?...

How Conservatives "Reinvented" the Second Amendment

It really started to change with the rise of the modern conservative movement in the ’70s and ’80s. You had Ronald Reagan, Edwin Meese, who was his attorney general, Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) in the Senate, really making a very sustained argument that the courts had misunderstood the Second Amendment for hundreds of years, and the NRA was an indispensable partner in this moment. And it became the conservative conventional wisdom that the Second Amendment gave an individual the right to bear arms.

Sorry, I felt compelled to re-post that link because the whole concept still completely eludes me as to how the 2nd Amendment came to be legally interpreted the way it is. I guess it's because of legal precedents and the fact that the Supreme Court is indeed "supreme" so that once they make a ruling, there's just no returning to the prior state of affairs as had been challenged to spur the re-interpretation in the first place. Doesn't matter that it was interpreted one way for a couple hundred years and another way for a mere few, the key has already turned to unlock that door.

The trouble I have is one of trust. Do I (personally) trust each individual to just simply decide for themselves that they are safe and "responsible" or do I trust any government agency/bureaucracy to try to determine that? There are concerns and dangers either way.

Let's just say I've experienced (and seen reported) too many instances of supposedly self-determined "responsible" owners/users of something (be it guns, alcohol, "light" drugs, automobiles, sports/playground equipment, power tools, etc.) who ended up being literally responsible for some serious injury or death and yet then suddenly that "responsibility" is out the window as they try to explain away what went wrong and how it wasn't really their fault.

Dimension Skipper said...


I also find it strange that gun rights advocates claim the 2nd Amendment needs to be interpreted as providing them the right as individuals to bear arms because state militias don't exist anymore and so there has to be a means to stand up against a mythical tyrannical government (or government practice). And yet that same Constitution also puts in place the checks and balances of the three branches of government in an effort to ensure that such a tyrannical situation does not ever legally materialize, not "overnight" at least.

(And hey, if it does anyway, then I'm thinking the Constitution and America as we know it are pretty much done at that point anyway, so what good are Constitutional rights since it'll be every man for himself anyway? In which case I admit I understand the want of handy individual firepower at that point.)

Put in other words, the 2nd Amendment is a single subpoint contained in the overall document. If people are so worried about having the 2nd Amendment interpreted so as to allow them protection from a too-powerful government, then they're not putting much faith in the overarching document to begin with. It just seems somewhat ironic to me to have to have had that one subpoint of the document reinterpreted after a couple hundred years so as to protect from a very remote possible scenario that the overall document is designed to guard against in the first place.

I guess all I'm saying is that I don't buy the protection from an overly powerful government angle only because I trust the Constitution as an entire document to ensure that we don't get a dictator for life or some such situation. I see individuals with guns, especially with carry permits, as more of a potential immediate threat to me than the government because they then instantly become their own tiny little potential dictators (in theory). That's not to say I think the realistic threat of either to my direct person is that high, but still...

I may have to invest in some body armor, Steve.


a/good/lysstener said...

Am I going to sound ridiculously simple-minded at this point to just ask what is it with this country and killing? Why the need for so many people to have a means of killing someone else? 10,000 gun murders a year, it's insane. I can't believe that people whatever their politics don't just stand up and say that!!!

Anonymous said...

"Good listener" excuse me for saying so but your comment does sound simple-minded. I ask myself how much of a good listener you could really be if this is what you make of all the complex arguments now in the public sphere after Sandy Hook. You also seem to assume those of us who defend our Constitutional gun rights are "in favor of" 10,000 gun murders a year. These aren't easy issues and it serves no one's purposes to try to treat them as such.

a/good/lysstener said...

Anonymous I'm sorry if I offend your intellectual sensibilities with my petty concerns about the sanctity of life. Sometimes when you're talking about life and death it really is that simple, maybe. Too many people are dying and a lot of us don't care about the complex issues relating to your gun ownership. Your guns are the problem, without them we wouldn't be having this whole discussion!

RevRon's Rants said...

DimSkip makes a couple of really good points here IMO. First of all, I think there needs to be a mechanism whereby "self-determined "responsible" owners/users" are required to display both their proficiency and their awareness of what it means to be a responsible owner/user. As it stands now, pretty much every owner/user probably considers him/herself more proficient and safety-conscious than they actually are. While some states (like Texas) require most hunters to pass a hunter safety course before being issued a hunting license, virtually none require proficiency certification or safety training before purchase of the firearm. I, for one, would love to see such a program implemented in every state, though I acknowledge the difficulty (and perhaps even the questionable appropriateness) of establishing a federally-mandated standard.

We should also recognize that the Second Amendment was inspired by a very real threat at the time of its writing; a threat which in our current society just doesn't realistically exist any more, despite what the more paranoid supporters are so quick to claim. As DimSkip pointed out, we aren't going to be put in the position of having to defend ourselves against the government. While there have been aberrations such as Ruby Ridge and Waco, there are also checks and balances that would preclude a massive incursion by the military against the civilian populace, the most effective of which is the fact that most military personnel relate to a civilian mindset more than to a military mindset, and would reject orders to launch an assault against the populace. And those few who would obey such orders would quickly discover that they were severely outnumbered, even by those within their own ranks.

Like it or not, gun ownership is very much a part of the fabric of our culture, and isn't going to be - and should not be - eliminated altogether. While my enthusiasm about hunting has diminished significantly over the years, I still enjoy target shooting and plinking, and recognize the necessity of having the means to protect myself, my family, and especially the livestock here on the ranch, but recognizing the existence of a different kind of predator in the urban environment.

That said, we really need to use some common sense in our approach to what constitutes "responsible" gun ownership. IMO, that would also preclude private ownership of weapons that are capable of - indeed, DESIGNED for - inflicting as many casualties as possible in the shortest amount of time, with few capabilities beyond that.

RevRon's Rants said...

Alyssa, we all have the means to kill, with or without guns. Mine are primarily used for the extermination of empty pop cans and the occasional predator. 10,000 murders a year is insane, as is 34,000 deaths due to traffic accidents, of which at least 90% are avoidable, and 24,000 are due to drunk drivers. For that matter, alcohol itself is implicated in over 100,000 deaths a year, when diseases caused by alcohol consumption are included. Where do we draw the line in what we will ban in order to prevent the effects of insanity? Perhaps it is the insanity - the single common element in so many deaths - that we should be addressing. Intelligent regulation of inanimate objects is important, but won't have that great an effect on the problem if we don't devote equal energy to addressing the destructive behavior and the individuals who exhibit such behavior.

Anonymous said...

So Alyssa, given your passionate concerns about the sanctity of life, it must be safe to assume you're also working tirelessly to have Roe v. Wade overturned?

Steve Salerno said...

How did I know that was coming (the Roe/Wade thing)? I did, you know.

a/good/lysstener said...

You right wingers always play abortion as your trump card as if it's somehow related to every issue. I shouldn't even dignify it with a response but let me say this, my body is my body and my first responsibility legally and morally is my own health. Second, I don't know if you're a man, Anon, but I bet you are and to me that means you have little standing in a debate about a woman's reproductive rights. Third, theories about when life begins are all over the map. For you to equate the constitutional rights of a clump of cells that may or may not be viable outside the womb with living breathing schoolkids who have been viciously gunned down is insane. I could go on but why bother, you won't be listening, you'll be planning your next zinger.

Anonymous said...

Well if nothing else, Roger O'Keefe and Rev Ron have a common ground in owning guns.