Sunday, July 10, 2016

Guns and Dialogue

Tuesday's raucous city council meeting highlighted two problems: we need to decrease gun-deaths in the U.S. and that it's hard to have an honest dialogue.

Both sides seem dug in. One woman said that the opposition was “demonizing us gun owners,” and other speakers promptly demonized the “liberals and progressives who want to take our guns away.” Most on both sides seemed sincere. Not many recognized the sincerity of opposing speakers.

Compared to other prominent nations, the U.S. has way more guns and way more gun deaths. The gun-death epidemic ain't cool. But reasonable people can differ on how big a causal factor large numbers of guns are, what corrective actions might decrease the deaths, and how those actions do or do not square with the Second Amendment.

Both sides offered slogans; but there was no chance to go further, to ask probing questions, to allow each side to speak more deeply and meaningfully. Perhaps people of good will might even learn something. 

None of us knows it all. I sure don't. I'm ill-equipped to spot flaws in the various proposals. 

I'd love to see a local task force of people who also don't know everything, but at least know different somethings. If we can take reasonable steps that would decrease gun-deaths, we should. Those need to be both practical/sensible and legal/constitutional. Taking away everyone's guns is not the goal. Aside from whether it would be right or Constitutional, it ain't gonna happen. Prohibition of alcohol and the war on drugs haven't worked. 

It's time to unite the deep concern people have on this issue with the knowledge serious gun owners have.

The city passed a resolution, not an ordinance, urging the State to act to close a loophole in laws requiring background checks, which most of us accept the need for. It has no legal force. If the State acts, the action will not solve the problem. It may help a little.

Tuesday, I was particularly annoyed at the NRA. Sincere and angry people, who fear everyone else wants to take away their guns, delivered and appeared to believe NRA lines that simply aren't true.
One repeated, “Switzerland requires every man to own a gun.” Ain't true. (On my blog, I'll provide links to sources.) Most Swiss men do serve in the army; and the army issues guns, which may be kept at home. In earlier times, fearing a sudden invasion by a larger neighbor, the Swiss required soldiers to be ready to fight their way from home to wherever. But today Switzerland requires gun permits and forbids privately-owned automatic weapons. The “requires everybody” story is false. So is the assumption that what works for a unified little nation such as Switzerland would necessarily work here. Yet there likely are lessons we could learn from the Swiss. 

One local Tea Party leader called consideration of the resolution an illegal ploy to “take away our sacred right” to trade, buy, and sell weapons.

There is no “sacred” right. Jesus never promised unrestricted use of weapons, and never made them “sacred.” There is a constitutional right, the precise nature of which – as with all legal matters – judges and scholars interpret in varied ways.

There's a constitutional right to travel state-to-state, although I damned near have to strip to exercise it. Even freedom of speech gets regulated around the edges. And freedom to pursue happiness doesn't permit you to do drugs that make you happy, or steal your neighbor's TV.

We share this wonderful corner of the Earth, so let's keep talking to each other – and listening.

[The above column appeared this morning in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 9 July, and will presently appear on the newspaper's website (under Opinion: Real Dialogue Needed) and KRWG-TV's website (under News --> Local Viewpoints).]

[A lot happened after I wrote this!  The week included two very publicized shooting of black men by police and the assassination of five Dallas police officers by a black man angry about those shootings. Obviously these were all tragedies.  There is no justification at all of the Dallas murders; the police shootings strongly appear unjustified, pending further investigation.  The obvious fear is that both police and young black men will fear and distrust each other even more deeply -- with some good reasons and some bad on both sides -- and act unwisely.   The obvious need is for enhanced communication and understanding.  Police need even more training, and better understanding of young black men and black ways; and communities need to recognize that police have a tough and dangerous job requiring split-second decisions without full information.  How do we make that happen?]

[One thing left unclear after the City Council meeting was this: Greg Smith and Ceil Levatino sought to delay the vote so that there could be fuller community discussion, and Mayor Miyagashima and the other councilors also seemed to favor further discussion.  My perhaps mistaken impression was that although they had voted on the resolution, they'd also called for further discussion at a work session.  Although Greg Smith's reference to a possible "consensus" is so optimistic as to be nonsensical, I think we all believe that progress locally can only come from further and more meaningful dialogue.  Even if no further "rules" result, which is most likely, the meeting described in the column proves how much gun owners and gun control advocates, generally, need to understand each other better.  That doesn't have to be through a city work session, and there are likely better venues (perhaps including a Great Conversation); but it needs to happen.]

[The column mentions the gun industry's misleading attempt to justify lax gun control by arguing that Switzerland "requires all men to own guns" and has a very low homicide rate.  This site asks whether the gun industry's comments about Switzerland are fact or myth, noting that in fact Swiss gun regulations are pretty strict.  This is Wikipedia's article on the Swiss and guns , which is fairly detailed.   There's also this Time Magazine piece on the Swiss gun culture.  The fact that the gun industry misstates the facts about Switzerland doesn't mean that we might not learn from the Swiss example.  Unfortunately, it wouldn't be easy to transport Swiss rules and norms from a small, homogenous, European nation with a culture of "community before individual" to a sprawling, heterogenous nation that emphasizes Individualism above all. 

Another misleading use of Switzerland that we see after nearly every shooting tragedy is the  comparison of Switzerland and Honduras which notes that each has about 8.2 million people, but the Swiss, with more guns, have fewer gun deaths -- ignoring that one is a wealthy European country surrounded by peaceful neighbors while the other is on a drug-running route.  The comparison claims the Swiss require gun ownership while the Hondurans ban guns, yet Honduras has the world's highest homicide rate and Switzerland the lowest.]

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