Friday, December 14, 2012

Gun norms

I won't spend much time talking about our gun culture. It's pretty clear that we are fanatical about guns, at least relative to the rest of the world. And in a way I understand it. I don't own any guns (except for a prop replica of Malcolm Reynolds' gun in Firefly/Serenity). But I get the appeal when looked at as kind of a toy or tool. I'm sure they can be fun. Though they are just too dangerous for me to embrace.

In light of my Twitter feed blowing up with news of a few terrible gun related killings (one here in Memphis and another in Newtown CT I think), the gun norms I want to talk about are the ones surrounding gun rights and the 2nd amendment. The anti-gun control crowd gets really defensive (and paranoid) really quick when we start to talk about regulating guns. But their opposition to any sort of gun control doesn't make sense in light of how we treat other rights.

Yes, as much as I don't think it's ideal, gun ownership is a right because of the 2nd amendment. The wording is confusing to me, as I can see how it can be read to only apply to militias. But getting moronic judges like Scalia to buy that one is about as likely right now as repealing the 2nd amendment through a constitutional amendment (would need huge majorities in Congress and I think 2/3 of states). I won't hold my breath on that. Though I would like to see Democrats propose it just as a symbolic measure and to get the issue on the broader legislative agenda.

What we can do, though, is regulate guns. The 2nd amendment gives you the right to own a gun, but not the right to do whatever you want with it. This concept gets drowned out by a very vocal anti-gun control group. But it's a pretty clear constitutional concept as I see it. Let's look at the 1st amendment as an example. The 1st amendment gives you many important rights such as free speech, freedom of religion, and freedom as assembly. But the freedom to do those things is not absolute. You can't say anything you want; see libel and inciting riot. You can't sacrifice virgins in the name of your religion. And you can't assemble anywhere you please, like say on a person's private property.

These exceptions to the rights we have are designed to protect people. The idea behind restricting rights is tied to the very idea of rights, which is protecting people from the gov't and other people. If we couldn't limit rights those rights would be useless in practice. Given that, there is no reason we can't regulate guns. We can argue about how to do so and how effective our policies can be. But I can't drum up a reason why the 2nd amendment should be treated differently than others.

Part of the reason this persists is that Democrats have basically given up on regulating guns. They never talk about it. Just now I read that the WH press secretary gave the typical "Now isn't time to talk about this" line, which is just a way to dodge the issue and not create controversy which they think will hurt them politically. That's just being cowardly. Democrats fought against anti-gay rights and are now winning that battle despite fairly recently being on the wrong side of public opinion. Until either we as citizens pressure political leaders to do something or until those leaders actually, you know, fucking lead; these norms will not change and we will continue to have obscene amounts of people die because of guns.

Update: I wanted to add something in light of this Conor Friedersdorf tweet:

Interesting that our reaction to this would be wildly different if perpetrator fit widespread notion of terrorist.

This is another glaring example in which people and politicians accept different constitutional norms when dealing with different issues. If this were a "terrorist" killing, the gov't would claim that it has/needs the ability to outright ignore constitutional rights like due process in order to protect us. But suggest that the gov't needs to regulate guns in order to protect us and Republicans scream tyranny and Democrats cower in a corner until the news cycle changes.

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