Friday, December 21, 2012

Where I Stand on Guns

Anyone who reads my blog can see that I tend to lean liberal on most, if not all, issues I've touched on.  Today, I'll tackle gun control.  In light of the recent shooting in Connecticut, the internet has been exploding on both ends of the argument.  I've seen everything from, "Ban all guns.  No guns at all equals no gun violence," to "The teachers at schools should have guns."  I have one particular Facebook friend who went as far as to say the students should be armed.  Gun control is part of the problem.  Maybe people do have access to overly powerful weapons, and those weapons should be restricted.  Another part of the problem, however, is the mental health issue.  Perhaps we don't have sufficient screening for gun applicants.  And, yet a third issue to the gun problem is education.  Accidental deaths happen.  Now, let me preface this by stating that I am a gun owner.  I have a Mossberg 500 12 gauge shotgun with a tactical, collapsible stock.  Why do I have it?

First, and foremost, home defense.  It's true that I do have years of martial arts training.  There is also quite a distance from my bedroom door to the entrance to my home.  Now, do I ever expect to have to use my gun?  Well, let's consider what is meant by using a gun.  Do I intend to ever shoot my shotgun in the case of a  home invasion?  I doubt it, but I would if I had no other options.  Do I ever intend to smack someone with it? Sure, I'd hit an intruder with the butt of my shotgun if I had the opportunity.  But, let's be honest.  If I can hit someone with something, it means they're too close.  A likely scenario is that an intruder made it closer to my bedroom in a shorter time than I expected.  A third, far more practical purpose for owning a gun for defense is the intimidation factor.  Those of you who have never experienced the sound of a shotgun being pumped have no idea how terrifying that sound can be.  Movies to not do it justice.  I can't imagine the kind of criminal who would hear that and say, "Hmm, that's a shotgun being loaded.  Better not leave."  Any intruder who continues advancing after hearing the warning sound of a shotgun shell being chambered should probably be nominated for a Darwin Award.

A second reason I own a gun is for recreation.  Shooting guns is fun.  There's undeniably a feeling of power when someone obliterates a target downrange.  It's positively awe inspiring.  From a young age, I've enjoyed shooting.  It's challenging, requiring practical application of trigonometry and geometry.  Longer shots require a shooter to be able to anticipate how far the bullet will drop.  In that case, one has to also take into account that shorter-ranged shots will place high on the target.  The longest shots people can make even have to compensate for the curve of the earth.  Yes, I know, I could go to a range and pay to shoot their rifles.  No, thank you.  That would potentially leave my home defenseless.  "But if no one had a gun, you wouldn't need yours to defend against!" someone might say.  An invader may show up with a knife, true, but fuck you if you think I'm going to tangle with a knife-wielding criminal.  No, I'll minimize loss on my end.

My third reason for owning a shotgun is similar to the first reason:  precautionary.  Our country may not always be as stable as it is.  I could lose my job.  The list goes on, but the point is that in the situation where I cannot get food, I'll take myself right into the woods.  I will hunt for my food.  I could use a bow, but it's awfully hard to kill fast moving game with an arrow.  My scatter-shot is much more efficient.  Of course, I'll have the occasional person saying I could just grow my own food and eat that.  That's true, but I can't grow animals like plants.  If I could domesticate animals for myself, then the corporations could too, therefore I wouldn't be in that situation.  Hunting could prove to be an integral part of survival in the near future.  I'll stay prepared, just in case.

So, we've seen some reasons for why people may possess firearms.   I've seen people recommend that we take away all the guns.  They'll point to Europe and exclaim, "Well, see!  It works here!  Countries that have the fewest guns have the fewest gun-related crime!"  Yes, obviously.  The issue I have here is that European countries, from everything I've read, have a better government-citizen relationship.  The USA was founded by a ragtag army of people who wanted to get rid of an oppressive ruling.  I think it is only fair that we have that option today.  It's true that our current government has drones and missiles that can kill from miles away,  but it seems to me that it doesn't mean we should just roll over.  Let's say there are two people about to fist fight.  One of them is 6' 3", 280 pounds.  The other is 5' 9" and 150 pounds.  Both of them have brass knuckles with which to fight, and the larger person is better trained in hand to hand combat.  Would we expect the smaller person to give up the one equalizing factor in the fight?  I think not.  Now, while I can imagine an ideal world where there is no need to fear a government, we live in a country where laws like the NDAA may very well be a problem for ordinary citizens, like myself.  By this reasoning, I find it to be immoral to take away a person's right to defend against a larger threat, whether that threat is a home intruder, lack of resources, or some far-fetched government takeover.

Now that I'm done there, I'd like to discuss the proposed limitation of "assault weaponry."  What counts as an assault weapon?  This question is highly important, because it is a flexible definition.  Is an assault weapon a gun that can hold more than a certain amount of rounds?  What is the threshold for the weapon-assault weapon spectrum?  A standard 9mm pistol holds between 10 and 15 rounds.  Revolvers hold between 5 and 7 usually.  Is the issue of assault the distance from which an attack can be carried out?  A standard 9mm pistol isn't too accurate beyond 15 or 20 meters.  My shotgun?  The same, depending on what kind of shell I use.  I'm an untrained civilian, yet with my hunting rifle as a child I was able to hit a 1.5 inch square at 200 meters.  Think about that.  A person can walk into a building with a 9mm pistol loaded with 15 rounds and realistically expect to hit 10 targets or less.  That person, due to the short range of the pistol, can be taken down fairly easily.  A person with a long-range hunting rifle could assault a public place and be gone before anyone knew what was happening.  Which one of these weapons could be considered an assault weapon?

The problem is the world "assault," in my opinion.  From Google, assault is the act of committing a physical attack.  By that definition, both of my above examples are considered assault weapons.  Hell, every weapon is an assault weapon.  My machete, by that definition, could very well be considered an assault weapon.  I know, I'm being a little extreme with that definition, but I still think it's a problem.

So, what to do?  Banning guns isn't morally sound, because of the volatile state of our country.  Assault weaponry has no clear-cut definition, so it's tough to specify which weapons should be covered under an assault weapon ban.  What about, instead of trying to ban the weapon, we restrict access to it?  It's true that those deemed mentally incompetent cannot legally own firearms, but occasionally, a person experiences a psychotic break that leads to mass shootings.  How, then, do we compensate for that?  When I bought my shotgun, I was subjected to an FBI background check.  That's great!  If I had a history of violence, it would not be a good idea for me to have access to high-powered weapons.  Similarly, if I had a history of psychosis, I probably shouldn't have that access.  

Let's talk mental health.  Some of you know I work as a mental health paraprofessional (MHPP).  My job is to help people recover from mental illness.  I work as an extension of the therapists to help people develop and use coping strategies to counter symptoms of disorganized cognitions, impulsiveness, hallucinations, delusions, and so on.  The majority of the people I help are nonviolent.  A few are there because of violent acts, but that's not the average.  What's the significance of this?  Well, all these people are clinical cases.  The issue is that people who go on shooting rampages may very well be mentally ill at a subclinical level.  We have ways to screen for this.  

The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) is a tool that has ten individual scales that people can score on.  Hypochondriasis, which most people know is a concern with bodily symptoms.  This scale measures the likelihood that someone will suffer from these symptoms.  The second scale measures depression.  I don't think that needs much elaboration.  The third scale focuses on hysteria, which is an awareness of problems and vulnerability.  Someone scoring high on this scale might have attachment issues, for example.  The fourth scale measures whether a person is a psychopathic deviate.  This can reveal conflict, anger, and how respectful a person is for societal rules.  A psychological examiner could very likely use this scale to see how likely a person is to use their firearms for illegal activities.  The fifth scale measures stereotypical masculine or feminine behaviors and interests, but in the case of firearm safety, I don't see it having much impact.  Paranoia is the focus for the sixth scale, which like depression, I don't think needs much elaboration.  An overly paranoid person may be likely to perceive nonthreatening stimuli as threatening.  Perhaps here is another scale that could be an indication of how safely a person can use guns.  The seventh scale focuses on what is called psychasthenia, which contains symptoms like worry, anxiety, obsessiveness, and so on.  Schizophrenia is the eight scale.  Hypomania is the ninth scale, which is how excitable a person may be.  Last, we have social introversion as the tenth scale.  

Sample MMPI Scoring

Now, people may say that this is an unreliable tool, because people can lie and act "normal" on these tests.  That makes sense, but psychologists anticipated this.  The MMPI in particular has been built with the assumption that people will try to make themselves look like their best possible self.  With that in mind, it has subscales to look for things like lying to make a person sound mentally healthy and malingering to sound mentally ill.  A person with graduate training might be able to skew his or her responses in a desired way, but we have to remember that the questions aren't worded like, "I am paranoid."  In fact, there are even seemingly wildly out of place questions like, "I prefer to do my skydiving in the nude."  Now, over years, this test has been honed to weed out liars and malingerers.  The MMPI is a huge test consisting of several hundred questions.  These questions are often repeated many times, but worded differently.  The length of the test coupled with the repetitive questions catches people trying to fake their results.

It doesn't seem unreasonable to subject people who wish to buy firearms to have to undergo a psychological examination like this.  Additionally, subjecting everyone who buys a gun to a firearms safety class could very well reduce the number of fatalities involving guns.  People should be taught the specific laws for carrying and using weapons in particular circumstances.  

With all this in mind, I'd like to close by sending a message to people on both sides of this issue.  People, it's complicated.  No single person is 100% correct on the right course of action.  What we need to do is sit back and talk this through.  No fear mongering, no appeals to emotion.  Let's find a middle ground.  Both sides want the same thing:  fewer deaths.  We can yell across the room all day, and that's going to get us no where fast.  With that in mind, I'm going to sit back and see how the comments on this go.  My first guess is there will be two camps saying the other is wrong and the conversation will go no where.

I hope that guess is wrong.

1 comment:

  1. If we continue to use guns in the country, one of the things I would like to see changed would be a switch in ammunition. Currently it is a lot easier to purchase what is deemed "lethal ammunition." This is your typical round, shell, whatever. There however do exist ammunition, most of it for shotguns from what I have seen that is termed non-lethal. These are things like beanbag rounds which cause high velocity impacts without typically breaking the skin, though if aimed above the stomach it can still be fatal at times. You have buck shot, rubber rounds, even a flashbang round. These options exist, and yet from what I have seen they are apparently not recommended for civilian use, typically a website you visit with them on there remarks that they are meant for police and military personnel. Seems odd to me.

    I assume you know my position on hunting, so you know I don't accept such an excuse. For home safety, not defense, defense is wearing body armor, I would prefer to see non-lethal rounds.

    I still don't see a use for lethal ammunition. In fact it would be interesting to me to see a development of stable tranquilizer rounds for civilians.

    As for the assault weapon part. I would probably want to limit anything to 10 shots, and when you do have to reload, perhaps make the process more time consuming. Really rifles in general I don't really see a need for. If we were to continue with gun use, perhaps a restriction to handguns would be in order. Just my two cents.