Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Both Sides of Our Political Debate Could Use a Timeout

Guns. Weapons, arms, whatever term I choose, most of you had a reaction to that first word. Some of you thought, “hell yeah!”, while some of you thought, “We need to do something about them.” So, what is the answer here? Most of us think we know. We are probably convinced that either, nothing needs to be done, in fact more people need to own them, while others believe there should be fewer owned under tighter restrictions. 

Meanwhile, the debate over this issue caused gun company stocks to peak, even as Obama’s speech was broadcast to the nation. There is a divide between us. There are few that have a third opinion, but I would like to discuss this in a reasonable tone and share some thoughts I have had, so please, don’t take this post and turn it into a flame war. Be civil. Express ideas in clear, less than obscene English and let people decide. Whatever your view point, I hope you agree that all humans deserve the sanctity of their own thoughts and should not be judged based on thoughts, but deeds.
Amendment II
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
This piece of legislation, known as the second amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, has been hotly contested in recent years, and to a lesser extent, throughout our history, especially since the last half of the twentieth century. To many, it represents a clear edict preventing congress from interfering with their rights to own weaponry privately. Others view the context of militia service as essential and would rather not have private gun ownership.
Then, there’s the debate over what arms should be included. Most sane individuals would prefer their neighbors not be allowed to hold nuclear arms, for example, but might argue in favor of nearly everything up to a heavy tank. Others feel strongly that capacity, range, velocity, rate of fire and other factors should be clearly legislated and restricted.
Here is my own take on this
I’ll keep it brief. From my own reading of history, I find it incredible that we not understand that a part of what was intended by this amendment was the right to protect one’s self from enemies foreign and domestic, including, if need be, one’s own government. After all, these men had just witnessed a bloody war to set their fellow countrymen free from a tyrannical government, and restrictions on arms had played a part in it on several occasions.
I also happen to believe in the sanctity of all human life. This does not mean I believe that self-defense is never an adequate defense for the taking of life, I do. There are times when it is necessary, or at the least, expedient. In my own life, I will strive to find other means, whenever possible, to deal with situations, rather than resorting to physical force, or violence of any kind, whether involving guns or not. This is my choice and I believe reasonable people agree with me that the taking of human life should never be a first resort. I stand by the principle of non-aggression, to the best of my understanding of it.
I believe we were intended to have the right to own personal armaments
I think the right to self-defense is an inherent human right, that ought not be abridged. I believe that the American Constitution speaks to this and prohibits congress from passing laws to prevent the keeping of arms and that the states have a responsibility to ensure this right is protected as well.
That being said, there are things that I do not agree with
1.       Many, primarily on the political right, seem to take this as a right that should be paraded and taken for granted. I do not think that it should be taken lightly, or made a joke. I think the ability to take human life represented by gun ownership should be taken seriously. I think it is a heavy responsibility that requires thought and careful consideration for each person.
2.       Many, primarily on the political left, seem to think that a gun, in and of itself, represents the worst kind of evil to be found in human society. They act as if the mere presence of the weapon puts them at great personal risk. They have an unhealthy fear that mirrors the lack of respect often shown from the right, in opposite terms.
3.       There is a context expressed in the constitution, and even during the revolution, weapons for militia use were often restricted and kept in an armory. It was common for towns to have rules regarding the use and carrying of guns. Several western towns, Dodge City Kansas, most notably, were famous for “check your guns at the door” laws that prevented the open carrying of firearms to reduce public friction. To pretend that everyone was willy nilly in favor of personal arsenals being toted through the grocery store in times gone by is incorrect.
4.       I personally do not trust the federal government to make decisions about who should and should not be armed. I think they very likely have ulterior motives for restricting the purchase, ownership and use of arms. They have proven, on regular occasions to not have the best interest of their citizens at heart, and to not be good judges of character, or even men and women of high moral character themselves.
5.       Violence begets violence and approaching this as something to be shoved in anyone’s face on either side is a less than thoughtful approach which is likely to end poorly for all of us. Gun owners should be the first to admit that a firearm is a weighty responsibility and that there is a lot of inherent risk in the handling of them. That being said, gun control supporters should probably take the time to become more familiar with the thing they claim to fight against. They can be handled responsibly and when used correctly are a tremendous deterrent to violence, or the escalation of violence.
6.       Any time one side of argument (the fed and our local and state police forces) wants to increase its own armament, while reducing the armament of those that they might be called to use their armament against, it should give us pause. In recent years, we have started a very public debate about police violence, which appears to be escalating. While I would hate to see it escalated further, at the time when a potential enemy is arming themselves, is not the time to reduce your own defenses.
7.       We cannot continue to ignore the fact that the constitution’s power has been eroded. Now, I am not one who thinks that this document provides a magic barrier to protect all liberties. It does not. It is simply an agreement, signed by men who are long dead and gone. It has served us well in many ways and failed us in others. It is not perfect. But, it is the foundation of our legal and political systems. It has stood as the final arbiter of disputes between government and people for over 200 years and as such, it needs to be respected and used properly. If we want our society to look different than it does, or has, that can be done, and done legitimately, but it needs to be done calmly, by cool heads. Simply piling unconstitutional laws and precedents on top of things, until the truth is obfuscated is not the answer, for either side.
I do not know the answer
I, like all of you, want myself, my family and my friends to live safely in a world where violence is rare. I would love to never open my browser to find that the world has been tipped on its axis by someone with guns again, especially when children are involved.
If I believed that ridding the world of guns could achieve this, I would be the first to support it. I am no fan of violence and I abhor much of what my government does in my name, for my supposed safety. If I thought we could rid the world of all weapons tomorrow that would be glorious. I don’t.
Even if it were possible to remove all of the guns from the world, I don’t think legislation could ever make it happen.
We have a serious lack of understanding regarding the nature of laws
Laws are not barriers to behavior, at all. They can serve to deter those inclined to heed them. They are better than allowing despots total control with no standard. They provide some basis of understanding between people of reason that want to live in peace. In our country, they are also supposed to provide some barriers between government regulation and the liberty of the people. As my Grandfather once told me, “Locks just keep honest people honest.” In other words, those inclined to harm, or defraud others will do so, regardless of the law.
No law provides a shield from harm. It can provide for security measures, one of which is self-defense through use of arms. It can provide a system for determining guilt or innocence and a framework for punishing those that choose to transgress them. But a law can never prevent an act, or make the repercussions of that act disappear, and they only have the force we give them by our adherence to them.
As we move into a more and more regulated society, we move away from the liberty provided to original Americans. As each piece of our personal freedom is eroded, it is added to the growing power of a state that becomes more and more distant from its people. In this setting, when so many laws are present, all of our laws lose efficacy by the simple fact that they cannot all be enforced equally all of the time.
We should be careful of reducing each other’s freedoms
With every restriction we place on another human life, we restrict ourselves in that same measure and give just a bit more of autonomy to the state. Even when we seek to do something good, such as slowing or ending violence (something I think everyone agrees is a good thing) we can have unintended consequences.
Even something as simple as jailing even one single person places a restriction on at least one other, who must now spend their time enforcing that incarceration and is not available to contribute in our community in the same way they might have if the law were never transgressed. As we make choices about what restrictions we are willing to accept and which are too onerous, we should be careful in our responses to each other.
With every instance of anger over taking our better selves and producing rage, we reinforce habits that all of us can recognize as harmful, until our nature changes to one of hate and distrust for those we disagree with. This can happen even when our motives are pure. By escalating every conversation to the point of conflict, we create a culture of distrust and hatred, of intolerance and cruelty that leads us to not just disagree, but to genuinely not care about anyone else’s point of view.
We are at a tipping point in our history
It is up to us what happens next. None of what we have done is irreconcilable, but that may not always be the case. If you read accounts of what led up to the revolution, or the civil war, it is easy to draw parallels to the years prior to military violence erupting and today. Tensions are high. History shows that one conflict can lead to the unleashing of emotions that cannot be “put back in the bottle” so to speak.
As for me, I can be just an inflammatory as the next guy. I try to aim it at people who primarily agree with me, to show them when they are not taking another’s point of view seriously. But, I am just as guilty of adding fuel to the fire as anyone. In recent days, I have begun to rethink that. I am trying to find ways to challenge lack of understanding while promoting peaceful exchange.
In most cases, we are not that far apart from each other in our understanding of what we ultimately want. We want a world where success is possible, where personal freedom is protected, where life is valued and selfish, abusive excess is rare. This can never happen as long as we see ourselves as two sides of a coin, as diametrically opposed to each other.
We need to look at desired outcomes
Rather than fighting and debating tactics, perhaps if we really started telling the story of the world we want to see, we might be surprised by how much we agree on. Right now, we operate in a very narrow window of possibilities, where oppositional thinking pits us against each other. (if you don’t agree with me, you must agree with them) But, in reality, the ways forward are limitless.
Imagine the world the way you want it to be and try letting go of the way to get there. It’s tough. We all think we know what should happen. But, if we can strive to create the circumstances we want to live in, while allowing others to create theirs, maybe we can find a new way of settling our disagreements. By sharing our dream of the world we want, and finding those common threads, maybe we can all find some ways to work together.
Let’s agree to do this
Let’s try to be kind. Everyone has a hard life. Let’s strive not to escalate conflict, whenever possible. Let’s fight for what we believe in with well-reasoned arguments and proposals of real solutions, instead of political diatribes and platitudes. Let’s think for ourselves and speak from the heart about how we can make the world a better place and let’s agree to listen and really hear someone out, then decide whether we agree or not, rather than bring all of our preconceptions into every single argument. You can always get angry later, but once you have lost your cool, it is often too late to go back.