Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The debate on guns has been changing

A decade ago, when people would ask me whether I agreed with the Democrats on every issue, I'd answer that I generally did not. The exception was 'second amendment issues.'

As a rural Democrat (though I did grow up in the city) I understand that guns are pretty fundamental to the lifestyle around here. A rancher who is way back on his ranch dealing with a sick herd animal and is confronted by a pack of wild dogs may need it (yes, folks, those 'sweet little puppies' that people leave on the side of the road-- 99% of them get hit by cars, starve or die of thirst, or become coyote food, but the other 1%, they're out there-- and you don't want to meet them without a firearm.) But beyond that, a lot of people go hunting in rural areas, and even those who do not, generally know how to use a gun. And crime, while much less here than in cities is not entirely unknown in rural areas, but the difference is that if you call 911, the nearest officer may be miles away and whatever happens will be long over before they even get anywhere close to your home. For a lot of people here, guns are so fundamental that asking them to hand over their guns would almost be like asking them to hand over their kids.

And my own view has always been, "you should be able to buy any gun you want. And other than an instant background check to make sure you aren't a criminal or a loony, there is no reason why you shouldn't be allowed to buy a firearm.“ I've opposed registration of firearms as well, believing that it's not the government's business to know how many guns you own. And truth be told, that should be the liberal view. I believe you have the right to read, say, download, smoke or do whatever you want with a consulting adult in your own bedroom, so why not the right to buy what you want, including a gun?

For that reason, ten years ago I often differed with Democrats on gun issues, opposing gun control and registration laws.

I don't disagree with Democrats now, however. No, I have not changed my position, not changed it at all. What has happened is that the debate has shifted.

Although the rhetoric machine on the right likes to call Democrats 'gun grabbers' to keep their faithul in line, the truth is that no serious attempt to ban guns was proposed either by the President or Congress during the two years that President Obama had a Democratic Congress. It just wasn't on the radar screen. Even after the Tucson shooting, while there was a half-hearted attempt to ban the 30 bullet clips that Jared Loughner used to kill six people and injure 13 in a matter of seconds, (and some including me asked why anyone would want a rapid fire 30 bullet clip, unless you are a terrible shot and can't hit anything you aim at) there was no serious attempt to restrict the type of gun or ammunition people can buy.

What we see now (mainly at the state level, and Arizona is a prime example) is a much more aggressive agenda to push guns into places where they have never been allowed in the past, and that's where I am parting ways with the right. Some bills that have been passed by the Arizona legislature in the past few years and signed into law include:

*-- a law requiring that bar owners, unless they put up a sign stating otherwise, must allow guns into bars. Obviously armed drunks wasn't a good idea so virtually every bar in the state posted the sign, but it was an unncessary expense, and more importantly the legislature tried to tell the bar owners how to run their business.

*-- ending the requirement that concealed carry owners attend a safety class, and demonstrate competence. Yeah, we can laugh at the mayhem that followed, such as the man who accidentally blew a hole in the ceiling at Wal-Mart or the or the man who accidentally partially castrated himself with his fiancee's pink pistol or the guy who shot a hole in the floor while standing in the checkout line at the supermarket or the guy who was lounging around on the couch when the gun went off but was it really such a grand idea to get rid of the safety requirement? I mean, my kids took driver's ed and they have to drive around with a learner's permit and had twelve hours of instructed driving (half at the wheel, half observing) before they are allowed to get a license. You know, because a car isn't a toy, and you might hurt yourself or someone else if you didn't know and observe the safety rules? But I guess maybe a gun is now considered a toy. At least that's apparently what this seven year old thought.

It's not the people who know what they are doing who scare me, it's the armed nincompoops.

Even worse than what was signed into law, are some of the laws that have actually passed the Arizona legislature and made it all the way to the governor's desk the past few years. And history teaches that these bills don't die if you veto them, they will just come back in a modified form (such as the guns in bars bill, which was vetoed by Janet Napolitano but later signed by Jan Brewer.)

*-- the storage locker bill. Would have required that private businesses (any private business) allow people to carry a gun openly unless they invested a lot of money to install a secure storage locker where people could store their guns while in the business. So for example a convenience store would have to install such a locker or a person could walk right up to the clerk on the graveyard shift (when many convenience stores only have one person on duty) with a gun in their hand, and at the last moment could either present it butt-first to put into the storage locker or muzzle first ("this is a hold up.") Besides the obvious gift to armed robbers, this pretty much proves that the GOP legislature thinks business owners don't know what their customers want and therefore the legislature must tell them (and THEY are the ones who complain about the 'nanny state?')

*-- the guns in schools bill. Would force schools to allow any adult to carry a gun on campus. Again, a case of 'the legislature knows best,' not the local school board who knows what would work best in their community.

*-- the guns in university classrooms bill. Would force universities to allow anyone to carry a gun into classrooms. All I have to say about that is, I've had a lot more hotheads in classes I teach at a college than I've had school shooters. One time when I was teaching in Albuquerque a hothead got really ticked off in class, threw a pencil (hard) at another student's head (luckily she ducked and he missed) and then screamed obscenities at everyone and stormed off. I’m really glad he didn’t have a gun right then. For that matter, as long as we are talking about Jared Loughner (since the Tucson shooting came up earlier in this post) he was known to be a problem at Pima Community College. But fortunately the school had a gun-free policy which he followed on campus so when he had his periodic psychotic meltdowns on campus, he was unarmed at that moment. So in other words, we have become so obsessed with school shooters (which if we quit covering them and making a sensational story when there is one they probably wouldn't happen as often) that we forget the much more common case: of someone who may be in general a law abiding citizen, but who has a short fuse and a violent temper.

*-- the bill to allow guns into other public buildings, including town council meetings, municipal and civil courts and libraries. They could be banned only if the public entity involved installed expensive metal detectors at all the entrances (at this time of strained budgets, clearly something most such public institutions can't afford, and no, the legislature did not offer to provide funding in that case.) Just what we need, right? People bringing a gun to divorce court and custody hearings. Luckily even Jan Brewer realized this bill was bad news (kind of a sad commentary when you have to depend on Jan Brewer to be the adult in the room, but that's what kind of legislature we have now.)

So no, I haven't changed my position on guns at all. I still support responsible gun ownership. I still oppose gun control or gun registration. But the debate has shifted, and I do not support trying to force guns into places where they have never been part of the picture and don't belong in it.

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