(Disclosure: the Beast is back, in somewhat moderate form, but my Special K snack is messing with my concentration. Bear with me.)
My starting principle is that, 49 years ago, nobody thought the Surgeon General, with lukewarm support from the White House and Congress, could wage war on the tobacco companies and win. With that example in mind, I refuse to believe in letting the corporations who pull the NRA's strings will always win.
The fear factor being what it is, I believe that those of a progressive mindset need to make the first moves. A little honesty will remind us that not all the extremists are on the far right. One step, then, is kindly to ask the most extreme people left of centre to STFU until a rational dialogue can begin. The objective here will be a compromise that they detest as much as their right-wing counterparts do. All good compromises are like that.
For example, I do think a licencing/registration plan is necessary. I suggest it has to be accessible and offer benefits as well as penalties to every social level. The proposals I've heard so far appear to be deliberately burdensome and unhelpful. If proposals like this smack of confiscatory policies to someone who favours gun control, how much more so will they to the other side? Back off.
@ Mass Marrier: I haven't heard or read any arguments drawing analogies with auto registration, nor have I advanced them. On the face of it, I should think there is something to learn there, unless the purpose of registration is punishing the innocent. Why, pray, is there not? Incidentally, if we're going to get anywhere creating a centre interested in solving the problem, we have to take a pass on pejorative adjectives. If the analogy is false, it is not lame
, it simply appears to lack evidence. (To live up to my own standard, I just took a very nice pejorative adjective out of the next paragraph.)
I think the journalistic gambit of publishing names of law-abiding firearms owners is as useful as it would be to publish the names of all smokers in the same jurisdiction. Both sides seem to agree that theft of firearms owned by the innocent is a significant source of firearms used in crime. There is a moment in this sort of reporting when it crosses the line between advocacy for a position and accessory before the fact. It's been crossed when a newspaper provides a road map for gun theives.
Job One in gun control is to defuse the fears of a significant portion of gun owners that any form of control will end with Them
"taking our guns away." Advocates of gun control must take any personal fillips that they conflate with the job and bury them far, far away. Only by doing that, one by one if necessary, can one hope to cut the legs out from under the fear-mongering. That is why it is not useful to have any extreme left positions colouring the debate.
Job Two is to get the most dangerous firearms out of the hands of the most dangerous people. Defining those people may be an exceptionally difficult task.
Gen. Mc Chrystal has said that he sees no reason for civilians to have and use firearms as dangerous as assault weapons. There are 80-year-old laws prohibiting certain types of weapons dangerous then. The precedent exists; let supporters of gun ownership either recognise that the present statutes need to be modernised, or present a cogent argument (at low decibel levels) why civilians need these weapons.
One suspects the reason, in some circles, isn't rational. It's the argument that arms the self-appointed militias in many rural areas. They are naive enough to think their M-16s would protect them against tanks and rocket-armed drones in the event that they pull off their fantasy revolution. I suggest that the availability of assault weapons just feeds the angry white guy delusions.
The question of mental illness and gun control strikes close to home for me. First, let's be very careful about plastering labels on people. I would rather my neighbour with a rifle be bipolar under successful treatment than a rabid racist outside the mental health system preparing for some kind of Commie takeover, but perfectly normal in the eyes of the world. As things now stand, the reward of the recovered or stable mentally ill person will be a scarlet letter to wear lifelong, which will include never laying hands on a firearm of any kind. The racist, depending on where he lives, can keep on amassing an arsenal that would equip a rifle battalion and keep it in the field for a year. Punitive gun control's answer is delusional: let no one have firearms. Yeah, how did that work for the country when we tried it with alcohol? Even reasonable approaches right now are clouded by the examples of Aurora and Newtown. It's so much easier to keep victimising mentally ill people, isn't it? Controls that would recognise innocent intent, and filter every sort of malicious intent, are far harder to accomplish. They are also essential, or the whole idea is a waste of time.
Personal experience and recent examples teaches me that psychiatry has a very poor record determining who among its patients may be a danger to themselves or others. When psychiatrists do succeed in this, either the clinicians are too timid in presenting their conclusions to authority, or the authorities are too stupid to listen. It isn't that psychiatrists are necessarily cowards: they are hamstrung by increasingly absurd rules from their own profession that limit the sharing of information. Those rules in turn are driven by the stubborn refusal of the rest of the world to understand that these are illnesses; that they can be treated, controlled and sometimes cured. The profession knows that the mentally ill label stays with the patient forever, but what price confidentiality?
Another favourite position of both extremes has to go, and that is attitudes toward knowledge or ignorance of firearms. To the extreme Second Amendment advocates, those who oppose them must also know nothing about firearms. In many cases this is true, and I'll be there in a moment. They have no really good argument to present against current and former gun owners, who also support the Second Amendment, but who think that enough is enough and want reasonable controls.
Well, then, how are such people going to be welcomed by extreme anti-gun advocates? Not well, if my past experience is any guide. There is no other place in the rubric of progressive thought in which ignorance of a topic (firearms) is not only welcome but raised to the level of a virtue. The corollary is that knowledge of this topic is a vice in itself, and indicative of evil, even homicidal intent. That is intellectual weakness, and a luxury that has to go. Any successful effort at gun control needs to welcome everyone prepared to support it, and especially welcome those who understand the mechanics of what one seeks.
During my absence, forced by a war of Linux, v. Blogger, I note that a number of other people have come to these conclusions. This is one of those times when a growing a vocal centre may be the moving force for change. Let's not screw that up.
Labels: gun control, mental illness