Column, 617 words

Banning Assault Weapons Makes More Sense than Arming Teachers

Donald Kaul

They’ve been holding hearings on gun control up on Capitol Hill in Washington. It’s always an inspiring spectacle.

There are few things as bracing as watching terrified lawmakers duck behind the Second Amendment while they justify their lack of significant response to the latest mass murder committed by a lunatic with an assault rifle. They’d love to do something about it, you see, but the Constitution won’t let them.

As a matter of fact, pretty much all the arguments that gun advocates advance for virtually unlimited access to guns are pathetic.

The primary reason cited in the avalanche of mail I received on the subject recently is self-defense. Apparently, it’s a dangerous world out there and only a fool walks in it without protection.

I can see the attractiveness of that argument. But it essentially skirts the most important gun control issue: restricting access to “assault weapons.” Military-style guns aren’t good for much except killing a lot of people quickly.

They’re too unwieldy to be a practical self-defense tool. And do you really want large numbers of people walking into schools, supermarkets, and banks with what amount to machine guns slung over their shoulders?

assault-weapons-ban-nra-newtown

smays/Flickr

As for warding off home invasions, you can do as well with a shotgun or handgun. And a ban on either of those kinds of weapons isn’t on the table.

Then there’s the matter of accessories like high-capacity magazines and silencers, which the NRA seeks to shelter from control. What has that got to do with self-defense against a home intruder?

But self-defense is not the only justification for the Second Amendment, my correspondents informed me. The Framers intended to arm the people against their government, in case it turned tyrannical, they said.

Well, the Constitution was written 226 years ago after the Revolutionary War. It’s easy to imagine citizens of the time feeling a need to protect themselves against oppression.

But today it’s an unrealistic and paranoid view — and I must report that a lot of the people who write me on the subject seem very paranoid. Really, if what you need weapons for is to fight the government, semi-automatic weapons don’t cut it. You need fully-automatic machine guns, rocket launchers, landmines, helicopters, and drones. Is that what the Founders had in mind? Get serious.

Besides, the best defense against tyranny is robust democracy.

The NRA does have some ideas to prevent the next Newtown — bad ones. It wants to put an armed guard in every school in the country, an idea so impractical as to be risible.

It would cost a damn fortune, for one thing. How would we pay for it? Gutting art and music programs? And who would these guards be? Off-duty policemen? We don’t have enough cops to go around now. Minimum wage rent-a-cops? Right. That’s whom you want walking around your school locked and loaded.

Some would arm the teaching staff. That just seems loony to me. Do you want your kid’s science teacher pretending he’s Dirty Harry? I didn’t think so.

Others seized upon the idea of better screening for mental health problems that might lead to violence.

Now that’s an idea that has some promise. All people who buy or own weapons should be required to pass a psychological exam before they get society’s permission to go around packing heat.

There’s the question of whether an assault weapons ban would make much difference and, sad to say, I can’t guarantee it would. There are too many weapons already out there to think shutting off the spigot will do the trick.

Still, it would be nice to at least try something, to show we care.

If we care.

OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Warning: This column may contain satire. OtherWords.org

  • jan

    Thank you.

  • talferris

    Jefferson et al made those observations that I won’t paraphrase at length concerning oppressive government as a “last resort.” Of course, you already know that but didn’t say it because it doesn’t convey the message you wish to send. During the Revolutionary war, a rag tag band of conscripted Militia took on one of the best equipped and most well-disciplined Armies in the world and won. It also seems that elsewhere in the world where we find ourselves today in numerous police actions, wars on terror, and otherwise incipient clashes, we confront less technologically advanced and ill equipped insurgents and find ourselves in a continual struggle for battlefield supremacy with those rag tag bands of indigenous combatants.

    I question why in your vision of Utopia, there is only rational solution and anything less is folly. And of course, since the actions taken did not comport to the extremes you advocate, there will not be success and that will be attributed to the lack of instituting all the provisions.

    You seem to overlook that across the history of this nation, we’ve fought a score of major wars and countless minor ones. Then conveniently overlooked the fact that when the word of law becomes merely words on paper without anyone willing to stand and give those words substance and meaning, what happens to your vision then? History tells us that we are not the first assemblage of people to give Democracy a try after having fought for that right to do so. In the history of
    man occupying this earth, our nation is historically but a blip on the radar and yet the things that cause governments to fall, anarchy, decay, apathy, and collapse are unknown to us, or if known, non-existent?

    You sir, like so many others, vilify the implement and ignore the user. The firearm, the knife, and the sword and lance before them, are but mere extensions of the person who wields them. No, you won’t curb violence through bans because you fail to account for the one thing that makes them all work; the person. Then you go on to detract from solutions proffered because they are too expensive or there is a lack of manpower. Will they work? I have no idea, but you were able to identify most reasons why they won’t, how about why they might.

    If you want to control access to these kinds of weapons through special permitting, I can go along with that since that would be akin to regulation. Bans and prohibitions are not. Background checks, a mental illness database, enhanced security, demonstrates a multi-faceted approach. But that isn’t wanted because you can’t point to one thing and pronounce its failure or success. The number of independent variables makes it almost impossible to control for what influenced the outcome with all of those changes at once.

    I believe in the Constitution as the foundational basis upon which this Nation exists. I believe that one amendment, changed with regard to strict analysis and meaning becomes a pathway by which to substantively alter the others by legal precedent. I have little doubt this will be met with all the contempt that can be mustered for one holding my point of view. Now I’ll tell the best part; I’m neither a
    Republican, Tea Partier, Libertarian, Anarchist, member of the NRA, or anything
    else radical or extreme, left or right.

    • jan

      You don’t need an assault weapon because we haven’t fought a war within the borders of this country since the Civil War and in this country everyone has an opportunity to take advantage of a quaint little tradition we call “the vote” on a regular basis.

      Background checks and a mental illness database are inadequate by themselves, in part because the NRA has consistently fought, unfunded, or watered down everything that has been attempted.

      • talferris

        Why, thank you! My life will be more complete now that I know what I don’t need. Oh that’s right, it’s a free country and I get to buy what I want, with the money I earned, so long as it’s legal. Or have I been misinformed and it’s not a free country? Or is freedom and free will simply something else I don’t need?
        No, we haven’t fought a war within the borders of this country since the Civil War, nor suffered a foreign invader since The War of 1812. Why do you think that might be? And in all of those years, we’ve had no standing Army or military of any consequence remain in a time of peace until the end of World War II and the Cold War began.
        I guess I need to shine my crystal ball up. You’ve obviously got yours tuned up and dialed in to know that the only thing that will work is a ban. But even the folks advocating this ban say that it won’t stop the attacks. Having just said that, I guess you’ll decide I don’t need a computer or internet access either.

        • JaylahP

          “Why do you think that might be?”

          Well, it certainly wasn’t because folks like you were out there hiding behind trees all night with your AK-47s.

          • talferris

            “folks like me”.

            Interesting conclusion. Show me where I’ve written that I’ve advocated or stand as a proponent for “hiding behind trees all night” with an AK? I challenge a narrow and vitrolic rhetoric, nothing that you yourself wouldn’t likewise do if you disagreed with a point, policy, or piece of legislation. I can’t even ask for a link to read for myself the “research” upon which it is alleged the 2nd Amendment was drafted without it being voted down. That is telling to the veracity and the empirical basis of the research.

            So in that context, who is it that is narrow, unenlightened, and dogmatic? You illustrate, with great clarity, one of the ills of society today; being intolerent of opposing views, choosing instead to ridicule, berate, and label. The same tactic you would no doubt scream ‘foul’ and lament over were it used on you. The same tactic used by the fringes on both sides.

            You want to spark a debate, instead you choose to lecture. I can either accept the premise in totality or I’m trivialized. You want people to think; insofar as they think the same thoughts as you.

            Thank you, no. I’ll think for myself and form my own opinions.

          • jan

            In answer to your above demand for a source located somewhere in the middle of your own lecture;

            The Hidden History of the Second Amendment
            http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1465114

            and

            http://law.rwu.edu/carl-t-bogus
            “Professor Bogus has testified before Congress and spoken about these topics across the country. In addition to books and law reviews, his writings appear in opinion journals and newspapers, including The Nation, American Prospect, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Washington Times, and the Providence Journal.”

            He’s clearly not a lightweight. If you don’t like what he has to say I suggest you go argue with him.

            One other comment. When people start talking about making the government fear them I start wondering why they need or want to make the government fear them and their weapons. That is a direct contradiction possibly even an implied threat to our way of governing peacefully through elections rather than through fear and intimidation of political opponents.

          • talferris

            Thank you for the links. I’m about halfway through the law review article, so I’ll withhold comment until I’ve finished. It is, however, interesting thus far, particularly the footnotes.

            For the record, with regard to your final comment. I have no problem whatsoever with representative democracy. I vote in every election. It might even interest you that I voted for the President…twice. Something not readily admitted by my friends and acquaintances. The fear however, as I understand the twisted logic from which it foments itself, is not to make the government fearful, but the opposite; a fear of the government. Is it a well grounded fear? Not to me, but for them, in a maniacal sense, it is. They hold the ‘truths’ of “Atlas Shrugged” and “1984″ as being self evident, drawing similarities between those works of fiction with real world occurrence. I don’t believe it however.

          • jan

            I’m sorry but I get sort of touchy on the shoot at our own government/anarchy thing. I grew up in and moved from a state which has only a few groups listed on SPLC to a state that has quite a few and there have been a couple of incidents not that far from home so to speak.

          • talferris

            Not at all. I spent almost 30 years working in government. People seem to revel in the prospect in taking aim at you. Fortunately most of that is only figurative in nature and not literal.

            But to your statement, those groups have grown exponentially since 2008. Every time a media outlet smears the landscape with their sensationalist headlines, it jacks up the paranoia level of those that are already tettering on the brink. Every time a new law or bill lands on the floors of Congress or the front page that seeks to limit, restrict, or take away, their ranks grow. Then you look at the USA Patriot Act and the recently enacted National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The first allows for actually going around the protections of the 4th Amendment and the latter effectively sets aside Habeas Corpus. There are guidelines for both to be applied, but those never enter the discussion, only the sensationalist part.

            Naturally it is a matter of perception, and I completely and fully understand the premise behind the topic at the forefront of this comment section; both the rational and the irrational aspects. But I understand too that in perspective, no other Amendment to the Constitution has endured such a relentless onslaught. No other amendment has so many organizations dedicated to it’s support and demise. Which is something that Professor Bogus eluded to in his opening remarks.

            I can’t or even attempt to rationalize or justify the existence of these groups. But when you factor all of those things together, they begin to make sense to a vast segment of people that don’t have the historical education or interest to learn all of what they are being told instead of relying on a 30 second sound byte or a few hundred words in a jaded column. Unfortunately, that seems to bespeak of supporters on opposite ends of any issue.

          • talferris

            He makes a good argument as one of the leaders of the collective right movement. As a legal scholar, one would expect as much. But he fails on this point. Why, if the inclusive impetus of the 2nd Amendment was precisely as he posits, did it survive intact from 1865 onward? It existed to the end he says it existed for only 89 years. Why was it not dispensed or de-regulated along with the adoption of the 13th and 14th Amendments and the reaffirmation of the Union subsequent to the Civil War? The necessity for it’s perpetuation was gone, under his theory.

  • Wayne from Sheboygan

    OT: The assault weapon gets all the media attention but the handgun accounts for most of the mischief. (Although your average yokel needs an assault weapon like he needs a second rear-end, euphemistically speaking.) For the two-thirds of us representing the non-gun owning populace, we’ve been focused on bigger issues (climate change in my case). The hard core gun crowd probably consists of predominately single issue voters. The gun thing has been an annoyance, and yes, we’re really stupid compared to the other first world countries. If they would leave their toys at home (where they only menace their own family members) I think the rest of us could live with that. Instead, we get our noses rubbed in it via massacres like Sandy Hook and Columbine. So, just maybe, all this gun violence has finally got our full and undivided attention. And, if that tipping point has been reached, I suspect there’s enough previously untapped money and political clout out there to squash the NRA like a bug.

    • Americaall

      oh my, bet you let your kids play video games,,,really stupid in many ways,, England was a powerful nation at one time, they wouldn’t let their populace have weapons, China controls it’s populace because it’s a crime to own weapons,,,Hey stupid, it’s not the guns that kill, nor is it the cars that kill, nope it’s the idiot behind the wheel or the trigger,,, get rid of drunk drivers and/or texting drivers and I’ll give up my 15 round clip

  • Dennis

    Don, you radical, you! I came across some research recently about the 2nd amendment. Seems it was to satisfy slave colonies because they had these “militias” to chase down runaway slaves. Compromise for short term and long term fantasy argument about what our founding fathers had to give up to appease slave colonies.

    • talferris

      This is the second time on this website I’ve seen reference made to such research, so if I could make a small request, I’d like to see it. If it’s the Hartmann article, based on the Bogus article, that relies almost entirely on Aptheker (1949), I’ll pass. But if it is genuine scholarly work, I’d be interested in reading it.

    • Americaall

      hahahaha, everywhere I go,, racism comes into play, no you fool, it was armed citizens that stole this country from the British,,

  • TomRyann

    Mr. Kaul, you wrote:
    “There are few things as bracing as watching terrified lawmakers duck behind the Second Amendment while they justify their lack of significant response to the latest mass murder committed by a lunatic with an assault rifle. They’d love to do something about it, you see, but the Constitution won’t let them.

    As a matter of fact, pretty much all the arguments that gun advocates advance for virtually unlimited access to guns are pathetic.”

    What might surprise a lot people, on both sides of the gun control issue, is that none other than Justice Antonin Scalia agrees with you.

    “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms. [United States v.] Miller’s holding that the sorts of weapons protected are those “in common use at the time” finds support in the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.”
    Antonin Scalia

    That final line by Justice Scalia, by the way, suggests that anyone who wants to own a flintlock musket will find his right to do so protected by the Second Amendment. I could live with that.

  • Joseph C. Sciarillo

    Donald,

    I read your piece Banning Assault Weapons makes More Sense . . . You cannot argue with many gun advocates because they are not rational. One writer to my local newspaper raised the self- defense argument. He claims he carries a weapon because our community is so dangerous. Our community is two small towns in different states separated by a river. By any measure, we are typical small town America. This man sees it as a dangerous place. He points out the dangers in our park – a place I have visited many times – day and night, because I like to walk. He also points out the bridge that joins the towns where unsavory characters congregate . (These are age 60 plus, motor cycle enthusiasts who might do a little weed but who all held responsible jobs right up to retirement. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be riding those expensive Harleys. I know these people because they are my age and I ride my bicycle past them several times a week in summer.) As for the gun advocate, he sees what he wants to see to prove to himself that he needs to carry a weapon. I have walked or bicycled in this town for forty years and never once felt threatened.

  • Royboy

    Mr. Kabul is not very bright on cause and effect. A rifle that looks scary is less dangerous then a well loaded shotgun. I have all types of weapons, in fact, people all over this country own stuff up to tanks and cannons. So, be real, enough on punishing types of guns. Stop cars, flat screen TV, child molesters etc…. First, before you start busting my balls about guns.

    • Americaall

      amen,,, stop selling alcohol, it kills kids also, stop selling cigarettes, they kill kids also, stop abortions, they kill kids also,, scr ew all you anti gun folks with lies about “protecting the kids”,,,

  • James Keeler

    Dear Mr. Kaul: I grew up reading and enjoying your columns in the Des Moines Register. This is the letter that I sent to my senators. I thought I would share it with you to provide another perspective. James Keeler

    Open letter to Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, February 24, 2013

    Dear Senators:

    While I am supportive of the President’s economic agenda, I am very disturbed by the propaganda war on our Bill of Rights, Amendment Number Two.

    Gun Control is continually framed as a safety issue, as though keeping guns out of peoples’ possession will make us all safer. The tragedies of recent school shootings give seemingly ample support for this line of thought; yet, we lose at least ten times as many children to drowning in public swimming pools as we do in school shootings.

    The media propagates the country’s attention on these singular horrific incidents without focusing on larger, acculturated conditions. For instance, there are countless lives lost here in America, and evils committed around the world, to maintain our motor vehicle and oil-dependent lifestyles.

    I am increasingly concerned that the Second Amendment’s point and the purpose of are so rarely debated. The historical antecedents that led to its creation, and its role in our own history since its founding, remain unexamined in the public debate. The number of lives saved, or incidents of violence averted, simply by the known presence of a firearm, are rarely brought to light; and if reported on at all, rarely with the same zeal as firearm misuses.

    Still, the main function of the Second Amendment was, and is, to infringe on the complacency of our nations rulers. From Shay’s Insurrection to Blair Mountain to the civil rights struggles of the 60′s, people such as Malcolm X and others forced the lazy, the greedy, and the uncaring to listen, and the public to hear, the needs of the people.

    The debate on arms, and in whose possession the power of them belongs, needs to become part of the current debate.

    Perhaps our leaders will, from now on remain benevolent and selfless enough, that the people will never again have to resort to an extreme just to be heard. But as Jefferson noted at the time of Shay’s Rebellion, “What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms.” “…the remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them.”

    The history of Republics has consistently demonstrated that it is the power of revolution, in the hands of the people that is the best deterrent to the need for revolution.

    If it is time to repeal this Amendment, listed second by those who wrote the other ten, please, do not allow its incremental death, or the death of any of the Bills of Rights. For if a foundational right can be slowly suffocated or infringed to death, what safety can there be for any right, “settled law” or not.

    Respectfully,
    James S. Keeler

  • Fu

    Nice AR 15! People now own more because of you idiots haha

    • Americaall

      Obee was selected as salesman of the year (oops I used the word man,, should have used person), by a gun manufacturer

  • Americaall

    The simple truth is I don’t trust the idiots that run our country, nor the fools that support them. Give an inch on any subject and the expand, expand, expand, playing on tragedies to further their goals. Take seat belt laws, we were told “oh we won’t stop a vehicle just because the driver isn’t wearing seat belts”,, uh, uh, now it’s a $200 fine. Sure, I agree, I don’t need a 30 round clip, and an assault, rifle? by definition my 22 semi automatic (must pull the trigger for each shot) is an assault rifle. Many of the rifles and pistols made today are semi automatic, with the group of fools we have most would be banned.. Why not cars? I believe more people are killed by cars than guns, more kids,,maimed or handicapped for life,,how about boooze,, it destroys more lives than citizens with guns,, Today my guns, tomorrow your liberty,,, and don’t try to white wash the truth,, THEY want to ban all privately owned weapons.