Thursday, October 8, 2015

Celebration Guns.


This morning's papers, ink stains my fingers
My hands grow darker everyday

Stars - Celebration Guns

Within this podcast, author, neuroscientist Sam Harris goes into great detail about the current state of firearms in the US. I highly encourage you to listen to it in its entirety. I'll go through some of the points of interest in the podcast however I'm not comfortable saying that I completely understood Sam's position on the matter due to conflicting statements so keep that in mind. I highly suggest you listen to the podcast and read the article in question to make your own assessment. I will however give you my take on the matter.

My position on firearms takes a drastic turn into an authoritarian position in stead of a libertarian one.  I do this without hesitation. It's an instrument that can turn anyone with a limited capacity into a threat that can maim or kill to a degree that eclipses any other conventional weapon. In a situation where one has the element of surprise, gun beats everything. The amount of time it takes for an individual to telegraph the fact that they have a gun, prep it and point it at you, is minuscule. To someone who is trained in firearms, fractional. These are things that simply shouldn't be in the hands of the public. Empirical data supports this. Canada is also seeing firearms finding their way into its neighbourhood increasing gun related incidents and shattering the lives of families. It needs to stop. Admittedly fulfilling some fantasy of owning something idiotically dangerous is something that's difficult for me to understand. Yes, I have a bias but this is why debating these matters is important, as one might find a hidden truth and be better equipped to solve the problem.

One of the points is that there are 300 million firearms to remove from the environment compared to other nations like the United Kingdom which has taken a very strict stance on gun legislation. Sam also mentioned that there are some individuals who might go as far as to cause a civil war over having their firearms taken away. Now keep in mind, Sam also said that you'd be hard pressed to find a liberal that would adopt a more anti-gun policy than he would. But this is a problem that you'd have whether you ban certain weapons or require strict registration. This is why I was a little confused with Sam's position.

For me personally, I'd be aiming for UK and Japan levels of gun control. Ideally, I'd want them gone. On the note of removing certain firearms from circulation, I don't find this to be an untenable goal. For one, we wouldn't be busting into people's homes and demanding their firearms. This isn't like ripping a band aid off. You start with assault riffles and most importantly, the ammunition that goes with it. At the same time you implement a gun registration program for certain weapon types and gradually move towards a model that works. This is not difficult, it's just something that will take some time and effort on everybody's part. The gradual adoption of gun legislation and limiting munitions would lead to less potential for civilian uprising and allow law enforcement to eliminate, albeit slowly, weapons that simply have no rhyme or reason being in a civilian's hands.

An argument that comes up is that of self defence which is where we get into the territory of people looking to live out a heroic fantasy. Anyone who's not a sociopath and has loved ones living under the same roof is looking to protect those people. Statistically speaking however, the amount of times a firearms is used in a defensive capacity is extremely rare. Now I'm not saying that in this climate you shouldn't even bother with a firearm. You definitely should in the extremely rare case that you're one of the 67k people per year who found having a firearm in a defensive scenario to be quite useful. What I am saying however is your chances of getting into one of these altercations in the US, not to mention coming out on top, is extremely remote even with the 300 million guns on the ground and the unprecedented rate of firearm related incidents. The reason is that anyone who wishes to do you harm with a firearm not only has the element of surprise but the enhanced effectiveness that comes with having access to a firearm in the first place. It's a self defeating argument. If a perpetrator wishes you harm and you have a gun, chances are he will too. Responsible gun ownership is also something that's on every parent's mind when looking at stories like this, thus increasing the chances that you're going to be caught without the very weapon you're looking to use in self defence. This is why this reason shouldn't be used against progressive gun control nor should you get your hopes up that you might get to play hero.

Another point that comes up is the fact that, according to a pew poll, gun ownership seems to go up in rural areas, however the areas of incident are more focused on urban environments. I'd be real interested to see how the study was performed considering the relative ease of obtaining a firearm in the US. And is this really something you'd disclose to a stranger if you happened to be of a criminal mind or sceptical of the individual saying he's there or phoning you for a survey? Scepticism aside, this is only conjecture on my part. Ultimately this doesn't dismiss worldwide statistics and merely shows a discrepancy when it comes the US.

In regards to Sam's comment on mass shootings, I'm a little annoyed when people state that this is merely a blip in regards to the grand total of gun related violence statistics. In no way should this be routine. It's something that's happening on an almost daily basis. Sure the type of weapon varies case by case but in no way does this excuse the fact that guns are the reason people are dead. We can argue about statistics but this is unproductive. It's also thoroughly confusing that someone would consider this a relevant fact if they're on board the gun regulation train. The presentation of these facts are being laid out in such a configuration that they're contradicting the premise. This is likely where I and others are left a little confused and that the preamble, in my case, didn't clarify.

Here's an example of a contradiction where Sam references an example of a stabbing incident in China stating that mass killings don't necessarily require guns. Now he doesn't deny the lethality of a gun vs a knife however he does say something conflicting: "...the only reliable way for one person to stop a man with a knife is to shoot him." Just earlier in the podcast, Sam went over the societal changes that happened after 9/11 stating that if one is stuck in a plane, and someone becomes an immediate threat, our approach has significantly changed. We're no longer going to err on the side of caution. We're going to do whatever it takes to subdue this person due to our isolation and the likelihood of our deaths. He then mentions that perhaps training in school environments would help people get in the habit of swarming a would be attacker to improve the chances of survival for the whole. I wholeheartedly agree. Now imagine just how much more effective that would be if all you had to do is deal with a knife in stead of a gun. Seems like a reliable way to deal with a knife to me. Children, regardless of their stature, have been able to do somewhat impressive things by sheer numbers. I'm not sure what stabbings in China have to do with gun violence in the US though. If the argument is that introducing a gun would solve that problem, well, that would increase the chances of the perpetrator having one as well. The homicide rates alone are incomparable.

Then Sam argues that firearms don't have a shelf life and therefore getting rid of them is problematic. Luckily ammunition has a shelf life of about a decade when properly stored and comes in a limited quantity, which is why it's a non sequitur. Want to purchase more ammunition? Make it non-existent or require a gun license.

"Well, I like to hunt stuff". This is where my ideal "no guns" scenario hits a bit of a snag. We're self sufficient enough as a species that no one needs to run around and shoot animals for food. Technically. In Canada, certain places like Nunavut, are facing a terrible crises. Due to their isolated nature, food prices are simply ludicrous. Also, prices in general are fairly expensive these days. I can't in good conscience deny someone the ability to get food nor to preserve the techniques of survival that go with that endeavour. I also don't expect people to go out there and become flipping Legolas after tracking an animal with a rumbling in the stomach. This is where I'll have to concede that point. Also, meat is delicious.

Sam continues at length in his article. My concerns would only be repeated over some of the points he makes within the well written piece I have to once again remind you to read. As much as I don't like guns and consider them to be a coward's choice of weaponry for the insecure, they are part of the reality of our day to day lives. A flat out ban isn't going to work. Due to my own observations and the points that I mentioned, regardless of the fact that I disagree with Sam on a few points, I can't honestly say that a full ban is rational or even attainable.

I also can't say with certainty that gun violence is entirely related to the fact that 300 million guns are in circulation. The current war on drugs goes hand-in-hand with gun violence. Currently the United States has the highest prison population of the entire world. It's a billion dollar a year industry. We've essentially created a perfect storm where the only result is going to be shattered lives across the board. Ultimately I was already on board in relation to stricter gun laws but by no means do I think this will fix the problem with gun violence, even in the long run. We need to examine the environment and motives for this as well.

Although my positions certainly differ from Sam's on this matter, I believe we both agree that something needs to be done. Hopefully what I've written will go towards ironing out the kinks and providing a new idea for the problem that's past due for a solution.

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