Saturday, December 22, 2012

Easy vs. Right

I don't understand why anyone wants 'the right' to bear arms.”
You have to be mentally unstable to want that 'right' anyway, by definition.”
Why does anyone even want to own a gun in the first place?”

These are all comments that I've seen regarding the right to bear arms. I've written about guns before, a little blurb in my last post, but I feel like I need to write more because it seems that there is a gradually prevailing opinion that gun owners are dangerous and unstable.
Let me start by saying that I completely understand how scary guns can be. As a child, if I was watching TV with my parents and a gun came on the screen, I would get up and leave the room. I did this well into my teenage years – I was terrified by them. I still do not own a gun, and I have never fired one or even held one. But I believe this is something I need to remedy.
See, historically, guns were a way to not only protect oneself, but also to provide food for one's family. Back in the days when people were predominantly self-sufficient, a gun and ammunition could make the difference between surviving the winter and starving – and not just for an individual, but for an entire family. Although this level of dependence on hunting for food has almost disappeared, it still exists for some families in rural areas. Are they “mentally unstable”? I don't think so. Honestly, I respect them for being able to provide for themselves without a grocery store. Not many of us can do that.
I've also read that the average city can only go a few days without the incoming transportation of food. In a situation like that, the size of one's community shrinks rapidly. People don't care about their neighbors anymore – they don't feel like they can afford to be generous, because if it's not freely available then it must be saved for their families. Or taken for their families. The balance of power without weapons is based almost entirely on physical size and strength, or some form of unarmed fighting technique, which most Americans do not have. But if a ninety-pound woman has a firearm, then a two-hundred-pound man can no longer take her food from her, unless she gives it freely. Of course, in order for it to act as an equalizer, she needs to know how to use it confidently. She must have practiced with it in times of peace, when others might consider her “mentally unstable”, so that it is available for her if/when she needs it.
Speaking historically again, we live in the safest time period ever recorded, which is why I don't really understand people who talk about how things are getting “so out of control”. Violent acts only make the news because they are so rare, in terms of percentage. Most people I know have never had a violent act committed against them, and even those that have experienced violence have lived in safety for the vast majority of their lives. Violent seem prevalent simply because there are so very many of us.
I think the thing that bothers me the most is that people don't seem to care about being self sufficient anymore. Their argument is based on fear, but this is contradictory to what they say they want. If we rely on others, i.e., the government, to meet our needs, then we are no longer able to meet our own needs. What would happen if we stepped outside the realm of government protection? What if the government collapsed, or we were invaded by another country and everything were thrown into chaos? What if the government continued to become more powerful and decided we didn't need the things it was supposed to provide? I grant that these scenarios are not likely, but they are possible. And the more we give away our rights, the more we give up our control to others, the more likely they become.
Our forefathers wanted us to be prepared to hold a revolution. They had personally experienced a government with too much control, and they wanted to prepare us to win our freedom again if need be. If they were to see us now, constantly dependent upon others to meet our most basic needs, I think they would be disgusted. They would be disgusted at not only the way we need to be taken care of, as adults, but also the way we are raising our children to do the same.
I believe that even if you choose not to own a gun, you should learn how to properly care for one. Know how to load and unload it, know how to clean it, and know how to fire it. Be able to ascertain that a gun is unloaded. And teach your children proper gun safety, too, even if you think they aren't in contact with guns, because you never know what they will discover at a friend's house. Knowing safe procedures cannot possibly cause worse damage than knowing nothing and doing it anyway.
Believe me, I get it. The guns of today are not the same as the firearms used when the second amendment was written. But when we're talking about using them as an equalizer, and being prepared to revolt if need be (however unlikely it seems right now), why would we want to place all the power in the hands of the very people we might need to defend ourselves against? The only reason I can think of is because we've chosen safety over freedom. That is not the choice I would make, for me or for my future children, and it is not the foundation on which this country was built.
Better to focus on helping people not want to hurt or kill others – because, I'll say it again, criminals don't follow the law. Antisocial behavior is the hallmark of someone who needs help, not a well-adjusted person. Therefore, rather than trying to limit the freedoms of honest, well-meaning citizens, we should be trying to help the mentally-unstable become stable. It's a lot more difficult than just taking away all the guns, but it will lead to a healthier society all the way around.
My experience with children has shown me that the easier way is rarely the right way. For example, spanking a kid might get them to comply with you in the short term, but it also leads to more violent behavior and lack of respect for authority (because fear is not the same as respect). Children who regularly experience corporal punishment tend to follow the rules only when an authority figure is present, or, in more extreme cases, when they are so cowed by fear that they are psychologically damaged. Punishment and reward systems, in general, consistently devalue the very behaviors we wish to encourage. And yet, these are the easier ways to parent (at least in the short term), and so they are commonly implemented. But these methods are only effective in the short term, and cause exactly the opposite of the desired effect, in the long term. Then people wonder why so many adults are in therapy; why people have violent and antisocial behaviors; why people hurt, and why they hurt each other.
And this is the model we are trying to implement with adults? Because it works so well with the children, right?
No. The easy thing is rarely the right thing, and gun control is no exception. In this matter we seem to be a nation of cowards – we need to man up and do it right. And the place to start is by helping people raise this generation of children to be mentally healthy. This happens in homes, yes, but it should be happening in schools, too. We need to provide resources for people who are at their wits' end raising children alone, or while struggling with their own issues. We would need to study “the system” extensively in order to develop such a plan, but I feel confident that it could be done – if we are willing to try. If we are brave enough to give the new system some time to work. If we are willing to take some control of, and some responsibility for, our own protection and defense.
I am, but I can't do it alone. If the majority of Americans would rather be safe than free, at some point our children, or their children, won't be either one.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Sympathy and Outrage Make People a Little Crazy...

I will not deny that the recent shooting at the elementary school in Connecticut was a terrible, terrible tragedy. All shootings are tragedies and doubly so when children are affected – whether it be violence against them, their friends, or those on whom they depend. Nevertheless, some of the things I've seen posted on Facebook, in shared sympathy, are kind of ridiculous.

One person suggested that companies should not launch any funny or lighthearted advertising campaigns this weekend, because “now is not the time”. I understand not wanting to diminish the pain of the people who are trying to deal with what happened, but there really isn't anything we can do to make it better. It's over and done with, and even though they'll be living with the results for a long time, there's nothing we can do to retrospectively prevent it. Taking away anything that could possibly cause laughter would only serve to bring the rest of us down, too. Besides, they'll be depending on the emotional support of people they know and love. The rest of us are strangers and I'm sure they could care less if we go on living our lives. I guarantee they aren't thinking about strangers right now.
And who knows? Maybe some of them will need a little break from all the heartache and a funny commercial could help them get through this horrible time. I believe that we, as strangers, have no right to impede on their personal tragedy. Who are we to say what would make their suffering better or worse?
The other thing I've seen is regarding gun control laws. No one has specified exactly what it is they would like to see changed or tightened, but I personally would ask for caution on this particular topic. The right to bear arms was built into our constitution so that honest citizens could protect themselves from criminals and from overbearing governments – it is the one freedom which guarantees all other freedoms – if we (meaning honest citizens) have the guts to use it when necessary.
This seems like common sense to me, but maybe people don't realize that criminals, by definition, break the law. Any gun control law - any law at all -  can only govern the way honest people act. I don't profess to have a perfect solution, but no action is better than counterproductive action. Making it more difficult for “good” people to get guns will limit their ability to protect other innocents from “bad” people.
I think the best thing we can do to protect ourselves and our children is learn how to identify and neutralize a potential threat. That defense takes many forms. Early identification of mental health issues and providing parenting support to families are incredibly important. (Research showsthat for every tax dollar spent on early childhood education, up to thirteen dollars are saved later, because those children are far less likely to end up in the penal system, or to depend on government assistance.)
Of course, sometimes issues aren't due to a lack in the person's upbringing, but rather an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, or some trauma that caregivers were unable to prevent. It's probable that there are other reasons for mental instability leading to dangerous anti-social behavior.
That's where other forms of defense come into play. Knowledge of self defense techniques and a reasonable amount of vigilance can help us change the odds if a terrible situation comes up. Even if the techniques are never used, the confidence brought by knowing them can help keep people from panicking, and they might be able to make more effective choices. I don't assume that my ideas would prevent every single tragedy from occurring (in fact, I think some tragedies will occur no matter how well we protect ourselves), but I think they would be far more productive than the other ideas that I've seen floating around.