Thoughts on VT, Part I

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

I have wanted to comment on this since it happened, but decided to wait until more information had been released. I also wanted to see what, if any, legislation was proposed in response. I caught a fair amount of the coverage that day from MSNBC, CNN, and Fox. As is typical, they filled in what they didn't know by talking to experts, including former FBI and BATFE agents, profilers, and psychologists. Some of the speculation started wandering into the riduculous and I eventually just tunred the TV off.

Once the initial shock wore off, I started to wonder what would happen. These kinds of events are often followed by questions as to how it happened, then by calls to take steps to prevent it from happening again. These proposals are often knee-jerk and short-sighted. Some have little to do with what actually happened. Others can erode the rights of the people in ways that didn't seem possible at the time.

In 1999, Michigan was on it's way to passing shall-issue CCW. There was support in both houses of the legislature and Gov. Engler indicated he would sign a bill. In April of that year, two students killed 12 people in Littleton, Colorado, and Gov. Engler withdrew his support. It would be another year before legislation was tried again. This event also ushered in numerous zero-tolerence policies, in which students could be expelled for bringing drugs or weapons into schools. This included drugs like Motrim and weapons like butter knives.

At VT, despite calls by the Governor of Virginia for restraint, there were calls for action. Carolyn McCarthy issued a press release and proposed legislation several days later. The Violence Policy Center also didn't take very long before trying to exploit the tragedy. News pundits also threw in their takes. I won't reference them all, but I did want to point out an interesting one. Dan Simpson, from the Toledo Blade suggests a disarmament scheme that seems right out of Stalinist Russia. He suggests: The disarmament process would begin after the initial three-month amnesty. Special squads of police would be formed and trained to carry out the work. Then, on a random basis to permit no advance warning, city blocks and stretches of suburban and rural areas would be cordoned off and searches carried out in every business, dwelling, and empty building. All firearms would be seized. The owners of weapons found in the searches would be prosecuted: $1,000 and one year in prison for each firearm. Random, warrantless,searches?!?! Special squads of police?!? I will say that at least Mr. Simpson seems to be consistent in his disregard for the Bill of Rights.

Despite these calls for action, there were numerous calls for restraint. Some, from groups like the NRA, were not much of a surprise. Neither were the ones from pro-2nd Amendment politicians, like Ron Paul (R-TX), John Murtha (D-PA), and Craig Thomas (R-WY). I was surprised to hear these same calls echoed by Harry Reid, John Kerry and Bill Clinton. Reid has been luke warm on gun rights and Kerry and Clinton have been cold, to say the least. In the case of the last two, I doubt a change of heart, but maybe a sense that gun control should not be a major platform for the Democratic Party.

In the interest of full disclosure, I need to say that I am not in favor of most gun-control. I wish the Supreme Court would use the same strict scrutiny reserved for 1st Amendment issues and apply it to 2nd Amendment issues. If so, most gun laws would disappear. Despite this, I doubt you would see an increase in crime. There is a tremendous amount of research that shows that most gun laws do little to prevent crime and that crime rates are more tied into issues like poverty and substance abuse. As for what happened at VT and why, I honestly don't know. The best I can come up with is that there are some truly determined, evil people in the world and no easy explinations as to why. I remember sitting in a clinical meeting around 8 or 9 years ago. One of the presenting was the head of MSU's Psychiatry residency program. We were discussing violent behavior in youth and he was asked about causes. He said there seemed to be a number of facors, like sexual abuse, poor parentling, neglect, etc. He also said that some people are just evil or sociopathic and that science and medicine can't always explain why this happens.

I have more to write on the mental health implications, but I save that for another entry.


Bob 1:46 PM  

Great to see your first post Steves. It's also great to join you here as a contributor.

I am not too sure I would give John Kerry and Hilary Clinton too much credit for calling for restraint. Frankly, I think their calls were more out of fear of the gun lobby and gun supporting Democrats than out of honest conviction.

I felt the most interesting restrained comments came from Jim and Sarah Brady. Yes, the Brady Law Brady's. Their comments were quite restrained and amounted to:

It looks like the existing laws failed.

No condemnation of guns, no calls for more gun laws, just the belief that it looks like someone let a person have a gun, who under the law probably shouldn't have one.

Also in the interests of full disclosure, I am not a real strong gun rights advocate, nor am I strongly in favor of gun control.

I grew up around guns. I really have enjoyed target shooting the few times I have gone out. I am glad I have the right to buy one if I need one, but I also see the need for some strict gun laws that make sure gun owners and sellers are responsible. Since I was taught that a gun is not a toy, and with the right to own them comes a high level of responsibility, I have no problem with a person going to jail if their gun ends up in the hands of a kid and someone gets hurt.

I also have no problems with many of the existing laws, which basically say criminals cannot own them. To me, fighting against the Brady Bill was essentially fighting for the rights of criminals to carry guns.

Realistically though, even if I believed we should not be allowed to have a gun, how is the government going to confiscate a couple hundred million guns?

Guns are here. People need to get used to it.

Smitty 1:52 PM  

I am intersted to know, of the much-vaunted weaponless countries like the UK, how good their public mental health and substance abuse servcies are. I suspect it's not that criminals don't carry guns...they do. That's what makes them criminal: they tend to violate the law. But rather it's that they may have an efficient, well-funded prevention and treatment system.

Joel 2:19 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
steves 4:04 PM  

I disagree with Brady Bunch. What laws failed? When someone commits a crime, it is mostly a failure of that individual, not the law. The vast majority of criminals get their guns through a straw purchase or by stealing them. The Brady law has not had any impact on decreasing crime, since the decrease in states with it is the same as the decrease in the 18 states where it did not apply.

Smitty, I'd be interested in knowing what effect the mental health system in the UK has on crime. I know that they have seen an upsurge in crime following an almost total ban on firearms ownership. I wouldn't go as far as saying the ban was the cause of the upsurge, but it is probably fair to say that banning guns has not helped. They currently have over 3 million illegal guns in circulation.

I am not against all gun laws, but they should be as narrow as possible and be absolutely necessary for the safety of the public. We shouldn't be so eager to accept an infringment on our rights. An author friend of mine provides this analogy (I am paraphrasing him). If a person is willing to give up some 2nd Amendment Rights, how would they feel about giving up some 4th Amendment rights? We could allow the police to conduct random, warrantless, searches. Granted, in most cases, they wouldn't find anything, but occasionally, they would find some contraband. Law abiding people shouldn't mind have their houses searched if it means catching some criminals.

This is how most law abiding gun owners feel. The laws may not seem all that onerous to some people, but it depends on what you want to do.

Do you want a compact rifle with a bbl. less than 16 inches or an overall length of less than 30 inches? Can't do it. Do you want a sound suppressor (which are perfectly legal in most European countries)? Nope, not gonna happen. Let's say you had an episode as a child and were involuntarily admitted to a psychiatric facility. You recover, live a long productive life, now at age 60 you'd like to get a gun to protect yourself. Because of your admission decades ago, you have a lifetime ban on owning any kind of gun.

Smitty 9:05 PM  

Do you want a compact rifle with a bbl. less than 16 inches or an overall length of less than 30 inches? Can't do it. Do you want a sound suppressor (which are perfectly legal in most European countries)? Nope, not gonna happen.

Some peole would say that since that stuff is unnecessary, especially the sound supressor, then why have it and why nit ban it? The only people interested in sound supressors are criminally-minded.

Well, then count me among the criminal class. Maybe I want it. I may not need it, but I sure do want it.

Because of your admission decades ago, you have a lifetime ban on owning any kind of gun.

Ah yes. One-size-fits-all legislation.

steves 8:44 AM  

Smitty, I have heard that argument in regards to suppressors and it seems mostly to come from people that have seen too many movies. There are some areas in Europe that heavily encourage their use because it cuts down on noise and the neighbors seem to like it. I should note that many states (MI is not one) allow suppressors, but they are heavily regulated and the process to obtain them is onerous.

I'd like a suppressor, too and not because I'd look all Tom Clancy, Splinter Cell, tactical. For the most part, my family has a good health history. One thing that seems to plague men in my family is hearing loss and I would just as soon not do anything to help it along. If, God forbid, I ever had to use a gun in my home, it would be nice to not have it damage my hearing.

B Mac,  11:56 AM  

Since no one has taken the Hippie Left in this discussion, I may as well. I can play the bleeding-heart liberal loon with the best of them...

I grew up with guns. I used to hunt a fair amount (birds and deer, mostly). In fact, I still own a 20-gauge Mossberg pump-action, though it hasn't seen the light of day in a couple of years. And I fully support the rights of hunters and other gun-owners. But like any other right, there are (and must be) limits.

Jefferson once said, "strict observance of the written law is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen, but it is not the highest. The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation. To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to the written law, would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property and all those who are enjoying them with us; thus absurdly sacrificing the ends to the means."

In other words, the Constitution is not a suicide pact.

We'll put aside for a moment the part of the 2nd Amendment that discusses the "well-regulated militia." I believe the Constitution affords me the right own a gun. I also believe that law enforcement gets to have a say in how I exercise that right. People have the right to assemble peacefully, but they often have to file permits to do so. Why? Because there are serious safety concerns with large crowds of people. The same is true of guns.

So, we have two principles. (1) Guns cannot be outlawed, and (2) The government can limit who can own guns, and what they can own. Which leads me to my question, and I'm curious for your comments... Is there any law, short of "all guns are hearby banned" that would be unconstitutional?

Smitty 12:41 PM  

Is there any law, short of "all guns are hearby banned" that would be unconstitutional

1) Forcing me to buy a gun.

2) Forcing me to buy a gun and join the "well-regulated militia."

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