The Harms in Our Arms: What’s Wrong With Our Right

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Armed Anti-Islam Bigots Protest a Mosque in Phoenix, Lawfully Brandishing Guns and Intimidating Innocent Americans 

Breaking News: Friday, May 29, 2015

“Armed bigots protested outside a Phoenix, Arizona mosque on Friday, openly carrying guns as state laws allow. That’s what the gun lobby (and the gun manufacturers who profit from greater gun sales) is pushing to have legal all across the US — that’s federally mandated concealed carry.’ The two groups lined both sides of the street in front of the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix and yelled at each other, with a line of police officers standing in the middle of the street to keep them separated.

Jon Ritzheimer, organizer of the rally, is a former Marine, and he has no middle ground when it comes to Islam. His T-shirt pretty much says it all: “F— Islam.” Some of the counterprotesters wore shirts that said, “Love Thy Neighbor.”

The Islamic Community Center of Phoenix is the mosque that Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi attended for a time. They’re the men who drove from Arizona to a Dallas suburb to shoot up a Prophet Mohammed cartoon contest there. Both were killed by police early this month. Many Muslims consider demeaning depictions of Mohammed to be blasphemous and banned by Islamic law.”

Protesters gather outside the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix, Friday, May 29, 2015. About 500 protesters gathered outside the Phoenix mosque on Friday as police kept two groups sparring about Islam far apart from each other.(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Protesters gather outside the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix, Friday, May 29, 2015. About 500 protesters gathered outside the Phoenix mosque on Friday as police kept two groups sparring about Islam far apart from each other.(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri

While I second the sentiment of those brave citizens who staged their own counter-protest under the banner #NotMyAmerica, it’s another “second” that is far more tricky and divisive, and that of course, is the second amendment. I don’t pretend to be the most patriotic American there is, because frankly I think this guaranteed Constitutional freedom is misguided and not interpreted as the Founders intended. Arming a militia is one thing, but open carries in schools and at peaceful assemblies in front of religious buildings and around children is another. Although I love my country, I don’t always agree with its laws and how their applied. Who’s to say a 200+ year old document is sacrosanct and fulfills the needs of our modern America? Has it evolved with the country it serves? There simply are things that I think other countries do better than this country, such as healthcare, social services, the abolition of the death penalty, full or partial education awards, multi-party political systems, and finally, a sensible policy on gun control and the right to bear arms.

I am not a hunter, but I support a hunter’s right to own a gun. I just can’t see any justification for these high powered assault weapons, high round ammo, fully automatic guns, and laissez faire screening process for purchasing a firearm. Are hunters using machine guns to take down game? What exactly is the purpose of a weapon that lethal other than to decimate another living thing? Increasingly, it is other human beings who stand in the cross-hairs and are the hunted. Apart from the battlefields of war, I cannot conceive of a place in civilian America where such a weapon of warfare would be needed, nor belongs. We don’t allow citizens to possess deadly toxins like Ricin or anti-ballistic missiles, so why should we allow the average American to possess lethal machinery meant to kill in large numbers, in the shortest amount of time?

TomWiley-SlugHunterWhen it comes to sensible restrictions, background checks, and waiting periods, why is the powerful gun lobby so hostile, defensive, and unwilling to compromise for the sake of public safety. They argue these measures don’t work, and that a criminal will gain access to a gun regardless. Perhaps, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t at least try. A teenager will likely acquire alcohol if they want it, and drive if they choose, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take steps to prevent such a tragedy. Why exactly does anyone need a weapon on the spot? Gun activists would say, because I bought it and it’s my right to take it home upon purchase, as I would a DVD player or new car. The difference is, a gun’s primary function is to kill, maim, wound, or mark a target. It was invented and engineered as a lethal weapon, for the purpose of killing or incapacitating a subject. That is its purpose. A car may kill someone in a crosswalk, but that’s not the intended use for a vehicle. We don’t allow 12 year olds to have licenses or vote for similar reasons. Owning a gun is a responsibility, and handing over such a deadly piece of machinery must be a careful and thoughtful move. Not everyone deserves to own a gun, and we must keep them out of the hands of those unfit to possess them. If that means a law-abiding gun owner has to wait three extra days to get their weapon, so be it. That is the price of safety and protecting the general good. Americans sacrifice every day in this country. After 9/11, we selflessly and sometimes begrudgingly gave up some of our freedoms and conveniences for the sake of safety and security. We even allowed far reaching legislation to tread on our rights of privacy and autonomy. We’ll never fly the same again, like we did before 9/11. These are the sacrifices mature adults make in the interest of public safety. With gun violence at an all time high, we are at war in this country, and public shootings have become a sad everyday occurrence in America. If there were any possible way — no matter how remote — to save one life and prevent one stray gun from falling into the wrong hands and endangering men, women, and children, why wouldn’t you choose to act? Isn’t it our moral duty and responsibility to our fellow citizens. If that minor inconvenience outweighs the worth of a life, I am frankly more frightened of those who would choose their lawful weapons over the life of a child, and act as recklessly as those who carry illegally. Who occupies the moral high ground, when both parties place such little value on human life. The right to live should trump all other freedoms.

Many gun advocates like to argue that a hammer or broken bottle can be used as a weapon and kill just as easily as a gun. That of course, is patently untrue. The carnage at Sandy Brook and Aurora, Colorado could not have been inflicted by a butcher’s knife or any sharp object. Not even a bow and arrow or crossbow. That could only have been done by a high powered assault weapon, with high capacity magazines, and capable of discharging ammo at a frightening rate, and with bullets that are lethally designed to inflict as much damage as possible, and exceedingly more destructive and fatal than the limited range and carnage a simple knife or machete could inflict. A gun is a weapon with fatal results at any distance. The range and versatility of a gun is unlike any other weapon, and just isn’t in the same league as any other weapon.

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Guns are dangerous instruments, and if I have to live with the fact the Second Amendment will never be struck from our Constitution, we should at least be able to compromise for the sake of public safety. And yet, of all the freedoms afforded by the Constitution, it seems that this one is the most cherished and fiercely guarded by gun enthusiasts and guardians of the second amendment. As if any day now our tyrannical government is going to take away guns and enslave its citizenry. They speak of arming themselves for another civil war, in which Americans are pitted against their totalitarian government and fascist regime. They see this cultural armageddon on the horizon, with absolutely no evidence of a conspiracy, and a very unlikely and infinitesimally small chance of something ever occurring. In the 200+ years since we overthrew King George, has the government institutionally and egregiously restricted the rights of the people or abridged their freedoms in any substantial way?

The Civil War was the closest time the government has infringed upon the rights of its citizens, but it came only after the South had seceded, and Lincoln officially decried the contemptible institution of slavery and called for it to be banished from this country. It was the South’s livelihood, and it’s no wonder they were bitter and defiant. But they were wrong, and they were (and some still are) on the wrong side of history. Lincoln took drastic measures to hold the fragile and crumbling Union together, suspending Habeas Corpus and restricting other rights and imposing the North’s will on all Southerners. He knew to take the fight to the South, and fought to preserve the nation on their sacred soil. Men like Sherman punished the South, and they would never forget the treatment they received at the hands of the North If it hadn’t been for the long tradition of gun ownership and hunting in the South, many of the Confederate’s soldiers wouldn’t have had arms to fight the “war of Northern Aggression,” as many of them still call it to this day.

revolverAmericans have a long and storied relationship and attachment to their firearms. We wouldn’t have won the Revolutionary War without the civilian arms provided by citizen soldiers. The Civil War might have been different had Americans not been in possession of so many guns. The West was won by the flints of America’s guns, and the pioneering spirit of Westward expanding settlers. Guns were used to fight off Native Americans, whose own troubled history might have been different had they had guns to fight off the aggressive and land grabbing Europeans and their descendants. Guns were what provided food for Americans, in every state and territory in the Union. Guns were what young boys learned in their youth, and prepared them for the harsh realities of life in the trenches of World War I and on the beaches of Normandy in the second World War. That tradition lessened over time, and there were less gun savvy youth in the jungles of Korea and Vietnam, yet they still represented. Each subsequent war has seen less practiced sharpshooters, but with a volunteer military, the men and women that do enlist are more likely to come from gun owning households. Today’s wars are increasingly becoming more and more remote, as we try to minimize casualties and conduct warfare remotely. As long as there’s war though, there will always be soldiers, and more than likely be a need for ground troops trained in guns and infantry weapons.

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That being said, we live in a different world than even our grandparents lived. Despite the surge in terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, the world is actually moving slowly towards peace and global harmony. It may seem hard to believe, given the carnage we see in the news everyday, but the planet is much safer than it used to be. There is more civility and more of society values human life and are willing to at least work towards peace and compromise. And yet, we still possess guns, and gun owners still cling to a diminishing relic of a bloody bygone era. As a sporting tool, I see no problem with some guns and regulated ownership. But as lethal machinery designed to kill and maim on the battlefield, certain guns are more of a danger and threat to innocent Americans than a right worth protecting. Time and time again, it seems that the news is full of stories of home invasions gone wrong, mistaken identities, and innocent children being gunned down by mistake. Statistics prove that those persons with guns in the home were at greater risk than those without guns in the home of dying from a homicide in the home (adjusted odds ratio = 1.9, 95% confidence interval: 1.1, 3.4). They were also at greater risk of dying from a firearm homicide, but risk varied by age and whether the person was living with others at the time of death. The risk of dying from a suicide in the home was greater for males in homes with guns than for males without guns in the home (adjusted odds ratio = 10.4, 95% confidence interval: 5.8, 18.9). Persons with guns in the home were also more likely to have died from suicide committed with a firearm than from one committed by using a different method (adjusted odds ratio = 31.1, 95% confidence interval: 19.5, 49.6). Results show that regardless of storage practice, type of gun, or number of firearms in the home, having a gun in the home was associated with an increased risk of firearm homicide and firearm suicide in the home. The misconception that guns magically protect their owners more than harm them is a myth, and numbers prove greater numbers of accidental and intentional self-harm in houses with guns. Somehow those of us who don’t own guns manage to more often than not survive home invasions or take other measures to prevent them from happening, and we are not dying in staggeringly greater numbers because we have no gun to protect our homes and families. In fact, those of us without guns are not only dying less in our homes than gun owners, but actually living more safely and longer those with firearms. Perhaps the truth many gun owners can’t understand is that the very guns they consider their God-given right and defense against anything that threatens their traditional way of life and long-held beliefs is the very object of aggression and symbol of defiance that makes the rest of the country view them as hostile countrymen and unwilling bargaining partners. Guns are safety blankets for many, but ironically provide little safety and often more harm.

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I should reiterate that although I am fundamentally and spiritually opposed to the very concept and idea of guns, I am not so unreasonable, that I am calling for their boycott or a their legal status revoked. I do feel that SOME other countries have struck a good balance between gun ownership for sport and defense, and violent makes and models flooding the streets and used as violent weapons in crimes. Most other developed countries in the world have stricter restrictions or outright bans on guns, and as one might expect, they have dramatically lower rates of gun violence and violent crime. Their homicide rates and suicide rates are remarkably lower than that in the United States. Zealous gun rights activists don’t want to admit the correlation between stricter gun control measures and the significant drop in gun deaths and violent crime. Having said all that, I don’t necessarily want to take away all Americans’ guns. I see it is a time honored tradition, and a cherished right of many Americans. I simply want to be reasonable, and add sensible restrictions and safeguards on gun ownership. How can  a gun enthusiast even credibly make an argument against background checks? We can’t just put guns in the hands of anyone. Police run background checks on drivers they pull over, employers run background checks on potential hires, credit card companies run credit checks when approving credit cards. As hard as it may be for some Libertarians and Tea Party members to accept, we live in a nation of laws, designed to protect us, and provide the most freedom and liberty to the most people. But such freedom has a price, and that is the personal sacrifices we make to live in a peaceful and law-abiding country. Our laws and regulations are what keep us above the mire of chaos and anarchy. Some would shrink the government to a size that would fit on the head of a needle, ensuring greater personal liberties and more states’ rights. Unfortunately, history has taught us that society, when completely left to its own devices, actually recedes back into a primal and combative state, where survival of the fittest dominates the landscape, and there are no laws to protect people from each other. Big businesses won’t voluntarily police themselves, and regulate their carbon emissions, Wall Street CEOs won’t stop themselves from price gouging, and GM won’t willingly recall its large batch of defective cars. The environment will have no protector or steward, and America’s relationships with other nations will wither and die. We live in a nation of laws, and although there sometimes are too restrictive and stifling regulations, industry needs the watchful eye of the government. If Libertarians and government conspiracists distrust the government so much, how and why do they consider themselves proud Patriots? Don’t they understand that the government we have is roughly the same one our Founding Fathers chartered over 200 years ago? The Constitution is a document of laws and regulations and sensible checks and balances. Requiring a background check might be a minor inconvenience, but it is a sort of checks and balances, to make sure our weapons are ending up in the right hands.

Why should a gun owner object so vociferously to a three day waiting period on guns? It seems that hot tempered and inconsolable psychopaths and mass murderers should be the only ones desperate and frothing for a weapon immediately, as they attempt to act quickly on their troubled and feverish urge to kill. These unstable individuals are deeply disturbed, and are hell bent on acquiring a weapon, if they don’t already own one. Similarly, crimes of passion are committed by men and women caught up in jealousy or some other dangerous passion, and are more apt to commit murder within 24 hours of making the decision. They must rapidly acquire a gun in order to fulfill their murderous rage. And lastly, those who commit suicide have thought about the act for days, months, and years, but when they actually decide to act on it and make an attempt, it is a spontaneous and unthought out decision, made in desperation and cloudy judgement. If there is no access to a gun in the home, those with suicidal tendencies head to a store that sells firearms, in hopes of procuring a weapon to end their lives. The very presence of a waiting period would allow each of these individual cases to cool off, and perhaps seek another solution. It demonstrably could prevent hundreds, if not thousands of deaths in this country. There is no reason why a hunter or gun enthusiast needs a gun in less than three days. We often buy items and have to wait for them. This is more than just purchasing a book on Amazon. A waiting period is hardly an imposition, but has the potential to save countless lives.

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Guns are only tangentially used to hunt for meat for the family, and have come to be tools of sport and leisure. They also provide many with the game of target practice for fun or for competition. And sometimes war. They no longer accompany us to war, and wars have increasingly made them obsolete. Guns aren’t practical at our side in public, as we rarely have need to attend a gunfight at noon. Guns in our homes for protection are dangerous, but a large majority of Americans would rather die than give up their right to bear arms. But what of the assault rifles and weapons of lethal destruction, meant for no other purpose than to cause mass carnage? Where do they fit into the American landscape? These are weapons for the battlefields, and have no place on our streets or in our homes. Realistically and rationally, there simply isn’t any revolution or governmental attack coming in the near future. There is absolutely nothing to indicate otherwise. And honestly, if there was, an attack, what could a rugged bunch of militia men do with light weaponry against the full force of the United States military, with state of the art missiles, sophisticated drones, ships, planes, ground vehicles,  and all the other myriad toys of modern warfare? It is the most powerful army in the world, so do a rag-tag group of armed outdoor civilian militiamen think they can actually defeat a sitting government. This isn’t scrappy Patriots vs. old King George and the British Empire. America is here, and would be more than capable of squashing any organized rebellion. But that doesn’t matter, because it’s not going to happen. Placing restrictions and limits on gun ownership isn’t taking away the right, but regulating it, as we do voting, driving, expressing free speech, and pursuing personal liberties. No matter what, such a measure to curb gun violence is no excuse for a second Civil War and revolution against a perceived oppressive government. We have a right to protect children and the innocent from gun violence, and if a relatively unobtrusive background check saves just one life, it has done its job.

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Once again, I call for responsible gun ownership, a waiting period on purchases, a background check on buyers, an end to the gun show loophole, a ban on assault weapons and fully automatic guns, and any other restrictions and regulations that are reasonable and least restrictive to gun owners. I do not suggest we ban guns or regulate them as severely as other nations. Like I’ve demonstrated, guns are an undeniable part of this nation’s history, and are inextricably linked to its people, for good and for bad. Americans are often called ‘cowboys’ and it seems a fitting sobriquet as any. I ask for sensible gun control and reasonable legislation. Putting limits on something is not the same thing as taking it away. I applaud responsible and reasonable gun owners, and have many friends who own firearms. I see their value and worth, and although I don’t want them in my life, and think the world would be better off without a single gun on earth, I respect an American citizen’s lawful right to possess arms. My attacks are on those who refuse to compromise, and those who show up at Mosques with guns meant to frighten, bully, and intimidate. These are bigots, plain and simple, and their xenophobia is blatant and dangerous. They descend on Muslims and accuse them of terrorism, but who’s the ones with the guns and the hatred in their hearts? There dangerous men and women are the domestic terrorists, wielding their guns and their cowboy mentality, and threatening the very essence of what this country stands for. These are the gun owners I attack, and not the reasonable and lawful ones.

Belligerent gun owners and hostile lobby groups like the NRA are some of the most powerful, vocal, and aggressive groups in this country, and seemingly unwilling to budge an inch, no matter what good it might do. These men and women would apparently give up the freedom of speech before they’d surrender one weapon. Yet all we’re asking for is sensible gun laws to protect our families and children, and a ban on weapons of war meant to decimate and inflict carnage, not hunt with. They simply have no place in a civilized society. We also take issue with some right to carry permits and freedoms, especially in areas of sensitive need and soft targets like churches, mosques, and schools. Gun advocates would argue those very places without guns are the very ones that need them, because they are the ones targeted by lone shooters. As mentioned earlier, there is no statistical evidence that the presence of a weapon in crisis situation provides significantly more protection or stops the event any faster. That includes bank security guards, school SCO officers, armored car heists, military base shootings, and others. Often, those that get hurt or killed are the innocent victims and bystanders.

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When would a gun at a protest rally ever be a productive and responsible decision? How is such a decision helpful or necessary? The truth is, it is a clear and deliberate declaration of war. Without a doubt, brandishing guns in a menacing way in public is a calculated act of aggression and a provocative show of force and intimidation. They were there to at least symbolically massacre Muslims and remind them just whose country this is. These “patriots” who wrap themselves in the American flag, and who bleed red, white, and blue forget and desecrate the very inclusive and egalitarian principles this country was founded on. Even if our Founding Fathers could not practice what they preached, and extend freedom and dignity to their slaves and other African Americans, women, Native Americans, and other minorities, Jefferson’s words transcend the contradictions of his own human frailty and the unavoidable ceiling of social development and human enlightenment of the age. Despite such realities, the words of the Declaration of Independence ring out with fundamental intrinsic truths bestowed on each man and woman from birth, regardless of class and station. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” America is not the possession of any one group, but is all our inheritance. Holding on to one’s guns because the right is enshrined in the Constitution at the cost of innocent lives all around is sick and depraved.

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Waiting for three days or submitting to a background check is a minor inconvenience, if it helps save even one life. Why would you violently resist such an easy and harmless imposition? No one is proposing taking all guns away, but reasonably removing the most lethal and those that pose the greatest threat to public safety. Showing up with guns blazing to threaten and intimidate law-abiding Muslim Americans is reckless and ignorant. Such bigoted aggression is the very root cause of distrust and division between many Islamic Americans and those touting traditional American values. Showing up with their guns sent a message loud and clear, and declared their intentions in no uncertain terms. Sadly, their guns were legal, even though I can think of only a few unlikely scenarios where these modern cowboys would need to draw their weapons for protection and in defense of the common good. More often than not, history has shown us that civilians who respond in times of deadly gunman often end up catching innocent people in the crossfire. A gun is often as useless as a woman’s purse, but much more apt to kill the wrong target. Those who carry guns to protect and defend often end up poor clumsy cowboys. as bad at the draw, as they are at tolerance. The U.S. Constitution ensures that these xenophobic bigots had the right to openly carry firearms to what was supposed to be a peaceful protest. It begs the question: Just because you can do something, does it necessarily mean you should?

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