Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Fragile Foundations

Let’s suppose a half-baked version of the Myan calendar thing came true, and we are now living in a post-apocalyptic dystopia in which roaming motorcycle gangs from Mad Max may, at any moment, descend upon our homes, pillage our belongings, kidnap our wives and daughters and leave us for dead. If, in this world, Barack Obama were to sign a directive mandating stricter gun control laws, I would very likely be acting the same way the conservatives are today.

But we don’t live in that world. Nor do we live in the world of our country’s founders, who were under very real threats from the British, the French and hostile Indian tribes, all of whom were on the continent and could attack—without the protection of a police force or a military. We also don’t live in a world devoid of Acme, Smith’s and Ralph’s.

Nevertheless, many opponents of gun control react heatedly to the prospect of stricter gun laws, fearing that we will be left vulnerable and unable to protect our families. For they believe that without firearms, we would be rendered susceptible to a host of dangers, from a 1984 style totalitarian government to roaming packs of bandits.

Among the opposition to possible regulations, perhaps the most difficult to understand is the resistance to a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines. The Obama administration posits that revolvers, shotguns and rifles are all sufficient for the purposes of protection. The response from the right, however, is an unequivocal “NO!”

When their usual platitudes and circular reason failed to gain traction, the right ramped up their efforts, employing their regular go-to strategy: fear. On America Live, Megyn Kelly asked conservative radio host Lars Larson about the story of a woman and her two children who were the victims of a home invasion. The woman defended her family when the assailant found them, shooting him five times with a .38 revolver—a firearm that would be perfectly legal under the new regulations.

When asked why we need assault weapons and high capacity magazines when a .38 revolver worked just fine, Larson responded: “The problem is she was confronting one intruder. If she had been confronting three people…she would have been out of bullets way to early. This president wants to take away people’s rights to own the appropriate tool to repel an invader or invaders.”

Heck, why stop at 3? During a congressional hearing, Gayle Trotter, founder of the Independent Women’s Forum stated that “an assault weapon in hands of a young woman who is defending her babies in her home becomes a defense weapon. And the peace of mind a woman has as she is facing 3, 4, 5 violent attackers…gives her more courage when she’s fighting hardened violent criminals.”

To substantiate her position, Trotter recounted the story of Sarah McKinley: “Home along with her baby she called 911 when two violent intruders began to break down her front down…As the intruders forced their way into her home Ms. McKinley fired her weapon, fatally wounding one of the attackers. The other fled.”

The purpose of the hearing was to ascertain whether an assault weapons ban was in fact prudent legislation. Trotter sought to proffer evidence underscoring the efficacy of assault weapons for defense purposes in order to impugn the proposed legislation. The problem with Ms. Trotter’s example is that Sarah McKinley used a Remington 870 Express 12-guage shotgun, which would not be banned under the new firearm restrictions.

In response to Trotter’s histrionic testimony, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse remarked: “the example you used is one that would not bear an argument against the proposal that is before us, because that Remington 870 Express is a weapon that would be perfectly allowed… she would clearly have an adequate ability to protect her family without the need for a 100 round piece of weaponry.”

In an emotive tone, Trotter responded: “how can you say that?”


Trotter attempted to substantiate her position by painting an illustrative image for Sen. Whitehouse. “You are not a woman stuck in her house having to protect her child, not able to leave her child, not able to go seek safety, on the phone with 911 and she cannot get the police there fast enough to protect her child. And she is not used to being in a firefight. “

While anyone of us would sympathize with the poor mother in this example, it is a wholly fictitious example conjured up by Trotter to support her own ideology. If Trotter had testified about instances in which revolvers, rifles and shotguns had been inadequate for protection, the new gun legislation would have been flummoxed and soon floundered. But no such example—not one instance—was reported throughout the course of the hearing.

When your case rests on a fictional anecdote and depends on fear, it is because actual statistically significant evidence does not exist. We’re not going to get evidence from the opponents of gun control. We’re not going to get statistics. We’re not going to get numbers. We’re going to get like likes of Larson and Trotter. We’re going to get the cool sensible Huckabee who leaves us with significant questions to marinate: "If a band of marauders comes kicking your door down and all you got is your double barrel shotgun with two shells, God help you because Joe Biden won't." Instead of real world examples, conservatives have only been able to offer ginned up imaginary dramatizations meant to inspire fear, because that is the only tactic they have left.

Here is what I know about assault weapons: they’ve been used to facilitate horrible massacres. On that basis, I’m led to believe they should be banned. If you can present compelling evidence demonstrating that the use of high capacity assault weapons plays a role in self-defense, then I’m wide open to changing my stance.

But no one has been able to do that. Whereas gun control advocates can easily point to instances in which assault weapons have been used in massacres, no one can point to a real world example outside of military combat in which they have been used for self-defense. The tired right-wing refrain “it’s not a massacre weapon, it’s a defense weapon” has yet to be corroborated.

There may be situations in which attacks by multiple assailants do occur. And it won’t matter if you have a revolver, a 12-gauge, an assault weapon, or a Gatling gun. So unless the Canadians determine that they have the resources and capabilities to invade Michigan, and for some reason our national guard goes on vacation to Jamaica, I’m going to support universal background checks, an assault weapons ban and a limit on high-capacity magazines.

The case for gun control has been made and substantiated. Its opponents are trying to proffer reasonable doubt. But they can’t, so they’re relying on fear.

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