Beyond Good and Evil

Dr. Ronnie J. Hastings

Archive for the month “March, 2013”

Guns, “Gun Control,” and School Massacres (Part The Second)

In the first part, entitled “Guns, ‘Gun Control,’ and School Massacres (Part The First)” I tried to give the background reasons upon which I take a position on the issue of guns neither conservative nor liberal. Failure to do something substantial toward reducing the probability of the shedding of the innocent blood of our children and grandchildren seems to be due at least in part to irreconcilable extremes from the far ends of the political spectrum brought to bear on the matter, as if they were the only alternatives. This second part hopes to spell out an alternative with a different approach, one that does not “take one side or the other” and one offering practical solutions. Near the end of the first part it was claimed the NRA is misreading the Second Amendment, our starting point for the second part.

Regardless of your political views and regardless of your feelings toward organizations like the NRA, take a deep breath, relax, and channel the anger over murder in classrooms and schools into determination to come up with a reasonable solution. Let us read together the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights of our Constitution:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the
security of a free State, the right of the people
to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

It reads clearly to me if you keep only the middle comma. Then it seems straightforwardly saying that the purpose of the people keeping and bearing arms is to form a militia when the security of the nation is threatened. It does NOT directly justify or address personal ownership of guns. This right had to be part of the Bill of Rights because of the military abuse perpetuated upon the colonies by the British. The Second Amendment was written in response to the complaints stated in the Declaration of Independence about colonists forced to quarter British and foreign troops and about colonists having their arms confiscated at the whim of local British military commanders. It was abundantly clear that only a well armed militia, one armed “from home,” could safeguard liberty in case the British, or whoever, tried to take over power from the populace through force. It was the lesson of Lexington and Concord, indeed one of the military lessons of the entire American Revolution.

The Second Amendment, in my opinion, ignores the reality of guns in homes in America, the former need for them on the frontier and in rural areas and the preference of so many Americans to have guns as a hobby, to have them recreationally in the present (See Part The First). By not addressing personal use of guns because of need and/or taste is permission by omission and was, ironically, an oversight by the British that played no small role in their losing the American colonies. This means that in order to have a regulated Militia, a widespread possession of guns was already in place at the end of the American Revolution, thanks in no small part to French arms distributed to American Continental soldiers and American militia in the days before the siege at Yorktown. “Permission to have guns” would have been mute and useless to spell out. In Part The First I maintain that today a practical lack of the old American frontier and the overwhelming urbanization of America has left the reality of guns only as a matter of taste and preference, having nothing to do directly with the right to bear arms toward having a well-regulated Militia, if needed for national security’s sake.

At first this might appear convoluted, but not really. The NRA, in my opinion, has taken advantage of permission by omission and interprets the “right to bear arms” as the right to own as many guns as you want and as many kinds. Any restriction on guns, like not selling assault rifles and limiting the size of magazines for the assault rifles, is taken as an infringement upon the right to bear arms by the NRA. This is pure paranoia. Trying to take or limit the number of guns owned by Americans is like Prohibition, trying to keep them from drinking alcohol; any attempt to take our guns would be as futile and catastrophic as Prohibition. Then the NRA says that citizens must have weapons equal to the military and the police, in case the well-regulated Militia is needed when authorities take over in some kind of “Red Dawn” scenario spawned by some kind of rogue government or military coup; have you noticed the increase in weapons sales since Obama was elected? Again, pure paranoia. Not since the Whiskey Rebellion has a situation arose whereby we probably needed a citizen Militia, and that uprising was mostly handled by the Army. We fought each other in the Civil War over whether or not we split up, not over the right to keep and bear arms; it was over the rights of States and the right to own slaves.

I maintain even if we were reduced to single-shot guns and some rogue government of ours tried to take over, we would pick them off from behind trees and steal their guns, just like we did the British. How long do you think it would take a well-regulated rebel Militia to become equally as armed as the troops, whoever they are, whom we are fighting? The citizenry outnumbers the military in numbers and numbers of guns. Did you see the news in the aftermath of Newtown from Camden NJ? Over 1100 guns of all forms and varieties voluntarily turned in over a day or so, taking advantage of a local police buy-back program! Multiply that by several million to give you an idea of what we could conjure. The NRA needs to check some of those gun shows it supports; a sufficient Militia could be assembled from gun show attendants alone, and, boy, would they be armed! Germane to this point, again think how Obama’s elections have increased the sale and distribution of guns.

It seems to me the Second Amendment is covered by the taste and preference of Americans for owning and shooting guns. Constitutional arguments and NRA paranoia are mute to the problem at hand. For the protection of our children and grandchildren, we need to regulate the shooting of guns similarly to the way we regulate drinking, driving, and smoking. And because having to arm ourselves is never a problem, I think even more restrictions beyond banning assault rifles and large magazines, like putting a ceiling on caliber (e.g. stop with what would bring down a bear), could be imposed without compromising the Second Amendment. The vetting of potential gun owners at gun shops and gun shows should be made more rigorous, also; waiting periods should be just that — an extended time in which the potential gun owner is thoroughly checked out.

As a teacher of high school students for almost 40 years, I have a suggestion that will sooner or later, I think, reduce drastically the likelihood that school shootings will continue, without having to amend the Constitution. Incorporate in all public and private schools an elective curriculum in gun safety, whose goal is to have upon high school graduation trained handlers of guns shooting while hunting or while on the shooting range. Students who complete the course(s) receive, much like a driver’s license, a shooter’s certificate, which for many students will be like a rite of passage, a companion to the driver’s license. Of course, students who do not elect to take the gun course(s) do not receive a shooter’s certificate, and cannot ever own or shoot a gun unless they are trained in similar course(s) for adults and, consequently, certified. Just like we already have drivers and non-drivers, drinkers and non-drinkers, smokers and non-smokers, and the sexually active and the celibate, we will also have shooters and non-shooters. A subdivision of shooters would be hunters and non-hunters.

Like the regulation of alcohol, the sales of guns and ammunition can be taxed, similarly to gasoline, and the money gathered used to pay for the nation-wide gun education outlined in the previous paragraph. I do not think that as high a percentage as those who want to drive will want to obtain a shooter’s certificate while in high school, but I do think there will more than enough to pretend we are responsibly upholding the Second Amendment, particularly by pointing out that the Militia, if ever needed, will surely be well-regulated (i.e. trained). The course(s), after a mandatory basic gun safety introductory course, can include a course in hunting safety for future adult hunters, and, again referring to “well regulated,” can also include gun training in an ROTC setting for those students contemplating a career in the military.

How will guns be kept from the mentally unstable, such as seemed to be the case in Newtown? Also funded with gun and ammo tax money will be a mandatory psychological screening process beginning in kindergarten to identify students mentally stable enough to be allowed to take the gun courses when they get to high school. A student such as the shooter in Newtown presumably will have been identified in the lower grades, and, under the pretense of “special needs,” considered ineligible to take the gun course(s), but eligible to receive individual counseling from the time of identification to high school graduation. It is possible that person could eventually obtain a shooter’s certificate, but only after passing a long series of psychological tests. In adulthood, should a certificate holder commit a felony, their certificate is revoked for life. Strict penalties, including substantial fines, will accompany any behavior this side of a felony considered an abuse of the privilege of shooting — just like driver’s licences are suspended or revoked for certain behaviors behind the wheel.

There is a new example of this kind of screening to identify abusive tendencies. Now on the scene for our military is a program for identifying those in the service who binge or sport drink.

Before such a screening program can be effective, school security should be increased, featuring armed officers from the school and/or the community. The need for such security should decrease over time. Also over time those who think requiring a certificate to shoot a gun is an intolerable infringement of their individual freedom, like those who at the beginning of the 20th century thought requiring a driver’s license to drive a vehicle was an intolerable infringement of their individual freedom, will eventually die off. Meanwhile, the Second Amendment will still be revered and covered, if not mythologized, gun shows will require from dealers and visitors not only an entrance fee but a shooter’s certificate, and the NRA can cease taking stupid stands on gun issues and contribute to the betterment of our society by offering, in conjunction and cooperation with local city and county law enforcement, expertise and instruction in the schools’ gun safety courses.

Some futuristic thoughts: as a physicist familiar with what engineers of all types can do, I suggest real, funded progress toward weapon manufacture wherein a given weapon is “matched” with its legitimate, certified owner (using fingerprints, pupils of the eye, scanning of subcutaneous ID chips, etc.). The weapon will only fire when handled by its certified owner; should someone beside the owner pick it up and attempt to fire it, the weapon — handgun, shotgun, or rifle, not recognizing its owner, would go into a self-shut-down mode, and the weapon would not fire. The weapon will not fire again until activated by its certified owner. Also, each gun could send an electronic signal over the social network to a national server every time it was fired. If firings correlate to a crime in progress, the firing information is forwarded to the police presumably headed to the scene. At least the firing information could aid in the crime investigation, should the crime suspects successfully leave the scene before apprehension.

But, more importantly, should actions perhaps similar to those suggested above be taken in our country, we hopefully can be confident that the precious young minds in our schools are receiving their education in nurturing zones of safety.


Guns, “Gun Control,” and School Massacres (Part The First)

The tragedy at Newtown must be responded to in the hearts and minds of everyone everywhere. Nowhere is this individual response more significant than in the nation wherein the tragedy occurred, along with so many other similar events — our own beloved USA. Emotion-driven rhetoric erupted right after Newtown, as it did immediately after the other events, always following understandable lamentations, sympathy, and empathy for the victims of the tragedies, both recent and removed. The same ones lamenting, sympathizing, and empathizing are often debating the political issues conjured by the tragedies, seemingly stripped of all accord and willingness to understand each other. Anger and estrangement always seem to begat inaction in the long run. Thus, the need for President Obama to speak the obvious — this must stop; something needs to be done. President Obama, in my opinion, is absolutely correct; we have to act to stop these senseless tragedies.

I have a six-year old granddaughter in kindergarten and a twelve-year old granddaughter in junior high. For all parents and grandparents I need say no more. To know that the place where we felt safe as students so many years ago can nowadays become a place of horror for our precious children and grandchildren is almost too distasteful to ponder. This fact alone would probably cause my liberal friends and my conservative friends (both moderate and extreme) to assume I would be in favor of ridding our society of guns altogether, or, at least support a nation-wide resolution similar to that passed in the UK following the tragic school shooting in Dunblane, Scotland — a resolution essentially banning hand guns. Such an assumption would be wrong.

Not long after Newtown, my wife recently treated me to a visit to a high school cosmetology class to get a shampoo and hair trim (as opposed to a trip to the barber shop for a haircut); as my wife points out, it is both economical and helpful to the students. While getting my shampoo, the high school student working on me was telling her colleagues and teachers about the deer she recently shot. Armed with a 270 rifle and a doe permit, she went to a huge deer lease outside Waxahachie and got her doe. On the same trip her friend shot a 10-point buck. Her plans called for having part of the carcass processed into her favorite varieties of venison. I sincerely congratulated her for getting her doe as we proceeded to my trim.

I grew up in a small town (Cisco, Texas) and on family farms and ranches outside Cisco. Those opposed to guns would call the setting of my life a “gun culture,” a term I find misleading and inaccurate. Living in a rural setting meant the need for some kind of gun(s) for varmits (raccoons and rabbits — both cottontails and jackrabbits — raiding the garden, snakes invading the barns and the house, a fox trying to make off with a chicken, squirrels making off with part of your cash crop of pecans in a good pecan year, etc.) and the taste or preference for recreational hunting (dove, quail, and duck hunting — deer and turkey had not returned to the area back when so many lived outside town; today, the deer and turkey have returned along with the other game just mentioned because the rural human population has reduced drastically). Supplementing the varmit control with guns were dogs, always great working watchdogs and varmit killers; most of our family rat-killing in barns during infestations of rats and mice was done without guns — just the dogs. On the farms and ranches, hunting was a common hobby among most men and boys and among not a few women and girls. I recall going out at night on rural roads with my dad and his friends, spotlighting game (usually jackrabbits), and shooting them. (Laws were changed so that they could not do that after a certain time.) On extended family get-togethers at Thanksgiving and Christmas on my mother’s side, before we gathered to eat, the men and we boys would go out into the pastures and shoot any game we came across. The way I grew up, there was both a need and a taste or preference for guns.

My father taught me how to shoot a 22 rifle and a 22 handgun — and shoot them safely; I did not have to do the same for my sons, as my father thought it his grandfatherly duty to teach his grandsons the same safety lessons he had taught me. My father is no longer with us, but in his honor I proudly display the several family guns I have inherited from him and from my late father-in-law. My dad’s hunting tastes evolved into coon hunting with coonhounds (mostly black and tans), wherein he did pack a handgun should the farmer on whose land he hunted wanted the raccoons killed or should a snake or two be encountered on the night hunting trail. I have chosen not to continue the family hobby of hunting (I am a poor shot shooting birds on the wing with a shotgun — “middlin'” to OK with a rifle for other targets; I’ve gone to stock tanks and shot large bullfrogs for froglegs well into my college years). So have my two sons for reasons of their own. I have so chosen not for any anti-gun reason. I support and encourage those who lease the scattered acreage outside Cisco my wife and I have inherited or bought to manage, in addition to cattle leases, hunting leases for visiting hunters on these lands. I want to expand those hunting leases to include those who would come in and shoot the wild hogs that are nowadays such a plague for landowners and leaseholders around Cisco. I shoot mostly handguns recreationally and occasionally with friends. I periodically browse gun shows with great interest.

All these facts about guns in my life might cause my liberal and conservative friends (both moderate and extreme) to assume I would be an enthusiastic supporter of the positions taken by the National Rifle Association (NRA), especially since I’ve also established I do not want to ban guns. This assumption would also be wrong.

[This issue concerning guns is “smoking gun” evidence (pardon me) why I consider myself neither liberal nor conservative; I have tried elsewhere to state my case that if you want to label me, call me a liberalist. In my case I maintain that Franklin, Jefferson, Paine, and, yes, Jesus were all liberalists.]

So, what gives here with me on this issue? Am I schitzoid? Do I have a compartmentalized brain in which I harbor contradictory stances? No, not at all; in fact, quite the contrary. I have a position not so conservative and, at the same time, not so liberal. It is a position not so much a compromise as it is a careful consideration of our history as well as of the horrific headlines concerning our school children. I ask the entire political spectrum, from extreme conservative to extreme liberal, for attention and consideration.

First consideration: Based upon my life growing up with guns, the obvious presents itself, in my opinion. During the 18th and 19th centuries, there was both a NEED and a TASTE or PREFERENCE for guns in our country. With the practical disappearance of the frontier at the beginning of the 20th century, the need for guns was reduced to the need for varmit control as pointed out above. That reduced need has today become even smaller with the urbanization of the United States, leaving guns, practically, as a personal taste or preference, like drinking alcohol, taking drugs, driving automobiles and trucks, or being sexually active. Like all these personal tastes, guns can be abused. Murders of innocent school children is an unspeakable abuse of a chosen personal taste. Just like alcoholics should not drink, addicts should not do drugs, reckless drivers should not drive, and perverts should not act upon their sexual perversions, mentally unstable and/or careless citizens should not shoot guns. Drinking alcohol, imbibing in drugs, driving on our highways, roads, and streets, and engaging in sexual activity with a partner or partners carries enomous responsibilities taken on by the person deciding to behave in any through all of these behaviors, and shooting guns is no exception. And, interestingly enough, these responsibilities include not “doubling down” on abuses, like drinking while driving, doing drugs then shooting guns, drinking before having sex, having sex while doing drugs, having sex while driving, etc. etc. “Tripling down” or “quadrupling down” borders on out-of-control, almost unthinkable “nested” abuse!

Second consideration: The NRA behaves as if we have the right to own and shoot as many guns as we want, and, moreover, behaves as if the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights of our Constitution makes the ownership of guns a patriotic duty. Both these notions, in my opinion, are wrongheaded, and, therefore, unconstitutional. My position reflects, again in my opinion, a correct interpretation of the Second Amendment, an interpretation in-step with the historical context in which it was written and in-step with the future envisioned by the Constitution’s framers for our grand social experiment we call the United States of America.

This brings us to quote verbatim the Second Amendment, which will be the beginning of the second part of this post (See “Guns, ‘Gun Control,’ and School Massacres (Part The Second)“). In this second part will come the spelling-out of my position.


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