Sunday, May 17, 2020

On Gun Control

I've been observing many gun control arguments online and in the classroom (also online) recently. I've written about this before, once after Sandy Hook and then after a Stoneman Douglas shooting surviver put the onus on school staff to keep kids safe. This one's closer to home, so I finally got around to sorting out my views on a whole assortment of gun-supporters' typical claims (presented largely in my own words and entirely without indications of where they're from in case people don't want their views known here). I'll follow my own classroom rules for arguing: take the most charitable read of a person's point, indicate points of agreement, and only then indicate points of disagreement. It got ridiculously long, so here's the general trajectory of my position with links to each section, and there are bolded bits throughout for faster skimming:

     A Very Brief History of Gun Control in Canada
     It's Undemocratic!
     The Regulations are Nonsense
     Semi-Automatics Aren't Necessary
     Semi-Automatic Weapons are Unnecessary and Upsetting
     Semi-Automatics Can Get in the Wrong Hands
     The Buyback is One More Way to Decrease Gun Deaths
     Violence is a Bad Thing
     Random Assertions and Refutations

But first, full disclosure: I admit that I don't know all the ins and out of the types of guns being discussed, but I hope dear readers can keep to the larger issues being debated here. My one dig at gun supporters is that some, definitely not all, but it often seems that it's a significant number of them, love to dive into the minutiae of models and parts and origins until my eyes glaze over. And when that happens (but of course it doesn't always happen), when that happens, it always reminds me of Roger Ebert's dismissal of certain (but not all) Star Wars fans:
"A lot of fans are basically fans of fandom itself. It's all about them. They have mastered the "Star Wars" or "Star Trek" universes or whatever, but their objects of veneration are useful mainly as a backdrop to their own devotion. . . . Extreme fandom may serve as a security blanket for the socially inept, who use its extreme structure as a substitute for social skills. . . . If you know absolutely all the trivia about your cubbyhole of pop culture, it saves you from having to know anything about anything else. That's why it's excruciatingly boring to talk to such people: They're always asking you questions they know the answer to."

Also under full disclosure, I bought my first boyfriend his first shotgun back in the 80s. I didn't even have an FAC (now it's called a PAL - who knew!). I just walked out of Canadian Tire with a shotgun and a box of shells. And then we started making our own shells to save money - and to busy ourselves making shells on Sunday afternoons because it felt like such a cool thing to do. But when I built a summer shack in bear country up north, I opted for a crossbow instead. It could send a bolt through a one-foot thick tree! The shotgun was far too easy for a little one to load, but there's no way they could pull back the spring on the crossbow. Unfortunately, neither could I, so the bears were safe!

A Very Brief History of Gun Control in Canada

1977 - Trudeau, the elder, banned fully automatic firearms and required a criminal record check before any purchase of a firearm. (Bill C-51)
1993 - Provoked by the Montreal Massacre of 1989, Campbell, a conservative, introduced legislation for a safety course, background check, and 28-day waiting period to be added to the requirements for a gun license along with new rules for storage and transportation. (Bill C-17)
1995 - Under Chretien, a license to buy ammo was added, and any long guns had to be registered, and the new rules were added to the Criminal Code. (Bill C-68)
2012 - Harper (spearheaded by Vic Toews) ended the long-gun registry and destroyed the records of all prior registrations. (Bill C-19)
2019 - Trudeau, the younger, enhanced background checks beyond just the past 5 years, allowed for "continuous eligible screening," and ensured that any vendors of firearms must verify the buyer's license, maintain records, and flag large transactions. (Bill C-71)
2020 - Hastened by the Nova Scotia massacre of April 2020, Trudeau prohibited about 1,500 models of assault-style weapons, mainly semi-automatic guns. Owners have two years to comply with the ban, and firearms will be bought back for fair compensation. (OIC)

This recent ban was something Trudeau had promised to do in an election speech in September 2019.
"He proposed that if re-elected the Liberals would ban so-called military style 'assault rifles,' presumably referring to modern sport rifles. He also announced there would be a buyback programme. In making the announcement, Trudeau said, 'You don’t need a military-grade assault weapon, one designed to take down the most amount of people in the shortest time, to take down a deer.' He also announced an increase on controls to remove firearms from potentially dangerous individuals, such as in cases of domestic violence.”
And, last March, some complained that he was "all talk and no action" and worried about retailers abusing the situation in the time between the proposal and legislation:
"The importance of the federal Liberal government living up to its commitment was underlined by a recent announcement from a Manitoba company that it’s offering for public sale a new product called the WS-MCR: a semi-automatic rifle with a pistol grip and an AR-15-type ammunition magazine that lets the shooter fire off dozens of rounds in a short period of time. It’s available for $1,300 to anyone with a valid firearms licence. . . . When asked for an update on the government pledge to ban semi-automatic assault rifles, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said in December the government is composing a list of which makes and models will be prohibited. He has estimated the government will need to buy back about 250,000 guns that are now legally owned in Canada, at an approximate cost of $1,500 per gun. The importance of the Liberals acting promptly on this matter is underscored by the Virden company’s campaign to sell its new semi-automatic rifles before the government makes them illegal. The more of these guns that are sold, the more will need to be bought back by the government. It’s important to note that the Manitoba firm — which is based in Virden — is doing nothing illegal. And therein lies the issue."
Since the new ban, Trudeau also suggested that, in the near future, he'll permit municipalities to have the right to ban handguns, but that wasn't part of this recent law.

Trudeau used the collective mourning over lost Canadians to further his election promise, and that gets to the first big concern with this new legislation:

It's Undemocratic! 

Notice the parenthetical end of each dated point above: one of these things is not like the other.

An OIC is an Order in Council. It's part of our democratic system, but it's typically used to make appointments or install emergency measures. Instead of a Cabinet proposal being reviewed and voted on, revised, and then voted on a couple more times by the elected MPs in the House of Commons, and then again by the appointed Senators, and then being signed by the Governor-General, an OIC cuts to the chase and goes from the Cabinet right to the GG. It's speedy! An OIC is useful with something as innocuous as a position appointment or as important as in times of dire emergency. But does this legislation count as either??

Check out what Diefenbaker said about OICs and the importance of the role of the opposition:
"The trend in consequence of two wars in one generation has been in the direction of by-passing Parliament by the passing of orders-in-council which too often deny the right of appeal to the court. There should be a standing committee of the House of Commons whose responsibility it would be to vigilantly examine and report on all orders-in-council that diminish the freedom of the individual. . . . Parliament will only remain the guardian of freedom and our free institutions so long as His Majesty's Loyal Opposition is fully responsible and effective in the discharge of its functions."
We definitely weren't pleased to find about how often Harper used this method to pass legislation through quickly, although his were also kept from the public, which made it even worse. But at this particular time, when things are a little chaotic and we're allowing many orders to be dictated from on high for the good of society, it's more important that ever to pay attention to what's being pushed through. The procedure is part of the democratic rules, though, and we could get into a debate over how democratic it really is to go through the House and Senate anyway, what with MPs all voting in a block instead of following the will of their constituents, and Senators being appointed, and everybody really being owned by corporations, but when push comes to shove, I agree that this really should have gone through full parliamentary procedure.

The Regulations are Nonsense

Trudeau claims he banned models designed to "kill the largest amount of people in the shortest amount of time," but some of the restricted firearms function the same as unrestricted firearms. The best analogy I've heard for this is taken from Jay Nathwani: imagine it's the future and almost everyone's driving electric cars, but there are a few holdouts driving gas. Maybe they're nostalgic or it was their mom's car or maybe they can't afford a new car, but this one is hanging on. Then the government bans 1,500 specific types of gas-guzzing cars, including yours, but not your neighbour's, even though it's almost exactly the same as yours!! It's got the same kind of engine and the same eco rating, but it's a slightly different shape. So, now you have to give up a car that you've cared for for years and sell it, by force, to the government and watch your neighbour be completely unaffected by the legislation, out there, washing his hummer on the driveway while you have to take the bus. The problem isn't in the elimination of gas-guzzling vehicles in favour of electric, it's in the arbitrary nature of what's being eliminated.

He explains further that it's still legal to buy a variety of semi-automatic rifles. The ban has nothing to do with the capability of the firearms; they just banned the more popular models. His conclusion:
"If the government thinks that centre-fire semi-automatic rifles are too dangerous for civilians to own, then it should ban them – all of them – as Australia did after the Port Arthur massacre. Banning specific models (and paying millions in what Trudeau says will be "fair compensation" to their owners) while leaving plentiful substitutes readily available for purchase is worse than useless: it is harmful to our shared sense of society."
It should be all or nothing, for sure. I completely agree with Nathwani: ban them all.

Semi-Automatics Aren't Necessary

In an essay, "Animals Don't Shoot Back," James Fell argues far better than I could about how useless a semi-automatic weapon is on a hunting trip:
"Firearms are tools. They are specifically designed and used for practical purposes such as hunting, protecting livestock from predators, and target shooting. Weapons have a different design, and a different intention. They are made to kill human beings. My father owns no weapons and does not support owning them. . . . The simple fact that it is overkill is what makes it cross the threshold from firearm and into being a weapon. . . . Hunting isn’t war. The animals don’t shoot back. You’re not trying to kill as many of them as you can in as little time as possible."
Furthermore, Cliff Seruntine posted an in-depth explanation of how hazardous semi-automatic weapons are in the bush:
"You don't want a semi-auto to hunt anything because the last thing you want to do is walk around with a chambered round and worry if that little safety is going to catch on a twig and fail. You can hunt with a semi-auto without a round chambered for safety, but it's loud to chamber it when you have to shoot. Or you can chamber it slow and quiet, but then you risk jamming the weapon. And the fact is if you miss with the first shot, a quick second shot at range on a bounding, jinking caribou or what not with a semi-auto is about useless. Fact is, it's safer and quieter to carry another kind of action rifle. Bolt actions are typically ideal because they can hold several rounds, you can safely carry them loaded without a round chambered, and it's easy to quietly chamber a round with a bolt when it's time to shoot. For backup weapons, we carried revolvers because automatic pistols didn't have the accuracy or power necessary."
Seruntine later posted,
"The gun lobby has taught me that if you don't use a gun, you have no business voicing your concerns about them. If you do use a gun, you're a traitor if you voice your concerns. I have also learned that persons like me, who use them exclusively to feed their families, are mere amateurs (fudds). The real experts are the ones shooting paper targets at ranges on weekends."
The ad hominem circumstantial is an argument tactic that I find particularly annoying. It fallaciously says, I can dismiss your position because of how you live. We're seeing an awful lot of that error in this particular debate.

BUT, some counter that many toys that we have aren't remotely useful or necessary; they're just fun. Nobody should stop us from buying something we want regardless how useful or useless it is to our lives. Sports and leisure should not be restricted by the government. Hunting isn't the only reason to have a gun. There's no real reason not to have one!

Semi-Automatic Weapons are Unnecessary and Upsetting

I'm going for the harder argument first - that it bothers us - and I'll get to the physical dangers next.

Nothing is worth the potential carnage, not hunting, not sports, nothing. This point to counter the gun supporters was summarily dismissed as too emotional to be taken seriously, but it deserves greater attention.

The fact that gun violence upsets people might seem like an emotional argument, but it's not an appeal to emotion. It's a rational argument about emotions. An appeal to emotion tries to provoke an emotional reaction, perhaps with images of victims and a description of their lives. This statement, instead, presents the case that death can't legitimately be weighed evenly against fun, not because we don't like it, but because it's wrong to put entertainment above human life. We've long ago called that barbaric. Entertainment can include risks, but either the risks must be minor, or restricted exclusively to the participants, or the activity must also be necessary. What isn't justifiable is a product with a major level of risk to non-participants, as well as participants, and completely void of necessity.

For example, skateboarding involves typical minor risks; MMA fighting involves major risks but only to participants who know what they're getting into, and driving cars involves major risks to pedestrians, but it's also necessary to our lives. By these criteria, semi-automatic weapons aren't justifiable for entertainment purposes.

But there is also the case the people are unnerved by guns, which should be explored. In a civil society, we don't want to intentionally upset people without purpose (which might include furthering education or human rights). In comedy, the purpose of upsetting people is to "get them." I've argued previously that this is perfectly legitimate to do in comedy shows because we can choose whether or not to be subjected to that type of ribbing. And, for the same reason, language is more carefully monitored in schools and the workplace: people shouldn't have to opt out of any offence in an institution that's necessary to their lives or livelihood, including their own neighbourhoods. So what causes offence to the public does matter when determining what should be allowed in the parts of society we ought reasonably be allowed to enjoy without fear of being seriously unsettled.

When we decide how to live together, the freedom to do things often butts up against the freedom from having things done to us, and it's the government's job to find the sweet spot between them. Here we compare freedom to shoot stuff against freedom from potentially being shot AND freedom from the generalized fear of being shot. The law is a means to promote a system that works best for most with respect for the few, but it's never about ensuring that people can do anything they want.

Having a visceral reaction to something tells us that there could be an issue with it, and begs for further exploration: Camus wrote, "Reflections on the Guillotine," arguing against the death penalty. His starting point is a story of a massacre his mother recounted. A man had slaughtered some children in their town, and Camus's father was so upset by the act that he was looking forward to the man's execution. But then, after witnessing the beheading first hand, he came home sick and delirious; it tormented him. He had a visceral reaction to the violence at the hands of the state. Camus's conclusion:
"The act is horrible indeed if it manages to overcome the indignation of a simple, straightforward man and if a punishment he considered richly deserved has no other effect in the end than to nauseate him. When the extreme penalty simply causes vomiting on the part of the respectable citizen it is supposed to protect, how can anyone maintain that it is likely, as it ought to be, to bring more peace and order into the community?"
It's unreasonable to expect people to have to opt out of society because our neighbours want the pleasure of owning semi-automatic weapons, which people find terrifying to have in their midst.

Someone walking around with a gun is upsetting because we don't know if the person will use it. It's upsetting because it adds a frightening element to our day. Even just some conversations about guns have yielded gun defenders eventually feeling the need to assure everyone that they don't actually have any guns. It's not because the gun objectors are irrational but precisely because being fearful of someone talking about their right to kill things is precisely rationally. It is wise to be wary of people who want to kill things.

There was a psychological study that compared participants in a room with a gun on a nearby table and similar participants in a room with sports equipment on the table, and found that people act more aggressively just in the presence of a gun (Berkowitz & LePage in Garbarino 2015). They went further to find that just exposing people to 'weapons-associated words' stimulates more aggressive behaviour, although this effect was more pronounced for people unfamiliar with guns.

It might be argued that a gun owner is keeping the gun within their private domicile, and it's nobody else's business what we do in our homes. But many people are uncomfortable to find out they have a  neighbour with semi-automatic weapons in their homes like they might be to find out they have a neighbour who's into beastiality or has a basement full of meth paraphernalia or enjoys keeping lions as pets. It's not bad because it's illegal; it's illegal because it's bad.

BUT, some argue that cars cause much more carnage than guns. For the record, I'd like to ban most cars, too, but the two cases are not analogous, as explained previously, since cars are necessary in our society. Furthermore, the psychological effect of the concerns is markedly different: "I have a car" is perceived as an offer of a ride. "I have a gun" is perceived as a threat.

It's not just the case that not wanting neighbours to be locked and loaded is an emotional reaction to a reasonable behaviour, and therefore should be dismissed as hysterical. It's a reasonable reaction to a perceived threat.

If I'm talking to a kid who is, for no apparent reason, just for their own entertainment, swinging their headphones around as I talk with them, then I'll likely ask them to stop. They might argue that they're not harming me and that they have no intention of harming me, but that's besides the point. It's unnerving to be around someone swinging something that could, possibly, hit me. And it's unnerving to be around someone with a weapon that could, possibly, kill me. That concern can't just be ignored if we want to live together well.

Let's try one more analogy on for size:

It's always harder to lose a freedom you had than to have never had it in the first place, for sure. It's like old men who are upset they can't saying anything to female employees anymore without getting charged with harassment. Sexist and racist terms were always a bad idea as they affect people's sense of safety, but now most are "out of fashion." People began to recognize the power of words to affect our well being, and they made it feel safer at the office by clarifying that some words aren't okay. It's taking a long time for pubic opinion to fit the law on this one, and there are still some who strongly believe they should be able to say anything anywhere and people can toughen up. But that's not a civil society. We've decided we want to live free from listening to hateful words from a moronic colleague. There are still those who use racist slurs and sexist language, for sure, and there likely always will be, unfortunately. AND there will always be some who think they are cool just getting right up to the line of offensive, and sometimes they can manage it, but sometimes they slip over that line. So we have the laws in place to stop most people and to shift our whole society towards having some modicum of compassion for the effect our words have on others.

Similarly, it's hard to lose your guns, but it was always a bad idea to have citizens with a collection of semi-automatic weapons in the first place. Just knowing people have them affects people's sense of safety in their neighbourhoods. Some criminals will keep them anyway, yup, but the laws in place will stop most people and decrease the number in circulation. And some will argue that they're not criminals and won't ever harm anyone with them, which brings me to my next point:

Semi-Automatics Can Get in the Wrong Hands

And those hands could be the very reasonable gun owner's.

The PAL process is by no means foolproof. It's great there's a criminal check and a check for prior treatment of a mental illness involving violence, and ten hours of instruction and a test, but it's not significantly dissimilar from getting a CPR certificate, except CPR testing must be redone every year instead of just one time! (I actually think car owners should have to re-do their written and road tests at least every ten years.) The goal is a safer world for all, and restrictions and licensing are useful for that purpose. It's a necessary condition, but it's not sufficient.

When I ran a daycare, I kept my CPR up-to-date, but even a yearly test wasn't enough for me to feel completely confident that I could save a life. We have to take the most forgetful and confused as a baseline, and have rules in place for any activity that could be harmful. It's why we have tons of regulations around driving, and adherence to the rules are monitored and scrutinized on an ongoing basis.

More guns in circulation means more access for criminals. Sure some will still get them if they're illegal, but some won't if they're harder to get. As Fell explains, it's harder to smuggle in a weapon than a high-capacity magazine, so we'll have fewer criminals with access if the weapons are banned.

But beyond criminals, guns in the homes of law abiding citizens can get in the hands of children, can be involved in accidents, and even rational gun owners can be overcome by a moment of irrational anger.

Physician Arthur Kellerman "found that keeping a gun in the home was strongly and independently associated with an increased risk of homicide. Virtually all of this risk involved homicide by a family member or intimate acquaintance." In his study, he found, on average, for every intruder shot by someone defending themselves or their property, 2.7 family members were shot in anger or by accident. "There is scientific consensus that having a gun in your home produces a net decrease in safety" (Kellerman et al. 1993). A bit of perceived personal safety comes with heavy costs to society at large and sometime to the gun owner if the gun is used accidentally or in a domestic homicide or to shoot an innocent person mistaken for an intruder. And a sane and reasonable person without any priors can suddenly lose their shit. An undiagnosed brain tumor can affect personality turning a kind and rational person into a killer. A semi-automatic weapon makes the killer too difficult to stop.

BUT, some argue that now they're criminals with the stroke of a pen! This law is punishing law-abiding citizens.

That's a bit of hyperbole. There's a two-year buyback period, so owners of these guns aren't criminals yet! And there is no real punishment when people are compensated in kind.

It's like any recall. If we bought some lettuce, then read an article saying the product may have E coli, we have to throw it out for the safety of ourselves and our families. It's a waste of money, but at least the guns are being bought back. After an average of over 750 injuries/year over eight years in the U.S., we gave up our lawn darts, too. Canada doesn't track firearm injuries, but we average about 400 non-suicidal firearm deaths each year.

Change is hard, absolutely, but then we get used to it and discover we can manage to have an enjoyable life without taking that one risk.

BUT, some argue that disarming solves nothing!!

After the Australia gun buyback of semi-automatic and pump-action rifles and shotguns along with a requirement of all guns to be individually registered and tracked, a variety of studies came to the same conclusion: These restrictions reduced the number of guns in circulation by about 20% with over 700,000 guns destroyed, and there was a reduction in mass shootings and firearm-related deaths in general.

An early study looked specifically at Australia's gun violence after the 1996 legislation: "The rates per 100,000 of total firearm deaths, firearm homicides and firearm suicides all at least doubled their existing rates of decline after the revised gun law (Chapman et al 2006). Then they revisited updated data ten years later to find "significant change in the preexisting downward trends for rates of total firearm deaths prior to vs after gun law reform. . . . There was no evidence of substitution of other lethal methods for suicides or homicides" (Chapman et al. 2016).  Another study compared gun and non-gun related deaths with robust results: "the buyback led to a drop in the firearm suicide rates of almost 80%, with no significant effect on non-firearm death rates. The effect on firearm homicides is of a similar magnitude" (Leigh & Neill 2010).

A Harvard bulletin concluded that, "Additional evidence strongly suggests that the buyback causally reduced firearm deaths. First, the drop in firearm deaths was largest among the type of firearms most affected by the buyback. Second, firearm deaths in states with higher buyback rates per capita fell proportionately more than in states with lower buyback rates. . . . Two evaluations found little effect of the law, but their design made it almost impossible to find an effect" (Hemenway & Vriniotis, 2011). They did recognize the special case of Australia buyback compared to other attempts: "the Australian buyback was large, compulsory, and the guns on the island nation could not easily be replaced," which makes it clear that it's vital that the buyback in Canada should be of all semi-automatic weapons with strict border controls in place.

A more recent study looked at evidence from ten countries and found "the simultaneous implementation of laws targeting multiple firearms restrictions is associated with reductions in firearm deaths. . . . lower rates of intimate partner homicides and firearm unintentional deaths in children" (Santaella-Tenorio et al. 2017).  Finally one study looked specifically at the relationship between gun deaths and a variety of potentially linked factors. They found gun violence significantly positively correlated with poverty and negatively correlated with gun restrictions (Florida & Mellander, 2011).

BUT, some argue that there are other, better, ways to decrease gun deaths; however,

The Buyback is One More Way to Decrease Gun Deaths

There are many ways to decrease gun deaths. Because there are more ideas than just a ban on semi-automatic weapons, doesn't negate the buyback as also a good idea. We can implement more than one strategy at once.

One solution that has been raised, that I'll dismiss entirely, is tighter border security. The massacres we've had on Canadian soil have all been by people born and raised in Canada. Saying the solution is tighter border security makes it seem like it's an American problem coming here, but we've got our own set of problems. But, greater control of unregulated firearms coming over the border is absolutely necessary, like I said earlier.

An excellent solution that's been suggested is greater access to mental health facilities. We absolutely need to reduce the stigma so anyone troubled in any way will actually seek help, and then we need the help to be readily available for little or no cost. Absolutely.

However, a study previously mentioned, that looked for correlations between multiple factors and gun deaths, found no significant correlation between mental health or stress levels and gun deaths:
"It is commonly assumed that mental illness or stress levels trigger gun violence. But that's not borne out at the state level. We found no statistical association between gun deaths and mental illness or stress levels. We also found no association between gun violence and the proportion of neurotic personalities. Images of drug-crazed gunmen are a commonplace: Guns and drug abuse are presumed to go together. But, again, that was not the case in our state-level analysis. We found no association between illegal drug use and death from gun violence at the state level" (Florida & Mellander, 2011).
However, in Canada, more than half of gun deaths are suicides. So even if the idea of the "crazed gunman" terrorizing the city is unfounded, there are clearly some people struggling with themselves.

The problem, though, is with the subset of society who have uncontrolled violent tendencies but really don't believe they have any mental health problems, which could affect the data of that study. There may be some whose inner tumults are affecting those around them much more than themselves. For the group that won't acknowledge any mental health problems regardless violent outbursts, they also need to have a restricted access to any kind of gun at all, but how do we do that??

We do that by actually paying serious attention to domestic violence reports. This wasn't in the list of instead solutions offered in the online debates, but it's a vital one. There are "striking parallels" between the massacres and domestic violence, either reported or discovered after the fact. Why aren't these women coming forward when assaulted (and victims in these scenarios are almost all women)? Because they know that nothing will happen except their partner will be even more angry when they get home. If we no longer want records of who owns which gun, can we at least keep records of any reported violence in the home and then track their guns. And actually act on every single report. Imagine if one call to the cops from an abused or battered partner means, at the very least, someone gets all their guns confiscated!

Yes, domestic violence goes the other way too, with women being the perpetrators. And we should definitely take the guns away in those cases too. But the reality is that women who abuse don't then go further to commit a massacre. For more on this issue, see Kate Manne's excellent treatise, Down Girl (my summary), particularly the sections on Domestic Violence, Family Annihilators, and Testimonial Injustice.

We've known for a while that serial killers often abuse animals first, and we watch out for that tendency to cause harm in children. And now we know, really know, that people who commit massacres often abuse family members first. So we have to start paying more attention to that. I mean, let's pay more attention to it anyway, right?!

One final thing - to go back even further - we need to ensure better childhood experiences across the board. That includes providing massive resources to prevent childhood poverty as well as prevent domestic abuse of children or at least catch it and resolve it much sooner. Beyond abusive situations, it could also help to provide all children access to relatively cheap (or heavily subsidized) and enjoyable hobbies complete with coaches/mentors - music, art, animal caretaking, sports, skills training - activities that provoke character traits that can foster better resilience in the face of adversity: coping with failure, working together, impulse control, persistence, and self-forgiveness. It's really Plato's ideal primary school experience focusing entirely on music for the soul and gym for the body.

Violence is a Bad Thing

This is actually a foundational premise, but I went on the assumption throughout that most will acknowledge this from the get go. But let's look at it further, just in case, using Hannah Arendt's short book, On Violence where she explains the difference between power and violence. She explains that we often want to used violence for a shortcut towards power, but that it never works. Violence might create more violence in a backlash or it might create subservience, but it doesn't provide the violent with real power over the situation, which is what they hoped to have. Violence requires weapons, but real power comes from solidarity.

She explains that the idea of power involves not domination over people but support of the people:
"When the Athenian city-state called its constitutions an isonomy, or the Romans spoke of the civitas as their form of government, they had in mind a concept of power and law whose essence did not rely on the command-obedience relationship and which did not identify power and rule or law and command. . . . when they discussed obedience to laws, they mean 'support of the laws to which the citizenry had given its consent.' . . . Under conditions of representative government the people are supposed to rule those who govern them. All political institutions are manifestations and materializations of power; they petrify and decay as soon as the living power of the people ceases to uphold them. . . . To suppose that majority rule functions only in democracy is a fantastic illusion . . . The king, who is but one solitary individual, stands far more in need of the general support of Society than any other form of government" (40-41). 
The strength of government, in this view, is tied to the number of people in agreement, and the relationship between power and violence is a reverse correlation:
"Tyranny is therefore the most violent and least powerful of forms of government. Indeed one of the most obvious distinctions between power and violence is that power always stands in need of numbers, whereas violence up to a point can manage without them because it relies on implements. . . . To claim that a tiny unarmed minority has successfully, by means of violence--shouting, kicking up a row, et cetera--disrupted large lecture classes whose overwhelming majority had voted for normal instruction procedures is therefore very misleading. . . . What actually happens in such cases is something much more serious: the majority clearly refuses to use its power and overpower the disrupters; the academic processes break down because no one is willing to raise more than a voting finger for the status quo. What the universities are up against is the 'immense negative unity'. . . . The merely onlooking majority, amused by the spectacle of a shouting match between student and professor, is in fact already the latent ally of the minority" (42). 
This is a pivotal point she's making that the parties and citizens in many countries would be wise to consider. When someone like Doug Ford or Trump or Bolsonaro makes rules that go against the people, it's because they are being allowed to make those rules through the silence of their colleagues and the relative inaction of too many of their citizens. "Power and violence are opposites; where the one rules absolutely, the other is absent. Violence appears where power is in jeopardy, but left to its own course it ends in power's disappearance" (56). This is similar to what Noam ChomskyChris Hedges, Martin Luther King Jr., and so many more suggest: that a revolution isn't necessarily a matter of taking up arms, but a matter of refusing to obey, of refusing to allow the system to continue to work. It's harder to conceive of what that looks like, though. How do we begin? Arendt explains,
"Even the most despotic domination we know of, the rule of master over slaves, who always outnumbered him, did not rest on superior means of coercion as such, but on a superior organization of power--that is, on the organized solidarity of the masters" (50). "In domestic affairs, violence functions as the last resort of power against criminals or rebels--that is, against single individuals who, as it were, refuse to be overpowered by the consensus of the majority" (51). "Power springs up whenever people get together and act in concert, but it derives its legitimacy from the initial getting together" (52). "Violence can always destroy power, resulting in the most instant and perfect obedience. What never can grow out of it is power" (53). "Politically speaking, the point is that loss of power becomes a temptation to substitute violence for power" (54).
BUT, some gun advocates take the Charleton Heston position: If the government doesn't want me to have guns, then they can take them out of my hand themselves. I give myself the authority to decide who deserves to die.

These are the most worrisome arguments. They suggest: I'm going to do it anyway, and, it's implied, I'll kill anyone who tries to stop me. This threatening tone is precisely what makes people fearful of gun ownership and precisely what provokes a push for stricter gun control.

And some take a fearful or rebellious position, succumbing to that temptation to substitute violence for power: We need guns to protect ourselves from the police and RCMP, they say. Indigenous fights and racism in the streets wouldn’t happen if we were all armed to the teeth. Either we fight back or we're allowing racism to flourish.

As they say repeatedly in the excellent film, Three Billboards, violence begets violence. If the all the innocent kids killed by police had guns, it wouldn't have kept them safe. It might have cost some police lives, but the kids would still be dead. We need better police training and monitoring, absolutely, not more citizens with guns. The same goes with the Indigenous land protests. Instead of a standoff and negotiation, they could have seen a bloodbath. The second ONE of the First Nations points a weapon, it will give the RCMP license to open fire. They're wise to keep the protests non-violent.

It's a false dichotomy to suggest either we kill racist citizen or we're allowing them to propagate racism. We can also restrict their ability to spread their message by banning racist protests in the streets, etc., and we can better educate their children. We have other tools at our disposal. Arming citizens just perpetuates a citizen's arms race, with the good guys and bad guys getting more and more guns. I'm not yet ready to give up on legal avenues that stop giving 'white nationalist' platforms to garner new recruits, and that enforce Canadian hate crime laws. We can't stop racism with a bullet. It just makes enemies of the victim's family - who will then dig in their heels to be even more racist because of what happened to their family member at the hands of a vigilante anti-racist citizen. Racism and other social ill are eroded significantly through better education and governmental policy, not through more death and destruction.

Random Assertions and Refutations

It's a violation of my Charter rights.

Which part of the Charter, exactly? Freedom of expression?? Even if we had a section on freedom to own whatever you want, then we also have a section that says, except if it's better for society if you don't. It's the reason we still have ride programs and hate crime laws and minimum voting ages. They all actually do violate a section of the Charter, but they are in the best interest of the public, so we allow it.

But this is just one person's subjective opinion.

Yup. I don't understand this assertion at all. Is it an appeal to consensus searching for a multitude of agreement on one side before it will acknowledge any merit? Look at the claims and refute them regardless who is saying it or how many agree with them. Any moral argument is a debate between opinions, but we have to look at the strength of each opinion based on their supporting points.

The ban doesn't make sense anyway now that we have 3D printers, and we can all make our own gun. 

That's like saying it doesn't make sense to make meth illegal since we can get the ingredients and make it ourselves in our basement. Even though, or because, people can make their own weapons, we need legislation around what type of firearms people are legally allowed to own.

So that's what I came up with. In a nutshell: Although the law is problematic in its scope and due process, semi-automatic weapons are a risk to general human life that far exceeds their usefulness or entertainment value for a minority of citizens, and banning them outright is an important part of the path towards fewer gun deaths.


the salamander said...

.. Whew ! I will be back (many times) to complete a read.. The topic is super important.. and I believe I have some 'standing' regarding guns, gun control. But 'Job One' for me will be to return.. ready to read.. reread as required.. and ideally have some sort of useful comment, opinion, perspective.. or just be content with absorbing yours !!

Anonymous said...

You have made many valid arguments but unfortunately they don't apply to Canada in 2020. An Ar15 has never been used in any mass shooting in this country. Most murders are committed using illegal handguns by a certain demographic in urban invironments. Citing islands like Australia, New Zeland, or Great Britain as examples is silly because Canada has the longest undefended border with a country brimming with easily obtainable firearms. A ban on "evil black guns" will only have a minor outcome. A far better solution is to enforce a strict 10 year sentence on all those found in possession of an illegal firearm.

the salamander said...

.. completed a careful read.. exceptional post !
Its more an exceptional essay.. very stimulating
I would hate to see it just disappear over the horizon
Perhaps you will consider reprising as 'chapters' or sequential installments ?

Marie Snyder said...

Sorry - my comments all went to spam!!

@Sal - Thanks! I thought a table of contents would help, but, you're right - a series might be a better idea.

@Anon - The ONLY mention of an AR-15 is a quotation from a journalist. The arguments throughout are very specific to Canada 2020.

-blessed b9, Catalyst4Christ said...

Fair enough... yet, lemme give you this
scenario: lets say you've had a hard day at
work and you forgot to lock your door at
night. Say you're sleeping soundly when you
hear some rummaging downstairs. Whoops. You
forgot to lock your door... yet, do you
wanna risk an intruder in thy domicile
without a Glock knowing they proooo'bly do
have one? See the stupidity of the
argument when he proooo'bly wants to rape
you, too, as soon as he's done? Guns dont
kill, dear. People kill. Getta snubnose .38 or a .45 or a Glock. I hope you never have
to use it, but wouldnt it be wise if had
one??? God bless you.

Marie Snyder said...

@Matte Blk, I don't have a gun in my home because studies have shown that, even safely stored, a gun in the home doubles the homeowner's risk of being the victim of a homicide. Here's a counter scenario: You're sleeping soundly, and you don't hear someone creeping in. The unarmed burglar is just planning to take your jewelry, but finds, instead, a gun in your bedside drawer, which he takes. Then, as he's checking your dresser, you wake up, startle the guy, and he shoots. I have no intention of ever owning a gun, but thanks for your blessing.