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Tuesday, June 28, 2016
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Not too long ago, I wrote a piece about integrative complexity and the transexual bathroom debate. I was trying to make the point that a lot of modern social issues (such as the matter of trans-sexual people and which bathrooms they should be allowed to use) have become highly politicized. There has been a lot of polarization as a result (or perhaps just as much a cause) between those on either side of an issue. And thus there has been less and less opportunity for reasonable compromises to evolve in this age of digital communitarianism (a fancy word for the polarizing effects of social media). The ease by which people can affiliate with others of like mind (it can be done right on your smartphone while waiting at the supermarket checkout!) makes us less and less able to consider why the other side might have some legitimate points, as compared to dealing with other people in person.

In the wake of the tragedy 2 weeks ago Orlando (the shooting and killing of 49 victims in a gay nightclub by Omar Mateen, a young American of Afghan family descent who expressed his sympathy for radical Islamic causes, but was not directly tied to any of them), there has been a lot written about whether new gun control laws are needed to help prevent future incidents similar to this one. And a lot of this writing reflects strong viewpoints that are passionately held by those both in favor of and opposed to gun laws. So once again, we have an issue (actually, a number of related sub-issues) that has caused a lot of polarization and unwillingness to consider the legitimate concerns of the opposing side. And once again, a handful of proposed legislative attempts to inject more state oversight into who buys what kind of weapon came to naught.

Once again, we need an integrative complexity approach to the questions that have been raised anew as another deranged individual uses high-powered weapons that were legally available to him, as to inflict a lot of suffering and take away a lot of innocent lives in a very short period of time. Can integrative complexity help to beat the NRA? Well, so far nothing else is working, so it seems worth a shot (pun NOT intended — just trying to relate to the pro-gun people, in the name of integrative complexity).

Therefore – assuming that our ambiguous and confounding Second Amendment makes it impossible to ban all public gun ownership, should we still attempt to craft and enforce laws making it illegal to sell, purchase, own or use what are commonly called “assault weapons”? E.g., the Sig Sauer GCX rifle that Omar Mateen used? On first blush, I would say YES. Personally, I don’t own a gun, now or in the past, and I see no need to be able to spit lethal slugs of lead through the air over hundreds of yards at high speeds. But let me admit one thing before I go any further — I live alone in a small apartment, and I do sometimes worry about an intruder invasion at night while I sleep (or having someone inside when I come home). Personally, I would like to keep a can of bear pepper spray (which supposedly can stop a bear at 30 feet) under my bed and in my tote bag. But in New Jersey you can’t buy a pepper spray can that big; so I have a street-legal 3/4 ounce hand-held sprayer tucked in my drawer. Which might work if the intruder gets right next to me (assuming he hasn’t already shot me or stabled me). It’s better than nothing, but not by much.

But despite my desire for more pepper spray fire-power, I personally see no need to keep an AR-15 rifle or any other sort of gun on my premises. And thus I don’t understand why so many Americans (possibly around 5 million) feel the need to keep such large semi-automatic weapons. Wouldn’t a handgun that is good for around 50-100 yards be enough to protect one’s body and premises in most imaginable circumstances? (The AR-15 and its like have an effective shooting range of over 500 yards).

And as to hunting – I thought that most hunting was done with classic bolt-action rifles that were good for maybe 10 shots, one bullet every 4 to 6 seconds. A GCX or AR-15 semi-auto can use a 30 shot clip and fire about 1 round per second; after a 5 to 10 second break to change the clip, the user can resume his barrage. Also, the AR-15 user can fire from a military stance, i.e. holding the gun at mid-body versus the classic hunter’s on-the-shoulder positioning. That’s great if you are in a military battle and need to move and re-position yourself and your weapon very quickly, but why do average civilians not intent on mass murder need such killing capacity? As to the Second Amendment, doesn’t a situation like that fall more under the “well regulated militia” intention of the Founding Fathers?

But OK – I want to hear from both sides on this issue. There is a very good article on the Vox site addressing my question of why civilians want and need to have AR-15’s in their lives, by Jon Stokes. Stokes has written some thoughtful articles detailing the pitfalls of gun control laws, especially President Bill Clinton’s 10-year federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994, and also including the various state level attempts to restrict assault weapons since then. In the interest of integrative complexity, let me review Mr. Stokes’ recent apologia for the AR-15.

Overall, I believe that Mr. Stokes did a wonderful job of explaining the AR-15 and why it gives its users so much power. I can understand why anyone whose hobby is collecting and shooting guns wants one. As a person with an engineering background, I admire the AR-15 as a well-designed and highly-functional machine. I can understand and relate to the techno-fetish aspect of Mr. Stokes’s explanation. As a (very) amateur photographer, I myself am subject to falling in love with cameras that are well designed, are extremely flexible, and can take decent pictures under extreme circumstances where your smartphone is going to just give you a blur (I’m presently wrangling with myself about dropping $400+ on a Lumix FZ300).

Stokes argues that the military heritage of semi-automatic assault rifles like the AR-15 should NOT be a disqualifier, because throughout history soldiers have brought home the advanced weapons that their armies had used and found significant uses for them in civilian life. His prime example is the “Henry lever action rifle”, first used in the Civil War and then brought home to become the well-known bolt-action hunting rifle that I mentioned above. OK, sure – Johnny came marching home in 1865 and thereafter was able to keep the family sated with venison all winter long. But the military of the 20th century also developed grenade launchers and flame-throwers and nuclear artillery shells. Don’t ask about the 21st century, with its lasers and electric rail guns. Should former soldiers be allowed to play with those things too? The point is that we are way beyond the Civil War, and the weapons being developed and used today by the military are much more capable of mass killing. Suppose Pickett’s troops had AR-15’s at Gettysburg?

Stokes makes a lot of very interesting and cogent points. But once I reached the end of his article, I still could not understand why owning an AR-15 might be essential to one’s life or well-being, or even necessary for a traditional and well-respected hobby interest (like my amateur photography). Mr. Stokes spent one or two lines in his article enumerating the actual non-police/non-military uses of the AR-15, including the following: Boar Hunting; Hobby Shooting Tournaments; Military Re-enactments; Rapid-Fire Skeet Shooting; and Varmint Control. Just what varmints are we talking about? And why do you need to pick fights with mean things like wild boars? How much of what we do for fun deserves constitutional protection from society’s interest in keeping a very deadly killing instrument away from those who want to do a lot of harm to the public?

Stokes suggests that an AR-15 would be a fine thing to have for situations where you need to kill “adrenaline-fueled humans”, situations commonly faced by the military and police. But for an average citizen who isn’t necessarily interested in killing others, but just wants to avoid being killed, isn’t a pistol enough protection? Most of us don’t even feel that we need a small 9mm in our lives.

Mr. S has a better point regarding the foibles of laws and the political processes behind those laws . . . admittedly, the history of gun legislation doesn’t inspire much confidence in the rationality of the legislative process or the outcome. But somehow, Canada does it, and people aren’t streaming across the border (especially out in Manitoba or Saskatchewan or British Columbia) for the right to own AR15’s. At the end of the article, Stokes says that he can support stronger laws to keep powerful weapons like the AR-15 and GCX from a small set of people who have been clearly identified by the government as potentially dangerous. “We should qualify or disqualify people, not gun designs. That’s a tall order, and it requires a ton of care if we’re going to respect all parts of the Bill of Rights. But I think if we all start with a few things that we agree on and then work from there, then there may be some hope of keeping guns out of the hands of crazed loners.”

Obviously, Jon Stokes is being a good bit more liberal and open-minded (and integratively complex) than the NRA, which claims that any attempt by the government to identify those crazed loners will be flawed and will no doubt impinge on the sacred rights of the citizenry because of inherent government incompetence. Given the results of the Democratic “sit-in” event last week in the US House of Representatives (the US Senate also didn’t get anywhere on big guns despite some sympathy from GOP Senator Collins from Maine), where even the most limited bill focusing solely on the shortest lists and highest rankings of people with ties to terrorism and violence, the governmental distrust sentiment is ruling the day.

This is Stokes’s true point. He doesn’t provide much integration nor complexity to his arguments defending the social utility of allowing citizens to have free-use of the AR-15 and its like. But he reaches stronger grounds when he talks about those who would stop him from buying or using such weapons, and how they would do it. Stokes’ final integration, with all its complexity, is this: the AR-15 might not be much more than a fun toy for Stokes and his gun-admiring friends to possess . . . no wait, in the interest of integrative complexity, let me admit that in the eyes of a techno-geek, the AR-15 is as much a work of art as a Rodin sculpture . . . nonetheless, its social uses aren’t terribly impressive, and its anti-social uses are extremely deadly . . . but he and his like will be damned if they are going to just sit around and wait for a bunch of bozo bureaucrats led by a cadre of corrupt and devious leaders from their ritzy enclave along the East Coast to come and take their guns!

Memo to Hilary Clinton – if you manage to beat Trump this November, which seems do-able at present assuming that your e-mail server sins weren’t as bad as many people seem to believe (and I myself don’t think that they are entirely daydreaming), you are not going to get too far unless you give the public a much better impression of government, and of yourself. (Think of all the Obama Administration plans that have been frustrated since the one big win on health care – and even that remains under attack.)

Ms. Clinton, the public doesn’t trust you very much, and they aren’t very impressed with the competence of most government workers and activities. How are you going to expand the government’s role in society if people don’t trust you or the many, many people who will work for you and your government? Why should folks who enjoy walking around their property out in Oklahoma or Montana with an AR-15 at the hip, taking out all those damn varmints digging up their lower 40, trust you and your “Administration” that it’s all for the common good that they not be able to get 30-round clips, and that they have strong restrictions on who they might eventually give or sell their wonderful “shooting system” to? You say that you have a plan to regain trust — in the name of integrative complexity, I sincerely hope that it works!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:50 pm      

  1. Jim, You have a nice post here, one I agree with; but also one I have a serious problem with regard to what to actually say regarding it. So my comments will be just a series of ideas; look for no carefully designed or thought-out essay here.

    I intend to say the same thing as you do but a bit differently than you do, which you may find insulting as you say it so much better. Anyway, the following is just that—my saying about the same thing you have in my way. Perhaps it will show that I don’t understand your point(s); then again, it may show that I do.

    People who lobby for and say they want guns never seem to get the understanding of why the Constitution had a provision for guns: There was no standing army then. When there was a threat, the ordinary guy was called up to defend the country and to bring his gun with him; guns were not issued by the government. Nowadays, we have a standing military that teaches how to kill people; there’s no need to call the farmer and his neighbors to bring their guns because somebody is invading the country, no need for the men of the country to drop everything and defend our country.

    Just recently, I somehow managed to get a view of guns I had never tho’t of before. These views are not my idea, but what I have read and what makes sense to me, a kind of compromise, if you will. So I’ll say this in my own words, altho I say again I’ve been influenced by others.

    It seems to me that people who live in rural areas or areas where cattle (and other large animals) are left to roam until they are later sold for meat) have a need to possess a rifle or at the most a gun and a rifle; each person must have his/her rifle. In rural areas there are wild animals that roam free: bears, wild large cats of various breeds (as the various “wild” cats that roam deserts in Arizona). Even in urban areas where I live a puma has been reportedly seen in a forest preserve.

    People in rural areas need a gun/rifle for protection should an animal become rabid or attack someone while in the rural and mostly unpopulated area. Even with police and game wardens, it is not always possible for authorities to arrive soon enough due to the distance between neighbors and the distance from anything urban. In particular people on farms or ranches, places that have very large animals (cattle and horses, donkeys, sheep [well, maybe “mid-large” for sheep]), have a need to have (again) a rifle and/or a gun. It would waste money to have to call the veterinarian when an animal becomes sick and needs to be put down (even a small animal, say a feral “house” cat). It’s just so much simpler to shoot the animal and let the earth take back the body in these areas where authorities are a long distance from such occurrences.

    However, it seems to me that people who live in cities have NO such need to protect themselves from wild animals who may look on humans as food for their little ones. It seems that all the people in cities who have guns have them for killing others. People in cities SAY they want guns for protection; but how many times does it turn out that someone in the house kills another in the same house by accident, which is plain old carelessness; even children getting hold of guns not put away properly can hurt another person in the house. There really seems no serious need for guns in an urban area as almost always authorities are within a few minutes of help. At this point I can think of no individual in Chicago who has killed someone to protect him/herself (at least none published), and there have been an outrageous number of people killed each weekend in Chicago.

    Even people in rural areas, where there might possibly be a valid argument for having a rifle or a gun, have absolutely no need for the military type guns used to “sweep streets”. The only purpose of those guns is to kill people, pure and simple, and to do it fast and in large numbers.

    Something is very wrong with our society when it finds that “protection” involves larger and more deadly kinds of ways to kill people, either close at hand or remotely (as with drones).

    In certain areas of big cities (e.g., Chicago) even young children have a valid need to be fearful because of the young people (somehow or other it’s always “young people” these days) firing guns randomly, who knows where (they themselves probably have no clue of where they are actually firing) and whom they may actually kill, maim, or hurt. But these unarmed young/little children do not carry guns and are no danger to those with the guns. They simply want to get to school and need to cross into “territory” that some gang presumes to claim as its “territory”. I find myself asking in those cases, what’s wrong with this picture?

    There is one place I find myself at a loss and unable to agree with you (if I understand you correctly): I find it difficult to express much admiration for the “well-designed and highly functional machine” that is the AR-15. In this case I think the purpose the AR-15 was designed only to kill large numbers of people. I find that that purpose outweighs any “beauty of design or function”. I just canNOT find a reason to admire such a gun/any gun, most especially that particular gun.

    While I am not a complete pacifist and do think that there are SOME uses for a rifle and/or gun in rural areas, I find little reason for people in urban areas to have guns.

    I’d also ask: Do people who go “boar hunting” actually need the boar for food? Or is there some other reason for using an AR-15 for hunting any animal? What is the point behind “Hobby Shooting Tournaments”? To simply have fun “pretending” to kill people? I’m not criticizing YOU here; I realize that you are simply quoting what some people do.

    I find myself wondering what is the underlying “push” behind such things: anger? fear (of what)? pleasure at the idea of perhaps pretending to kill others? None of any of this seems to make any sense to me; where is the “good” in any of it?

    I have long tho’t that should all guns be forbidden in urban areas, the death rate from guns in cities would go way down. I wonder what a world without guns, without massive weaponry that can kill hundreds, thousands, millions of people in one fell swoop would be like. I think we would find it a much better place to live. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — July 1, 2016 @ 10:04 am

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