Monday, December 31, 2012

Guns As The Solution To Guns? A Meditation on Corporate Solutions In General

Brilliant!  In quintessential arms-industry fashion the gun lobby as embodied in the National Rifle Association (NRA) has offered to supply both sides in an escalating arms race: More guns is the industry’s proposed answer to too many guns!

American crazies can obtain and walk the streets toting arsenals unimpeded by any legal challenge or rules and the gun lobby’s proposed remedy is that our response should be to expend taxpayer money to publicly equip and position sentries with the industry’s newest designs and latest ideas in terms of achieving superior force so that both fabulously equipped sides can shoot it out Wild West style with rapid fire multiple bullet high capacity magazines spraying large caliber armor-piercing bullets through our schools, movie theaters, shopping malls and churches . . .

Who wins such a shooting match?  Let’s send an award out to the fastest to draw . . .  the obvious conclusion: The only sure winner of such a plan is the gun manufacturing industry.

We all know the debate can get rather silly when people struggle to assert that guns are not the problem when you don’t responsibly regulate guns. . .  Remember the discussion of assault gun violence during the last presidential debate?: Republican candidate Romney came up with the idea that the solution to gun violence was for government to get involved in ensuring that the nation is populated by two-parent households.  No kidding: He did!  That was his version of how to cling to the notion that “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” although the statistics make it perfectly clear that people kill people (with guns as it turns out) much more frequently when they have guns.

The gun industry’s plan for America comes across a little like the proverbial vacuum cleaner salesman who elbows his way through your front door to spread dirt on your carpet so the salesman can endeavor to show you how well the machine they want to sell you will clean it up; the only thing is that this isn’t like the real version of that rigged sales pitch where the fluffy mix spilled on the customer’s floor is especially easy to suck up with the machine. . .  The gun manufacturers gambit works out more like an spectacular unfunny version of those spoofing burlesque skits where the mud stains leave a very real and very uncleanable mess.

The absurdity of the NRA’s sell more guns to address the gun problem is understandable when you realize who the NRA represents when it is promoting gun policy.  The evidence is that it doesn’t represent its own membership: It instead represents the industry selling the guns.  A New York Times editorial on the subject makes the point:
 . .  surveys that show a majority of N.R.A. members and a majority of American gun owners often support restrictions on gun sales and ownership that the N.R.A. has bitterly fought.

For instance, a 2009 poll commissioned by Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that 69 percent of N.R.A. members would support requiring all sellers at gun shows to conduct background checks of prospective buyers, which they do not have to do now and which the N.R.A. has steadfastly argued against.
Whatever reputedly huge amount of spending the NRA puts into political campaigns its actual membership is relatively small.  In our country of 315 million people the NRA with its low dues rate claims membership of only 4.3 million.  According to YouGov survey statistics recently reported in the Washington Post about 35 percent of Americans had a gun in their household (either owning a gun or living with a gun owner).  NRA membership among gun owners (mostly men) was 24 percent.  Obviously, surveys depend on the questions you ask (i.e. The Times cited survey above about background checks for gun shows NRA members favoring stricter law) but of the very much more substantial majority of gun owners who are not NRA members 25 percent supported stricter laws and 45 percent want no change.  Of the smaller 24 percent group of gun owners who are NRA members 54 percent wanted to make gun laws less strict.   Interestingly, a plurality of those who did not own a gun but lived with a gun owner (40 percent) want to make gun laws “more strict.”

While it may come as a surprise that the NRA membership is more supportive of gun restrictions than the NRA itself (despite NRA supported policies almost everyone is in favor of keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and half of the NRA members supported requiring a five-day waiting period for gun purchases), consider that particular surprise against the background of how much more conservative NRA membership is compared to the rest of the American public.  The New York Times recently published survey information that not only are Republicans more likely to own guns than Democrats, but:
Whether someone owns a gun is a more powerful predictor of a person’s political party than her gender, whether she identifies as gay or lesbian, whether she is Hispanic, whether she lives in the South or a number of other demographic characteristics.
The NRA membership as opposed to gun owners in general is likely not just to be Republican but conservative as well: According to the survey figures in the Washington Post story:
70 percent of [that small percent of] gun owners who were NRA members called themselves “conservative” or “very conservative.”  Only 44 percent of gun owners who weren’t NRA members said that. 
In other words, the NRA being more extreme than its relatively small membership does not just mean it is more extreme than typical gun-owning Republicans; it means that it is also more extreme than a much smaller segment of the population (actually outnumbered by the rest of the gun-owning population) that self-identifies as especially conservative.

Here are a couple of things I found surprising to learn: First, the NRA’s stance on gun control was originally diametrically different, until relatively recently (1920s and 30s) it pushed for gun control legislation and, secondly, those positions now advanced by the NRA when it says it represents its highly conservative membership are positions it derived from the country’s radical left.  We may tend to associate guns more with the South than the North but the NRA was started right after the Civil War by two former Union soldiers. The change to the current politics of the NRA came with a May 1997 coup that changed its leadership.  More on this background is available via a WNYC On The Media interview with UCLA law professor Adam Winkler, here: The Untold Story of Guns, Friday, December 21, 2012.

While we may strongly associate the NRA’s current views with right-wing  conservatives Winkler suggests that the heritage of the NRA’s current views, including demonization of the government as a threat (used as a justification to incapacitate government’s ability to regulate the industry), hearkens back to a precipitating NRA endorsement of and alliance in support of the radical left Black Panthers view that gun ownership is a critical protection against hostile government that can be  “tyrannical and disrespectful of people’s rights.”   Winkler has written a 2011 book on the subject (Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America) extracts of which became an article in the Atlantic: “The Secret History of Guns,” September 2011.   Another interesting tidbit therein: Ronald Reagan, who tenaciously continued to oppose gun control even after he himself was shot in an assassination attempt, started out on the other side of the fence as a governor who fought to curtail gun ownership.

When it comes to gun control I consider myself to be somewhere in the middle, recognizing that there is a very big middle to be in.  Living in New York City I see little reason to want to own a gun and plenty of reason I don’t want lots of them floating around the city, but having had family in Montana where they reported being stalked by cougars (who I was told are especially attracted to child-size human beings) I can see why one might want to take a gun for a walk in that area of the country.  Still, I can’t readily imagine how a concealed carry permit would assist in warding off the big cats. On the other side of the equation, my father’s cousin wound up owning his own World War II Howitzer for a while, you know those artillery field guns that are so big they travel on their own two wheels pulled around behind jeeps?  This gun was one of the smaller of such species.  If you have your own mountainside devoid of humans in the winter as my father’s cousin did you might actually be able discharge such a gun without too much mayhem but do we really want average citizens deciding where they want to point guns of such caliber and just when they want to set them off?

What do I think should be done in terms of gun control?  There is a lot that could be easily done that I would view as relatively middle of the road:
    •    I am hardly the first to wonder why guns whose primary purpose is to be deadly shouldn’t be at least as well regulated as automobiles which are only deadly if not used with the proper care.  The U.S. Constitution actually speaks in terms of regulating guns (the Second Amendment addressing guns speaks of a “well regulated Militia”) but the Constitution’s other direct mentions of possible government regulation (regulation of federal military forces, ports and commerce, currency, the federal courts, the manner of federal elections) doesn’t immediately bring to mind measures to ensure that other potentially deadly things like automobiles, chemicals or drugs be responsibly handled.

    •    Not only are car drivers required to have licenses but the cars they drive around also display license plates so that their improper use can be accountably traced back.  (The minimal cost to this system of licensing cars is far less than the alternative.)  I rather like the proposals that have been put forth to make bullets traceable in various ways so that law enforcement can identify where bullets were bought as well as the gun used to fire them.  A national registry to make the all of the tracking jobs a lot easier makes sense.  (See: Lawmakers Consider Stamps on Bullets, Published August 03, 2005, FoxNews.com, The Year in Ideas; Traceable Bullets, By Margaret Talbot, December 15, 2002, US Needs Traceable Bullets - Not More Marketable Guns, By Josh Sugarmann. Josh Sugarmann is executive director of the Violence Policy Center. / December 13, 1993, Make Bullets Traceable To Affect Accountability, July 17, 1999, Mon Jul 12, 2010, How to track Gun Crimes, 'Tags' to Help Catch Bombers, May 30, 1995.)

    •    I was stunned when I learned in 1999 that it was possible to trace back half of all the crime guns to just 1 percent of federally licensed firearms dealers and that, with most crime guns being guns that were legally bought, all of the legally bought crime guns were sold by only 20 percent of the dealers.  From this you can infer that a lot of repetition of consciously intended bad acts.  We know that straw buyers make repeated purchases for organized rings of gun traffickers.  It hardly seems that, unfettered by the gun lobby, that this would be hard to stop.

    •    The list of possible sensible restrictions can easily be lengthened.  I don’t think that there is reason that most people should be permitted to own either a Howitzer or the assault weapons designed for mass mayhem even if I am not the sort to dismiss out of hand the notion endorsed by the Black Panthers that government can be tyrannically disrespectful of individual rights (Disquietingly, gun control advocate Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City, is one of the ones who must be watched in terms of the potentials for government abuse). 
But what is the logic of fighting the plethora of guns with an escalating investment in more guns to keep pace?

What is this predilection we seem to have developed in this new era now dubbed the Anthropocene* for attacking all our manmade problems (I should say masculinely manufactured problems) with an escalating piling on of the same?
(* the new epoch where human beings are changing the planet)
I find myself thinking of the disappearance of bees around the world due to colony collapse disorder.  One reason colony collapse disorder is likely occurring is because genetically modified crops are producing a new class of neonicotinoid pesticides (produced by companies like Monsanto). How are companies like Monsanto dealing with the fact that the world is dependent upon bees for fertilization of most of the world’s crops, about 40% of what we eat? Not by eliminating the genetically modified crops threatening the bees. Like Zeus when he decided he needed no female partner and could masculinely give birth to Athena without Hera, these companies are prepared to go it alone without any partnering or balance with nature: They are hard at work genetically reengineering almond and soy crops so they won’t require fertilization by bees.  How parthenogenetically pathological: To banish forever the utility of flowers!

Similarly, the same companies that sell powerful herbicides (like Monsanto’s Roundup) and pesticides are patenting new crops that they are genetically modifying to be resistant to increasingly high doses of such chemicals.  As weeds found in the fields naturally evolve to become herbicide tolerant and insect pests likewise evolve the companies escalate the strength of their poisons and the artificially created GMO crops that can co-exist with them.  It’s the rest of nature that can’t keep pace to stay in balance.  Those who think that the horror GMO “Frankenfoods”is their mere unfamiliarity probably have it wrong: What we really have to fear most is likely this kind out-of-balance arms race of man inventing alterations to the natural environment to stay ahead of man-made alterations to the natural environment.

We could be cutting back on the greenhouse gases we pour into the air that cause global warming and climate change but instead it is likely that we are going to be more content simply to take extraordinary measures to deal with its effects.  The center of the country (62 percent of the continental United States) is drying out.  The Colorado River, supplying seven states including Arizona and California and 25 million people with water, is drying up so the Federal Government is looking at a new pipeline to annually divert 600,000 acre-feet of water from the Missouri River.  But the Missouri River feeds the Mississippi River and right now because of the unprecedentedly severe drought the Mississippi is becoming increasingly less navigable.  If the river is shut down as a navigation waterway it will necessitate a huge reconfiguration of the nation’s existing infrastructure, including the relocation of towns and population or their reassignment to new industries and livelihoods.

Meanwhile, the Ogallala Aquifer, instrumental in keeping a return of 1930s Dust Bowl conditions in the region at bay, is is being drained at an unsustainable rate.  At the same time, the acquirer which supplies drinking water to 82% of the populace in the region is threatened by the proposed new Keystone pipeline which, probably more importantly, will lead to a significant increase in greenhouse gasses, global warming and thus, full circle, the aquifer’s replenishment problem.

Other things we are looking at doing to adapt to climate change: moving infrastructure, homes and industry away from the changing coastlines, rebuilding coastline structures to make them less vulnerable to storms, rebuilding subways and waste management systems, pumping sand to the beaches, building surge barriers in our harbors and paying for storm recovery.  As sea levels rise, substantial amounts of potable water sources near the coastlines need to be replaced.  We are even considering more extreme schemes to reverse the climate change like spewing iron into the oceans to spur algae production to recapture carbon and spewing reflective dusts into the sky to repel the heat.  With dust above our heads the skies might no longer be blue and solar power installations might be less effective but it would be consistent with piling on to take active measures to try to stay ahead of ourselves.

Why is the silliness of these compounding races to keep pace with our own unbalancing reinventions of the environment accepted by any of us as making sense when they get proposed?  Maybe they don’t actually make sense to us, at least not as we inhabit the world as human beings, citizens of the world or parents of future generations.  Maybe these ideas only make sense to the corporations that propose them in order to continue making profits.  Is acceptance of these ideas, such as that acceptance may be, only just the way that corporate thought pervades into the general culture at large?

My respect for former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer has been somewhat circumscribed at times, but maybe Mr. Spitzer has the right answer about how to address the problem with government’s spinelessness in taking on the proliferation of guns and their irresponsible use.  Spitzer found good answers in tackling Wall Street before.  Now he is suggesting that we need to take the profit out of the gun industry’s promotion of irresponsibility. 

He says it is time to bring pressure to bear on the owners of the gun companies, time to look at major union pension fund and university endowments investing in the industry because they sure don’t want to be;
tarred as a passive owner of the company that sells semi-automatic weapons with no background checks or concern for the use of the weapons. Those investors have enormous leverage over the [companies that own the gun manufacturers]
He suggests they “could wield vast power” if they spoke with one voice.  (See: It’s Time To Target Cerberus, the Private-Equity Firm That Dominates the Gun Industry, by Eliot Spitzer, Monday, Dec. 17, 2012 and December 22, 2012, Public pressure and guns, by Eliot Spitzer.)

It’s an idea worth expanding upon.  The world could be made better in a lot of ways if we took the profit out of a lot of things.  It would be a nice way to clean the slate for the New Year.

Happy New Year.

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