Wednesday, May 31, 2017
In Lieu of Wearing Orange on Friday
Friday, 2 June is Wear Orange Day (it is Saturday in Santa Fe). This started in response to yet another senseless shooting in Chicago, as explained by Mike "The Gun Guy" Weisser. It has since spread far and wide and while most gun owners will cringe at supporting such a day, I think, as I have said before, that we need to find common ground between the firearms owning fraternity and those who see firearms in a negative manner. The vast majority of gun owners in the U.S. are honorable, law abiding citizens and should not be tarred with the brush of gun violence carried out by that subset of gun owners who see a bullet as a solution to all their social ills. But we will only escape the tar on that brush if we work to reduce the scope of the problems.
I'm not sure I will wear orange because I gave all my hunting clothing to my brother in law back in New York State when I moved to Hawaii a quarter century ago and being a good Catholic, the idea of wearing orange is an anathema. That said, I am sympathetic to the cause. I do have, however, a traffic control vest in blaze orange with some yellow retroreflective tape. Maybe....albeit that would be pretty tacky.
The cultural appropriation by the gun violence prevention community of wearing orange is somewhat misplaced (although I am all for more "cultural appropriation"), since the vast majority of gun deaths and injuries in the U.S. are deliberate while blaze orange helps protect hunters against the rare hunting accident. I can live with that. The main idea is to cut down on senseless gun violence. How to do that is the million dollar question. I've been quite critical of some of the stuff being bantered about in these parts, including the background check bill introduced by our own representative. That said, here are some suggestions.
1. The four rules of gun safety are critical. These are:
First, the gun is always loaded until you personally verify it is not. Accidental shootings are signs of negligent handling.
Second, never point a gun at something you don't intend to shoot. Dumb, dangerous things happen and bullets don't have a reverse gear.
Third, keep the finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot. Refer to previous rule.
Fourth, be sure of your target and what is beyond the target (hence, the wearing of orange to make hunters stand out against the background.
2. I will add my fifth rule: social gun safety. If you are angry, drunk, drug impaired, suicidal, or otherwise short on one's normal social inhibitions against violence, either self-directed or otherwise, lock up the arsenal. If you don't have social inhibitions against violence, don't own guns. In that regard, I think the domestic violence restraining order gun removal bill that Gov. Martinez vetoed was a good bill; her veto was incomprehensible. The bill was generous in that it let someone store a gun with a friend or a gun shop until the order was retracted rather than having the police seize it, and had due process written in. As far as suicide, bullets are pretty universally effective at turning out the lights, so anyone who really wants to contemplate suicide, as George Eastman did with a clear head as he became increasingly infirm, should be sure of their intent because there ain't any going back.
3. In New Mexico, property crime and residential burglaries are common, especially in our larger cities. If you have guns, make sure they are secured when you don't need them and make sure if a burglar wants your guns, he has to work his ass off to get them. Even in Los Alamos. I had a chat with Albuquerque Police Chief Gordon Eden and he told me that burglary, not gun shows, was by far the biggest conduit of guns to criminals in these parts. That's the real problem with widespread gun ownership in America: there are more guns to steal and fall into the wrong hands. Those conduits mentioned by Chief Eden include residential burglaries and the occasional high profile smash and grab of guns in gun or pawn shops. Commercial gun stores should have decent security systems to deter theft. This is a legitimate social concern and indeed, some government oversight of gun shop security is completely consistent with Heller. Private homes are a different matter. Perhaps in that case, a fat state tax deduction for anyone buying a robust gun safe (and hopefully using it) should be what our legislators work to pass. The cost to the tax man of a gun safe tax credit is dwarfed by the costs to the state (or to loved ones) of a homicide or the long term medical care of a gun violence victim. Its too bad government is so mentally stovepiped.
The ancillary benefit of securing the family arsenal is just as important: keeping the kids from blowing their own, or each other's heads off until you, as responsible parent, teach safe and responsible gun handling to your brood when the kids are old enough to understand how to handle a firearm safely (for me, it was about 12 years old). I don't know if there is a single age to do this but parents have to make sure they cover this issue well.
4. Defensive gun use should be a last resort, not a routine option. De-escalation is something anyone who carries for self defense must learn and not the hard way. If you have any thoughts of needing a gun for self defense (and think about this carefully, since there are pros as well as cons of arming yourself and the jury is out on the effectiveness of going armed, even if you don't believe David Hemenway's research), take the New Mexico concealed carry class offered at multiple locations in New Mexico even if you don't want the concealed license. The class material is really good and the emphasis on exercising your situational awareness and shooting skills as well as understanding the law are all very important.
Aside from the logistics and statistics, one has to also ask if a "go it alone" mentality of carrying a gun rather than working on a safer society is a good thing. Not that those are mutually exclusive ideas, but the left v right politics seems to have broken down that way. Living in a society where watching your back is not a constant necessity is a good thing.
5. Finally, we need to find ways to seek out common ground on gun violence reduction rather than polarizing the discussion so it becomes worse than it is already (and that goes for both sides of the discussion). Frankly, a lot of gun violence is pretty localized to violence prone subcultures, as researched by Andrew Papachristos of Yale, so blaming the firearms community as a whole for gun violence is like blaming all motorists for chronic drunk drivers. As Mike Weisser has said, the vast majority of gun owners will pass the BATF 4473 test or we wouldn't own guns. But keeping guns away from high risk cohorts will take some compromise, perhaps grudgingly, on the part of the rest of us.
But violent subcultures only address part of the story and dealing with other parts of the puzzle often means carrots such as NMTPGV's work getting teens to sign a pledge of nonviolence rather than concentrate on sticks (laws and enforcement). Meanwhile, Susan Sorenson at Penn has studied guns in domestic violence; her research shows they are used to effectively terrorize more than to shoot. Intervention to eliminate domestic violence is critical, even more so when weapons are involved. So is getting motorists to refrain from road rage, especially when packing heat. Guns are the most lethal tool but they don't alone explain the motives for acting out.
We need to recognize that frankly, some folks should not own guns until they can live up to the responsibility of having them, and those of us who can be trusted with firearms need to find solutions rather than argue incessantly with The Other Side. But finding common ground might be the hardest thing on this list to do as well as the most critical. Buy your opponent a cup of coffee, i.e., at least make the attempt to engage (I got started on this by having lunch with Miranda Viscoli). When we only hear our echo chamber talking, whether it be Everytown or the NRA, we hear half the story. Someone from rural Vermont where the crime rate is miniscule sees firearms differently than someone in Albuquerque or the South side of Chicago. Those folks need to talk to and understand each other's points of view.
Be safe out there, and as I tell bicycle folks in their context, be a valued and trusted ambassador from the gun community.