Sunday, April 21, 2013

Guns, Cars and Gabby Giffords

Once upon a time, I had my driver’s license suspended.  I was in my 20’s; I was going through a  divorce; and, I was a bit off my game.  The judge allowed me to drive to and from work; but for two months I couldn’t go anywhere else.  I had been trained and licensed to drive but it was made clear up front that driving was a privilege not a right.  I was acting irresponsibly so I lost my privileges.

In Port St. Lucie, Florida last week, a road rage incident led to a white man, Dean Bair, threatening his momentary nemesis, a black man whose two children were in the car, with a gun.  Racial epithets were hurled.  The gun wasn’t used but there was a fistfight.  Police searched Bair’s vehicle and found not only the 9 mm handgun that he was brandishing but also an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle, loaded with the safety off.   He was charged with aggravated assault and arrested.  He was also charged with carrying a concealed weapon and using a firearm during the commission of a felony.

Was he mentally deranged or just a stupid redneck?   I don’t know.

The public is split over gun rights but nearly everyone agrees that we need to keep firearms away from deranged people.  People like James Holmes who is accused of the Aurora, CO shooting, Adam Lanza who killed 20 children and 6 adults in Newtown, CT and Seung-Hui Cho who killed 32 at Virginia Tech in 2007.

So, why did the US Senate kill a bill that would have closed the gun show loophole and require background checks for all gun purchasers?

The answer is complicated, of course.  Nothing is simple in Washington.  The bill also contained provisions that limited rights to own semi-automatic weapons.  The NRA campaigned against it.  So, down it went.

And, you have to ask yourself…  if you were a resident of Watertown, MA, would you have wanted to have a gun in your house this week?  What would you do if a panicked Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were pounding your door?  Would you have been better off if you had a gun?

Moreover, advocates of gun rights point out that nothing in the proposed law would have prevented the tragedy in Newtown.  And, they are right about that. The only way to prevent a mother from giving guns to their mentally deranged children is to infringe on her right to own a gun in the first place.

There are those who would opt for that approach – taking guns away from everyone.  But, it seems very clear to me that advocates of gun rights are a good deal more passionate about what they view as their basic rights.   So, it’s not going to happen.

Following the vote, the president made an impassioned speech with former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords at his side.  Ms. Giffords didn’t speak as she still has difficulty doing so.  She saved her words for an Op-Ed in the New York Times titled “A Senate in the Gun Lobby’s Grip”.  She expressed the views of many when she said of the 45 Senators who brought the legislation down, “They looked at these most benign and practical of solutions, offered by moderates from each party, and then they looked over their shoulder at the powerful, shadowy gun lobby — and brought shame on themselves and our government itself by choosing to do nothing”.

I suppose they might still do something.  There are ways they might prevent the mentally ill and convicted felons from owning guns.  It won’t be foolproof and there will be exceptions.  It wouldn’t have stopped the bombers in Boston, the terrorists on 9/11 or Adam Lanza’s mother from her folly.  

On Thursday, the Senate voted for cloture by a vote of 68-31.  So, the Congressional debate will continue.

Meanwhile, in Port St. Lucie, if Dean Bair is convicted of a felony, he will lose his right to carry a firearm -- in Florida.  His guns aren't registered.  He still may be able to buy a firearm at a gun show.  Unlike driving, which is a privilege not a right, he wasn’t trained or licensed and his guns weren’t registered or insured. 



  1. Dear John,

    I'm a BIG fan of your blog -- so much so that I linked to it in my blog post this week. But I take extreme exception to your use of a non-sequitor in your otherwise solid reporting and commenting on the gun issue.

    The issue that the tone deaf senate voted down would not have kept the terrified residents of Watertown, MA from having the guns that might have protected them if Dzhokhar Tsarnaev knocked on their door. Nothing in that watered-down bill would have taken away anyone's 2nd amendment rights. It only would have made background checks mandatory and ubiquitous and limited some high-capacity cartridges. The result would have been that crazy people and felons could not buy new guns. Law abiding citizens would have perfectly capable of defending themselves.

    You reported that 45 senators voted the bill down but left out that 90% of Americans were in favor of expanded background checks. Those two numbers point directly to the point of all of your posts — Who Will Lead? Right now, it appears that it's the NRA and the gun manufacturers who support them.

  2. @Bruce, i intended to present both sides of the argument in order best to make the point that limiting rights to own assault weapons and large ammo clips is unlikely to happen. My comment that the bill voted down by a minority of Senators contained provisions other than closing the gun show loophole was widely reported in the press. I confess that I didn't dig in enough to have read the proposed legislation myself.

    The main thrust of the post is simple. Restrictions on ownership are unlikely to happen. However, at the very least we need a system that will force registration and limit access to law abiding, sane people.

  3. Charles (Mike) Pearson • One of the biggest current arguements against background checks for gun sales a shows and over the internet is that no one should infringe on a transaction between two law abiding citizens. Well, are the two people involved law abiding? How can we prove it? Maybe we could do some sort of background check.

  4. Thanks, Mike. You brought a smile to my face.

  5. John W. Stevens, Jr. • John -- Congratulations on a well written article. I do not agree with all of it, but it is well stated.

    A few comments --You refer to a "powerful, shadowy gun lobby." The gun lobby is not in any way "shadowy." The gun lobby represent me and millions of other American citizens who support the NRA and other pro-Second Amendment organizations. These organizations respond to the urging of their constituents -- me and other like me.

    Additionally, you refer to the recently defeated legislation as the "most benign and practical of solutions." By whose definition? Certainly not mine. As far as I have been able to determine this bill offered virtually nothing that would have made a difference in one single instance of mass murder since 1963 when the first of these atrocities took place. It offered nothing to address the mental health issues. It did nothing to fix the problems in reporting and recording of crimes and mental health problems across the nation. It did nothing to address the fact that every single mass murderer in the US in the last 50 years involved a perpetrator who was taking Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) class drugs for the treatment of depression, bi-polar disorder, and other similar psychiatric illnesses.

    Further, although many of these notorious perpetrators had been determined by their psychiatric caregivers to be disturbed and in many cases a potential danger to themselves or others, none had been reported in a way that affected or would have affected the result of a background check.

    Your article implies that Adam Lanza's mother "gave guns to [her] their mentally deranged [child] children." Mrs. Lanza's folly was her failure to properly secure her weapons even while attempting to have her increasingly insane son hospitalized. She paid for this folly by being the first victim of his rampage. Had she survived, she should have been held accountable for her failure. However, she had been attempting unsuccessfully for several weeks to have her son hospitalized. She was unsuccessful as a result of feel-good policies enacted in the 70s and 80s purportedly for the purpose of protecting the rights of the mentally ill -- throwing them out of hospitals into the streets without supervision or treatment.

    I value my constitutional rights enough to have voluntarily joined the military to protect those rights. I value my Second Amendment rights as much as I value my First Amendment rights, and those of every other part of the Bill of Rights. Perhaps to some my position is unreasonable. However, I believe as did our Founding Father Benjamin Franklin: "Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither." Franklin also said: "A nation of well-informed men, who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them, cannot be enslaved." Our Founding Fathers included the Second Amendment into the Bill of Rights to give us the physical means to prevent our enslavement because the knew from experience that knowing and prizing our God-given rights was not sufficient.

  6. @John. The comments "shadowy gun lobby" and "most benign...." were quoted from the NY Times op-ed by Gabby Giffords and were contained in quotes in my blog post.

  7. Karen VanAssche • Excellent article, John. I'm with Ms. Gifford - they have no excuse. Nobody other than the military should be allowed to own assault weapons. Seriously, if the bomber had knocked on my door, my possession of a gun wouldn't have made any difference. Imagine the gunfight at the OK Corral in my condo. My Louisville Slugger would be adequate protection. As would an effective swing from a tennis racquet. Plus, it's unlikely I would have opened the door in the first place.

  8. Tom Jeanette, MEM, PMP • This is absurd: " What would you do if a panicked Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were pounding your door? Would you have been better off if you had a gun?" First, how would I know it was him ... ask for ID? Second, if he's banging on my door, he's not inside, which means I have no "castle protection" rights ... I can't legally shoot him through the door just because he's banging on it. Third, this scenario is somehow being used to justify a person in Des Moines, Dallas, Fargo or any other locality owning an assault weapon just in case it was to happen to them, ignoring the fact that such a situation has never happened before, anywhere in the U.S.

    What would I do if Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was banging on my door? I'd call the police, just as I would if he was hiding under the cover of my boat parked in my driveway ... just like the homeowner actually did.

    I've always thought that gunpowder was being used as a testosterone supplement. Now I've decided that it also serves to replace common sense.

  9. @Tom. I think the questions are legitimately answered differently by different people. They are not absurd questions at all.

  10. Robert Spencer • Perhaps those on the pro gun side see the eventual aim of complete disarmament as unacceptable. In compromise there is give and take but the gun debate is all about what progunners must give up and not what could be extended to this group of very conscientious group of people.

    Pro gun folks are better than the police because they have the same if not lower rate of crime than the police themselves without the benefit of other cops covering up their criminal wrongdoing.

    Rule #17: Compromise if necessary should always be win-win. If it’s not win-win then you are really being asked to give up your rights. Why should you?

    Rule #36: If you feel like you are being played (lied to), you probably are.

  11. @Robert. It's not clear to me what "this group of very conscientious ... people" are being asked to give up. I advocate that convicted felons and dangerous mentally ill people be denied access to firearms.

    Is a requirement to register guns giving up something? I register my car when I buy it, my children when they are born, my professional credentials when I want to pursue certain professional activities and my sources of income with the IRS.