Common Sense

by Francis Pennyworth, Jr.

I was heartily disappointed when, in the shadow of the evil that visited Sandy Hook, we were suddenly and aggressively bombarded by the gun control ideologues.  Shame.  This was a time when we should have been giving space to those grieving for their loved ones, so that they might have a measure of peace within which to heal their souls.  Instead, the politics began immediately and we heard the hue and cry for gun control.

Frankly, the timing of the gun control onslaught smacked of a patent attempt to capitalize on the nation’s grief.  It was as if the advocates of gun control had been waiting for an atrocity of sufficient magnitude which might get the better of our judgement, and cause us to act precipitously out of emotion, as opposed to intellect.

As I listened to the growing cacophony, I began to worry that we might actually allow ourselves to become the tools of those who would promote gun control as a panacea for all firearm related  crimes.

It didn’t help when Mr. Biden, a long standing and relentless gun control advocate, was flipped the task of making recommendations to the President.  The bias involved was only thinly disguised as the news outlets leaked, drop by drop, some of Mr. Biden’s thoughts.  Little things, like using Executive Orders instead of laws which must be debated and voted upon by our legislature.

Some of the intelligencia in our foremost law schools even began murmuring about getting rid of the Constitution, which they opined was antiquated and “evil.”  So much for the Second Amendment.

Then, in a speech perfectly timed much like a surfer who waits for a wave until he is actually lifted by the swell, President Obama finally shared his thoughts.

Now even though I didn’t vote for this man, and in all honesty don’t “get” his politics, I was encouraged – at least for a moment.  Why?  Because I heard him say three simple words, “reasonable” and “common sense.”  To my way of thinking the President had put his finger on the exact problem.  Reasonableness and common sense are good things.  And so, for a couple of days I thought to myself I was probably wrong about what was going on, that is, until I realized that the words “reasonable” and “common sense” are subject to many and varied interpretations.  In other words, they are vague and ambiguous.

After all, ambiguity is the camouflage of those who obfuscate.  Ambiguity is that shadowy grey world where anything can be anything, and nothing has objective substance.  Do I sound bitter?  I hope not because I’m not bitter, I’m just stunned by the open manipulation of our political system and our populace, by an anointed few.

Without becoming completely lost in the weeds let’s examine the ideologue’s use of “reasonable common sense” measures to control gun related homicides.  Consider the following.

We are told it is quite reasonable for a few select Mayors to take it upon themselves to demand that banks refuse to do business with law abiding gun manufacturers.  We are also told it’s reasonable for our President to use Executive Orders instead of legislation to further his agenda.

We are told that it is just common sense to ban the sale of “assault” weapons even though there is no intelligible definition of the word “assualt”.  These same people seem to believe that anything which looks “military” needs to be banned.  And that the capacity of clips must be restricted to some magic number (5, 7 or 10 bullets depending on where you might live.) thereby insuring that the bad guys will have more bullets than the good guys.

Never mind that these “assault” weapons are long guns and that the majority of gun crimes involve hand (short) guns.  Never mind that none of these guns are “automatic”, indeed, it is unclear whether or not the ideologues even understand the difference between automatic and semi-automatic actions. Never mind that such laws will only affect the honest, sane, law abiding citzens.  Never mind that the Second Amendment does not require a justification for the posession of a weapon.  It’s gun control and it’s all good.

We are also told, with great authority, that the statisics mandate these gun controls.  The only problem is the statistics we now gather only serve to cloud the important issues.  For example, according to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), in 2009 there were approximately 31,347 deaths attributed to firearms, or about 10.2 per 100,000 in population.  In the same time period there were 34,485 motor vehicle traffic deaths and 41,592 deaths by poisoning.  Taken by themselves these numbers tell us almost nothing.  For example, of the firearm related deaths, the CDC reports that 18,735 of the deaths were suicides and 11,493 were homicides.  Without drowning in the details, suffice it to say that homicides by firearm in the United States in 2009 were a fraction of the deaths resulting from other instrumentalities such as vehicle accidents and poisoning.  This fact has not changed in any significant way over time.

Why point this out?  Because it shows us how misleading the statistics can be.  Not only are we being mislead as to the true relative size of the problem we have learned absolutely nothing about causation.  If we use these stats to contruct an instrumentality-based logic, which supports gun control, we will also be constructing a narrative which would support the outlawing of vehicles, poisonous chemicals, knives, bows and arrows, gasoline, fertilizer, fuel oil, glass bottles, etc., etc., ad nauseam.  It’s a failure to recognize the difference between correlation and causation and, it flies in the face of common sense.

You disagree?  Maybe you shouldn’t.  By the logic of the argument, aren’t all of these items responsible for deaths just like guns?  Think about it.  If we remove all vehicles we’ll save 35,000 or more lives a year.

Of course this suggestion is nonsense.  Why?  Because mere instrumentalities don’t have a mind of their own.  Steak knives, unless possessed by poltergeists, simply don’t kill people.  And neither do guns.  Yes, I know you’ve heard this before, however, think for a moment – what is the one common factor in the CDC statistics for knife deaths, traffic deaths and gun deaths?  It’s people!  Not vehicles, not knives and not guns!

Common sense dictates that instead of continuing the useless, unceasing arguments we should be constructing a data suite designed to disclose the causative factors of these homicides and their respective rates of occurrence.

I submit to you that it doesn’t occur to us to remove vehicles, or knives, or gasoline from society.  Instead we address the issue of causation.  For example, in the case of vehicles, research and common sense observation have suggested that maturity, training and lack of impairment etc. are accident causing factors in vehicle use.  As a result, our approach to the use of vehicles seeks to address the causative factors instead of the instrumentality.  In other words, we don’t outlaw Lamborghini’s (a very fast car) instead we pass laws to make sure the driver is properly trained, tested and licensed.  We handle airplanes, trains and large boats the same way.

Why don’t we apply this same rational approach to weapons?  The answer is simple.   There is a sizable number of people who see no value whatsoever in the constitutionally protected right to bear arms.  In fact, some of these ideologues don’t even find value in the Constitution itself.  And, whether well intended or not, this group of people seeks to impose its will on everyone else.  Because of this political agenda we are becoming lost in the weeds.  Instead of addressing the causative factors of gun murders we waste our time arguing about the size of a clip, or the presence of a tripod.

The intensity of the argument has surpassed the irrational.  Within a few days of this writing an east coast newpaper known as the Journal News went so far as to publish the addresses of local gun owners.  This short sighted attempt at intimidation accomplished nothing, and only served to provide a road map to unprotected homes for those who might be planning robberies.  It’s a marvel to behold the extremes of dedicated zealots.

The hallmark argument of this pro-control group is, “Why do you need a semi-automatic weapon?”  The question is totally irrelevant to the issue!  The right to bear arms is just that, a right!   And, this right is not conditioned upon needNeed is simply not in issue.  To engage in this type of constitutional erosion is the mother of all slippery slopes.  Ultimately it will lead to questions like, “Why do we need people over 65 years of age?” or “Why do you need a 24 ounce coke?”  Oh, I forgot.  It’s already been decided for us that we can’t drink 24 ounce cokes.

“Why do you need … ?” could be the subject of an entire book and absolutely none of it would, in a productive way, address the relevant causative factors of crimes involving guns.

I submit to you that a man who is not inclined to commit murder will not be persuaded to do so just because he’s holding a fully automatic weapon.  Nor does the absence of a fully automatic weapon make it substantially harder to kill a room full of people all at once.  Timothy McVeigh is a case in point.  Think about it.  It’s common sense.  Let’s try to find the guys who are inclined to commit murder before they find us, because its damn sure that disarming the good guys isn’t going to help any of us.

Where are the statistics pulling out the factors of emotional maturity, training and mental impairment?  Why aren’t we breaking down the causative factors on an incident-by-incident basis so that we can address the situation intelligently?

Shouldn’t our objective be the reduction of homicides, as opposed to a witch hunt for the instrumentality used?  Can’t one instrumentality be easily replaced by another?  If you take away the bow and arrow can’t it be quickly replaced with a bottle of gasoline and a burning rag?  Doesn’t it make more sense to focus on the causation of the violence?  Isn’t the instrumentality used merely coincidental to the act of murder?  Just a thought.

Stiffer penalties for the violation of gun control laws are a demonstrably failed approach.   Once a person has decided to commit a homicide, ostensibly that person has also decided to commit the violence and has accepted the punishment of death.  Given that fact, what in God’s creation causes us to think that super strict gun control laws will be a deterrent?  If the bad actor is already willing to die, why would a few more laws prohibiting the possession of a gun be a deterrent?  Obviously it wouldn’t.

Can you think of some of the unintended consequences of completely outlawing guns?  How about this?  We can reasonably assume that law abiding citizens wouldn’t break the law.  But as we’ve just realized, the bad actors will have no reason not to.  Result: The bad actors have weapons and the good guys don’t.  Does that work for you?

This might be a good place to remind you that the police are a responding force whose job is to show up  after the crime has been committed.  For those who are still confused, that would be many minutes after you needed to defend yourself and your family.

The problem with genuine tragedy is that it screams for immediate action.  The more heinous the act, the greater the sorrow, and the more ferocious the hysteria to immediately take steps to prevent a reoccurrence.

As a father and grandfather I cannot conceive of a greater sorrow than that of the recent massacre of innocence at Sandy Hook, Connecticut.  But as I listen to the news and I hear the pundits ask, “Why do we need semi-automatic weapons?” and “Why do we need rifles like the Bushmaster?”  I get sick to my stomach.  Off we go on another meaningless treasure hunt!  The ideologues are once again seizing the opportunity to impose their will on everyone else.

Why can’t we set aside the private agendas and stop focusing on the instrumentalities?  Let’s concentrate on the causative factors of gun murders, and within that focus we might find the bits and pieces, and beginnings of a rational and reasonable solution.  Let’s go back to basics such as maturity, training, mental impairment and/or any other factor we can reasonably identify, quantify, and control.

What are the forms of mental impairment (chemical or otherwise) which might cause an occurrence like Sandy Hook?  Can those conditions or propensities be recognized in advance?  If so how?  How prevalent are these conditions in our population?  Can we reliably test for them?  Are there behavioral traits we should be looking for?  And, why aren’t we gathering the information which might help us prioritize the causative factors?

What are the behavioral warning signs that presage this type of violence?  What requirements/responsibilities can reasonably be placed upon parents vis a vis the mental condition of their children/dependents?  What reasonable requirements/standards can be placed on the storage and safekeeping of weapons.  Can weapons be so personalized as to be rendered unusable to anyone but the authorized owner?  What liability might be assessed for the failure to comply with those requirements/standards?  The questions to be answered are endless and to make matters worse, no one appears to be looking for the answers.

Shame on us for the disingenuous politics!  Take a close look at our elected officials.  Do you see how they scramble for the bragging rights of being the first to propose some nonsensical gun law?  I respectfully suggest that they breath through their noses, sit down, and read the recent blog by Lisa Long entitled, “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother: A Mom’s Perspective The Mental Illness Conversation In America.”  It’s an important read.

Let’s take this dialog to a place that actually addresses the problem.  Lisa Long said it best when she wrote, “… it’s easy to talk about guns.  But it’s time to talk about mental illness.”