Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Deadly Weapons in the Hands of Loons, Part II

Actual Loon

William Spengler, Jr

Or, Yes, Dorothy, We Do Have A Double Standard Here

Well, the Bushmaster .223 caliber civilian assault rifle (i.e, a military spec rifle designed to deliver high rates of automatic fire in battlefield conditions, slightly modified to only fire semi-automatic but still capable of several rounds per second and often equipped with high capacity magazines) used to execute 20 elementary school students and six of their teachers made the news again this week, and this time much closer to (my) childhood home. As reported in the NY Times, 62 year old William Spengler set fire to his home in Webster, NY,  as a way to set up an ambush and murder two firemen and wound a second two, who are currently recovering from serious gunshot wounds in Strong Memorial Hospital. According to Webster Police Chief Gerald Pickering, Spengler chose the 223 Bushmaster (note added later: as a convicted felon, Spengler obtained his rifle via a straw purchase.) It seems these military style rifles are becoming the weapon of choice of those wanting to go out in a blaze of blood and infamy. In a goodbye note to humanity, Mr. Spengler said he wanted to go out of this world doing what he likes to do best, "killing people".

“He was equipped to go to war to kill innocent people,” the Webster police chief, Gerald L. Pickering, said of Mr. Spengler. 

Elsewhere in the NY Times, we learn that those extremely violent video games that NRA honcho Wayne LaPierre complains about are actually used by gun manufacturers to market guns. Gee...I guess Wayne ought not to bite the hand that feeds him.

Finally, in the Albuquerque Journal today we learn from AP writers Suzanne Gamboa and Monika Mathur that 561 children 12 years old or younger were shot dead in the USA from 2006 to 2010.

Not to pick on the Bushmaster too much but I've had enough. We need to control weapons of mass destruction,  not to mention, control our dark side. No right is absolute, and although the Founders, as recorded in such places as the Federalist Papers, argued that "a well regulated militia" was inexorably tied into the people's individual right to bear arms, that doesn't mean they thought every farmer should have a twelve pounder double-shotted with grape and canister aimed at the front porch. Neither does it mean we should all be carrying around enough firepower to fight a land war in Afghanistan. One has to balance individual rights with the public safety. Yes, finding that balance is a real chore and requires trust, individual responsibility, and logic. The more freedom one has, the more responsibilities one shoulders for the public good.

But what about those gun death numbers? The elephant in the room is here: In those same five years that we killed 561 children with guns, or about 112 per year, we probably killed, on average, between 1400 and 2,000 children per year aged 14 and under with motor vehicles. Here's the most recent data I scraped up. That is a ratio of roughly between 14 and 20:1  Worldwide, the leading cause of death among children is car mishaps, not gun mishaps.

One might ask why both cars and guns are marketed so irresponsibly. For every awful gun ad I've seen in Guns and Ammo telling us that every home needs an assault rifle to protect us against a mythical Armegeddon, I can find you a few car ads that sell cars that will give us outlets for our aggression, that we can drive like maniacs ("professional driver on closed course, don't try this at home"), so we can get laid, or so we can revel in yet more meaningless horsepower. Citizens who will fight to the death to protect their right to keep and drive cars fight traffic cameras, speed limits, and cell phone laws. As cyclists, we see the results of that mentality and are four times more likely to die at the hands of a reckless, careless, or drunk motorist than by the hand of a gun-wielding criminal or lunatic.

The problem isn't guns, its us. We don't want any restrictions on our freedom to screw up, even if we take out others with us. Cars should be about transportation, and guns for sport shooting, hunting, and defense, both individual and national. Instead, guns and cars are tied into our silly and our dark sides, too. Its not just the individual's lacking self control, either. Its the manufacturers and advertisers who will take their money now and let us deal with the mortal consequences later.

We are not a few million horse riding and musket wielding farmers spread out thinly along the East Coast any more; when one of us screws up with our high tech contraptions, whether it be a Bushmaster in the hands of a lunatic or a Buick in the hands of a texting driver, we hurt others. Until we meet each other halfway with some sense of safety and civility, not to mention reasonable laws based on risk analysis rather than fear driven politics, we will continue to kill each other in higher than necessary or reasonable numbers. And please, unless you are a better driver than I am or are car-free, don't rant about the NRA until you rant about the National Motorists Association.

 I'm left thinking that here in BombTown, we are more likely under normal circumstances to kill each other with a motorized cell phone than with a gun, although neither, famous last words, is a high likelihood event. Given that the community is  concerned with active shooters, I suggest if we really want to save lives, we teach each other to be active safe drivers as well as worry about whether mass gun violence will arrive on The Hill.

Finally, of course, be careful and be civil out there, whether it be with your bike, your car, or your gun.


Anonymous said...

A few random comments:

The death toll from irresponsible cell phone use is probably a lot higher than that from firearms.

We could eliminate the "assault rifle," but we have plenty of semi-auto sporting rifles that are just as deadly, but have a different "look."

I just read a few days ago the American Psychiatric Association reamed LaPierre concerning his reference to "mentally ill people" and "monsters." The APA says only 4 to 5 percent of the mentally ill could have the potential to be dangerous. The rest are much more likely to be the victims of crime. The APA claims there are mentally ill people and EVIL people. The evil are the mass murderers and not so much the mentally ill! So we need a database of "the evil" and not the mentally ill to be useful in preventing mass murders.

How many people have been killed by guns around Los Alamos in the last few years? How many have been killed by irresponsible cell phone use?

Seems we have a nearly hopeless culture problem.

Steve A said...

Only one request - stop picking on Loons. They are rather harmless birds other than to their intended prey - fish and small aquatic animals. Hope you had a Happy Christmas.

Ian Brett Cooper said...

Great post!

The overriding problem is that car culture is king. When almost everyone gets their license with about the same level of rigorous documentation study that is required to set up their home PC, and with no retesting or meaningful repercussions for poor driving, is it any great surprise that a million of the world's people get killed every year by motor vehicles?

Firearm ownership is still relatively rare (about 30% of Americans own guns), which is why we still have the possibility to make it difficult, and to adjust the safety practices mandated by government.

But when it comes to changing the rules for motorists, we are looking at a completely different situation - motoring is almost ubiquitous in this country, so almost every voter is a motorist. Very few motorists are going to vote to make car ownership more difficult, and even fewer are going to agree to the regular retesting that might weed out those most likely to kill.

Anonymous said...

Based on a little web research, there are about 72 firearms per square mile and 67 cars per square mile in the US. Seems the cars win out by far as the most dangerous instruments of death and destruction.

Anonymous said...

Do Loons eat the silvery minnow?