Sick of it

It’s official. I am sick and tired of guns.

I’ve talked about the Second Amendment before. It has been taken out of context for a very long time, the prevailing legal interpretation of it needs to be re-evaluated, and the bylaws related to it need to be updated. However, the social and political climate of this country is such that such changes aren’t likely to happen. (Well, at least it was unlikely until the past week or so.) I have had my fill of news stories describing mass shootings in various places around the country, and the apparent unwillingness of the government to really do anything about it.

In an earlier essay I described what I called the “price of freedom” for gun ownership. The second amendment clearly states that citizens have the right to carry weapons for self protection. Fine and good, says I. But that right comes with a price. If a nation is going to allow easy access to guns, and place few if any restrictions on the types of guns that can be acquired, then that nation is going to have problems related to gun owners. In the case of the United States, those problems have recently included people going on a rampage and killing people at random. The most recent of those victims were school children.

It’s a very simple equation, as far as I am concerned. Loose gun laws will bring about random acts of mass violence. That is the “price of freedom” related to gun ownership. I was intrigued to discover that I am not the only person who sees it this way. In fact, one of those people is political commentator Bill O’Riley. After the mass shooting at a music festival in Las Vegas last fall, he wrote about it on his blog, and it was in turn carried elsewhere. He also makes valid points about how polarizing the issue of gun control is, and that any real progress is unlikely as a result. He also seems to be of the belief that the rights guaranteed by the second amendment are so important as to be almost sacred, and that we need to simply accept mass shootings as part of everyday life. A lot of people, especially the NRA and their supporters, seem to believe that.

I, for one, do not. I can see the logic behind the argument, but I do not accept it. For starters, I can’t accept the “reasons” for gun ownership that are championed by the NRA and its supporters. Most of those arguments boil down to fear of the government. Granted, this was a legitimate concern for the founders of this country, because the European powers were eying the young United States the same way vultures eye a sick animal. Today, fear of a foreign invasion has diminished, but fear of an oppressive government is alive and well. Conservatives seem to think that the only form of oppressive government is a Liberal one, while Liberals fear a Conservative one. (Currently, given the historical pattern that President Trump is following, I think the Liberals are justified. But that’s another issue.) Personally, I believe that if the government is turning oppressive, it’s because we as a nation haven’t been using the tools we have to keep it under control. If you don’t like the direction a government is going, then vote for different leaders. And if they don’t improve the situation, then vote for a different group. And keep voting until we have a bunch of leaders who can “do it right.” If things get to the point where the government starts sending agents to people’s homes to confiscate their guns (or anything else), then it’s too late. Ownership of a gun, even a powerful one like a Colt AR-15, will only hold them off for a short time.

I could ramble on about the NRA, especially now that many people are labeling it a terrorist organization. But I don’t want to go down a road that others have already paved. I don’t have that kind of stamina tonight. I’ll let others make this point:

Over the past two weeks several corporations have started severing ties with the NRA, because they have become so controversial. Some of these corporations, including Delta Airlines, are facing legal retaliation by Conservative lawmakers, who see this as a violation of the free market. I must be missing something here, because that sounds more like pettiness than concern for the market.

Whenever there is a mass shooting, or some other gun-related tragedy, we hear all kinds of people offering up their “thoughts and prayers.” A lot of people are enraged over this, and are claiming that thoughts and prayers aren’t helping. I don’t entirely agree with that, because prayer can be a very powerful force. But, it works best in conjunction with other methods, and it can be an effective way to galvanize people. So don’t write it off entirely.

In the case of gun control, and speaking only for myself, I have given the issue a lot of thought, and I’ve even prayed about it. My thought process has concluded that we need tighter gun laws, and that doing so will answer a large number of prayers.

So there.

I’ll end this disjointed rant by mentioning the school protests that are taking place around the country. Many of them are school children, not unlike the ones who were caught in the massacre in Parkland, Florida. They are making it clear to lawmakers that they do not feel safe, and that they demand changes. This has been a dividing issue in the United States for several years, but thus far the lawmakers have lacked the will to do anything about it. I suspect there is more demand for tighter gun control than the gun proponents realize. This “student uprising” is a good indicator of that. These same school children will be of voting age within a decade. I strongly suspect that we start seeing stronger gun laws by that time, if not sooner.

To close this out, here are two other interesting takes on this sordid topic.

Perhaps the price of freedom, at least this particular freedom, has gotten too high.

The politics of symbolism

Symbols (noun): seemingly inanimate objects, or vague ideas, that acquire considerable personal significance or meaning.

There has been a lot of talk about symbols recently. The flag of the Confederate States of America has been one, as have some other symbols and icons of the Civil War era of American history. A lot of people love and cherish these symbols. The reasons vary from one individual to the next, and some of those reasons make sense. Others reasons make no sense at all, at least not to me. But regardless, for every person who loves and cherishes these symbols, there is at least one person somewhere who abhors them and would like to see them vanish from the collective memory. Sooner or later, there is going to be a conflict of interest. Where do I stand on this? Well, in order to answer that, I need to draw a parallel. (Come on, you didn’t really expect me to give a short and sweet answer, did you?)

Consider this symbol:

I suspect the first thing that came to your mind was Nazi Germany, with it’s legacy of racism, hate, and mass murder. Considering the stain on human history created by that regime, you would be perfectly justified in doing so.

But you know what? That’s not a Nazi swastika (sometimes called a hakenkreuz). It’s a swastika, yes, but it’s an ancient Sanskrit one, often called a gammadion cross. It figures in the religious writings and illustrations of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. The symbol represents the cyclical nature of life and the universe, and was generally used to represent good luck and prosperity. In many parts of south Asia, it still does. In the West, the swastika was a largely benign, or at least neutral symbol, until the rise of Nazi Germany. The generally positive concepts related to the Sanskrit swastika were known to the Judaeo-Christian traditions, and were generally taken at face value.

Nazi Germany changed that. The totalitarian nature of the Nazi regime, and the devastation it caused, are well documented. When the Nazi’s came to power, Wiemar Germany was a mess. One of the reasons they came to power was their promise to “make Germany great again,” and the average German citizen was desperate enough, or despondent enough, to believe them. I personally believe that the Nazi’s chose the swastika because of it’s associations with good luck and prosperity. The only real change they made to the symbol was reverse the direction of the arms, so that the symbol appears to be rotating in a clockwise direction as opposed to counter-clockwise. I suspect that change was just a Western convention. Things rotating in a clockwise direction just “look right” to a Western audience.

But regardless of the changes, and their reasons for selecting it, the ancient Sanskrit symbol for good luck and prosperity, the swastika, was co-opted by an evil regime. And today, at least in the West, the symbol is inexorably linked to the Nazis. So much so that even if someone displays the gammodion cross within it’s original context, they are likely to be labeled a Nazi, or at least some form of racial supremacist. So deep is this reaction, that there are theologians and anthropologists who wonder if the ancient symbol will ever be acceptable again.

The swastika had been in use as a symbol of good luck for at least 2,000 years. But after a mere twelve years as the symbol of Nazi Germany, it became a symbol of racism and hatred. Symbols can be tricky things to work with, because perceptions can change or be changed. How does this relate to the various Confederate symbols that are currently under scrutiny?

For a long time, flags of the Confederate States of America have been used a symbols of southern pride, and are (at least theoretically) cultural symbols rather than political ones. The most common Confederate flag in use today is the “Navy Jack:”

This flag has often been called the “stars and bars” flag, and is assumed by many to be the official flag of the Confederacy. This is not the case. The national flag of the Confederacy actually changed three times during the Civil War, but the one that flew the longest was this one:

This flag has some nasty connotations with it, and even the Confederate Congress was unsure about it. According to an editorial by newspaper editor William Tappan Thompson, the white field was intended to symbolize the racial superiority of whites over all other races. As a result, this flag became nicknamed the “white man’s flag.” Needless to say, this one quickly became of flash point for controversy.

This flag was eventually phased out because it was often mistaken for a truce flag. The Navy Jack is the flag that most people associate with the Confederacy today, even though it was technically a battle flag. According to Snopes, the Navy Jack shouldn’t be a problem for this very reason, and as a symbol of southern culture it should be acceptable.

But it isn’t.

The Navy Jack, along with many other symbols related to the Confederacy, has acquired a very negative connotation, especially in the African-American community. The flag has been associated with various branches of the Ku Klux Klan and other racially motivated hate groups. In the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, it was associated with the “Dixiecrat” movement, which promoted racial segregation and several of the infamous “Jim Crow” laws. Today it is often associated with any number of white supremacist groups. So it doesn’t matter that the Navy Jack was a battle flag and didn’t stand for anything political. What does matter is that it is a flag associated with the Confederate States of America, and the social evils that it stood for. Sports journalist Steven A. Smith summed it up nicely when he said the Navy Jack has come to represent a dark and offensive period in American history.

For years historians of many persuasions have attested that the American Civil War wasn’t about slavery, but about Federal authority and state’s rights. For me, that never rang true, even when I was in primary school. I understood the words and I could see the logic, so I went along with it because I wanted a good grade on the final exam. But slavery was a fundamental and necessary characteristic of the Confederacy. It was so pervasive that it simply cannot be ignored. So when my teachers said that the Civil War wasn’t over slavery, I couldn’t accept it.

The Confederate States of America have been romanticized to the point of absurdity, especially in the southern states. It was essentially a feudal system, where manor lords exercised control over their lands, and where the national political structure was a strict hierarchical chain based on property ownership (which included slaves) and social standing. This type of political structure had fallen out of use almost three centuries earlier, at least in Europe, so attempting to implement it in 1860’s North America seems rather silly in hindsight. It was an anachronism from the very start. And for most people who actually lived in the Confederacy, it was probably a very harsh life. (Actually, in those days so was life in the North, but for different reasons.)

A very important point to remember is that feudal systems require some type of slave caste in order to function. There needs to be a very large population of people tied to specific plots of land for the feudal structure to exist. Without such people the Manor system can’t exist, and without the Manors, the political structure will implode. In Europe these imprisoned people were called serfs. In the Confederate States of America, the role of the serfs was played by African and African-American slaves. So like it or not, when you talk about the Confederate States of America, you’re talking about a political entity for which slavery was an essential characteristic.

So let’s get back to the symbols. The Confederate Navy Jack was a battle flag, and during the actual Civil War wasn’t very wide spread. It was the “Stainless Banner,” and later the “Red Stained Banner” that were the ones that stood for the political ideals of the Confederacy. For this reason, it’s just as well that the political flags of the Confederacy can only be seen in history books and museums. But the Navy Jack is still a common sight in many parts of the United States.

For many African Americans, the Navy Jack often triggers the very same level of hatred, fear and anger that the hakenkreuz does for modern Jews (especially in Europe). Flaunting the banners of the Confederacy – a nation that promoted white supremacy and defended the practice of slavery – is ultimately an insult to African Americans and many other ethnic groups. It can even be argued that it’s an insult to the United States in general. No matter how you look at it, the Confederacy doesn’t deserve the nostalgic, favorable view it currently enjoys.

The Confederate States of America are part of history, and cannot be forgotten. But history – as preserved in books and museums – is where that failed political experiment belongs. It no longer belongs on flag poles.

Statues of Confederate war heroes have also come under fire in recent months. That issue, while related, is different from the flags, so I’ll talk about that later.

Image credits:

Arrival 2017AD

Operation Caracal, Part 5

Photo from GORGO Magazine

Day 11, December 31, 2016

I’ve said before that New Year’s Day has never been one of my favorite holidays. This year was especially rough. It’s not because I was sorry to see 2016 end. On the contrary, I thought 2016 was a horrible year! During that year we had seen, on the international scene, some of the worst examples of human behavior since World War II. The economy was a roller coaster, and don’t get me started on that train wreck of a presidential election! The loss of so many beloved celebrities and cultural icons just added insult to injury. My career problems are a story unto themselves. Yes, 2016 sucked like a shop vac!

But I did not agree with all of the people who were saying how glad they would be when 2016 ends. The end of 2016 would make the beginning of 2017, and that filled me with dread. All indications suggested that 2017 would be far worse than 2016, in just about every way imaginable. And I’m not just referring to the change of administration. (Though that is an important part of it.)

With my job, perhaps my career, being in what could best be described as free-fall, I expected 2017 to be filled with struggle. All of those difficulties that Lisa, the kids and I were about the face were scheduled to start in 2017! In light of that, you can probably understand why I was not looking forward to the inevitable change of the calendar.

Recall the ironic curse “May you live in interesting times.”

We already live in interesting times, and 2017 looked like it was going to be more interesting than anyone dared to imagine. Sadly, some of the fears that I and others had about the upcoming year are playing out pretty much as badly as expected. On a more personal level, some of the things I dreaded have turned out better than expected, but still not altogether well. Regarding the remaining concerns on my personal docket, it’s still too early to call.

I certainly wasn’t looking forward to our family trip coming to an end. If I could have stretched things a bit further, I would have. But, time was marching on, and our sojourn to the Pelican State was coming to an end.

To be continued.

Caracal travelogue:

  1. Operation Caracal
  2. Louisiana down time
  3. Driveabout
  4. Michabelle Inn
  5. Arrival 2017AD
  6. Dems good eats
  7. First transition

Amendment 2.1?


I generally avoid political topics, because I frequently lose my temper, and because of that, I usually lose the argument itself. But this time I’m going to talk, because well, I lost my temper.

About a week ago, yet another attempt at gun control legislation was defeated in the Senate, despite overwhelming public support for such legislation. And not surprisingly, it was the Republicans who did it. The only explanation that anyone has been able to come up with, or at least come up with that makes any sense, is that the NRA and other pro-gun groups pulled a lot of strings, or pulled in a lot of favors, with their supporters (puppets?) in the GOP.

Trouble is, there actually is another explanation: Our very national character won’t permit such restrictions, no matter what the cost.

Looking in context.

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

Those are the opening words of the Second Amendment. Let’s look at that for a moment. That final phrase is pretty clear: any citizen of the USA has the undisputed right to own a gun. Any law that attempts to curtail that, even for extreme cases, is going to be met with vehement and formidable opposition. It may even be deemed unconstitutional. As with the right to free speech, this is usually given the strictest possible interpretation. As a result, restrictions on gun ownership and use are very difficult to legislate. The NRA is a surprisingly powerful lobby, and people who own guns are downright rabid when it comes to gun ownership. When someone tries to limit gun ownership, or even make it more difficult, they claim “slippery slope” and will fight any bill, no matter how small, until it dies.

However, look at the first phrase. It talks about a well regulated militia. A “well regulated” – as in codes of behavior and conduct that are supposed to be followed – and “militia,” a locally based military force designed to address a local or regional concern. A modern militia is essentially the military reserves, and perhaps law enforcement officers. It looks to me like the second amendment was set up to guarantee the ability to form military units and police forces as the need arose. It wasn’t necessarily designed to put a gun in the hands of each and every citizen of the republic!

That being said, I personally believe the second amendment has been taken out of context for a very long time. That provision was included because it was 1789. Let’s look at history for a moment. In 1789, the natives were still considered a threat, and the possibility of an invasion by a foreign power (hoping to capitalize on Great Britain’s loss) was very, very real. It was in the front of everyone’s mind, all of the time. Very few countries allowed gun ownership back then, so guaranteeing that right to the population was a big deal for the lawmakers of 1789. Also, a lot of people in the young republic lived by sustenance hunting, farming, and trapping. Even today, such people need, at the very least, a hunting rifle. It can be argued that at that point in our history the provision for gun ownership made perfect sense. In fact it might be considered a “no-brainer.”

But things have changed since 1789, in a lot of ways.

Weapon technology, for example, has changed dramatically since the second amendment was written, and that’s important to remember. The guns of the 1780’s were generally non-repeating, black powder rifles; short range, low caliber wheel-lock pistols; and “pepper guns” that would today be considered six- or eight- gauge shotguns. Automatic or semi-automatic weapons of any type were beyond imagination. Even revolvers were considered a fantasy. (The concept existed, but it would be a few decades before the right technology came along.) What would the founders think of modern weapons? I suspect that would depend on the weapon. They would be OK with most hunting rifles, and would probably accept common 12-gauge shotguns. Those guns generally can’t fire more than three or four rounds in a minute, and are designed primarily for hunting. They are also very similar to the types of weapons that were around in 1789. Those weapons can also be used as defensive weapons, if only to hold off an intruder long enough for the user to escape and/or get assistance.

But something like an M16 combat rifle, an AK-47, or an M4-series carbine? Even the founders would draw the line at things like that. Those weapons are designed exclusively for warfare and riot control; they have no other purpose. And unlike the early days of the republic, we now have a police force and a standing military that has been trained in how to use such weapons when the need arises. The general population does not, or should not, need weapons of that level.

The fact that many would insist that “yes, they do,” hints at just how troubled our society has become in other ways. I’ll try to address some of those problems some other time, if I don’t get too depressed.

It’s not only technology that has changed since the amendment was written. Thanks to 227 years of loose gun laws, every fifth household in the USA owns some sort of firearm. Can you imagine trying to occupy or subjugate a territory with such a heavily armed population? No one in their right mind is going to invade the USA in this day and age. And as for the natives, sadly, they aren’t much of a threat any more. A lot of them want to be, and some would even argue that they should be. But they simply don’t have the numbers. The core situations that made the Second Amendment necessary no longer exist.

These days the gun lobby likes to talk about home defense and protecting ourselves from criminals. One of the more popular arguments is that criminals will always be able to acquire guns, so why should be forbid the law abiding citizens from having them? Another one states that if the government forbids gun ownership, it’s telling the citizens that they don’t have the right to defend themselves, and that they have to rely on the government to do the defending for them.

What do I think?

I guess I fall into the group that thinks restrictions should be place on certain types of guns.

Military-grade semi-automatic and automatic weapons should not be available to the general public. End of line. I’ve heard the arguments about criminals always being able to get them and what not, but that just doesn’t hold water for me. If someone needs an AK-47 or M16 for home defense, then there is something seriously wrong with their home area!

And one doesn’t need one of those heavyweights for hunting game. That argument is so absurd that I have to laugh!

Handguns are in a gray zone for me. They are designed specifically for shooting other people, but they can be used for hunting. They are not the best choice, given their relatively short range, but I know some people do use them. I guess handguns should be subject to some very strict restrictions. I don’t have the knowledge to know what those restrictions should be, though. This isn’t something I’ve researched in any detail. But I do know that handguns and automatic weapons are designed to be people killers, first and foremost. So some type of restriction is prudent.

Non-repeating rifles are generally OK. For one thing they can’t shoot dozens of bullets in one minute, and they aren’t designed specifically for shooting other persons. Ergo, you’re not likely to get people going on a rampage with one. There have been a few exceptions, so I may need to think more on this one.

I’m also in favor of background checks, very thorough and highly invasive background checks, for gun ownership. If someone is going to be given a permit for carrying a device that can launch a small piece of metal at the speed of sound, they should have their whole life history and every facet of their life examined from top to bottom. Owning a gun may be a constitutional right, but a gun is still a deadly piece of hardware. Anyone who is going to own one needs to be mentally and emotionally stable, and most importantly, low risk!

Before anyone starts flaming me, I am fully aware that such draconian restrictions have been tried, and in those few cases where they worked, enforcement was very difficult. What I would like to see on this front, and what I can reasonably expect to see, are not the same thing.

I also find it funny that the NRA membership is staunchly against background checks for gun ownership (that slippery slope fear thing). But they are all in favor of the NSA using invasive methods to profile people left right and center, because it supposedly protects us from terrorist threats. There is at least one double standard in there.

And last but certainly not least, the mentally ill, and those with a violent criminal record. Someone who has a history of mental instability, or has been convicted of a violent crime, should not be permitted to own a gun, ever, full stop, end of discussion. That doesn’t apply to a huge percentage of the population, so the NRA and their associates should just chill on this. If someone is known to be very violent, or to be mentally unstable, they shouldn’t be allowed to carry a lethal weapon. That strikes me as another “no-brainer.”


Personally, I don’t own a gun. But I wouldn’t mind owning a hunting rifle, if only to keep those pesky raccoons out of the garage! (Darn varmints!) However, I would want a modern replica of a classic black powder rifle, like a Sharpe or Winchester. I want it to look attractive as well as function, since it’s going to get more use as a wall decoration than as a weapon. At least not until my daughter is a teenager, anyway. At that point I may brandish it from time to time, but I’m not likely to fire it.

That’s supposed to be a dry joke, by the way. I point that out just in case some rube actually takes me seriously.

Even so, given the fact that I was once hospitalized for being suicidal, have a long history of acute depression, ADHD, and a rotten temper, I would likely be denied gun ownership. I suspect I would be be considered a threat to myself if I had easy access to a gun. So in the final count, I don’t have a horse in this race.

Most Americans believe that there should be restrictions on gun ownership, or at least on the kinds of guns that non-military and non-police should have access too. But even that is unlikely to happen. The option of owning a gun is so ingrained in our national character that restricting it, never mind removing it, is probably impossible.

I guess it can be summed up like this: The freedom to own a firearm, even ones that are intended for military purposes only, is something that too many Americans cherish to ever let change.

OK then, I yield. Americans are going to own guns, and that is an absolute certainty in this space-time continuum. But know this: if you have loose laws regarding gun ownership, then you’re going to have to pay a price. That price is that periodically you’re going to have incidents like the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, the San Bernardino shooting, the Dark Knight shooting in Aurora, Sandy Hook, Columbine, the San Ysidro McDonald’s massacre, and literally dozens of others. That is the trade-off that we as a society are paying for the ability to acquire and own pretty much any type of gun available.

Is it worth the price? Apparently for many Americans it is not, no longer is, or never was. But for many other Americans, that price is perfectly acceptable. And given the current political climate, that view is going to hold sway. So we will continue to pay this price, at least until there is a change in the political climate, and the antiquated and misused second amendment is updated.

And as a 1990’s popular culture icon used to say, “That’s all I have to say about that.”

There are some who still choose to live by sustenance hunting and farming. It’s no longer necessary to live that way, and doing so probably isn’t healthy, but the option exists. Ownership of a rifle for someone who likes to live frontier-style makes perfect sense, but that’s a pretty small percentage of the population! At least until the zombie apocalypse or something equally grave actually comes to pass.