Yesterday morning Redskins football player Sean Taylor was shot by a burglar trying to break into his Miami home in the early morning hours.
All day yesterday, Taylor was in critical condition and the situation was the talk of the town here in Washington, D.C. where guns are already an ongoing topic of conversation thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to review the 31-year old D.C. handgun ban.
We are going to hear a lot about guns in the next few months and most of it will be "sound and fury signifying nothing."
The simple truth is that guns are here to stay, like it or not.
And, as shocking a piece of news as this is to some people, guns are not all about hunting; self-defense is (on very rare occasions) an acceptable reason to draw and fire a gun.
The odd thing about guns in the debate about Presidential candidates is that there is not much any presidential candidate can do (or should do) about them.
After all, Congress makes the laws, and the Courts interpret them. A President has no role in changing or interpreting the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. We are not a monarchy, and no one is electing Rudy Giuliani, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, or Mitt Romney king.
That said, the gun debate will be fought, so as we enter the debate season, let’s review the numbers and the history.
First the numbers.
More than 70 million responsible tax-paying citizens own more than 200 million guns in this country.
Let me make that number a little more meaningful: If you stand in front of your house and look at the house to the immediate left and right, there's an almost 100% chance that one of these three abodes has at least one gun inside.
And yet, for all that, I am willing to bet that no one was shot on your block this week, this year, or in your lifetime.
The biggest caucus on Capitol Hill is the Congressional Sportsmen's Caucus with 300 members in 46 states. These folks represent the interests of America’s hunters and anglers, and this is the most important environmental caucus on Capitol Hill. And, for the record, they are almost all strong supporters of the Second Amendment
More than a few members of the U.S. Supreme Court are hunters and gun owners, as are a tremendous number of lower-court judges. In fact, it's estimated in judicial newsletters that up to 25 percent of all judges in some states have a concealed weapons permit.
Judges may look down their nose at crime, but a lot of them also look down the barrel of a gun once in a while, and self-protection arguments for gun ownership do not necessarily fall on deaf ears in court.
While guns are intrinsically dangerous, people know that and, for the most part, act accordingly.
Over the last four decades, while the stock of civilian firearms rose 262 percent (largely due to population growth), fatal gun accidents dropped by nearly 70 percent.
In short, contrary to popular belief, there is not an "epidemic" of gun violence in America; there is merely an epidemic of political grandstanding, saturation media, and direct mail.
Which is not to say the gun violence does not exist. It does. People are shot everyday in this country, as Sean Taylor and his family can confirm.
But people die of bee stings every day as well. The simple fact of the matter is that more people drown in backyard swimming pools than are killed by accidental gun deaths in this country. Yet we do not have a full-court press to ban backyard pools, do we?
So many Americans have been conditioned to see guns as something more than the inanimate objects that they are.
People do not see cars as evil, even though cars kill far more people than guns.
Swimming pools are not seen evil, but more kids drown in swimming pools than are killed by guns.
Tobacco is seen as a vice, but it is still sold in grocery and convenience stores despite the fact that it kills more than 440,000 people a year.
Alcohol is involved in more crime than guns and it kills more than 100,000 Americans a year, but we still serve it on airplanes and at baseball games.
Guns -- and guns alone -- are considered inherently evil and sinister.
Each to his own, of course. If people want to demonize guns, there's not much you can do about it. Some people demonize wolves, bears and snakes as well. Others demonize religious or racial groups.
And yet, are we not Americans? The Ku Klux Klansman, the ACLU-card holder, the communist, the Gay Pride activist, the militant feminist, the vegan, the Orthodox Jewish Rabbi, the black Baptist minister, the union-card boiler maker, and the retired Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps all may differ from each other in terms of race, religion, and politics, but they all believe in the First Amendment.
You do not need to be Mormon to respect the concept of separation of Church and State, nor do you have to be a hate-spewing Klansman to value free speech.
By the same token, you do not have to own guns or even like guns to respect the Second Amendment.
What were our Founding Fathers thinking when they wrote the Second Amendment?
Well, they were not engaged in narrow partisan politics. They were not posturing for Fox News or trying to “make nice to soccer moms.”
These were serious men who came fresh from the white-hot forge of revolution. A war had just been fought to overthrow the yoke of an oppressive and unresponsive Government that invaded homes without warrant and which exposed the populace to "dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within."
In short, while it was a bit hotter back then, the issues we face today are not so completely different.
As left-wing, NPR-loving Virginia author Joe Bageant notes in his book Deer Hunting With Jesus:
”With Michael Savage and Ann Coulter openly calling for putting liberals in concentration camps, with the CIA now licensed to secretly detain American citizens indefinitely, and with the current administration effectively legalizing torture, the proper question to ask an NRA members these days may be 'What kind of assault rifle do you think I can get for three hundred bucks, and how many rounds of ammo does it take to stop a born-again Homeland Security zombie from putting me in a camp?'
"Which would you prefer, 40 million gun-owning Americans on your side or theirs?"
Bageant is not a new liberal, but an old liberal – the kind that once protested things and took to the streets in opposition to stupid wars, and which stood up to be counted when civil rights were being violated.
The old liberals know the value of guns.
They know that after the Civil War, southern whites denied blacks the right to own guns, because it was easier to lynch an unarmed black man than it was one who owned a deer rifle and 200 rounds of ammunition.
Some gay Americans have discovered this secret knowledge as well. As Jonathan Rauch wrote in Salon magazine back in March of 2000:
"Thirty-one states allow all qualified citizens to carry concealed weapons. In those states, homosexuals should embark on organized efforts to become comfortable with guns, learn to use them safely and carry them. They should set up Pink Pistols task forces, sponsor shooting courses and help homosexuals get licensed to carry. And they should do it in a way that gets as much publicity as possible."
If this sounds like Revolutionary talk, it is. It is the kind of language our revolutionary Founding Fathers might have used if they were gay, or black, or Hispanic, or Muslim, or Jewish and living in America today.
”Don’t Tread On Me,” was not a bumper sticker back then – it was a warning every bit as ominous as the shake of a rattlesnake’s tail.
The notion that our Founding Fathers contemplated armed insurrection inside the United States seems to surprise some people.
But it shouldn’t.
The Good Old Boys of Virginia -- Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington -- knew that power belonged to the people only so long as the power of the state could be met with an equal power organized by the populace at large working in tandem.
Guns were not to be used capriciously, but they were part of the long term plan crafted by our Founding Fathers to protect this great nation from powerful, cunning and patient forces of oppression -- whether those forces came from within or without.
But of course the Second Amendment was not just about securing freedom at the national level. It was also about securing some modicum of personal protection at home as well.
Our Founding Fathers were not living "on the grid."
In 1776, you could not dial up a patrol car and expect someone to show up at your door a few minutes later.
On the empty plains and in the dark woods, it was every man for himself, and a prudent person was both well-armed and quite cautious.
But, to tell the truth, is it really that different today? If you are a suburban housewife, or a well-heeled lawyer with cable television in the den and GPS in your Mercury Mountaineer, you may not know what it feels like to live 20 miles outside of town and up a dirt road. But if you spend some time out on a farm, and also happen to be a member of a religious or racial minority, you may come to a whole new world of understanding.
That, apparently, is what has happened to Michelle Obama. As Barack himself put it in a recent campaign stop:
"Michelle, my wife .... was driving through this nice, beautiful area, going through all this farmland and hills and rivers and she said 'Boy, it's really pretty up here,' but she said, 'But you know, I can see why if I was living out here, I'd want a gun. Because, you know, 9-1-1 is going to take some time before somebody responds. You know what I mean? You know, it's like five miles between every house.'”
Yeah, I know what you mean.
But guns are not just a rural security need. There is, argueably, a place for a gun, even in top-end homes in Miami. Homes like that of Sean Taylor.
And what if you are one of those poor unfortunates living in a down-at-the-heels neighborhood? Don’t these folks have security needs that trump those of rural Iowa farmers?
As suspender-wearing, commie-loving Joe Bageant notes in Deer Hunting with Jesus:
"Most liberal antigun advocates do not get off the city bus after working the second shift. Nor do they duck and dodge from street light to street light at 1 a.m. while dragging their laundry to the Doozy Duds, where they sit, usually alone, for an hour or so, fluorescently lit up behind the big plate-glass window like so much fresh meat on display, garnished with a promising purse or wallet, before they make the corner-to-corner run for home with their now-fragrant laundered waitress or fast-food uniforms. Barack Obama never did it. Hillary Clinton never did it. Most of white middle-class America doesn't do it either. The on-the-ground value of the Second Amendment completely escapes them."
To which I can only add that Rudy Giuliani never rode the City Bus at midnight either. Neither did Mitt Romney. Or Sarah Brady. And all of them are Republicans.
The point here is that the gun issue is not about Democrats vs. Republicans, or liberals vs. conservatives, or even rural residents vs. urban residents.
It's about something deeper and more important than that: it’s about empathy and respect and tolerance.
It’s about recognizing that not everyone goes to nine-to-five jobs in air conditioned offices while commuting down safe suburban streets.
It’s about recognizing that not everyone can afford to have an ADT alarm system installed in their house.
And, most important of all, it’s about not living in fear of the fact that people who look different from you, who think different from you, and who pray different from you, may have rights too.
And not just First Amendment Rights, but Second Amendment rights too, including the right to protect their house and home from invasion and robbery.
But if everyone has guns, won't we all live in fear? Won’t small altercations inevitably rise to violence due to the close proximity of weapons? And what about school shootings?
Well, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, guns help prevent crime.
Approximately 2.5 million Americans protect themselves with guns every year. Most of the time, the gun is never actually fired –- it is simply brandished, and the person breaking and entering is told to “get the f*ck out of here” and that’s exactly what happens.
Yes, citizens do occasionally shoot and kill people while defending themselves and their property. In fact, citizens shoot and kill twice as many criminals as police do every year.
Yet, only two percent of civilian shootings involve an innocent person mistakenly identified as a criminal. By contrast, the error rate for police officers is eleven percent.
In short, guns are routinely used to deter crime, but these guns are rarely fired. When citizens do fire a gun to deter crime, they are rarely acting like Yahoos.
Which is not to say that Yahoos, criminals and crazy people do not exist; they certainly do. But these people exist with or without guns, and are a danger to us all, with or without a gun.
Remember, Yahoos in cars kill far more people than Yahoos with guns.
And as for criminals, do you really think they are going to be deterred by gun laws? Have these people been deterred by our drug laws, our murder laws, or our robbery laws? Why would the gun laws be treated with any more respect?
As for the shooting of small children, both in and outside of school, the phenomenon has never been common, and the numbers are going down.
New York City -- ground zero in the war against guns -– has 2.6 million children under the age of 10 and approximately 3 million guns owned by adults.
Yet, accidental gun deaths among children under age 10 averages only 1.2 per year in that city.
Clearly, most gun owners are pretty safety-conscious. The same cannot be said for automobile drivers or mothers who do not bother to read the instructions that come with child safety seats.
But, as I said, statistics are cold comfort.
Early this morning, while I was writing this blog post, Sean Taylor died. His encounter with a burglar entering his home early yesterday morning was a decidedly one-sided affair.
Let the theorists talk now. It will not matter to Sean Taylor. He is dead.
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