Monday, March 19, 2018

Money and Guns

America has a problem. A gun problem, you suggest? By the way, the gun problem is not a mental health problem, although I can imagine people in countries where gun deaths are exceedingly rare may roll their eyes right now, sigh, and think, “No, it is a mental health problem. Any country that chooses guns over human life is crazy.” It’s also possible to argue the mental health issue is with people who cannot open their minds to listen and comprehend other viewpoints. Clearly, something is wrong when America is powerless to stop mass shootings, school shootings, murders and suicides by gun. No, the problem America has, the problem that has robbed America of its social power, is actually Capitalism.

Watergate 1972

In August 1972, several men broke into the Democratic National Committee’s offices in the Watergate Complex in Washington, D.C. Initially, it looked like a run-of-the-mill burglary, but then the burglars started talking and revealed that the burglary had been politically motivated, an attempt to hurt the Democrats during the presidential election campaign that year (nowadays, this type of disruptive and disinformation activity is done in cyberspace through social media). Two enterprising investigative reporters at the Washington Post, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, covered the story for that newspaper, and Woodward found a source, Deep Throat, who agreed to help them. One thing Deep Throat told Woodward repeatedly was to “follow the money.”

In the Watergate case, following the money led Woodward and Bernstein right into the Oval Office, and eventually their reporting contributed to the Senate investigation into Watergate and finally the resignation of President Richard Nixon in August 1974. Today, I think if we could all follow the money involving every aspect of the guns issue, we may be able to find the reason America is so powerless to enact laws that regulate (I know, dirty word) gun ownership, the type of guns available to civilians, and maybe enable America to join countries like Japan and the UK where gun ownership is regulated, i.e. countries that have chosen to support human life.

The Second Amendment

This amendment to the US Constitution reads: 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.”

I recently read a deconstruction of this amendment with respect to what the Founders intended. At that time, the US did not have an army (or navy, air force, or Marines), and the Founders did not want a professional national army because they were nervous that such a military might grow too powerful and overthrow the civilian government. At that time, “a well regulated militia” was the equivalent of the National Guard today. They were reservists who were trained and could be called upon to defend their communities if necessary. This reservist militia needed the right to keep and bear arms, hence the Second Amendment. Today, the Second Amendment gives the National Guard the right to keep and bear arms, not every Tom, Dick, or Jane.

The National Rifle Association (NRA)

Under the NRA’s Bylaws Article II, there are five purposes and objectives and the first includes the following: “To protectthe inalienable right of the individual American citizen guaranteed by such Constitution to acquire, possess, collect, exhibit, transport, carry, transfer ownership of, and enjoy the right to use arms, in order that the people may always be in a position to exercise their legitimate individual rights of self-preservation and defense of family, person, and property, as well as to serve effectively in the appropriate militia for the common defense of the Republic and the individual liberty of its citizens” (remember the Second Amendment above?). The second purpose and objective is “to promote public safety, law and order, and the national defense,” The next three purposes and objectives deal with the education and training of law enforcement, sport shooters and hunters.

I recently learned more about the history of the NRA than I knew before from a post by Daughter Number Three who linked to this podcast at Radiolab. Originally, the NRA existed to educate and train people in the proper and safe use of guns for sport and hunting. In the late 1960’s that all changed when a radical group of gun owners, feeling threatened by California’s ban of loaded weapons in public and afraid the federal government would eventually follow suit and take away their guns, joined the NRA and took it over. They turned the NRA into what it is today, i.e. an association whose first two purposes and objectives aim to arm every American citizen and protect the right of Americans to own guns, using the Second Amendment (ignoring the first clause of it) as the law that supports them.

There’s millions of dollars in ignoring the words, “A well regulated Militia,” and the time in which the Founders lived, their hopes and fears for the fledgling nation, and their complete inability to see into the future when muskets would become AR-15s. Ignoring and twisting the meaning of the Second Amendment allows gun manufacturers to produce and sell handguns, rifles, and military arms to civilians and make millions of dollars, allows the NRA to support and protect those manufacturers as well as lobby (with millions of dollars) Congress and state governments to stop any legislation that would affect the availability of guns. Because the American political system relies heavily on money, politicians need money in order to campaign for office. So, politicians are vulnerable as a result to being bought, even if they may not want to face that fact. The Citizens United US Supreme Court decision created the conditions for Capitalism to interfere with the governance of the country.

Let’s Follow the Money

If you read or follow more than one news source to get a balanced view of current events, it’s fairly easy to put together just how powerful money and Capitalism are in America.

So let’s take one recent proposal in response to recent school shootings – that teachers in schools be armed with guns – and see what that means in terms of Capitalism. Those making the proposal – politicians, the president, the NRA – could not point to any kind of solid research to support this proposal simply because the Dickey Law prevents research into gun violence. The Dickey Law was written and passed at the behest of the NRA in order to protect the firearms industry from public health and safety research that would reveal the need to regulate firearms ownership. Since this proposal to arm teachers was made, I’ve seen at least 2 reports of teachers accidentally firing guns in classrooms and injuring students. I’ve also seen a hypothetical scenario in which a teacher has disarmed a student who was either threatening to shoot or had been shooting people, and when the police arrive, they shoot the teacher whom they see with the gun. Common sense about human behavior would suggest that it’s a really terrible idea to arm teachers, even teachers who are experienced with firearms. But common sense has nothing to do with this. Money does.

How many teachers are there in America? According to the Department of Education, in the fall of 2017 there were 3.2 million fulltime teachers in the American public school system. If a good quality handgun with ammunition can be bought for $300 each, then how much does that mean in sales for gun manufacturers? About $960,000,000. The teachers, or more precisely, the school districts, are a new market for guns that didn’t really exist before. But who is going to pay for all those guns? The parents of the students? The NRA? State government? Or the US Department of Education? The gun manufacturers will make a killing on this deal. And that’s Capitalism.

Money and the American President and Congress

Money pours into the Republican and Democratic coffers for those who represent the American people from gun manufacturers and the NRA. I recently read that the NRA contributed over $30 million to Donald Trump’s campaign for president in 2016 in addition to running ads supporting him. That makes the Republicans and Democrats who accept that money beholden to the NRA and gun manufacturers. Since Citizens United, individual and corporate political contributors, and lobbyists give their money in order to buy influence or to buy what they want from government. This aspect of American politics, elections, and government has worsened since the 1970’s when Paul Manafort started his lobbying firm with two partners.

Until America has real campaign finance reform and regulates lobbying to exclude monetary contributions, freeing elected representatives to govern and to truly represent the people who elected them, money will continue to rule America. Money or profit will trump human life. Unregulated Capitalism will trump human life. Greed trumps human life.

What would gun ownership regulation look like?

I’d suggest researching what other countries like Japan or the UK have done to protect their populations in terms of laws and regulations that control guns.  Here are some of my ideas:

  • Establish a minimum age of 21 for gun ownership.
  • Require proof that prospective gun owner is licensed to own a gun.
  • Require that guns can be bought only from licensed dealers.
  • Require a one-week waiting period between the purchase and pick-up of the gun.
  • Require criminal and mental health background checks for all individuals who wish to purchase a gun.
  • Require education and training for prospective gun owners similar to that required of new car drivers with remedial training every 5 years.
  • Require prospective gun owners to pass written, oral, and marksmanship tests in order to obtain a license to carry a gun. 
  •  Require prospective gun owners to register their gun within 7 days of purchase.
  • Establish by law the types of guns available to civilians, excluding all weapons developed for military use as well as semiautomatic guns designed to fire multiple rapid rounds. 
  •  Establish by law the types of ammunition available to civilians, excluding all ammunition developed for military use.
  •  Require all gun owners to carry weapons liability insurance.

These ideas are based on what Americans must do in order to drive and own a car and would present as much of a hardship for Americans as they experience learning to drive a car, passing their driving test to obtain a license, registering their new car, and purchasing car insurance. Perhaps the NRA could step up and provide the resources and means to regulate gun ownership and use. I doubt they’d want state governments to create Departments of Firearms, like Departments of Motor Vehicles, to deal with the licensing and registration requirements, and they certainly could take a leadership role in the education, training, and testing of applicants.


Daughter Number Three said...

Hear hear!

Doug Meyer said...

I just read Hamilton's Federalist Paper No 29, for the first time. It is quite clear about what that particular Founding Father saw as the necessity for a well-regulated militia, since he proposed that the US never have a standing army. But since we have had a standing army most of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, we really don't have any need for a well-regulated militia any longer, do we? So what can the justification be, if any, for guns as private property?

Gina said...

Doug, we do already have a well-regulated militia in the vein that the Founders were thinking, i.e. the National Guard. Since the National Guard is organized, we don't need civilians to be armed to fill in as the National Guard. So, no, there's no reason for civilians to be armed as a well-regulated militia.