There is presently a rush to make our country – once again in the overly publicized wake of yet another national tragedy – more “safe.” The significance of that phrase is subject to circumspective reflection. During the last nationwide debate regarding our country’s intrinsic safety, the Bush White House executed a rather wide reaching, intrusive, controversial, and legally as well as morally ambiguous suite of Federal imperatives that passed quickly through both house of Congress. Ergo the Patriot Act, specifics in the National Defense Authorization Act, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, ‘interagency cooperation’, the inception of SOPA and PIPA, which all were – or could be – full scale abdications of individual liberties. Today, scarcely twenty four hours after Governor Cuomo of New York State announced that we would be the first in the nation to launch the most sweeping gun control legislation as part of his progressive state initiative, NRA supporters and the people who love them collectively chafed at their collars.
However Governor Cuomo’s initiative may be the earliest, and widely approved in the legislature as well as very deserving of praise for its willingness to take a stance, we know one thing definitively from history: broad based bans on goods and/or services force demand for the same to skyrocket. Increased demand with diminished supply drives up prices, in turn continuing to fatten the already morbidly obese felines at the pinnacle of the weapons manufacturing cartels. Examples of this abound, from Prohibition era Al Capone organizations, to reporting on the explosion of purveyors of the adult film industry throughout Republican dominated states in the aftermath of USC 2257 and HR 4472, outright bans of goods and services are likely not only unrealistic, but only permit the conspicuously consumptive sectors of society to partake in them. A much more realistic pathway is one that includes responsibility. In contrast, from the pervasiveness of gun rights activists’ proclamations, responsibility seems to be the one personality trait from which they draw fear and their favored firearms are incapable of inoculating them.
Regulation and responsibility are the costs of Freedom, as much as any of the lives laid low in the defense of these fifty states. Thankfully, there are economic and policy solutions related to the successful and relatively painless paradigmatic shift that must come balancing ever so lightly on the coattails of this conversation. One is the tactic that President Obama is currently pursuing – to put teeth into the enforcement of legislation that already exists: background checks on every sale of weaponry and ammunition, registration, etc. In reality, with the burden of mandates that are already available, should they suddenly find themselves readily enforced, gun culture around the country would change overnight. Secondly, and this one is of utmost importance, dedicated research into the claims of gun rights enthusiasts that more weapons in fact makes the country safer must be undertaken and without delay. Up to the present, the NRA and its vast arrays of lobbyists, supporters, and adherents, as well as manufacturers have ensured that these research projects do not receive government funding. However, one well done study that is still widely available demonstrates unequivocally that increased ownership of firearms does, unfortunately for the firearms industry, increase homicides.
Other policy considerations include the ‘well organized militia’ portion of the Second Amendment. Clearly, the intent of gun ownership was for the purpose of participating in a local militia for the protection of the people and possibly invaders until such time as the US Army could be dispatched to that location and bring greater forces of arms to bear. Implicit in that understanding was the concept that these militias were beholden to the national cause and most importantly, the office of the President of the United States. Given the outright negation by the advocates to comply with regulatory behavior, let alone their noted detraction of the President, it would be safe to say that they definitively do not adhere to either of these concepts.
From the far and wide media coverage of this issue, as well as cameo pieces on teachers receiving firearms training, gun shows in Connecticut a stone’s throw from Sandy Hook, and acres of weapons on sale in the Southwest without the imposition of things like background checks, we have also had an up close, high definition look at owners, sellers, and buyers. After months of documentation, the ubiquity of central adiposity within the gun culture leads one to believe that either training in their local militia is perhaps once a year, or at best consists of twelve ounce curls. Gun rights activists habitually either forget or ignore both the militia and fealty clauses in the same way that Chris Christie forgot his father’s GI Bill financed education would fall under the umbrella of “entitlement spending.”
Additionally, part of the policy fix for this would be to immediately require any owner of a weapon with greater capacity or magnitude of that designated for self defense to be required to enlist without reservation in their local National Guard or police force, with all attendant duties and responsibilities (there’s that word again) assigned to those positions, including fitness and uniform dress code. Likewise, levying a tax upon munitions would entirely rearrange the debate. Cigarettes, when taxed out of the reach of most consumers effectively decreases the number of smokers or, at the very least, the number of cigarettes smoked leading to the reduction in cases of emphysema, cancer deaths, and secondary smoke inhalation, as well as childhood smoking. Removing Federal subsidies from the gas and oil industry would cause a major spike in oil and gas prices, but would immediately force the planet to rely heavily on things like renewables and innovative power infrastructure, as well as directly impede the process of global warming and decrease the likelihood that this coming Fall, Eastern seaboard states will again suffer a vastly destructive Frankenstorm.
Taxing semi-automatic people hunting machines and ammunition would have precisely the same effect: in the same vein as ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people’ you could have as many firearms as you want, but if you have no ammunition to fire, or if the purchasing of said ammunition is comparatively much more expensive, you will unquestionably think twice before firing off one or two or five hundred rounds. Tax revenues could be split evenly between paying down the national debt, and funding an insurance pool for victims of gun violence. If every 9mm round cost $10 a piece to purchase, every .267 round $20 and every 50 mm round $50, the availability of these devices is and will be diminished. Simply because economic solutions have an effect does not mean they should not be undertaken. It simply means that we, as a people, must be willing to bear the consequences – the good, as well as the bad.
One final note on this expansive topic. Our United States national culture has become one of bellicosity, ambition, distraction, uglification, and derision (thank you Lewis Carroll.) We carry on expeditionary militarism lasting longer than a decade, our entertainment sphere is overpopulated by paeans to our military industrial complex: HALO 4, Call of Duty: Black Ops, ‘Battleship’, ‘Zero Dark Thirty’, ‘An Act of Valor’, not to mention the all over the body of airwaves rash of police shows – CSI, NCIS, Criminal Minds, Rizzoli and Isles, Law and Order (in all its iterations) just to name a few. All of this is training – mentally and culturally. When one desires to be proficient and acculturated into a foreign language, they advance their study by immersing themselves in the entertainment programming of that culture. What ours says about us is that we not only desire and condone war, but worship it. All of which is well and good if our country, such as it is, has the objective of being a worldwide effective war making practice for hire. We sell our weaponry regularly to other nations and states, we actively fund or provide technical assistance in decisive conflicts, our war making knowledge and materials are sought after as one of the planet’s hottest commodities. If these are to be the pinnacle of our national product, if at the core of our identity is to be a salable, viable, universally feared expeditionary force, then we have succeeded in our objective. The converse of that theorem is that we must consequently become comfortable with the effluence resultant from these cultural paradigmaticisms, manifested as gun violence, bullying, hatred, intolerance, and wholesale attempts at excision of ‘weakness,’ surrendering forever our concept of American exceptionalism.
If we are not comfortable with these overarching traits as part of our national culture, we must seek to invent an alternative reality to the one in which we now find ourselves. I have argued habitually that a rekindling of Liberal Arts based curriculae is implicit in that invention. Its necessity is key because philosophy, comprehension of literary themes and poetic artistry, thoughtful critique of visual creations, and the implicit cross curricular nature of all of these conspire to produce that which for the past decade standardized testing has not: critical, out-of-the-box, humanistic thinking that values life and teaches future generations to not default to violence. Not only that, but careful review of histories and texts demonstrates the results of that flawed thinking as an immediate solution to every problem. Remember, to the guy with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.
This moment in policy will define the future character of our continuing Enlightenment era thought experiment. We can collectively decide to arc closer to Classical era warring nation-state, or we can make conscious, directed efforts at eschewing that philosophy in favor of something more cerebral. The founding fathers, in my opinion, did not – in their infinite wisdom – intend for those contained within our political borders to evolve into a hierarchical society of warmongers. If only Second Amendment activists spent as much time studying the rest of the Constitution as they did that singular paragraph, it might provide them the secure context they sorely need to overcome their reflexive response to this issue. And so, America, which sort of country do you want yourself to be?