Monday, February 19, 2018

Thoughts on three Facebook “conversations”

In the wake of the Valentine’s Day shooting at a Parkland, Florida high school, Facebook lit up with the debate over gun control and the Second Amendment. It brought some interesting, unusual and often angry posts. Here I comment on three.

18 school shootings already in 2018?
One of the first that I saw was that by February 14th there had already 18 school shootings in 2018. That number was so that one of my Facebook friends lamented that even the liberal news media had grown callous and stopped reporting on school shootings! That, until he understood that the number was highly inflated based on what the average person would think of as a school shooting. According to Washington PostNo, there haven’t been 18 school shootings in 2018. That number is flat wrong. That number made the rounds, coming from a site called Everytown for Gun Safety, which “has long inflated its total by including incidents of gunfire that are not really school shootings. Take, for example, what it counted as the year’s first: On the afternoon of Jan. 3, a 31-year-old man who had parked outside a Michigan elementary school called police to say he was armed and suicidal. Several hours later, he killed himself. The school, however, had been closed for seven months. There were no teachers. There were no students.” These kinds of numbers do not help the cause of safety for school children, more than likely a “little boy who cried wolf” eye-rolling response – whose lesson is that if you always tell tales, eventually people will stop listening to what you say.

The right to keep and bear a single-shot musket
A video about what guns were like when the 2nd Amendment was written was making the rounds on Facebook. It is entertaining and seems to make a point, but...

The 2nd Amendment does not guarantee “the right to keep and bear a single-shot musket...” The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says, “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.” It binds the federal government in regards to the rights of citizens. “Arms” means “weapons and ammunition; armaments.” Not only does the amendment not say “keep and bear a single-shot musket” – the single-shot musket was not the only “arms” available in 1791 when the 2nd amendment was passed. Further, the SCOTUS in ‘District of Columbia v. Heller’ clarified that “The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia...” It does not just guarantee guns for militia service, as some claim.[i] The Second Amendment “is what it is” and it is not going anywhere (does anyone seriously think they can get 38 states to vote to amend or repeal this?). Rather than a shrill argument over what’s wrong with the Second Amendment and how to get rid of it – an argument that never goes anywhere – perhaps both sides might try to see what things they could agree on. Under the Second Amendment as it exists and has been interpreted, how can we work together to curb violence in our country? It is a societal problem – and I would say spiritual problem – much bigger than guns or mental illness. Without guns, using diesel fuel and fertilizer, Timothy McVeigh, Terry Nichols, and Michael Fortier killed 168 people (19 of whom were children) and injured more than 500 people!

Repeal the right to keep and drive cars?
Briefly on Sunday morning I noticed a meme about the number of deaths from drunk-driving accidents circulating. Later when I went back to check this I couldn’t find a one! (I always have trouble finding things on Facebook when I go back to look for them. What’s up with that??) My concern was to check whether these figures about drunk-driving were accurate, or just “fake news” like some of the “Everyday” school shootings numbers. I went to an official site – the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (Drunk driving). According to their site, “Every day, almost 29 people in the United States die in alcohol-impaired vehicle crashes—that’s one person every 50 minutes in 2016.” Or, stated another way, there were 10,497 deaths in the year 2016 from alcohol-impaired related driving accidents.

I don’t want to juxtapose drunk-driving deaths against mass shooting deaths in order to de-emphasize the latter. Mass shootings and school shootings are very real problems with which Americans need to grapple. Nevertheless, it seems we have decided to complacently live with a much greater problem in terms of actual deaths. In the same period as above, 2016, there were possibly 477 mass shootings in the U.S., which resulted in up to 606 deaths. Some of this info is hard to find, as far as totals, and some hard to trust. I have chosen to use the high-end numbers for comparison purposes,[ii] derived from the Mass Shooting Tracker.[iii] 10,497 deaths in 2016 from drunk driving. Possibly 606 deaths in 2016 from mass shootings. One every 50 seconds from drunk driving; 1.66 every day from mass shootings (even using some of the highest numbers reported). What does this mean? Have we become complacent about drunk-driving fatalities? Will we become complacent about mass shooting fatalities? Is our outrage selective? Will we trade it for a new style of outrage when the next new problem comes along? And finally, if banning guns to citizens is the right solution to stop mass shootings, why wouldn’t banning cars and alcohol be the right solution to stop drunk-driving fatalities? Why, there are not even constitutional bills of rights for those activities!

[i] But “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose...”
[ii] In contrast to Mass Shooting Tracker, Mother Jones (clearly not a conservative pro-NRA site) lists only 6 mass shootings in 2016 – Cascade Mall shooting, Burlington, Washington; Baton Rouge police shooting, Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Dallas police shooting, Dallas, Texas; Orlando nightclub massacre, Orlando, Florida; Excel Industries mass shooting, Hesston, Kansas; and Kalamazoo shooting spree, Kalamazoo County, Michigan – with 71 deaths and 73 injuries. Mother Jones uses a different definition of “mass shooting” than Mass Shooting Tracker. The average person hearing “school shooting” thinks Columbine, Sandy Hook, and now Parkland – not about some guy shooting himself after school hours near a school that was not even open! That person hearing “mass shooting” thinks Orlando, Las Vegas, and Sutherland Springs – not about four drug dealers who shot each other in a turf war! While we should not ignore other forms of murder and violence, conflating other crimes with the ever-growing problem of shootings like the one at Parkland confuses both the issue and the understanding of it.
[iii] Part of the problem for comparison purposes is that there is no standard definition of a “mass shooting.” Mass Shooting Tracker writes, “Our definition is this: a mass shooting is an incident where four or more people are shot in a single shooting spree.” The FBI defines a mass murder as one event, in one location, when three or more victims are killed and the offender is not included in the victim count. When Congress enacted the “Investigative Assistance for Violent Crimes Act of 2012,” they indicated “the term ‘mass killings’ means 3 or more killings in a single incident.” The Congressional Research Service calls a “mass shooting” one in which a gunman kills four or more people, selects victims randomly, and attacks in a public place. Also problems arise in that data used by sites like “Everyday” and “Mass Shooting Tracker” comes from media accounts rather than official records.

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