09 May 2013

Guns and gun control: "The problem is the problem"

Cover of Unspecial Effects for Graphic
Bob Gill has influenced three generations of artists, designers, and their collaborating wordsmiths, me among them. Among his principles is one that he illustrates in his classic Forget all the rules about graphic design. Including the ones in this book --a principle I'd love to see translated into political culture, namely "the problem is the problem."

For designers, "the problem" is the idea or opinion driving the design--not the artist's need to be clever or to illustrate one's own mastery or sophistication. The time spent defining the actual problem, while filtering out vanity, old habits, assumptions, cultural noise, and other distractions, always pays off in the power and directness of the result.

Is it possible for political actors to follow this principle? Or are there too many incentives to obscure, inflate, or completely ignore the presenting problem in order to solve other "problems" (flattering voters, stoking resentment, enlarging the pork barrel for one's local district, seizing disputed territory, and on and on)?

Today's example:

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. (Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.)

Right now, there is a huge political and cultural conflict going on in the USA between those who emphasize "well regulated" and those who emphasize "shall not be infringed." More generally, the conflict is often between those who viscerally dislike guns and those who are passionate about their right to have the widest possible variety of guns and the easiest possible access to new ones. The conflict comes to a boil whenever even the most timid proposals for regulating gun purchases reach a legislature.

I'm under no illusions that such regulations would have kept my sister Ellen's intestines from being fatally shredded by her kidnapper's sawed-off shotgun. But I believe that the romance of armed violence, a menacing undercurrent in my beloved country's national psyche from the very beginning, helped lead to a situation where criminals find easy access to sawed-off shotguns and other indefensible death-tools. And it is also no coincidence that a country saturated with guns also has a murder rate without equal in the civilized world. Yes, "guns don't kill people--people kill people," and in gun-happy America, they do it very conveniently.

So here's my attempt to look at the problem with a define-the-problem approach--laying aside my own pacifism for the moment, recognizing that the U.S. Constitution was not shaped by a discipleship of nonviolence. Whether I personally like it or not, it seems to me that the Constitution poses the real problem as follows:
  1. Being a "free state" and desiring security as the world understands security, we need a militia (or, in more modern terms, an armed reserve force or national guard).
  2. The people make up the militia.
  3. The militia must be armed.
Therefore, why not consider the following?:
  1. We give a weapon to every citizen who is prepared to serve in the militia, along with the training to use that weapon, and a locker to store it safely.
  2. Anyone who does not agree to serve in the militia is not issued a weapon, because to spread weapons around indiscriminately is the opposite of "well regulated."
  3. Private citizens who want a weapon for private reasons can certainly buy them at their own expense, but must register their weapons with, and get training from, the militia.
Obviously, this leaves out a lot of details ...
  1. Who, in practical terms, are "the people" for purposes of the Second Amendment? Would it be anyone entitled to vote, for example?
  2. Does the militia's management choose who gets which kind of weapon, based on geographic or strategic considerations? Or does everyone get one standard infantry model? Do militiamen and women choose their own weapon based on private fascinations and tastes? Is there a price limit?
  3. Where do conscientious objectors fit in? Can they get a weapon for sports or hunting?
  4. What about people whose appetite for weapons exceeds the requirements of the militia?
  5. If a militia is composed of the people, does this mean that it is managed locally rather than from the federal center? What are the implications for accountability to the "free state" as a whole?
... and a million more complications. But, if people on all sides of the issue are truly willing to define "the problem" in constitutional terms, those complications might be manageable. If they're not willing, the constitutional guarantee, as far as I can see, is being used dishonestly. One's love or dislike of weapons, one's suspicions of the President or of the National Rifle Association, the interests of gun shop owners, and so on, are distinguishable from the core problem defined by the Constitution.

Can gun-hating liberals countenance a situation where there might actually be more guns in more hands, and even purchased with their taxes? Are pro-gunners ready to subordinate their love of guns to the actual security needs of a "free state" and the commands of a well-regulated militia?

Am I properly applying Gill's principle?

Today is Victory Day in Russia. On every previous Victory Day we've gathered with many others at Lenin Square in Elektrostal and marched to the war memorial to lay roses at the eternal flame there. But today we were invited by friends to enjoy a barbecue with them at a beautiful park and reservoir, and saw how many other Russians celebrate the near-equivalent of the USA's Memorial Day. It was a perfect day to spend with wonderful company.

... and "Stalin as victory's unwanted guest." (Well, a little bit wanted in Yakutsk.)

More on the "foreign agents" front, including comments from Sergei Nikitin. Bird group's wings may be clipped.

"Addicted to Guns": a new and thoughtful article on gun violence in Chicago, the very city where my sister was gunned down 43 years ago.

Reflections and selections--Christian writers on the late Dallas Willard: Jeff Dunn; Brian McLaren; Rachel Held Evans (and see comments).

... Also: remembering Brennan Manning.

Thinking about depression and grief and how they might differ: Ann Marie Miller writes from experience.

"Rejoice in the Lord always"--even when you are found guilty. Some of us are quick to find flaws in Russian trials--any chance things weren't exactly perfect in Tennessee?

A professional translator writes on "Doing things for money versus doing things for fun."

Two interesting blogging-related items: David K. Flowers on "What My Perfect Post Would Say." The Very Worst Missionary on "What Would Jesus ... Blog?"

Beverly Guitar Watkins (with thanks to Ron W for the lead).


Anonymous said...

Hi, Johann:

If this idea takes hold, we're moving north for good!

Did you see the news story about the 5-year-old who killed his 2-year-old sister with his "My First Rifle"? There are just no words--


God bless--Donna Laine

Johan Maurer said...

Maybe under the "details" I should have included the question, "Would you like to live in such a country?" But I'm fairly confident that the militia restriction would be so unacceptable to fringe gun-lovers that the question is only theoretical.