The endless debate about guns

So, like many who've read net news or slashdot, I'm used to seeing discussions go off on a (usually pointless) tangent about guns. This sort of serves a purpose - or would if I were more skilled with kill-files - by identifying the folk who aren't on-topic. But it's sort of distracting, largely because some irritating truths are lurking in it, or something like that.

To set the scene, note that in some countries (I'll describe them as `European', despite some geographical absurdities, for the sake of brevity) almost no-one has guns; and in others (likewise, `American') loads of folk do. The former goes with legislation (implemented by a police force, decided on by a judiciary, each enjoying some degree of autonomy from the legislature, as in countries where gun ownership is common) constraining ownership of guns. Striving, still, to keep to non-controversial stuff ...

One may readily understand a private citizen chosing to own a gun, in so far as this is legal, for self-defence if nothing else (and hunting, sport or military training are widely accepted other reasons). So, in jurisdictions liberal about gun ownership, one may expect plenty of guns to be in the hands of honest citizens. One virtue of such a state of affairs is that it would, at least, prove an excellent opposition to tyrrany, were existing constitutional barriers to fail. If the legislature set out to reduce gun-ownership in America to European levels, soon enough no-one but criminals would own guns.

Now I guess somewhen, a while back, gun ownership within England (to take an example) got rare enough, for a bunch of historical reasons, that a government got away with bringing it down to very low levels. Where the powers of government have been reasonably well separated, the presence of an unarmed populace has been used as an argument for constraining the government's officers from bearing arms, except in dire circumstances and even then subject to strict oversight. Where the population in general does not carry guns, criminals know they can run away (without being shot in the back) if they fail to carry off their crime, and know how heavily the law will hit them if they use a gun - or even have one on them - and get caught; so criminals have tended to avoid the use of guns, and police forces have been able to devote intense resources to the few cases involving guns, thereby discouraging the criminals further. This doesn't always work, and I suspect the whole `few guns' state is unstable. On the other hand, if the legislature opened up the gun market in Europe to America liberties, it's a safe bet the criminal gangs would be armed before the general population woke up.

So back to those tangential arguments about guns. The caricature of each such argument involves someone who things the European solution is `right' and someone who thinks the American one is `right'. Each has a barrage of arguments for their side, some of which contain Real Serious Truth despite the stray bogons that get tangled up in the argument. The caricature says the American is telling the European that Europe should change over to the American way - and, of course, vice versa. Each believes the other is well described by this caricature, even if apt to take offence were one to apply the other half of the caricature.

Each, in so far as the caricature is fair, is right to resist the argument the caricature says the other is presenting: to change either to the other's arrangements would cause nothing but grief for the foreseeable future. One must hope that the neither really intends to make that case; yet it is not uncommon for at least one party in a real argument to seem to suppose some other party to be making such an absurd case.

So back to the matter in hand: guns or, to be quite fair, folk in possession of guns. Such folk are not necessarily a problem, but be sure they can be dangerous. The problem isn't guns so much as folk who cause grief for the rest of us: if they haven't got guns, they don't get to cause as much grief (or, at least, so the theory goes); and, oddly enough, I'm expecting them to be more apt to run away if they expect folk who oppose them to not be carrying guns. Which is a pity, because this is about the point where I suspect I'm getting controversial, which I was trying to avoid.

Now, jurisdictions with few guns generally control gun ownership via a scheme of licensing, keeping track of who has what guns where and jumping up and down very hard on anyone who breaks the rules. Generally the licensing process involves some (not neccessarily effective) character reference to check the licensee isn't a danger to folk. In theory, the general population do have the right to own guns, and use them: but in tightly constrained terms. Most do not exercise that right. On the other side, jurisdictions which generally allow guns do tend to have at least some mechanisms for restraint on gun ownership, even if it's just a court order, taken against a particular nuisance, in light of the court's understanding that allowing that one to have a gun would be a danger to folk generally.

Various bits of the U.S.A.'s government has been angling to introduce restraints on gun-ownership, under the banner of keeping guns out of the hands of the folk who cause trouble. They've met opposition, particularly from the industrial faction of the government-military-industrial complex, especially the bits which make their money from selling guns. Bogons-a-plenty have been generated by FUD campaigns from adherents of both camps. Even the camp of the righteous shall find itself beset with hangers-on who are percieved, by the rest of the world, as that camp's mouth-piece; 'til the righteous shall wince at hearing the truth butchered in their name. I seldom here the moderate line, which accepts that restraints are reasonable in principle: but goes on to delineate, from the principles in question, how far those restraints may go.

This leaves various folk (mostly American) very stirred up, either about the importance of introducing restrictions on gun ownership or about the folly of this same scheme. When the topic comes up (or even nearly comes up), they go off like rockets and pour some diatribe forth. Or someone innocently says something in passing that is inflamatory, to hot-heads on one or other side of the fence, because of its (possibly superficial) similarity to something the opposed hot-heads are wont to say. Such arguments rapidly remind those with an interest in the original topic that the ability to skip this thread is a blessing: it has become a religious war, folk have learned that the best response is to ignore it and move on.

Yet, in fact, there is a serious topic for discussion: to be sure it shall get drowned out in popular fora, but folk with sense will quietly manage to discuss it, I trust. Your freedom to swing your fist stops where my nose begins, at least unless I've just given you a `self-defence' justifaction; the pro-gun camp may fairly tease their oponents with questions about when `pre-emptive self-defence' is a good enough justification for depriving someone of a gun when they may well need it as a means of self-defence.

Yet some folk are just crazy: what would it take to persuade folk to keep guns away from a guy who clearly means no harm but just shoots at things because it's all a dream to him anyway, or whatever his madness may be ? How crazy is a danger to the public, and are there other matters than craziness that warrant a gun-ban ? How do we keep from letting vested interests using `crazy' as a label for dissidents ?

There's interesting areas for discussions. I hope the religious wars eventually die down enough to let those discussions bear fruit.

Written by Eddy.
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