Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Liberals Are Gradually Chipping Away My Gun Control Sensibilities

I have been pro-gun-control to some extent for most of my life, despite being raised in a largely pro-gun household.  Technically I still have guns, although I keep them at my parents' house.  This never really did anything to change my opinions on the subject.  Firearms used for hunting tend to be given some social exemption, after all, and every pro-gun-control campaign I've been involved in has explicitly sought the involvement of hunters.  But I'm getting ahead of myself and will talk a bit about that later.

And I'd probably still be hands-down for gun control if it weren't for one little problem: Liberals are fucking bad at not being giant sacks of shit about it.  And the ones who wouldn't necessarily be giant sacks of shit about it are so invested in gun control at all costs that they apparently just go along with the aforementioned sacks of shit's ideas without really hearing what they mean.  For instance, this picture has been floating around on my Facebook, and it's definitely not only giant sacks of shit who are posting it, because on the surface it doesn't look all that shitty:
[Picture of President Obama captioned:
"If your first response to our president
weeping for murdered children is to laugh,
mock, debate, or dismiss...
(Actually, that's all. There's really nothing
to be said about a person like you.)"
I'm all for not laughing or mocking what was a very serious situation, but debate?  You want me to not DEBATE because the president cried about a thing?  There is no goddamn moratorium on debating what the most powerful man in the world is doing insofar as public policy goes.  And Obama's plan here?  I don't care how the fuck much he cries on TV, I'll talk about it all I want.

Mental Illness Stigma

OK, this is the number one thing my friends are talking about.  Basically, somebody's private health information could be divulged, essentially adding them to a blacklist that would prevent them from being able to purchase firearms.  This could be directly reported by a healthcare practitioner or divulged through social security records.

Interestingly it's already illegal for people with certain mental illnesses to own firearms; it has been for decades now.  It wouldn't make it more illegal for a mentally ill person to obtain a firearm, it would make it easier for somebody with a mental illness to be identified in a background check.

But wait... what constitutes "mental illness" here?  According to the Gun Control Act of 1968 (which was reiterated in the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act)
(4) has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution
In this context a "mental defective" is somebody who is considered a danger to themself or others by a legal entity based on mental illness, incompetency, "sub-normal" intelligence, or disease.  Most commonly, though, this restriction is associated with having been involuntarily committed for mental healthcare.  Keep in mind that around this time it still wasn't that uncommon for people to be committed for totally bullshit reasons... and that sort of thing still happens today.  People have been involuntarily sent to mental hospitals (or pressured into signing themselves in) for things like suspecting their roommates have been hiding cameras in their rooms, being "too emotional" around police, whistleblowing police abuses, and being queer or trans.  One woman was sent to a psychiatric hospital recently for vague reasons and then was forced to stay because she claimed Obama followed her on Twitter (even if this hadn't been true--as Obama's account actually was following hers--it's a downright ridiculous reason to be committed).  Things that do not actually pose a threat of harm to anybody, including themselves, but they were stuck in wards anyway because they happened to have encountered a law enforcement officer or healthcare provider who was particularly incompetent, power-hungry, or spiteful.

These false institutionalizations (if you can define any institutionalization as appropriate) have historically disproportionately affected women, people of color, queer people, and trans people, as have all definitions of "mental illness."

Furthermore, these records follow people around as it is and are hard to get corrected when they're bullshit. I've known multiple people who have had mental illness labels applied to them erroneously by incompetent doctors only to have these diagnoses permanently affect the healthcare they receive. They can't get rid of them. 

Finally, this discourages people who need mental healthcare from actually getting it if they own guns, regardless of the reasons they do.

I'm not anti gun control, but the way gun control is pushed is dangerously off-target.  I already mentioned mental illness stigma first because that's the issue most people are talking about, but there's more my disillusionment with gun control than just that.  What follows are some other reasons I have a hard time getting behind liberal gun control reforms anymore.

Gun Control As It Is Promoted Disadvantages Minorities

In addition to the mental illness stuff I already said, the way people go about promoting gun control rests on standards that disadvantage minorities.

The current gun control standard rests on banning people from having a gun if they've been convicted of domestic violence as well as some other very reasonable things... but the very first part of that law dictates that the length of a prison sentence matters in whether or not a person is eligible to have a firearm.  Since racial minorities--especially black people--are more likely to be arrested, more likely to be convicted in court, and more likely to be handed harsher sentences than white people, it means that there's a good chance that upon committing the same crime a person of color could be rendered ineligible for a firearm and a white person not.

This is no shock.  Gun control legislation has always been most effectively passed when leveled against armed black people.  Interestingly, pro gun control advocates have often used the line that the NRA was pro gun control when the Black Panthers were arming themselves as a bargaining chip without bothering to consider why the Black Panthers were so concerned with arming themselves in the first place (something I'll talk about in the next section).  Basically, they've taken the fact that conservative entities once had different beliefs--fully understanding that they held those beliefs for absolutely racist reasons--as if this provides a positive reason for conservatives to support gun control.

Another standard of current gun control laws?  You can't get a firearm if you've been dishonorably discharged from the military, something that affects a sizeable chunk of LGBT veterans (Not all LGBT people discharged from the military were dishonorably discharged for it, it depended on the circumstances and how long ago they were discharged, but again... a sizeable chunk.  There was also a time when being outed as LGBT in the military got you sent to a psychiatric hospital, so there's that again.).

They Ignore The Military and Law Enforcement

Obama cried over some American schoolchildren yesterday.

This is the same president whose military policies have been very adept at blowing up weddings and hospitals in other countries.  And pretty much every other mainstream Democrat would continue this same shit.  Talking about ending violence is easy when you know it'll never impede on your own personal violent actions.  Talking about firearm violence here and then continuing to promote the same violence elsewhere--but in a uniform--is hypocrisy at its finest.

The basic line in mainstream gun control is that we should leave the shooting up to the professionals.  Armed civilians playing John Wayne does more harm than good, after all, so we should just let law enforcement officers do their jobs and keep guns away from civilians altogether.

So I said earlier that when gun control advocates talk about the NRA once having supported gun control they're ignoring the reasons that the Black Panthers wanted to be armed to begin with.  The NRA's involvement with this is actually more complicated than that (they were founded for a very different reason than they exist today), but regardless the original passage of the Gun Control Act very much coincided with the Black Panthers carrying guns.  Why were they carrying guns?  Because they were being actively antagonized by law enforcement.

Carrying firearms in that situation had, then, two main reasons.  On the one hand, they needed to defend themselves from the police.  On the other, they needed them to defend against the civilians the police were not protecting them from.

This sort of thing still happens today.  You don't see a lot of calls to arms among anti-racist activists anymore (for good reason), but those who do choose to arm themselves explicitly are doing so because they cannot trust the police to actually protect them and they can't trust the subsequent legal system to do its job, either.  Take the case of Ky Peterson, a black trans man who is currently imprisoned for killing a man who was actively assaulting and raping him.  Everything about what happened was due to his perfectly reasonable distrust of law enforcement.

There is also the question of the background checks of cops themselves.  I once nearly took a position at a police station in a fit of monetary desperation.  Once I looked at the background check information I was expected to give--the same background check given to officers which would be personally looked over by the police chief himself to reject for any reason he felt like--I got some extreme perspective into the type of standards they were expected to meet.  It asked not only about my own criminal history, but that of my relatives as well.  It asked about every single organization I've been a member of since childhood, every name and nickname I ever used, who my friends were.  It literally asked if I had ever been a member of a communist party.  There was no way to get through this wad of papers without disclosing my gender identity history, sexual orientation, religion, and political beliefs.  And again, with the heavy weight on criminal history of relatives, it's no shock that police departments tend to be disproportionately white.

We see calls to use better background checks on police. This would be a great idea if the standards we're promoting didn't basically self select for the most privileged people.

Furthermore, once a person is a cop, engaging in criminal activities that would make somebody ineligible to own a gun is significantly less likely to result in a conviction or prison time.  We've seen it demonstrated how unlikely a cop who shoots somebody in the line of duty--no matter how unnecessary the shooting was--is to even be charged let alone convicted.  Police are also more likely to be domestic abusers, with their victims more likely to be afraid of reporting them due to the disproportionate power between the officers and their civilian partners and family members.  This means a subset of people that absolutely should not be allowed to carry guns are actively enabled to, even exempted from gun control arguments as the only people who SHOULD have guns.

They Ignore Issues of Rural People

I'm including this almost as sort of a closing aside.  It's not something I would consider the highest priority on this list, especially when you consider how many gun control advocates very explicitly promote being hunter-friendly in order to get more support from the many gun owners who do not own them for any human-killing reasons.

I often see people on Twitter say things like "there is NO reason to have a gun and all your reasons suck," by which they mean to imply that gun owners are merely paranoid privileged people.  This is often the case.  I don't deny that.  I've already talked about some cases in which this is not true and that people arm themselves over legitimate fears, but within those communities today I rarely see the desire to be armed as a form of open empowerment (this is, by the way, something I consider their own damn business and not something I will personally soapbox on).

Did I mention that I actually use firearms?   I was raised into deer hunting just as the rest of my relatives have been.  We were purely hunting for meat and herd-thinning; and especially when my parents' finances started to slide it was nice to be able to have several pounds of frozen meat for the cost of a $20 license, a few bullets, and a firearm that would pretty much last forever with good care.

There are certainly hunters out there who are unethical as fuck, and deer hunting in particular is an industry worth billions of dollars.  But I don't think people really understand how important a tool a firearm can be when you're very rural, especially if you're rural and poor.

My assumption is that people who claim nobody has any good reason to have a gun are picturing people who just want the badass thrill of having a deadly dick replacement.  I'm just pointing out that that's not necessarily the case.

More topically, this attitude is expressed in the insufferable rural stereotypes that encourage people to do things like focus on the apparent backwoods incompetence of the folks in Nevada currently occupying a federal building over cattle grazing fees. The focus on these people as ignorant hicks alienates rural people and southern people in general, who believe it or not have immense diversity in their politics, perspectives, and education just like anybody else. This stigma doesn't help the overall issue of gun violence any more than the mental health stigma, and yet it continues to be a big hit.

A Hopeful Conclusion

As I already stated, I'm pro gun control.  There are plenty of firearms that people just have no business owning, behaviors involving guns that people have no business doing (like open carry "activists" threateningly following people around), and we need to lift restrictions on actually studying gun violence so that we have a better picture of what to do about it.

We can do all of these things and a whole lot more without the ableist assumptions about mental illness or favoring background checks that by design disadvantage oppressed people.