Friday, May 18, 2007

Automatics for the People


The moment I learned that Jerry Falwell had slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of whatever, I chuckled quietly and returned to my work-out (given that I was at the gym at the time); a couple of moments after I learned of the entirely timely death of Jerry Falwell, I wondered to myself what would become of those poor souls sure to suffer most in the wake of such a staggering loss.

I'm speaking of course of the media, which for more than three decades had been complicit in elevating Falwell from Otherwise-Run-of-the-Mill-Sociopath to Influential-Spokesperson-Whose-Opinion-Deserves-Consideration.

What would the 24-hour cable channels do now that they'd lost their go-to zealot? Where would they find another voice so sure to hand them a ratings bonanza on a silver-platter by consistently spouting inflammatory nonsense? Who else could provide the perfect caricaturish counterbalance to equally extremist viewpoints from the opposite side of the political and religious spectrum? Would anyone else look as hilariously perfect inside a two-box graphic opposite Al Sharpton?

If you have a working television and an IQ above that of a ferret, you know that I'm not exaggerating one bit about the media's seemingly incurable obsession with allowing only the most fanatical agitators to speak for the masses when it comes time to debate so-called "controversial" issues on the airwaves. I've sat in focus group after focus group -- listened to letter after e-mail after telephone message -- which attempted to convince those in control of our nation's various news departments that Falwell, Robertson, Sharpton, Jackson and their rotten ilk don't speak for a majority of Americans.

Such pleas were always paid the requisite level of self-reflective lip service; you've been able to see for yourself how much effect they had when it came time to once again book a guest to expound on the morality/immorality of gay marriage, abortion, stem cell research, adding nipples to mannequins and so on.

The fact is, whether a topic is being legitimately and rationally debated matters little; what matters is that batshit-crazy makes for great TV.

As someone who draws a paycheck from a major network and spends almost every other waking moment cultivating a career as a writer and author, I sometimes find myself in the unenviable position of being torn between my loyalties to each facet of my life. Regular readers of this little experiment of mine can probably correctly surmise by now that my loathe for what television news has generally become, combined with my passion for writing, typically makes it a pretty easy call on those rare occasions when the two sides conflict: in spite of the shot of adrenaline that the news business can sometimes offer, I find writing to be an infinitely more worthwhile and noble endeavour.

Which is why it pissed me off to no end to find that some news organizations had begun moving the ridiculous extremist debate that they'd popularized on television to a new forum: the written-word domain of the internet.

In the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings, CNN.com featured two online columns written by two guest contributors with opposing viewpoints. The topic was gun control.

Taken at face value, the idea of such a point/counterpoint -- particularly considering the gravity of the subject and the tragedy which had spawned its discussion -- seemed admirable. Unfortunately, it was who they had enlisted to pen these polemics that left me shaking my head in equal parts bewilderment and disgust.

Taking the stance in favor of gun control: former editorial page editor for the L.A. Times, current UCLA professor and freakishly nerdy liberal archetype Tom Plate.

Taking the anti-gun control stance: Ted Nugent.

Needless to say, it was the kind of debate guaranteed to convince absolutely no one on the opposite side of either argument. On the contrary, each contestant stood as such a laughable stereotype -- no doubt confirming the other side's worst fears and shallowest preconceptions -- that it was likely from the beginning that the entire effort would only serve to further polarize the two camps in the debate.

So what the hell was the point?

Well, as was surely expected, it was entertaining.

Plate pontificated eloquently and uber-articulately -- peppering his prose with plenty of Scrabble triple-score words -- that the second amendment should be overturned and that Americans should completely lay down both their arms and their right to bear them.

Nugent sounded like the guy who wrote Wango Tango -- blasting away at the liberal pussies who want to trample on your "God-given right to keep and bear arms" and arguing that what America needs is more guns, not fewer.

It was great theater -- and it accomplished absolutely nothing.

Like all those who had complained for so long that a battle between zealots left 99% of America without a voice, I found myself infuriated that such an important subject -- one worthy of serious discussion -- had been sacrificed on the altar of pop-culture burlesque. The searing aftermath of a human catastrophe of such magnitude wasn't the time for arrogant chest-thumping and gutless preaching to the already converted.

In other words, regardless of the part I play in the news media itself -- I found myself within that huge percentage who felt like its myriad views weren't being properly represented.

A little background: I've always had a fascination with and an appreciation for guns.

I have no doubt that this stems from the fact that I was raised around weapons; they were a regular feature of life in my house for most of my formative years. My father is a former Navy SEAL and was a commander with the Miami-Dade P.D. during a good portion of my childhood; he was armed upwards of 18 hours out of each day. I never found this to be all that disconcerting -- on the contrary, I remember thinking that it was pretty damn cool at the time.

I also remember my father going out of his way to make me understand that there was nothing "cool" about it.

From day one, he taught me the right and wrong way to handle a gun. He taught me an awesome amount of respect for its power and for the responsibility that goes with even holding one in your hand. After handing me his HK Compact .45, he made me check to make sure it wasn't loaded, even if I had just watched him do the same. He demanded that I always keep it pointed at the ground, and never at another human being -- even if I knew beyond a doubt that it had been emptied and therefore rendered ostensibly harmless. He taught me how to shoot, and shoot well; how to aim and fire with confidence rather than fear. He made sure I understood that the use of force is never something to be taken lightly -- but that if by some chance it ever became absolutely necessary, to defend myself or someone I love, I had to act without hesitation and be willing to kill.

I had to detach.

I never had a problem with this -- which admittedly worrried him on occasion.

I bring all of this up, because I think it needs to be understood that I see both sides of the gun control issue. I'm no extremist in either direction, which I hope qualifies me to offer an opinion that can be seen as at least somewhat valid by either side of the debate.

In spite of my familiarity with guns, my respect for them, and my belief in the good they can do in the proper hands, I'd gladly make every single one of them vanish from the face of the planet if I could. I realize, however, that this is impossible -- and that if even one such weapon exists, many more must also.

Make no mistake though, the escalation does have to end somewhere.

Last night, in the town of Annandale, Virginia, hundreds of people -- many toting exposed dual sidearms, as if expecting to encounter a wild west gunfight -- converged on a tiny county government building. What drew them in droves were two chances: one was the chance to win a brand new pistol and rifle; the other was the chance to send New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and gun control advocates like him a defiant message.

Recently, Bloomberg filed a series of federal lawsuits against out-of-state weapons dealers, claiming that the shops allow the illegal sale of guns which are then used to commit crimes in New York City. Six of the targeted dealers are in Virginia.

And so, supposedly as a form of protest, a gun-rights group calling itself the Virginia Citizens Defense League held a "Bloomberg Gun Giveaway." Its members raffled off a Para-ordnance handgun and a "Varmint Stalker" rifle (and no, I'm not making that up) and showed off a cake adorned with an unflattering picture of Bloomberg.

They laughed, they ridiculed their supposed oppressors, they showed off their guns -- they had a hell of a time.

Meanwhile, outside, a small group gathered to protest the giveaway -- among those standing quietly, the parents of several of the victims of the Virginia Tech shooting.

When asked about the vigil going on right outside the door, the president of the Virginia Citizen's Defense League, Philip Van Cleave, said that he sympathizes with the grieving families, but -- and here's the argument you could've seen coming a mile away -- that their loved ones might still be alive if more people had been armed that day.

To call the entire thing obscene would be an insult to obscenity, and I have no doubt that the use of such impotent language would only serve to reinforce this group's belief that anyone who disagrees with it is a leftist wimp.

So let me use a few words the members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League might better understand: if ever there existed a bunch of people who need to be disarmed as quickly as possible, it's these fucking idiots. Anyone whose judgment is so lousy that he would throw a party and gleefully thumb his nose in the face of families recently devastated by gun violence can't be trusted with a deadly weapon. If the mere feelings of another human being are of no consequence to these dolts, I find it impossible to believe that the human life they have the potential to take will be of much more value.

These aren't gun enthusiasts -- these are gun worshippers. That's the problem, because as my father taught me so long ago -- there should be no such thing.

It's one thing to recognize a weapon as a necessity, a means to and end, even an instrument of sport -- of enjoyment; it's another thing entirely to believe it to be a large part of your identity -- your very manhood.

Anyone who thinks this way shouldn't be allowed to own a gun.

The members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League -- a laughably muscular name for a group that's made up largely of overweight rednecks -- taunt Mike Bloomberg, telling him to mind his own business and worry about New York; this proves that they're too myopic to be able to understand that in this day and age, an event in Virginia has the ability to affect change in New York City -- proving that they don't understand the potentially catastrophic consequences of their own actions.

Proving that they should in no way be in a position to take a life in the blink of an eye.

They claim that the world would be a safer place if more people were armed to the teeth -- and that the Virginia Tech massacre could have been avoided if more of the students had been able to shoot back. Yet, I have no doubt that if those heavily armed students had been schooled in the use of firearms by the misguided idiots of the V.C.D.L., there would've been accidental deaths long before that awful morning.

They shouldn't have guns, and they damn sure shouldn't be allowed to inflict their stupidity and lack of respect for the power at their fingertips on others.

Each person who crowded into that building last night wasn't there to stand up for his rights -- he wasn't there to secure his ability to hunt or shoot for sport, or for the necessity of self-defense; he was there because, to him, his gun is sacrosanct -- the knowledge of his ability to kill imperative in maintaining a sense of authority -- of power.

He's a zealot -- unwilling to concede or compromise.

And once again, as my father taught me, he's the last person who should be carrying a gun.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

dude do you know how to self edit? your posts go on forever. whenever there is some kind of news event, you can be counted on for 500 words or more of boring-ass comment. yikes, how about some comments on recent events in the haiku format.

Chez said...

Go fuck yourself.

That short enough for you?

Julie said...

All those words, they hurt my pretty little head. If I didn't know enough to stop reading, I could've been irreparably harmed with, like, insightful and well-written commentary and, you know, dude, painful.

That was a close one.

girl with curious hair said...

I'm glad you beat me to this, because when I read about the gun give-away, in VIRGINIA of all places, I literally thought it was a typo. People can't be that stupid and cruel, can they?

And almost as good as the post, was your response to Anonymous' comment.

Chez said...

And now, a haiku...

Short attention span.

Confused by all those big words.

Go read something else.

Clint said...

While I respect your right to an opinion, your point is misdirected. The Bloomberg giveaway and the VA Tech incident are completely unrelated events.

Bloomberg took it upon himself as a mayor of an out of state city to go behind the back of the Viginia gubernatorial office AND the federally controlled ATF to make an illegal sting operation. His actions are in complete defiance of due process. That is why the VCDL had their raffle. No, I do not support the raffle, no I do not support Bloomberg. Perhaps they are my "Sharpton and Falwell."

One must ask the question: since the firearms are so readily available here in Virginia, why do we not have the same crime problem as NewYyork? Why wouldn't the criminals stay here to commit their acts of violence? Perhaps because the overweight rednecks are armed with more than profanity and verbose opinions to defend themselves?

VOTAR said...

Perhaps because the overweight rednecks have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ELSE OF ANY VALUE WORTH ROBBING AT GUNPOINT?

RottweilerTOM said...

Chez, thank you for your own personal analogy with the “but for responsible parenting…..” preface yet knowing all too well that too many children do not come from similar situations and are taught just the opposite or equally worse at times not taught at all. Coveting guns or the being in the gun trade otherwise should never be taken lightly and restrictions at the highest levels should be in place. To me, there is no grey area.

Still, gun dealers, in large part, I doubt, care very much about more intensive background checks, unless of course when there is a threat of adverse consequences like litigation concomitantly insurance premiums continually escalating, forcing to capitulate with local laws making gun purchase cumbersome. Why do I think gun dealers are no more morally or socially responsible then a bar owner or a 7-11 – because I just do – it’s the market and governmental pressure that dictates their behavior running their business responsibly.

We don’t need more guns. We don’t need less guns. That concern is pardon the pun, gun versus butter. The only issue I see is how do we make sure that the process of gun ownership is, administratively, carried out competently? Because Toothless Joe of the V.C.D.L. should understand that we must take every fucking precaution to avoid mental and non-mental gun touting threats. To think otherwise is nothing less then an extremist perspective, and Toothless is no more or less selfish then a drug cartel.

I believe we need MORE creative laws to prevent the sale of lethal weapons combined with exactly what Bloomberg is trying to convey. 14 or 30 day waiting periods is outright bogus. I am not calling for a state bureaucracy here. What I am thinking is the application itself is most likely short-sighted. I honestly have never seen an application but I can only imagine it strictly deals with criminal indictments, FBI records, etc. What about including names of neighbors, siblings, parents, school administrators, health-care workers – any and all relevant people in one’s life who can attest to someone’s civility. Make the waiting period 6 months long and have a carbon copy filed with the local person’s police precinct. Have extensive interviews, etc. Hopefully, this will disclose the mental wackos of the world like the rodent at Virginia Tech. But for shit sure we desperately need creative leadership on this issue.

I can only surmise that when you mention the V.C.D.L. I automatically conjure up the States Rights Party or the local Mobile, Alabama white racist committee’s to countervail the bus boycott of 1954. Let’s be honest folks, while the V.C.D.L. may, or may not, contain equal number of racists, the same ill-gotten and twisted thinking goes into their public positions. Perhaps we need more idiotic groups like them so to awaken the political middle. But we must have more creative leadership on this issue NOW!

Chez said...

First of all, thanks very much for taking the time to comment; I always appreciate well-thought-out dissent.

I agree that Bloomberg may have very well overstepped his bounds, and that his motivations are political more than anything else. I'm not sure though that the legitimacy of his campaign has any bearing on the VCDL's reaction to it, and I think that to assert so misses the point slightly. Regardless of whether Bloomberg is right or wrong, the reaction of these guys was completely foolish and, as I said, showed their hand when it comes to their cavalier attitude about gun ownership. You just don't arrogantly kid around about something so serious -- it goes back to what I said about showing respect at all times for a weapon and the power it gives you. It's all about being responsible -- and I don't think such insouciance, particularly in the presence of those who've recently lost a loved one to gun violence, shows very much.

As for your point about the crime rate in Virginia as compared to New York -- I think you're over-simplifying things. New York state has a larger population than Virginia. New York City alone is home to 9-million people, all stacked on top of one another; just by virtue of that sort of big city atmosphere, you're going to natually have more violent crime. Statistically, for a city of its size, New York has a shockingly low violent crime rate right now -- whether that's due in any part to the city's tough gun laws, who knows. Just like it's impossible to say that Virginia's crime rate can be in any way traced back to overweight, armed rednecks.

Speaking of which...

I want to make it absolutely clear that I'm not broad-stroking the entire state of Virginia, or any one particular region on this. The guys I watched orgiastically flaunting their guns at Thursday's meeting were, as far as I'm concerned, dangerous idiots. I have no doubt that there are millions of responsible gun owners out there who possess plenty of sound judgment -- some of them, I'd have to assume, live in Virginia.

Once again, thanks for the comment.

Clint said...

I appreciate your rebuttal and your comment on my own blog.

I feel there is a going to be a bit of a cultural gap in any exchange you, your readers, and I may have and that may taint the discussion. Votar’s comment is a perfect example. He surmises that because someone lives in the south, they are poor. Despite the obvious absurdity of that statement, it is not just monetary valuables that inspire armed crime. RottweilerTOM insinuates that we have poor dental hygiene. I’ll just leave that one to the “Designing Women” cast. The stigma of stereotyping overshadows much of the commentary directed at the south. We’re all pretty numb to it down here but it is a variable when criticism is being leveled against us.

The media’s widespread coverage of the Bloomberg raffle is slightly reminiscent of the racial problems spotlighted in the south during the 60’s. Maybe Neil Young can write another song about us. A relatively small group of individuals was used as a cross section of the average Virginian gun owner. The very criticism with which you start your article, the use of an extremist viewpoint, is used as a device by the mainstream media to criticize the indignation of a great many people in this state (and nation) towards Bloomberg’s attempt at circumnavigating the Fourth Amendment.

As stated in the Roanoke Times last month, there are well over 137,000 concealed carry permit holders in Virginia. That is a full 2% of the population. They are some of the most law-abiding people in the state. If they were not, they would not have the permit. Granted, most of Virginia has a population density that does not equal New York City. However, all of Virginia is not rural. The Norfolk area is enormous with Virginia Beach being in the top 50 largest cities in the US. The Northern Virginia area (suburban DC) is also a very congested and rapidly growing area. NOVA, in fact, is an area that is used to show how two areas right next to each other, can have staggeringly different crime statistics. The “inner city” argument likewise does not apply as Baltimore is nearly as bad as DC and, that’s right, there is a major gun control element in that city. The DC suburban Virginian cities with the lower rates, do not have such gun purchase and ownership restrictions.

I would be interested in the crime stats of upstate New York where the population density is less than much of Virginia (Google fails me). I know that outside of the city, hunting weapons (which also definitely count as home defense) are near a “shall issue” status. Here in Virginia, no permit is required for sporting arms, but the background check still applies. Being a man familiar with guns, you certainly realize the greater potential for inflicting violence presented by a 12 gauge over a 9mm. But the 12 gauge doesn’t carry that mystique and therefore stays out of the sights of the anti-gun lobby.

While statistics can be manipulated (look at Mark Twain’s quote about them), most analysis shows that where law-abiding people are armed in this nation, there is less violent crime.

On a final note, while there were VA Tech parents present at the rally here in Virginia, relevant or not, we should never forget other victims of tragedy like Suzanna Hupp. Her testimony before Congress helped reform gun laws in her home state of Texas: http://digg.com/videos/educational/Suzanna_Gratia_Hupp_s_Powerful_Testimony_to_Congressional

I will bow out of any further debate at this point as the internet is filled with very similar controversy. I will conclude, however, by saying that I appreciate the allowance of response to your blog. There are so many opinionated sites that allow for no rebuttal whatsoever. In my opinion, that shows a fear of being proven wrong. I believe that for an intelligent thinker, “truth” is far more important than “not being disproven.”

- Clint

Lorenzo said...

I must admit that my knowledge in this area is quite limited. I've never owned a gun other than a BB gun when I was a kid. I have however been threatened with guns, to the point of having an illegally owned handgun pointed at my face by my Mom's crazy ex-boyfriend (she's married in Canadia now so I've been able to move on with my life without worrying about her).

I will say that I have no doubt that a simple waiting period really works. My suggestion would be a required gun safety class which would teach the things your father taught you before someone is able to buy a gun. There would have to be some kind of test at the end which would include some kind of psychiatric evaluation.

Unfortunately, and I'll admit this may just be me being jaded and cynical, I don't really believe anything will keep the people who really want to commit a violent act with a firearm will get one some way.

RottweilerTOM said...

Clint:

First, since I have never seen a “Designing Women” episode I am not quite sure how you think they will correct my unfortunate stereotype. But I actually challenge you here. Historically, the back hills of Virginia has experienced abject poverty and in West Virginia region as a whole. Note both John and Bobby Kennedy’s campaigns there, where these white bred, spoiled out of touch politicians exposed the poverty. Poor Dental hygiene is rooted in economics so therefore while yes, I do stereotype, I am not too far off. I could have said Toothless Lamont in the Bronx, would you have a raised how my improper descriptions are muddling any intelligent discussion. I mean, fuck dude, the Walton’s were NONFICTION.

Now more to your actual merits rather then my silly defense of my stereotypes. You raise the Fourth Amendment and probably I should throw in the 2nd too. The Fourth Amendment reads: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

I am not even going to ask you to pull out the operative words that evidence your belief that Bloomberg is circumnavigating the 4th Amendment. I infer that you consider gun ownership a constitutional right. You don’t see it as a mere privilege to own a gun (note I do not say possess – because as a public policy matter it is illegal to possess a gun of any kind without a proper license (although I admit I could be wrong since State law dictates) rather then a right. Pro-gun advocates have this annoying misapplication of BOTH the 2nd and 4th.

I am not saying you or others of civilized mentality should not be able to buy a gun. Distinct from Chez’s position, my concern is merely the admin process of getting a gun. This sounds simplistic but to you agree we may need to change or at least reexamine the application process? I can’t imagine that you would support unfettered access, like my 23 year old schizophrenic neighbor with no criminal violations of buying a 22 automatic at the Piggly Wiggly?

Lastly this response was made in honor of toothless Ernest T. Ford of the Andy Griffin show. Granted he had rocks.

Since this is not my blog, I will not respond and intrude on Chez's time but you can e-mail me at mullen@scmv.com for rebuttal.

mrmook said...

Chez-

Your Old Man seems to have taught you well...
and for that you are lucky, so very few citizens have such a realistic take on the issue. I really enjoyed almost all the comments for this post, thanks.

but aren't you supposed to be on vacation?

Manny said...

Apparently there's a 350 word minimum on comments for this post, but......fuck it. I just wanted to thank you for the Deftones video. I forgot how much I LOVE their music.

And the Okenfold video....has anyone seen my glow sticks?

Philip Van Cleave said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Chez said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chez said...

Note -- the two deleted comments above have been saved and will be used in an upcoming post.