Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Blasting Away

Winfree's Firearms, Grafton, Va. - Selling Guns n Smokes Since 1968

Voice of the Mountain

by Shawn K. Inlow

A few years ago, I was traveling to a soccer tournament in Virginia when I saw this store, Winfree's, where I was amused to death at the store's shingle.  Winfree's, apparently, sells cigarettes and guns.  A store after  Dirty Harry's own heart.

You, apparently, cannot get a mattress, a light bulb or a pack of gum at Winfree's.  Just the essentials, man.  You can buy a weapon of mass destruction (smokes) or you can buy a gun.  One stop.  Perfect.

We are talking today about guns, gun violence, and American freedoms and responsibilities.  I have had open ears to you, dear reader, for several weeks now and there's a lot of information I've assimilated and opinions I want to share.  What we need is a reasonable discussion.

Given the propensity of people in our society to go ballistic, we are now in a situation that cannot be ignored.  The Mountain thinks of the issue in three ways:  1) It is a political issue.  2) It is a mental health issue.  3) It is an issue of responsibility.

First off, I need to bat down some general political bullshit.  One has to recognize that the NRA is a pro-gun lobby and it aims to protect second amendment rights.  You need to know that the NRA spends a lot of money WEAKENING applicable gun laws in the United States.  Then they typically come out and say we don't need more gun laws but that we need to enforce the existing laws already on the books.

As a retired law enforcement officer, I can testify to many laws that are either ineffectual or misguided.  And the officer is only as good as the laws he's sworn to uphold.  In my reading, I have come to the conclusion that the chief organization in charge of enforcement of those existing (read: "weakened") laws is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms - an organization that has not had a full-time director for the past six years thanks to extreme gun rights activists who want to damage the ATF.

I do not want to divert the attention from the issue at hand, but a fine example of deep reporting was done by CNN's Fortune Blog about exactly this topic concerning the Fast & Furious scandal.  Here we see how weakened laws and a virtual war on any kind of gun regulation resulted in the death of an agent in Arizona... Never mind the 47,000 dead in Mexico.  THAT apparently wasn't troubling enough to get any national attention.  If you THINK you know all about that case (it was a case, not a program), I suggest you read the linked article.  As a law enforcement professional myself, I can appreciate the world in which Agent Dave Voss must be living.

My point being that while the NRA does  many good things, it is hypocritical on this core issue.  I think I can say this objectively.  I was looking forward to their news conference following the Newtown massacre but I found instead of leading on the issue, as they promised to do, they offered little.  Judge for yourself.

LaPierre blames the media.  Video games.  Movies.  The Mountain reminds Mr. LaPierre that it is a free country for both guns AND violent images.  Mr. LaPierre rightly points out the horror that an average child witness 16,000 murders and 200,000 acts of violence by the age of 18.  LaPierre is slightly off-target here:  You can't protect the second amendment by canceling the first.

The NRA chief contradicts himself by deriding the need for new laws and then advocating for at least two massive new bureaucracies and the opening of a pandora's box of new laws and civil rights lawsuits by calling for an "Active National Database of the Mentally Ill" but not an active national database of gun-owners, something LBJ called for way back when Kennedy was the subject of second amendment remedies.

The Mountain agrees that this issue is in part a mental health issue.  But it is also a gun ownership issue.  To deny this simple truth is strange unless you are Wayne LaPierre.  It is also a law enforcement issue.  Friends, the laws need to be enforceable.

So when President Obama called together the heads of Justice, Homeland Security, Education and Health and Human Services, he was taking a large-scale look at the ramifications of the problem.  Dealing with this problem is far more difficult than just putting crazy people on a list.  The ramifications of addressing this problem are massive and reach into many spheres of government and civil life along with those departments Obama quickly identified.

As far as "gun control," a phrase which agitates my conservative friends, Obama has called for at least three measures that seem reasonable:  a ban on assault rifles, a ban on high-capacity magazines and a requirement for background checks at gun shows.  Those two bans had been a matter of law before, under the Reagan administration, after someone tried to cap The Gipper.  Ronald Reagan lobbied Congress for the assault weapons ban and publicly supported the Brady Bill.

Forty percent of all firearms sold in America are sold at gun shows.  Hell, in Arizona, the Land of Fast and Furious, it is LEGAL for a straw-purchaser on public assistance to purchase all the guns he wants and walk out into the parking lot and GIVE them to somebody else.  That shit is LEGAL.  Really.

Listen.  I'm okay with putting an armed guard in schools, though I think it's an Iraq War approach to 9/11.  It's overkill and it doesn't get to the real problem.  Plus, the NRA is great at proposing armed law enforcement in schools and calls on Congress to spend "whatever it takes" to git 'er done.  Who pays for all those new officers?  Who arms them and trains them?  How does all that big-government spending go over with fiscal conservatives who are already dangling precariously over the precipice of their self-created cliff?

I was talking to brother-in-law Jerry over the holidays.  And I says to Jerry, I says, "I'm okay with an armed guard in schools as long as he's well trained and attached to a local law-enforcement agency, such as a police department.  They do it at airports and those guys do nothing but sit and read newspapers and have lunch all day.  It's a cushy detail if you can get it."

But Jerry, a registered gun owner and member of a beautiful hunting club in this area, surprised me with his response.

"Well, what's next, Shawn?  Movie theaters?  Skating rinks?"

Jerry's simple question brought me back to earth on the question.  An active shooter can go on a college campus, into a movie theater, a day-care center, a bowling alley, a bar, a workplace.  The reason armed guards in schools is not tenable is because schools are supposed to be a public place.  A safe place.  And we cannot just go around militarizing all public spaces.  That, to me, would be a less free society.  I'm not sure more good guys with guns is the answer.  It is a reaction to the symptom.

How about registering mentally ill people?  Well, who goes on the list?  Autistics?  You got a crazy uncle?  And who puts him on the list?  For the love of Christ, right now it is LEGAL for a person on the United States Terrorist Watch-List to buy a firearm in America.  ATF?  How about WTF?

It is okay for a terrorist to buy a gun in America.  Really.  And if he does so in Arizona, he can go outside and legally give it to anyone he wants.  Great.  Enforce that, brothers and sisters in blue.  Just tell me one thing:  Do you feel lucky?

On the mental health front, though, our country does widely put one kind of people on a no-gun list:  wife beaters.  Wife beaters have to get rid of their guns because you know what happens?  Wife beaters often shoot their wives.  Sometimes the ass-hole gets his own gun turned against him.  Nobody is arguing that point and it is routinely done.  Who else can we get on this list, man?

I got it.  How about this.  Let's just give a mental health screening to all gun owners, 'cause I know a few who definitely need screening, if you know what I mean.  Now, who's gonna pay for that?  And if you fail the test can you re-take it and put down sane answers?

By the way, mental health issues in this country are a whole 'nother pile of pick-up-stix.  Mental health is largely not covered by health care plans in this country.  Mental health issues are not deemed medical issues and thus treatments are not covered.  In Pennsylvania, the state of mental health care is so threadbare that they're closing the only state facility and admitting no patients as Warren State Hospital looks to close forever.

If you want help with mental health issues, the only way you get treatment in Pennsylvania is by GOING TO JAIL.  Yes, to get MH / MR care in Pennsylvania, the most effective way to do it is to commit a crime.  Nice.  Just you go and try to get someone in your family a bit of help.  It's a dog forever chasing its tail because, you know what?  These issues take time and money and long, hard treatment to address and nobody has the time, money or will to deal with it.

So along comes the NRA calling for a national database of mentally unstable people?  Oh, that'll work.

I propose that the thing we're not talking about is the concept of responsibility.  While I know a few folks who I surely would call "gun nuts," I know far more individuals who take their firearms seriously, handle them safely and store them appropriately.  We must strive for an honest balance in this debate.

One time, I go to Sandy Ridge, Pa. to respond to a shooting incident, right?  I get there and there was this guy who was so drunk he couldn't put his pants on who'd been pissed off that he was trying to sleep and folks outside were being too noisy.  So he loads up his .44, steps out on the top step and starts shooting in the air.  Never mind that he's on his porch and there's holes in his house now.  Worse still, the dumb-ass never got to bed again until I put his smelly ass in jail that night.  Took his guns from him, too.  The dude wasn't what you call responsible with his firearms.

Or how about the dip-shit who gets a new handgun at Bob's Army Navy over in Clearfield and he comes over to the Ramsdale Bar in Philipsburg and he's showing all his drinking buddies his new piece.  And then the knuckle-head goes outside and puts the firearm on the passenger seat of his unlocked truck and then goes back in for some more beers.  How surprised this idiot was when I arrived to investigate the theft of the gun.  And you wonder why the nice officer wants to choke the shit out of you some days.

Look folks.  This stuff is common.  What we have here is a lack of responsibility.  I suggest we focus on responsibility.

The gun lobby wants more rights than they want responsibilities.  That's a problem.  I was taught as a police officer that I was responsible for every round.  Let's start there.

Matt Hertlein of Clearfield, Pa. has sent me an essay that is worth your while, but it is too long for the comment section below.  I will try to post it on a third party site and link, but for now,  I agree with Matt that this is America and we're free to have lots of things if we want.  If I want an AR with a high capacity clip, then I should be allowed to have one.

You know.  It is a free country unless you are limiting someone else's freedom.  Gun violence is limiting other folks' freedoms here.  So I call for the government to craft a law which calls for gun owners to be responsible for their weapons.  I suggest a system that would strengthen gun clubs and proper gun education.

I think if you want that AR, you ought to insure it against possible calamity.  You pay a premium based on how safe you are with your firearm.  Let's say you want the expensive toy, but you don't want such a big insurance bill.  You join a club where your baby is locked in a secure locker and you get a much lower or negligible premium.  You get together with your buddies at your club's range and you have a great time knocking dimes off fence posts from 200 yards.

But if you wanna pay that premium and have the weapon in your home, so be it.  But when your kid takes your guns and goes to kindergarten, you are looking at massive civil damages and - why not - criminal prosecution for NOT taking care of your firearms.  And guess what?  We'll take your firearms just the way we take a wife-beater's firearms.

So let's say your gun is stolen from a very safe place, like a gun club or your own personal gun safe.  I would say you have a legitimate defense and can escape liability.  I would suggest that most handguns and hunting implements be exempted entirely from the scope of the law.

See, I agree that you have the right to keep and bear arms.  But with those rights come responsibilities that you need to accept as well.  You want an AR-15?  That's your right.  Sez so right there in the Constitution.  But you need to pay for your toy and take responsibility when it falls into the wrong hands.

The Mountain says we take health care away from insurance companies and give them firearm insurance instead.  Is that a bet Aetna is willing to take?  And at what odds?  Let's see what the actuaries say and pay that premium.  It would be far simpler than listing all the crazy people.  Because, dear reader, I've got a list right here and it's already a mile long.

NOW LASTLY, more deeply.  The Mountain has been trying for some weeks to put its finger on this societal hair-trigger.  In my first two posts (scroll down), of December 16 and 17, I posit that it is the isolated ones, the lonely ones, the hopeless ones, who most sensitively feel this overwhelming societal emptiness and they begin to crack.  Human beings become nihilistic when they feel their society is cruel, heartless, or that it offers them no meaningful work.

These desperate ones stare into the abyss and are driven mad because they feel powerless to change anything.  That is more than just a mental health issue.  It is a mountain you stand on but cannot see.  Like there is some ephemeral anthropological pressure being exerted on a population that no longer has enough resources for everyone.  And not only do these lonely outliers suffer this strain, but, perhaps, it is our savage, mean, cruel society that is beginning to crack.  The fighting has already begun.  The shots have already been fired.  The victims fall every day.  Here and all over the world.

What is a loving person supposed to do?


  1. Great article, and I'll spare you a lengthy response, since you pretty much know where I stand on the issue. But I'll say this: I agree with you with the responsibility argument, in principle. I feel gun owners should be held responsible for their guns, the same as dog owners are responsible for their dogs.

    But Adam Lanza's mother owned the guns from the Newtown shootings, and she's dead. She was the first person murdered by her insane son. James Holmes legally purchased the weapons he used in Aurora, and he's in jail. The shooter from Portland took his own life after blasting up that mall. No info on where he got his weapons.

    These headline-grabbing stories make (and sell) news because they're so UNCOMMON and hyper-violent. And they're committed by criminals, who are operating outside the law to begin with. I simply don't understand how legislation will prevent these actions from occurring. The guns are here, they'll always be here, and new legislation only takes them away from people who would, in the overwhelming majority, own them responsibly. Close gun-show loopholes, increase background checks, register firearms, train people to use them, but don't take them from someone responsible and hope that they won't find their way into the hands of a criminal or a psychopath...

  2. Here's a legit post from someone who sent a personal note along with permission to use:

    "I know you are looking at the GUN problem and how to solve it. I feel you are as far left on the issue as your goddess Rachael. Not that there isn’t a problem that needs fixed, I will be the first to say there could be improvements. But we are NOT furious that 4.5x’s the number of people are being killed by automobiles in this country every year, and there are actually less cars in this country than guns. There are about the same number of people killed by drunk drivers as guns every year, I don’t hear a cry for the ban of alcohol or cars. Also there are about as many children drowning in pools every year as are killed by guns, no ban on swimming pools. No reports from Rachael on that. You can say I am FAR RIGHT and am ignoring the “problem” but if as the President says “this is for the protection of our children” then we should be looking at all things that kill children and ban them too! I was not able to find the information of how many “children” are killed by car accident while using the cell phone. If you can find that I would be very interested.

    -Philipsburg, Pa.

    1. Also, to the writer- Rachel Maddow is not "my goddess," but I do admire her. She practices a kind of advocacy journalism but I find her to be very factual. In fact, if you want a good treatise on recent decades use of American military power, you would be hard pressed to find a less controversial and more authoritative read than her recent book, "Drift."


  3. Great article Shawn! I greatly enjoyed it.

  4. Several points (all salient, I hope):
    1. Putting more guns into the equation is just not rational, any more than is putting more cars on the road to curb traffic accidents.
    2. The NRA's opposition to laws requiring the reporting of stolen guns is also irrational. Wouldn't it help gun owners in a number of ways?
    3. Ban all assault weapons. I'd include semi-automatic handguns, too.
    4. A national registry of all but sporting arms (long guns) should be a national priority. Spare me the arguement that you can hunt with a long-barreled hand gun. Why would you want to? If you want more of a 'challenge' try archery. Or a sling shot.
    5. If the framers had ever seen or dreamed of an AR-15, or a Glock for that matter, they would never want you (or even me)to own one. The second amendment would be radically different.

    1. Well, three outta five ain't bad. I strongly disagree with point 3 and 5, and I marginally agree with point 4, and I'm totally on board with 1 and 2. I'd explain the reasons for my rebuttal, but it'd take forever. If our beloved blogger posts my article to him, you'll read most of it anyways. If you're interested in an honest opposing viewpoint, however, I'm open to it.


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