Monthly Archives: December 2012

Totems

It’s always suspect when someone tries to analyze the way “the other side” thinks, so I please take this post with a healthy degree of skepticism. I’m trying to understand why gun ownership rights are such a crucial matter to so many Americans. I have some ideas, but they’re not even developed to the point of being a theories. I’m thinking out loud here.

I don’t think anyone would argue against the idea that the Second Amendment was intended to function as a hedge against government power. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t generally guarantee the right to bear arms, but the intent was that gun ownership would serve as a check against a government that overstepped its authority.

To me, at least, it’s pretty obvious that the original purpose of the Second Amendment is woefully obsolete. No militia, no matter how well-regulated, is going to be more than roadkill when pitted against the power of the U.S. armed forces. If the government does exceed its legal authority, my carrying a pistol, a rifle, or even a machine gun isn’t going to make one bit of difference. I think we can dismiss the original rationale for the amendment.

Unless I’m missing something, that leaves three reasons material reasons for owning weapons: Crime, sport, and self-defense. I’m going to just assume that no one is in favor of keeping gun ownership legal so criminals can have access to guns. Owning weapons for sport is something that a small-ish segment of the population enjoys and I don’t get the sense that the right to hunt is held so dear that it would cause people to hold the Second Amendment in such high regard.

Self-defense is trickier. I can absolutely understand feeling like you need to own a firearm to feel safe. It’s a lot like the desire to drive the biggest vehicle on the road: It probably makes you safer, but it can make the people around you less safe. Still, I can understand the emotional tug to own weapons to defend yourself.

But…I don’t think that’s really it. I think that, for a lot of people, guns are the symbol by which they measure their “freedom.” I’m not saying that to be snarky. I feel that way about the first amendment. Any attempt to curtail free speech or impose religion on me will draw an unreasonably emotional response from me. You’ve probably heard the bit about how “The fact that I can say all these horrible things about my country and my President just demonstrates how free this country is!” I think gun ownership strikes a similar chord. As long as the freedom to own weapons is preserved, there’s a sense that we’re “free.” A police state, after all, probably wouldn’t encourage all citizens to own guns.

At least, that’s my take on it. I think gun rights are, for a segment of our country, the measure of freedom. It’s not even what you do with them so much as the fact that you’re free to own them. When you run up against restrictions, you notice the walls around you and don’t feel as free.

What do you think?

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Filed under Philosophy, Politics

Daily Grouse

I am a gazillion years old, or, at least, old enough to remember when the expression “politically correct” entered the lexicon. I can say with a very high level of certainty that I have never heard the expression used in a positive way. I have never heard anyone say “we need to find a more politically correct expression” except when the sarcasm is dialed up to eleven.

Political correctness is the strawiest of straw men. When people use it sarcastically or ironically or any other snark-related-adverbially, they’re raging against something that never was. In most instances, railing against “political correctness” is really just trying to excuse being rude, or mean, or thoughtless.

So, just like when I hear the words “sports utility vehicle” and mentally substitute “minivan*”, when I hear someone say “This isn’t politically correct, but what I think is…”, I’m going to mentally insert “This is me being an asshole.”

* If it’s used off-road or to tow stuff, yeah, it’s an “SUV.” If it’s a commuter vehicle that’s used to haul the kids and pets around town?  It’s a minivan.

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Filed under Other Stuff, Personal

Gun-Free Zones

I’ve seen more than a few posts around the web suggesting that gun-free zones are a magnet for mass-murderers since they know they’re less likely to be fired on by gun-carrying citizens. Therefore, the logic goes, we should do away with gun-free zones.

There are a couple of problems with this:

1) Most gun-free zones are areas where lots of people congregate. I suspect that this is more attractive to the “mass” part of the “mass-murderer” than any promise that there won’t be guns. Assuming that mass-murderers actually do a cost/benefit analysis of their actions when planning the deed (an extremely iffy assumption), then they’ve surely noticed that almost every mass-murderer exits the scene of the crime in a body bag. Gun-free zone or not, the police seldom take armed gunmen alive. A gun-free zone might give you a few more minutes to kill a few more people, but I don’t think the survival rate of the shooters increases at all.

2) We don’t enforce gun-free zones worth a damn. Just calling something a gun-free zone doesn’t make it so. If we actually checked everyone entering a gun-free zone and made it a felony to attempt to enter a gun-free zone with a gun, then the designation might actually mean something. As it is, there’s really no more reason to think that a gun-free zone is “gun-free” than anywhere else. I’m not saying we should start enforcing them; I’m just saying that if we’re going to have them, make them mean something. Otherwise, get rid of ’em.

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Bad Rules Encourage Bad Results

This post will be a little soccer-heavy, so bear with me. I’ll broaden the scope a little as we move along.

If you follow the sport at all, you’re probably aware of the problem of “diving”, the act of simulating a foul in order to fool the referee into awarding you a free kick or a penalty. There are times when players will dive so elaborately that you can’t imagine that it would fool anyone, but remember: There are only three officials, a referee and two linesmen, to keep track of the 22 players on the field. They make mistakes sometimes.

Here are some good examples.

Now, there is a rule against diving and a player who is adjudged to have tried to have fooled the referee can be given a yellow card for doing so. I don’t have the numbers handy, but it’s my understanding that diving has abated a little bit in leagues where this punishment exists, but obviously, diving still exists. The potential benefit outweighs the risk of being caught and/or the punishment.

Now, there are a couple of things about this situation that I find interesting. One thing you’ll note if you watch the video is that dives are most often not complete simulations. In most cases, there’s some contact there and the player is exaggerating it, but not creating the incident out of thin air. This suggests that there are cases where legitimate fouls will not be called unless the player embellishes the incident. We’ll come back to that.

The larger and more interesting aspect of this is the other side of the coin. Defenders foul many, many more times than attackers dive. Anyone who’s watched the sport for five minutes can tell you this. Shirt pulling is absolutely rampant on set pieces.

Here’s what I mean.

This happens on every play. I’ve seen images (which, of course, I can’t find now) of five players in a single photo having their shirts held by defenders. This, too, is cheating. The defenders are trying to con the refs and they’re every bit as blatant about it as the divers. What’s interesting is that this goes on even though the punishment for shirt-pulling in the penalty box is much greater than the penalty for diving. Shirt-pulling in the penalty box results in a penalty which is as close to a certain goal as you can get unless you’re playing England in a tournament. Why does this much-harsher penalty fail to deter the cheaters?

My suspicion is that the proscribed penalty is so harsh that the referee will only impose it in the most obvious of cases. A single penalty kick is often the deciding point of a match. If they were to call everything according to the laws of the game, there would be literally dozens of penalty kicks awarded every match. They don’t want to do that. So, the cheating continues because the punishment is too harsh.

So, can it be fixed?

Of course it can be fixed. I’ve heard the argument that there’s no point in trying to make new rules because the cheaters will always find a way to cheat and we don’t want to ruin the game because “it’s always been that way and you can’t change it.” That’s a profoundly stupid argument to make. The rules weren’t set in stone by some perfect soccer-God. They’ve been updated and re-interpreted countless times. If they’ve failed to prevent a particular kind of cheating, that isn’t a testament to the pointlessness of making rules, it just means that the rulemakers didn’t get it right and they need to try again.

As an American, I was raised to believe that fighting had always been a part of hockey and you couldn’t remove it without destroying the game. Then I saw a European national team take on the local minor league hockey team. It was really kind of funny. Every time there was any physical contact, the minor league player dropped his gloves and squared up to fight while the European player just kept skating.  This happened at least half a dozen times. It turns out you really could have legitimate hockey without the fighting. I won’t argue  which was “better”; I’m just saying that hockey-without-fighting is, in fact, possible despite the noise you’ll hear to the contrary.

Or look at hooking penalties in the NHL. Hooking is the hockey equivalent of shirt-pulling. Defenders use their sticks to haul back speedier attackers. This had been going on since before I was aware of hockey; it was an entrenched tradition. The league, however, decided that it was ruining the aesthetic value of the game and decided to get rid of it. So, they made enforcing the rules a priority and the referees went along with it. The teams quickly realized that, if they didn’t change how they played, they would lose. So they changed.

My point is: If there’s a will to change something, it can be changed. The system can be changed so that it rewards the result you want and punishes the behavior that you don’t want. The idea that “you could never do that here” as though “here” was some place frozen in amber where people and ideas and attitudes never change is, I think, very naive.

That’s true of real gun control laws, too. If Americans were to want them and had the will to fight for them….
And if the gun control laws that are currently in existence don’t work, that’s not an indication that gun control can never work. It just means the laws we have in place, no matter how well-intentioned they are, aren’t good enough.

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