The strange campaign of Republican Presidential candidate Ben Carson continues to entertain but seldom inspires much more than a scratch on the head at his oversimplification of every issue he encounters. As quoted in a recent New York Times story, he spoke about the most recent mass shooting in Oregon.
“I would not just stand there and let him shoot me,” Mr. Carson, who has been surging in recent polls, said on Fox News. “I would say: ‘Hey, guys, everybody attack him! He may shoot me, but he can’t get us all.’ ”
That assumes, of course, that everyone in a room of panicked people will stop long enough to listen to the calm voice of Dr. Carson. It also assumes the shooter will specifically target Mr. Carson, as requested, and not have time to mow them all down with an AK-47 or other military-grade weapon.
One wonders whether most of us would not follow the example of those frightened knights in the Monty Python movie the Holy Grail and shout, “Run away! Run away!”
Granted, the narrative chosen by Mr. Carson seems more heroic. It is simply not considered courageous to turn around and run like hell when confronted by violence.
And I can actually speak from experience about it’s like to be chased by a knife-wielding maniac. Way back in 1976 while running through the City of Geneva, an overgrown punk that did not like me running through downtown chased me for a block yelling insults. Then he climbed into his car, pulled up on the street ahead and got out to throw a very large knife at me, which I dodged. To this day, I’m glad he did not have a handgun. I might well be dead. Running away was a good strategy in either case.
I’m not sure what I’d do in a circumstance where other people’s lives are in danger as well. I do know that I’m still faster than perhaps 99% of the population, so I’d have an advantage over others by running away. But I can’t imagine the idea of leaving people to die in a room behind me, either. So I’d like to think that I might behave as Mr. Carson suggests. Run right at the shooter and try to take them down. I’d have an advantage there too.
I’ve actually imagined what I’d do in such emergency situations. While I value my life, I also recognize there are higher purposes than saving your own skin. So I get Dr. Carson’s sentiments. But I do think he’s making a cloyingly political argument by suggesting that most of us would have the presence of mind to charge a shooter when faced with a hail of bullets. If that’s the logic for supporting gun rights, his argument is really weird, don’t you think? His point seems to be that we should never infringe on the rights of the heavily armed shooter before he goes out to kill. Instead, it’s our obligation to accept that such shootings are bound to occur. They are a naturally-occuring expression of a democratic society. It’s not our obligation to prevent mass shootings, Dr. Carson argues, but it’s our obligation to stop them once they begin taking place.
Armed and dangerous
As for arming myself and standing ground against another shooter, that’s a fantasy that I’ve addressed in this blog on other occasions. I’ve wanted to shoot out the tires of some aggressive drivers that have driven me off the road. Others have gotten out of their vehicles to accost me on the street for the simple act of riding my bike. So yes, the idea of having a gun on my person has seemed inviting at times.
So I get that people who find themselves in threatening situations want to own guns and protect themselves. I really do. Not everyone has the ability to run away, or run at a shooter, especially in America, where the overall obesity rate makes it pretty tough for many people to run ten feet, much less escape from a hail of bullets or rush them like a running back aiming for a hole in the defensive line.
Given America’s love with football, that’s an interesting analogy. Because while 30,000+ people are dying annually from murders or suicides due to guns, millions more are dying from the effects of heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses caused by obesity. It actually seems the worst thing you could possibly be in terms of life expectancy is an overweight gun owner.
But I agree that people should never have to run away from your own home either. So the right to keep and bear arms makes total sense in that context. What we ultimately need to seek is the balance between the right to bear arms and the right to slaughter people at will. Because we don’t have any good solutions right now, but we’ll get to that.
Our society is becoming militarized as a direct result of liberal gun laws. You heard that right. Our gun laws are in fact “too liberal.” Because conservative gun laws (by definition) would first assure that said gun laws “do no harm.” That is clearly not the case right now. There are almost as many guns in America as there are people.
Not all of us want to live in a militarized society. Likewise, there is the long-standing problem that our military personnel feel disgusted by the lax attitude of a society with little apparent respect for tradition or sacrifice. We’re a culture that increasingly acts like it is a wing of the military without expressing any of the discipline or rules it takes to survive or manage that approach to living. We don’t seem to want to respect ourselves, or respect others.
No soldier boy
It so happened… that my slice of the American generation fell into a gap where draft registration was not required. As a result, I never received weapons training as part of military service. Neither did I get yelled at in boot camp, or broken down and built back up to automatically respect authority. As a result, perhaps I retained a habit of questioning authority, demanding explanations and reasons for the actions of others. This is especially true when confronted by “rules” imposed by force of will, much less bullying, hazing and collective agreement on social policy without sound basis in reason, not ideology.
And yet, my participation in the sport of distance running delivered experiences in physical, psychological and emotional discipline. We trained like soldiers in boot camp, running hard through the early dawn hours and sweating through August heat in preparation for the season. Then when competition began, we learned the virtues of personal sacrifice for the betterment of the team.
Take one for the team
So I appreciate there are traces of that mentality in Dr. Carson’s call to “take one for the team.” And yes, there have been recent instances in the news where people did not just run away from attackers. Those three fellows on the train in France, for example, may have prevented some genuine terrorism.
Again, military and police training does come in handy in those situations. Those guys were also in their mid-20s, appeared to be in good physical condition, and took a chance and succeeded.
Not all potential heroes are so strong, or so lucky. Significantly, none of the three men that took down the shooter was armed. They did not whip out their own guns and shoot the guy on the spot. They did what Dr. Ben Carson suggested and charged the shooter. One got a severed thumb and injured arm and neck out of the deal. Being a hero takes some doing.
Carrying a piece versus peace
But I’m still not sold on the idea that everyone carrying weapons around in public is a good idea. Wherever that happens, there tends to be mayhem. The streets and neighborhoods of major cities across the country are murderous danger zones because guns are still far too easy to get by people who refuse to respect the rights of others. In fact they specifically get their hands on guns to demand respect that they might not really deserve. That’s a deadly combination.
Arguments that it is people that kill people and not guns that kill people are absurd. There is no such thing as a drive-by knifing, for example, or a mass knifing at a public school or movie theater. Those things just don’t happen. A mass of people can indeed run away from a knife-wielding murder. But when a murderer armed with automatic or semi-automatic weapons opens fire, there is no such thing as running away.
I’m happily part of the 1% in terms of total foot speed in America, but I cannot outrun a bullet no matter how hard I try. That’s never going to be my idea of “taking one for the team.”
American and friendly fire
It comes down to this: there is a logic to the constitutional call for a well-regulated militia that we seem to be ignoring in the public space. Even military personnel keep their guns locked up when not in use, and that’s on their own bases. If even the military recognizes that carrying weapons around all the time is not a good an idea, why does the rest of America not get that? It’s because men like Dr. Carson invoke the fantasy that heroic gun-toting and charging a gunman in the face of murderous intent is both a practical necessity and a badge of honor.
No, Dr. Carson. It’s insane to suggest such a thing. It’s also unconstitutional.
See, the military abides by the Constitutional demand for a “well-regulated militia.” Soldiers often don’t carry guns until they need them in their line of duty.
And still they sometimes shoot their own comrades. Ironically, that is called dying in “friendly fire.” So even the military can’t speak honestly about the ill caused by guns. They are forced to use a euphemism to disguise the fact that people die from gunfire by mistake. Somehow being shot and killed by your own army does not seem friendly in any significant way.
And when we apply this “friendly-fire” standard to America as a whole, we find out that more Americans have died from gun violence here on our own soil than all the soldiers that have died in foreign wars. America is literally a nation killing its citizens on a daily basis through friendly fire. Our unenforceable guns laws are responsible for those statistics. But we’ll get to the solution to that problem in a minute.
Even the military standard of regulating and using weapons only when necessary is not good enough for the 50 states that have passed Concealed Carry laws. These plainly flaunt the notion of a “well-regulated militia.” There is no central commander to issue orders to carry or not carry. It is left to the vigilante discretion of any American gun owner to decide whether every new day is going to be a battle on the streets or not. As a result, all it takes is a pissed-off citizen with enough guns and ammunition to turn an elementary school or a movie theater or a college campus into a war zone. That’s how easy it is.
These are quite specifically acts of domestic terrorism, yet we treat them like mere aberrations in human behavior (often invoking “mental illness as an excuse) rather than identifying them as a byproduct of a society that refuses to accept the dangers of its own militaristic liberalities. The loopholes in our gun laws that allow easy access to powerful weapons should be closed for the public, just as it is closed for the military. If we’re going to be consistent with our regulation of firearms, let’s consider military standards as the baseline. Here is what I’d propose:
To keep citizen management of gun access at the forefront, and the right to bear arms intact, we should set up civilian-managed armories where people regular check in with their guns. That way public safety is localized or privatized, and can be monitored close to home. We need to place accountability for the right to bear arms on the very people who demand it most.
Our police will thank us for it. Their lives are in daily jeopardy because the right to bear arms is unregulated and prolifically abused. As a result, they have been forced to militarize their personnel because they are literally going into war every day of their lives. By charter, our police are charged with standing their ground.
As for the general public, if you are trained in the arts of war and military response to attacks, it makes total sense to charge a shooter. You might know a few things about how to avoid the aim and range of a shooter, and also how to effectively disarm them. You might also better understand the nature of the weapons you are encountering.
But the rest of us are not so-equipped. We should not be required to do so unless through prescribed military service every American must serve in the military in some way. That’s a completely different issue.
Hold the NRA to account
According to its public statements, the NRA seems to want everyone to become citizens soldiers as a baseline for American citizenship. But just like the separation of church and guaranteed by freedom from religion as well as freedom of religion, there is no Constitutional statute that demands we should all become gun owners. That is truly unconstitutional.
But given the citizen soldier goals of the NRA, we should at least examine their motives, because this is an organization in close alliance with the gun-manufacturing and ammunitions industry. When it comes to the public good and gun laws, that should be considered in context with a genuine conflict of interest.
In its calculated attempts to push through gun laws such as Concealed Carry, the NRA has helped force a citizen soldier dynamic on all fifty states in the Union. It has done so by linking it’s selective interpretation of the Second Amendment to the business interests of the gun manufacturing industry, and tied this all to a brand of aggressive patriotism that flatly ignores the rights of people who don’t want to own guns. Many millions of people want to live in peace without guns. Their rights are impinged by suggestion that owning and carrying a firearm is a necessary act of public safety.
But according to some gun proponents, that why the mass shootings continue. Every time a shooter goes on a mass murder spree, gun proponents suggest that the only way to stop them is to arm everyone to the teeth. That brings us to the point where we are faced with three options out there in the world.
1. Stand your ground and fire back.
This is the violent fantasy that an armed citizenry is an ideal solution to gun violence. This would be a grand experiment in sociology and practice of vigilante law.
2: Charge the shooter if you don’t have a weapon.
The second option is the notion that on a consistent basis we can expect citizens to confront armed shooters with their bare hands.
3. Run away.
This option reflects the practical truth that when faced with a gunman engaged in mass shooting, the first instinct most people will have is to run away.
Yet here’s an interesting fact. All three of these options are imposed on the citizenry by the mere fact of the massive proliferation of guns in America.
“According to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey – the leading source of international public information about firearms – the U.S. has the best-armed civilian population in the world, with an estimated 270 million total guns.” (The Blaze.com).
Conservative arguments suggest that the mere existence of millions of regulated and unregulated weapons can’t have any effect on the populace–– if people don’t use them.
But that denies the fact that people spend considerable money on those weapons and the ammunition that fills them. Yes, an unloaded gun is not the cause of any shooting. But a loaded gun requires human action and obvious intent to fire that weapon. That is the missing component in the argument that guns by definition are benign. Guns are by themselves harmless. But ammunition loaded into a gun expresses intent to harm, kill, commit suicide or threaten all those within range of a loaded weapon.
Guns don’t kill people. Bullets do.
Yes, the laws we have in place are considerable, and firearms training teaches people responsible use of their weapons. All good. A law-abiding citizen is no threat to society. No one has to run away from a gun owner who keeps his or her weapon safely secured in its holster and concealed while out in public.
But people like Dr. Carson insist that everyone should become a citizen soldier, even kindergarten teachers.
The New York Times had this to say about Dr. Carson’s contentions along these lines: “Offering a prescription that echoed the National Rifle Association’s view that arming “good guys” is the answer, Mr. Carson also suggested to USA Today that kindergarten instructors should have weapons training. “If the teacher was trained in the use of that weapon and had access to it, I would be much more comfortable if they had one than if they didn’t,” Mr. Carson said.
So you see, the options we’re given amount to being herded into a pen where personal liberty and the right to safety is defined by how willing we are to defend ourselves. This is not freedom. This is slavery to the notion that guns are the solution to all social problems. There’s no safety in that at all. There’s no democracy either. But rather than close with this depressing bit of truth, let’s focus for a moment on what Mark Twain had to say about the danger of weapons.
Don’t meddle with old unloaded firearms. They are the most deadly and unerring things that have ever been created by man. You don’t have to take any pains at all with them; you don’t have to have a rest, you don’t have to have any sights on the gun, you don’t have to take aim, even. No, you just pick out a relative and bang away, and you are sure to get him. A youth who can’t hit a cathedral at thirty yards with a Gatling gun in three-quarters of an hour, can take up an old empty musket and bag his mother every time at a hundred. Think what Waterloo would have been if one of the armies had been boys armed with old rusty muskets supposed not to be loaded, and the other army had been composed of their female relations. The very thought of it makes me shudder.
– Advice to Youth speech, 4/15/1882
In other words, guns are not by themselves evil. But they are an expression of the hapless nature of human beings who, when armed with anything, are likely to miss what they shoot at and hit everything and anything they don’t want to hit. How convenient, because mass shootings are often conducted uncritically. The more they kill, the better the shooter feels about him or herself. This is their chosen date with destiny, and guns enable their violent fantasies to become reality.
In my direction
I’ve had my share of encounters with angry, misinformed and aggressive people in life. I have actually had guns pointed at me on several occasions. While walking on public property, landowners and hunters have pointed their guns in my direction from positions on private property and issued threats of harm. Still, I never begrudged them the right to protect their property or hunt legally. But they seemed to find my presence on public property an affront to their very existence. This was always disturbing.
It also illustrates the confrontation between private rights and public spaces, and shows why I do not take threats to my existence from guns lightly. Until you’ve actually seen someone point a gun at you and hear them issuing words of threat or anger, you cannot know the strange fear and recognition of your mortality that brings about.
Frankly, I see it almost every day while out riding and running. People are dangerously engaged or disengaged while driving their cars and trucks, messing with their cell phones and wrangling with screaming kids. Cars are weapons just as sure as guns or knives. When a pickup truck with a gun rack tries to run me off the road, I’m two full counts down on the safety docket. These are cultural dynamics that need to be explored. Why are some people so disenchanted with society they feel threatened by the mere existence of others? It’s not just a black problem, as some dog-whistle racist rants against gun control try to suggest. There are plenty of angry, disillusioned people of all colors and races with weapons more powerful than their self-control out there.
Lynyrd Skynrd wrote some keen lyrics about that dynamic:
I was there to buy a pistol. She was there to hock her ring.
The broker in that pawnshop deals in almost anything.
He’ll pay you for your misery
or he’ll sell you someone’s pain,
And that twinkle in his greedy eyes says your loss will be his gain.
A safer dynamic
I just happen to think we need a little more consideration of the gun dynamic we’ve created in America. I think my idea of citizen-managed armories is a good idea. It keeps the authority away from the hands of the government of which so many militiamen seem suspicious, and places it in the hands of local people with a vested interest in the safe management of guns and ammunition in their part of America.
I have not heard anyone else with a better idea that bridges the gap between private rights and public authority. So I’m proposing that structure as a solution rather than endless arguments. It would abide by the original tradition of a ‘well-regulated militia’ where Americans were issued arms for protection of the state or national interest. These would remain in local control with technology to allow communication between these hubs.
Perhaps I’ll run this idea past a politician or two. It’s better than sitting back and getting shot at, or vacuous nutballs like Dr. Ben Carson from promulgating phony tests of courage as the litmus test for national character.