You don’t need to print the American flag on an AR-15. If you’re holding one—indoors, with your finger on the trigger, as former Navy SEAL and current representative from Montana Ryan Zinke is well trained to do above—people will know you’re American. Guns are an essential part of the American experiment. They’re what separated us from Britain in the 18th century, and they’re what separates a new generation of Americans from their faces in the 21st. The Second Amendment guarantees that we all get as many as we want. And despite juridical and popular disagreement over what the authors of the Constitution meant by “well-regulated militia,” I think we can agree it’s unconstitutional to regulate guns at all.
When I was an expensive SAT tutor, we made the kids learn three examples from history for the essay section. It doesn’t matter what the question is. Pick three historical examples—Rosa Parks, free silver, French revolution—and learn enough that you can use them to respond to any prompt. It sounds like we were gaming the test, but really that’s how smart people think. You don’t try to become an expert on every conceivable situation. You learn a lot about a few things—chemical engineering, the Bible, judo—and use them as frameworks to understand whatever comes up. The goal is not to additively expand your knowledge, but to multiply your ability to apply what knowledge you have. Most high schools don’t teach that way, because it’s hard. They try to cram as much knowledge into your kid as they can, and the really expensive ones cram more and harder. Anyway, that’s why your kid needs a tutor. Also, there was one example from history my students were not allowed to use: rise of Hitler.
The Missoula City Council is considering an ordinance that would require background checks for purchases at gun shows, which is a fine idea likely to run into some problems in practice. Definitely, we should do something about gun violence. As of last month, the United States was averaging more than one mass shooting per day in 2015, which seems excessive. Maybe we could have a good, free society and still go 24 hours without using a firearm to shoot more than three people at a time. If Missoula’s proposed background check ordinance will help with that, I’m all for it.
But I am concerned the ordinance in question will not help. Currently, federal law requires background checks for gun purchases at licensed dealers—including the 50 within Missoula city limits—but not at gun shows. That’s a bad loophole, and Congress should close it. As you may have heard, though, Congress has a hard time passing gun control legislation, even though a Quinnipiac poll conducted last year found that 92% of gun owners support this particular measure.
But the NRA is against it, so it’s a dead letter. The plan to use municipal governments to pass a law Congress will not seems like a good solution, but cities lack the scope to make such ordinances meaningful. The next Ravalli County Gun Show is scheduled for December, a mere 50 miles from Missoula. A background check ordinance seems unlikely to guarantee that felons and the mentally ill won’t be able to buy guns; it will only guarantee that they buy them outside Missoula.
Meanwhile, it will generate as much ill will among pro-gun activists as any other measure that makes it harder to buy firearms. For the first time in my life, I am against a proposed gun control law. You can read about it in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent, which is the kind of nuanced argument guaranteed to alienate everybody. That’s pretty much my niche. We’ll be back tomorrow with Friday links, unless somebody arbitrarily decides to kill me by pressing a button on a machine anyone with $400 can buy.
“Please keep working out, player,” Vester Lee Flanagan wrote in a letter to his former roommate, shortly before he shot three people and killed himself. “When the heads stop turning, it’s awful.” Flanagan was 41, recently fired from his job at WDBJ in Virginia, and nostalgic for his days as a male escort. He disliked Alison Parker and Adam Ward, but he was mad at something else. And his gun gave him the power to shoot anyone who didn’t shoot him first, if not precisely the authority.
If only Parker and Ward had guns, too—they might have killed Flanagan instead of the other way around, and this story would have a happy ending. The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun who brings it to work, identifies the bad guy, and shoots him before he can do anything. If the good guy shoots the bad guy after the bad guy shoots a bunch of people, it’s a tie. That’s the tack I take in this week’s column for the Missoula Independent, which is satire. No irony is too broad for the gun control debate, though, and I presume that I will be inundated with support and condemnation from people who take me seriously.
It is a serious topic, after all. But the way we talk about it is often indistinguishable from satire, particularly in the once-shocking but now hackneyed argument that only more guns can reduce gun violence. Remember when Wayne LaPierre was a crazy person for saying that? Three years later, it’s a slogan, like “life begins at conception” or “liquor before beer, in the clear.” What starts as absurdity ends as cant, if you don’t respond firmly enough.
I think we should start responding firmly to the fantasy that the way to reduce gun violence is for more people to carry guns. There’s no statistical evidence to support it. If it turns out not to be true, the exponents of that argument are indirectly killing people. The belief that more guns means fewer shootings is not a personal opinion, like “abortion is wrong” or “the government should use taxes to redistribute wealth.” It’s a claim of fact—one that appears manifestly untrue. We should not let it calcify into a political position.
I guess what I’m saying is that I urge you to mock people carrying guns. They’re living out a power fantasy already, so they should probably be reminded that the ability to kill someone is not the same as a mandate. A vocal minority of wanna-be cowboys and unscrupulous salesmen have made America the most violent developed nation on Earth. Perhaps they could withstand a little mockery—and if they can’t, all the better.
Future humans will find the image above completely inscrutable. I’m kidding—they won’t be able to look at it, because the loss of present-day operating systems will turn all digital files into gibberish. It’s inevitable, just like death and, presuming I can get a free minute this weekend, taxes. Pretty much all the inevitable things suck. Otherwise we wouldn’t be trying to evit them in the first place. Today is Friday, and all that might have been avoided has come to pass. All that cannot be prevented will happen, too. Won’t you hurtle forward helplessly into the gaping maw of the future with me?