Guns and Gays and Hypocrisy, Oh My!

Phil Robertson and Dick Metcalf were both fired for expressing their views.
Phil Robertson and Dick Metcalf were both fired for expressing their views. Only one inspired outrage.

This is a tale of two men. Both men had TV shows, both men expressed their opinions. Both men’s employers cut ties with them. But only one inspired outrage for being discriminated against for speaking out.

By now, everyone has heard about Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson. He said some rather hateful things about homosexuals and African-Americans, which prompted the A&E Network to place him on “indefinite hiatus”. This prompted an immediate backlash from conservatives who were apoplectic that Robertson’s First Amendment rights were somehow being violated. This story dominated the news cycle and even launched petitions such as that argued:

“…the notion that a free-thinking American should be discriminated against simply for expressing a perspective that is in conflict with another is patently un-American and flies in the face of true tolerance and civility.”

In a parallel universe, Dick Metcalf had a similar experience. Metcalf is one of the country’s pre-eminent gun journalists. He was a columnist for Guns & Ammo, and had a TV show on the Sportsman channel called Modern Rifle Adventures. This is a guy with some serious NRA credibility.

However, in late October, Metcalf penned a column titled “Let’s Talk Limits”. In the column he stated, “The fact is, all constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be.” The column doesn’t advocate for much beyond proper training for anyone having a gun. Still, the column inspired the ire of gun manufacturers who primarily sponsor both the magazine and the TV show on which Metcalf appears. The gun companies threatened his employer that Metcalf needed to be fired or they would take their money elsewhere. And so Metcalf was let go.

So the question is, where is the outrage? Why is there no petitioning for the return of this gun enthusiast? After all, the issue with Robertson was that his right to express his opinion was being stifled… right?

The similarity of these cases, down to both victims being conservative icons of sorts, leaves only one interpretation for the relative silence from the political right over Metcalf’s dismissal. This wasn’t ever about freedom of expression. This was about support for a position. Those rallying for Robertson’s return were behind him because he expressed views about gays and blacks that resonated with them. They supported those positions, but lacked Robertson’s “courage” to say them aloud. Metcalf got no support because he was advocating a position that was anathema to that same group.

This was never about freedom of a man’s speech. It was always about support for a man’s views. I’m all for everyone getting to express their views directly, or indirectly by expressing support for others’ views, but can we at least be honest about our motivations? I have respect for anyone with the courage to stand by their convictions. But it’s simply cowardly to hide your true convictions behind other espoused ideologies you think are more socially acceptable.

Guns and Tyranny

Disarm the NationIt’s rather naive to think fear of an armed citizenry is all that’s standing between democracy and tyranny. That is simply not the world we live in anymore.

Yet wall posts, like the one at the right, from the ironically named Facebook page Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children, attempt to link gun control to the rise of a second Hitler. Never mind that the Europeans have had much stricter gun control laws during our lifetimes, and democracy hasn’t fallen there.

However, the gun control debate aside, the notion that in this modern world we live in, tyranny would come via militaristic control is a complete failure to understand our country, and moreover, the goals of those who would seek to control it.

Guns are messy solutions what with all the noise, and the bleeding, and the dying. Marketing is the key to power. You need to sell people on the idea they must give up their freedoms to ensure their safety, and even pay for the privilege. How much better is it when citizens willingly yield their power and their wealth as opposed to having to take it at gun point?

Consider that the people being whipped into a frenzy over the relationship between guns and tyranny are largely the same people who have been sold on the ideas:

  • There’s no reason to worry about the government monitoring you if you have nothing to hide.
  • Net Neutrality is anti-capitalist, and Internet censorship is essential to protect the children.
  • Torture is effective, and detainment without due process is warranted when our safety is at stake.
  • Additional funding for the largest military the world has ever known is essential.
  • Hobbling or dismantling social safety net and insurance programs is the key to prosperity.
  • Making the rich richer will ultimately benefit us all.
  • Government subsidies of exiting corporations like Hollywood, big oil, and pharmaceuticals is essential to the economy.
  • Government investment in new technology like green energy, genetic research, and other “disruptive” advancements is wasted money.
  • Government regulation should never impede profit.
  • Unionized workers are the reason manufacturing jobs went to China.

Desperate people are far more compliant and easy to control. If you are scared, broke, hungry, and/or sick, getting you to trade your long term interests for satisfaction of your short term needs becomes child’s play. Snake oil salesmen enrich themselves by playing on your fears, your needs, and your hopes. And you thank them for the privilege of buying into the illusion.

The snake oil salesman doesn’t care that you have a gun. In fact, he may be glad that you do. Because he knows he controls your mind. And won’t it be handy for him to have armed minions at his call when the rational people finally try to run him out of town?



Mutual Assured Destruction

From the 1981 Sci-Fi Classic "Scanners"
From the 1981 Sci-Fi Classic “Scanners”

Humor me for a bit and engage in a little Sci-Fi thought experiment. Just suppose a technology was invented in the near future that allowed you to kill with your mind.

Let’s put some constraints on this. No exploding heads (ala “Scanners“), but maybe something subtle like stopping the heart. No mess, no fuss, they just drop over dead. Let’s further say that this cannot be by accident. It requires a brief but sustained and specific intent toward a specific individual, and this person must be within 25 yards.  Let’s also add in that during the attack, the attacker will have glowy eyes so that anyone around can see who is acting, and that the attack will leave an unmistakable fingerprint on the victim so that the attacker will be known. Only one person can be attacked at a time, but there is no “recharge” time so multiple people could be taken out serially. Also, any action is immediate and final.  No second thoughts, no “Do you really want to delete this life?” confirmation screens. Once started, the deed is done.

Now, let’s say this is all available via a $200 implant to anyone of age. The implants are injectable by any competent tattoo artist, and most shops carry them.  As a result, the vast majority of the adult population is armed within a year. Full accountability. No accidents. No one is out-gunned. Everyone is equally lethal.

The question is, in this world, do you feel safe?

Is quite likely that rampage killings like Sandy Hook, Columbine, or Ft. Hood would be almost non-existent. If someone walked into a school and started taking out children, one of the adults would likely respond quickly and the damage would be contained.  There might be one or two deaths, but not dozens.

But what of the rest of your life? How many coeds would be killed for sleeping with someone else’s boyfriend? How many bar fights would end in dead patrons? How many divorces would actually see both parties survive to sign the final papers?

Did we learn nothing from the Cold War? Yes, the MAD strategy (Mutual Assured Destruction) was effective at deterring violence, but worked only because both sides took extensive precautions to prevent lone rash actors from initiating an attack.  At the individual level, mutual assured destruction does not have the same deterrent effect.  Yes, MAD may stop someone acting willfully and who is concerned about their own life. But people are not rational 24×7, and the means to act lethally on impulse is simply a power greater than the average person is responsible enough to wield.

This is the essential fallacy behind the NRA’s woefully misguided announcement today that the only solution to tragedies like Newtown are to put more guns in schools. That it is the lack of ubiquitous arms that is causing violence. That the solution is MAD.

The NRA is also right that the problem isn’t guns per se. It’s people. But there’s no good fix for “people”. Human nature has an inherent volatility and impulsiveness to it that will not be readily contained.

So I ask again, would you feel safer knowing that every teenager and old lady you meet on the street has the means to end your life, but is deterred by MAD? Or is that madness?

What if it were terrorists at the school?

Newtown's AngelsAs a nation, we mourn for the losses in the senseless Newtown, Connecticut school rampage last week. In the wake of that horrible tragedy we’ve seen many calls for action—calls for improved mental health services and screenings; calls for re-instituting the assault weapons ban; calls to change our culture of glorifying violence; and even calls like President Obama made last night to just do something to make this better.

On the flip side have been many voices shouting that this is not the time for discussion of solutions. They try to counsel that there is simply evil in the world and there’s nothing to be done about it beyond the coping, the grief, and the prayers that such things don’t happen again.

But I can’t escape the glaring hypocrisy of the position that now is not the time to act. Consider for a moment what those same voices would be saying if a Muslim terrorist cell had raided that school and killed those children instead of a local white man.

As a country we have been all too eager to spend money and lives as well as sacrifice all manner of personal freedoms in the interest of keeping our families safe from the statistically small threat of foreign terrorism. And we sacrifice these things in almost knee-jerk reaction to events or near-events—consider 9-11, the underwear bomber, etc. We’ll let the government screen our calls and read our emails. We’ll let them illegally and indefinitely detain suspects, and perform so-called “renditions”. We’ll let them use torture as an interrogation technique. We’ll let them grope our wives and daughters prior to boarding a plane.  But hey, better safe than sorry, right?

But should the government want to provide medical services or restrict the ability for your neighbor to grocery shop while packing a semi-automatic pistol with a high capacity clip? Well, let’s not get crazy here. After all, this was just a troubled kid who went off the deep end. Shit happens.

But if that troubled kid looked Pakistani instead of like the guy next door? Well, shit would happen then too, but it would be different shit. And we wouldn’t be arguing about whether or not to act. This is America dammit. And overreaction to a threat is what we do best.


Two Wrongs Won’t Make This Right

Trayvon Martin - 17-yr old shooting victim

The news channels, the newspapers, and the Interwebs remain abuzz over the tragic Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida.  An online meme of pictures of people in hoodies has taken hold as a collective call for justice.  And a current CNN poll finds that 73% of Americans are calling for the arrest of Martin’s shooter, George Zimmerman.

Based on the publicly known elements of the case I personally think Zimmerman was carrying out some sort of misguided, and maybe racially motivated, vigilante justice.

I’m personally horrified that laws exist that allow a person to use deadly force in self-defense when there is reasonable belief of a threat, without an obligation to retreat first. It seems that’s just begging for situations like this to happen.

And I find it unbelievable that a 250 pound 28-year old man driving an SUV and armed with a semiautomatic pistol felt threatened by a 17-year old pedestrian who weighed all of 140 and was armed only with Skittles.  There’s no indication he was a trained ninja or the apprentice of a Sith Lord.  So what reasonable threat could Martin have posed?

Further, it’s not at all clear the Sanford Police have handled the case well, or even within established guidelines, and the investigation and intervention by higher legal authorities seems absolutely warranted.

Yet I’m also very aware that these are my opinions based on a very possibly slanted news cycle, and based on absolutely no legal expertise with how the Stand-your-ground law in Florida is adjudicated.  I completely get why everyone is up in arms about this.  I very much want due process and justice to occur here.

But I also want to be very careful that we don’t create a vigilante mob of public opinion to go after a man because he himself was a vigilante.  Those two wrongs will not add up to a right.  Zimmerman should be arrested and subsequently tried based on the merits of the case and the law of the state.  He should not be arrested because a CNN poll says it’s the will of the people.

We also need to be ready and aware that the result of all this could be a repeat of the Casey Anthony verdict.  Justice may be served, and yet not serve up the verdict the public wants.  It may well be that the Florida law, however misguided, allows for exactly what happened.  If that turns out to be true, I would hope for and support the repeal or modification of that law.  But that wouldn’t make Zimmerman guilty after the fact.

In the end, we are a country of laws. The implications of that are not always what feels right. I remain hopeful this is not one of those cases.