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December 17th, 2012
Freethought San Marcos: A humanist responds to the Newtown deaths

Freethought San Marcos: A column

As a freethinking humanist, I do not see the world as guided by some divine force, or by some evil force. I recognize that good and evil both exist among our species. And I react to the events of Dec. 14 in Newtown, Connecticut, much the way President Obama did when he said:

We’ve endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years. And each time I learn the news, I react not as a president, but as anybody else would as a parent. And that was especially true today. I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do.

The majority of those who died today were children — beautiful, little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old. They had their entire lives ahead of them — birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own. Among the fallen were also teachers, men and women who devoted their lives to helping our children fulfill their dreams.

So our hearts are broken today for the parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers of these little children, and for the families of the adults who were lost.

I react personally. I have a grand daughter who is eight years old. I was with her mother when her water broke. I was at the hospital when she was born. I helped care for her when she was an infant and for all the years since. To learn that her life had been snuffed out would be almost unbearable. That it could happen by the senseless acts of a mentally unbalanced person who too easily laid hands on a semi-automatic rifle only makes my views of Wayne LaPierre and the organization he leads – National Rifle Association (NRA) – harden into something akin to hatred.

I have always seen the NRA as a front for the manufacturers of guns, especially semi-automatic weapons. I have no problem with guns, though I respect that they are dangerous, just as I respect that cars are dangerous. I own guns, but not the semi-automatic kind, though I could. I also don’t drive 85 mph on the highways, though I could do that also. The primary difference between semi-automatic guns and fast cars is that there is no reason to possess semi-automatic guns except to go to war or to kill a lot of people in a short period of time.

Only those who have unreasonable fears about the dangers of our society, or fear totalitarianism to the point of paranoia, or who are influenced by fantasies about invasions of the wild pigs (name your own animal) see any need for semi-automatic weapons. I know these people exist because there are reality shows about them and I read about them. I also know people who are afraid to walk down the street in daylight and at night. Semi-automatic guns won’t help these people, though they might benefit from cognitive behavior or reality therapy.

The Humanist Manifesto II provides: “Faced with apocalyptic prophesies and doomsday scenarios, many flee in despair from reason and embrace irrational cults and theologies of withdrawal and retreat.” Public policy should not be decided by a retreat from reason. Our laws should not be determined by the needs of the few in our society who have outrageous fears or disturbed notions about American society. Our laws should be written for the benefit of the people as a whole. As a matter of public policy, there is no justification or reason for allowing the widespread dispersal of semi-automatic weapons in the United States. They have done great harm in our society and have done no good.

While denying the few the right to own or possess semi-automatic weapons would not have prevented all of the killings in Newtown, it likely would have reduced the slaughter. It would have allowed a few families who are now in the depths of despair at the loss of their children and grand children less cause for grief because they would not have lost those children to the actions of a mentally unbalanced man armed with semi-automatic weapons.

And let us not forget the recent mass shootings at a shopping mall in Portland, at a workplace in Minneapolis, at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, at a movie theater is Colorado – all within the last five months. In the last thirty years, we have had 62 mass killings in this country. Something is terribly wrong.

A day after the shootings, New York Times columnist Charles Blow quoted Larry Pratt, the Executive Director of Gun Owners of America, a group more extreme than the NRA, who blamed the events in Newtown on gun control advocates: “Gun control supporters have the blood of little children on their hands. Federal and state laws combined to ensure that no teacher, no administrator, no adult had a gun at the Newtown school where the children were murdered. This tragedy underscores the urgency of getting rid of gun bans in school zones.”

That Larry Pratt’s first reaction to the shootings in Newtown is to blame gun control supporters for the tragedy is to try to make a political point using the bodies of 20 school children and six teachers and administrators. And indirectly, Pratt is also blaming those teachers and administrators for their unwillingness to become a part of America’s gun culture. To emotionally dead people like Pratt, all that matters is his right to possess extremely dangerous weapons – the kind used in war and terrorism.

It doesn’t take much imagination to think about what would happen if everyone in every public venue in America walked around with a gun on their hip or in their purse. It is not necessary for our public school teachers to have to be armed to prevent such tragic shootings as those that occurred in Newtown. There must be other solutions. Surely improved surveillance, greater passive security, and more institutional protection would serve our public schools better than arming all adults who work in our schools. Arming all teachers will assure that we raise a generation of students who are as wildly paranoid and emotionally lifeless as Larry Pratt and the leadership of the NRA.

And what about those teachers who don’t want to carry guns. Surely they and all others who don’t want to carry guns have a right to be safe. This is a question posed by Blow, who cited a Mother Jones study that revealed that the “vast majority of mass shootings in the last three decades involved assault weapons and semiautomatic handguns.”

Americans deserve the right to be free from mass slaughter without having to arm themselves.

We need to find better solutions for the 55 percent of Americans who do not have a gun in their homes. The JustFacts website, which is a a non-profit research and educational institute dedicated to finding and disseminating scientifically valid research on public policy issues, cites a study that found the following:

households in which a homicide occurred had a firearm ownership rate of 45 percent as compared to 36 percent for non-homicide households. Also, households in which a homicide occurred were twice as likely to have a household member who was previously arrested (53 percent vs. 23 percent), five times more likely to have a household member who used illicit drugs (31 percent vs. 6 percent), and five times more likely to have a household member who was previously hit or hurt during a fight in the home (32 percent vs. 6 percent).

This suggests that many factors influence gun-involved injuries and deaths. Unless we take a wide range of issues into account, put emotions aside except as a source of motivation, focus on the rational, and base our decisions on scientifically valid studies, we cannot arrive at the best decisions for our society. We do know that countries with similar cultures as ours have much lower rates of gun-related deaths. Switzerland, Canada, Finland, France, Austria, New Zealand, Belgium, Greece, Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Germany, Australia, Ireland, Spain, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom all have much lower death by firearms rates than the US. Looked at another way, we find that Canada has a rate of gun deaths three times lower than the US; Australia’s rate is five times lower; the United Kingdom’s rate is thirty times lower. Maybe we could learn something useful about better controlling the gun violence in our society by studying these other countries.

Owning guns makes some people feel safer. There is no good public policy reason to refuse such people the right to own guns, and I am not suggesting that we should do so. In fact, the Constitution gives all of us the right to own guns. But that same Constitution does not give us the right to possess semi-automatic guns, or bazookas, or surface-to-air missiles. And our society has a right to prevent such powerful weapons from falling into the hands of disturbed individuals, which is impossible to prevent if the guns are readily available.

A poll done this past August by CNN/ORC shows that a majority of Americans favor background checks before purchasing a gun, a ban on semi-automatic weapons, a ban on high-capacity clips, a ban on guns for the mentally ill and for felons, and gun registration. I don’t know if these views enacted into law would reduce the gun violence level in our society, but they are worth considering, as is closing the gun show loophole that lets people avoid registration and background checks. I do know that to keep semi-automatic weapons from those who will do us harm requires one thing – enough politicians with the courage to take sensible steps to protect Americans from the devastation such weapons can create.

Unfortunately, most of our politicians take their orders from the NRA and Gun Owners of America, two organizations that contribute millions of dollars to protect the profits of the gun industry in the guise of standing up for rights to which none of us are entitled. Their position on the issue of semi-automatic guns puts us all in jeopardy. They do not make us safer or more secure. On the contrary, they delay us from finding rational solutions that may prevent the kind of heartbreak felt by most Americans for the families of those children and adults killed in Newtown.

© Lamar W. Hankins, Freethought San Marcos

LAMAR W. HANKINS is a former San Marcos city attorney.

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18 thoughts on “Freethought San Marcos: A humanist responds to the Newtown deaths

  1. Did you type that with a straight face? Usually your column uses a blurry, inaccurate reading of the Establishment Clause to impose the desires of a small minority as a Constitutional limit on the behavior of the majority. Now you ignore the plain language of the 2nd Amendment in order to deny the rights of a majority who do not wish for gun laws to be tightened. Then to top it off, after writing a column which attempts to win a political policy debate by using the death of children, you accuse the defenders of gun rights of doing the same thing you just did for your whole column. You should apologize to the humanist God of intellectual consistency.

    So this deranged kid stole weapons, took them into a zone where they were forbidden by law, then broke laws against murder more than 25 times and laws against assault more than 100 times. But if we had one more law on the books, surely that would have stopped them. That is, in a word, stupid.

  2. Skeptical, could you please source that statistic saying a majority of Americans do not want gun laws tightened?

    I find that hard to believe.

    The founding fathers surely didn’t have assault rifles in mind when they wrote the Constitution. If the deranged kid had access to less potent weapons when he broke several laws, chances are good some of those school children would be alive today.

    Unless one is a terrorist or in the military, there is no earthly reason to own those types of guns. They are designed for aggressively attacking other humans – not self defense, nor hunting.

  3. @Cori The most recent time I could see this poll run was a couple years ago — “Gallup finds a new low of 44% of Americans saying the laws covering firearm sales should be made more strict. That is down 5 points in the last year and 34 points from the high of 78% recorded the first time the question was asked, in 1990.”

    I will grant you that the weapon wasn’t a hunting rifle, but it would be a more effective means of self-defense that a pistol when faced with a criminal with an equally dangerous weapon or against invading foreign armies. It all depends on what you are defending yourself against. Your statement that “they are designed for aggressively attacking other humans” is rather absurd and shows you a bit out on the fringe; as those wishing to aggressively attack other humans would be a pretty small target market for the gun-makers.

  4. What other possible sane use is there for an assault rifle? If I’m on the fringe, what does that make you? I’m certainly not advocating for taking everyone’s guns away (though I choose not to own any myself – that could change if I ever decide to hunt), but again, if you’re not a criminal, terrorist, or in the military what possible compelling reason is there to own an ASSAULT rifle or the like?

    Sorry, I’m not going to live my life waiting for an invading foreign army to come to my house. Ain’t gonna happen. Call me naive if you wish.

    If that poll is accurate, it’s damn sad. Hopefully those numbers will start to change.

  5. A humanist would make the argument that our entire society needs to change, not just our gun laws.

    Denying people implements of destruction would have some effect, but would not solve what causes people to seek out violence as the only method to assuage their fear or hopelessness.

    Our society isn’t designed for humans anymore. It’s designed for multi-nats to make huge profits off the backs of slave wage workers and for finance tycoons to bleed to public and smaller corporations dry.

    We need to change that before people will feel comfortable and be able to be treated for these types of homicidal desires.

  6. The CNN/ORC poll done in August 2012 show that a majority of Americans (57%) do favor a ban on assault weapons . See question 17, item 2.

  7. For many politically correct thinkers, including Lamar, it’s just so much easier to blame guns than it is to address the problem of how we deal with mentally ill people. It’s too difficult for them to admit the politically correct approach of main streaming the heavily drugged mentally ill is a failure. It also fits better into their agenda to blame guns instead of people.

    Until the focus is moved from guns to the people who use them improperly we can expect more incidents like the Sandy Hook murders.

  8. “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

    The Second Amendment grants the right to keep and bear arms. It doesn’t say “certain types of guns” and it doesn’t say “unless someone does something bad or stupid with a gun”.

    In fact, the text of the Second Amendment infers that military-grade weaponry was EXACTLY the type that the Fathers intended to protect our right to own.

    I really don’t care what the polls say. I much prefer to stick to the Constitution…..

  9. Our rights are protected constitutionally not as much for our defense against foreign invaders, as much as they ensure our rights to defend ourselves against our own government, that perhaps could fall into a tyranical state and might wish to control its own people against their will, and their legal rights, etc. Pray God we never see another civil war, still of record the deadliest engagement of peoples in history. Deal with the problem, mentally ill people, not the instruments that they utilize to articulate their insanity. 🙂 jlb

  10. Maybe not the best answer but a better answer than Lamar’s:
    “In response to last week’s Connecticut school shooting, state Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, says he will file legislation to allow public school teachers to carry concealed weapons while on campus.”

  11. Answer this then….. what part of john Q. Public and all his neighbors constitutes a “Well Regulated Militia”?

    Y’all are scary.

  12. Cori, the Supreme Court has ruled that the 2nd Amendment protects and individuals right to bear arms. That is the answer to your question.

  13. I’m not weighing in on the gun issue here per se, A because I find the whole politicization of this tragedy sickening, and B because it hardly seems to get anywhere beyond the two sides yelling at each other. Someone wanna tackle our pathetic societal effort to systemically deal with mental health issues, I’m all on board, but I’m not holding my breath that we are capable of an adult conversation about that anytime soon.

    But, and I’m not saying that the common citizen “militia” would stand much, if any, of a chance against a modern military, but the FF could not have seen that. But, I do very much believe they intended the 2nd amendment to offer us a chance to protect us against situations like this if it ever should become pervasive. And if something like an EU economic collapse led to the same over here, where we already fight like savage animals (my apologies to all animals) over shoes every Black Friday, don’t think it couldn’t.

    Trust me on this and take a look at the above link; it has to be seen to be believed. And no, its not from the Onion.

    And once again, I am really trying to not take sides on this thing, simply commenting on what the FF were thinking when they created the 2nd amdt.; and its not like they were perfect either, see the three-fifth’s compromise for more than ample evidence of that fact.

  14. Mr. Hankins,

    I’m curious as to what type of firearms you own. You say you don’t own any “semi-automatic” weapons. A semi-auto weapon is simply one that fires one round with every trigger pull. That would include most handguns and many rifles. Also, a gun is simply an inanimate object. I could lay a fully loaded semi-automatic weapon on the ground and it will never go bang and harm anyone until a human being picks it up and fires it. Would a ban on these weapons have prevented the murders in Connecticut? Maybe. But banning weapons only takes them out of the hands of people that actually obey the law. If a criminal wants a gun, no matter what type, they will find a way to get their hands on one. As several people have already stated, we need to take a long, hard look at mental health care in this country. Therein lies the bigger problem.

  15. Regarding the Founding Fathers and the 2nd Amendment:

    Based on The Federalist No. 46, James Madison argued that the state militias, to which the 2nd Amendment was concerned, would be so large if they each worked together, that they could repel easily a federal army, should scoundrels or traitors ever succeed in forming one of any size to dominate the states.

    It appears that Madison was not prescient on this matter. As Keith Cunningham suggests, the Founders were not perfect and were unable to predict the future any better than anyone else as regards the size and power of a federal military force.

  16. Mr. Rasco, Dred Scott was the law of the land, for a while.

    The First has limits, such as slander; so why is the Second sacred?

    Just a question from a gun owner. Some of which are semiautos.

  17. Five right-wing Supreme Court judges have, after 350 years, decided that everyone with a gun constitutes a “well regulated militia.” If that isn’t silly, I don’t know what is. In the annals of American Constitutional Law, that is a novel decision. The “arms” that the Founders had in mind were single shot muskets, practically the only guns available in 1775. They had no crystal ball that would allow themk to see into the future, when firearms would become much morfe fearsome. We regulate the length of a knife blade, why not a gun? What is so special about gun ownership without control? Why limit our right to own any kind of gun? Submachine guns, RPGs, a personal tank with a 105mm howitzer? Please, give me a break. Can’t we at least talk sensibly about controlling access to guns, FINALLY???

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