Cigarettes and Guns


There’s a product out there that kills thousands of people a year. Yet it’s glamorized heavily in popular culture. It’s viewed as being very fundamental to the American experience. People bring them places they shouldn’t, and want to bring them everywhere, despite a growing tide of concern that maybe such things shouldn’t be everywhere.

I’m talking, of course, about cigarettes.

Anti Smoking NYC

Pictured: death sticks

Or am I talking about guns?

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Pictured: death sticks

 

InnWhen I was a kid, back in the 1970s, smoking was common. Like really common. Like to an extent that people under 40 have a tough time picturing.

Imagine that every restaurant you go to, you’re asked, “Smoking or non-smoking?” Imagine ashtrays on the tables at Denny’s, Burger King, McDonald’s. Imagine ashtrays inside department stores, and even people smoking on airplanes.

I remember when the first anti-smoking laws really began to come down. It was so controversial! The idea of banning people from smoking inside bars, restaurants, and even airplanes, was something that was met with a lot of pushback from many quarters.

Compare this to laws today regarding guns. In Arizona, they’re legal to bring into pretty much any business unless that business posts up a sign saying not to. They’re widely regarded as being integral to the American identity, and, much like with cigarettes, they’re backed by an extremely powerful lobby that makes it hard to pass laws regarding them. Hell, just like the tobacco lobby, the gun lobby is doing to do everything they can to prevent even doing research into how dangerous the product is.

But things changed, and the laws changed, and now cigarettes are banned in most civilized places. And what caused this to happen?

There was a shift in culture. People banded together and began to agitate against cigarettes being glorified in movies and TV shows, and began to put a stop to tobacco companies advertising in public places and sponsoring sports teams. The culture shifted, and soon the laws shifted, too.

And that’s what needs to happen with guns. We need, as a culture, to push them away, to stop making them so glamorous and wonderful. We need to remember that they’re instruments of death, designed only to kill.

That’s what it’ll take for gun control to happen. It’ll take us working together to make things like this culturally unacceptable:

In 29 seconds that’s about ten shots of people pointing guns at things. I mean really. Is that at all necessary? No.

Now I’m not stupid. I know this change will take time. Decades, most likely, before we see any real shift. But cigarettes weren’t made into objects of scorn overnight, and nor will guns be. But we should try.

So how do we do this? Stop seeing movies where the whole plot is all about people shooting at each other. Stop playing video games where the whole plot is all about people shooting each other (or, to be fair, shooting space demons). If we can lose our collective hard-on over such things, it’ll be a good start.

It’s at least worth a try.

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#weretherealvictims


There’s a woman out there that I hadn’t heard of until today. Her name is Kim Rhode, and she’s an Olympic shooter. She’s done extremely well in the Olympics, beginning in 1996, and going on to the current Olympics, where she’s won a bronze medal.

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Congrats!

This really is an impressive achievement, which makes it all the more surprising that the media isn’t covering her at all!

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Gasp!

Shocking! I mean, if it were true. Which isn’t. Because NBC, NPRThe Daily MailUSA Today,  Fox Sports, among others, have, in fact, covered her wins. Other outlets have chosen to cover her from the perspective of gun control laws, her opinions of them, and mass shootings.

So she is being covered. She is not being “ignored”. This meme is inaccurate and a lie that’s written for purely political purposes because #weretherealvictims. Yes, the people represented by what is probably the most powerful political lobby in all of American history are the ones who are really under threat.

Fuck that.

To be fair, sponsors do seem to be keeping their distance, but I doubt that’s because of anything she’s said about the Second Amendment. I’m pretty sure it’s much more because guns are controversial, and sponsors prefer to avoid that.

Now, what are some more rational, likely reasons why she hasn’t received the media coverage that, say, Michael Phelps has?

Basically, it’s the sport itself. It’s not as TV-friendly as some other Olympic sports. I can guarantee you that there also wouldn’t be that much coverage if someone got medals in six consecutive Olympic games in badminton, yachting, equestrian events, or judo. It’s just not a sport that most people pay attention to.

It is true that people didn’t pay too much attention to swimming until Michael Phelps came along (though Mark Spitz would disagree), but there was some attention paid. Also, not to take anything away from Rhode, but getting medals in six consecutive games isn’t on the same level as getting 28 medals across four games. It’s impressive as hell, but pales in comparison.

Also, this displays a serious problem with the way the right wing addresses various issues. Rhode’s achievement was indeed covered in the mainstream media. A few seconds of Google proved that. It wasn’t shouted from the rooftops, but it was indeed covered.

When you (the generic you, not you specifically), share things like this without checking to see if they’re accurate, it makes you look like a fool. This meme is simply wrong, and exists, as I said, to further a political agenda and paint the picture of the right wing being victimized by the media. It’s dishonest at best, and an outright lie.

Finally,  I find it rather insulting to take the very real achievement of Rhode and twist it for political purposes. Shame on the people who do this sort of thing.

When is a Truck Not a Gun?


So the weapon of choice for the attacker in Nice (who may or may not have been a religiously-motivated terrorist. Looking at his life, he could have just been a nutjob), was a truck that he drove at high speed through a crowd of people, killing dozens.

This has, of course, led some smug pro-gun people to say, “Well, I suppose now you want to ban trucks? Ha-ha, don’t be stupid. Of course you don’t. So don’t ban our guns!”

This is a very intellectually dishonest argument. First off, very few people want to completely ban guns in this country. My position is pretty extreme, and even I don’t want to ban them entirely; I just want to make them significantly difficult for private individuals to own them.

Second, fine, let’s treat guns like we treat trucks. Let’s require that someone be a certain age to use one, let’s require that it be registered, and that they have to have a license and training in order to use one.

Lastly, vehicles are made for one purpose: to move goods and people from one place to another at a fair speed. When used correctly, they do this and do it fine.

Guns are made for one purpose as well; to fling a projectile at high velocity toward a target. This target can be a person, an animal, or a simple target. When used correctly, they do this, and do it fine.

When used incorrectly, a vehicle can become a weapon, and can be used to kill people.

When used correctly a gun can become a weapon, and be used to kill people.

Guns are only made as weapons. That is their entire purpose. They aren’t made for anything else. They’re made to kill or wound at a distance.

This really is a very stupid argument, and if it’s the best that groups like the NRA can field, then it baffles me as to why we don’t have sensible gun control in this country.

Do Police Need Guns?


“Of course they do,” you might say. “Don’t be stupid.”

But do they really?

“Yes.”

Ok, but maybe they don’t.

“No, they do.”

Unless they don’t.

“…”

There are, in this country, large groups of people who don’t trust the police. These people are generally known as “the parts of the country’s population that aren’t the police”. That’s a sad situation, isn’t it? Police officers do a hard, thankless job, and the public generally views them with suspicion, scorn and fear. That isn’t how it should be. Part of this is the ever-expanding police powers that have been granted due to the War on Drugs and the War on Terror. But I think part of this is also due to the fact that the police carry, and too often use, guns.

This year in Phoenix alone, there have been fifteen officer-involved shootings, including one recently. That’s about one per week this year. Now these shootings may or may not be justified. Certainly the most recent one sounds like it is, but while many police shootings, if not most, do likely reach the legal level of justification, what about the moral level? What about, for lack of a better phrase, the “public relations” level?

I’m not suggesting we don’t let cops carry weapons; we absolutely should. Every police officer out in public should be allowed to carry pepper spray, a Taser and a police baton. And if any of you don’t think those count as formidable weapons, then may I suggest you remember things like the Rodney King beating, where a man was nearly beat to death, but wasn’t shot. In general, though, these are less-than-lethal weapons. They make it much harder for a police officer to kill someone, either by accident or intentionally.

I’m also not suggesting that cops should never be allowed access to firearms. There are clearly a very small number of very bad situations during which officers need to have access to guns. But those are very rare times, and when they need someone with a gun, cops should have to call in armed officers, which is much like what the situation is with armed cops in the United Kingdom.

Now, would having most cops not carrying guns most of the time put more police lives at risk? Absolutely. That’s a sad and unfortunate fact and there’s not really any getting around it. But what it might also do is make it easier for people to trust the police, or at least lower their fear of them. It would almost completely eliminate situations where officers shoot and kill an innocent person, because if they had to make extra effort to get a gun, you can be sure they’d be certain about its necessity.

Bottom line, this would, yes probably result in a few more police officers being shot each year and possibly dying. But it would also result in far, far fewer civilians, innocent and otherwise, dying at the hands of the police. Not constantly having the power to kill at the slightest provocation might also remind the police that they are public servants, and here to protect us. Not to kill us. Not to intimidate us. But to protect and, dare I say, serve. That would help generate more trust and respect for law enforcement in communities where it is lacking, and that’s no bad thing.

Two Things to Remember


So there was another mass shooting recently. At least this one didn’t happen at a school, and since the shooter wasn’t a Muslim, it doesn’t count as terrorism.

As we learn more about the shooter, the usual cry of “violent video games!” is echoing through the media. It’s possible that the shooter spent some time playing games where people kill other people, also known as “Almost every game aside from Candy Crush, and even then you’re crushing candy!”

I’m sure he probably did play violent video games. I play those, too. I’ve been known to bust out a few hours on Grand Theft Auto IV, Civilization V, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, and even the occasional game that doesn’t have a number after it. I play these games, and he plays these games, and you know what else?

So does almost every person under the age of 45. Including men. Including women. Including girls. Including boys. Just about everyone plays video games and many, if not most, of the really fun ones tend to be violent.

This all reminds me of the smart-ass, “You know who else was X? Hitler!” Of course in my ideal world, X = vegetarian, because I find that hilarious.

Anyhow, so he played violent video games. He also walked upright, breathed oxygen and drank water.

The second thing to keep in mind during this story’s unfolding is that one of the things NRA-types like to say in the wake of a mass shooting is, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun!” I suppose that was technically true in this case; the shooter was indeed eventually stopped by (several) good guys with guns.

The problem is that he was on a freakin’ military base, as was the Ft. Hood shooter. Now I don’t know if everyone going around on both of these bases are armed; I rather doubt that they are. However I am willing to bet there are a hell of a lot more guns per person than you’d see in the average office building, so I’m wondering how it was that the shooter in this case was able to kill so many people before being killed himself. If, indeed, the solution to preventing or stopping shootings like this is more guns, one would think this guy would have been killed almost instantly.

Shootings like this happen, and in this country, they happen a hell of a lot. That’s what you get when you have a society in love with guns. I just wish we’d finally do something about it.

A Reality Check for Certain People


I have a friend who, among other things, is against a national gun registry. This is partly because he seems to think that criminals might get access to the list and use that as a guide on what houses to steal guns from, though one would think if they knew there were guns in a house, they might avoid it.

The other reason is fear of invasion. Yes, he seems to believe that an enemy power might someday invade the United States, and we’d lose, and they’d use the gun registry to keep people from joining the Wolverines. He seems to think that’s a legitimate excuse to avoid doing something that might help reduce the gun deaths in this country, which have numbered nearly a million in the last 30 years or so.

This is a very weak argument. Using the excuse that we might someday get invaded by someone who somehow beats us is is very odd, not to mention rather unpatriotic. It’s at least as weak as saying we shouldn’t have gun control laws because criminals will just break those laws (by logical extension, we should therefore not have any laws, since criminals would just break them).

Complete fiction. Not reality. Do not base laws on this movie.

Complete fiction. Not reality. Do not base laws on this movie.

Anyhow, this “America being invaded and losing” thing is very odd. It’s the theme of the remake of Red Dawn, and plays at least a small part in Olympus Has Fallen. There’s just one minor problem with this concept: in our reality it will never happen.

For us to be invaded and occupied by an enemy force, we first have to have an enemy force that meets the following qualifications. They have to have the desire to invade and occupy our country. They have to have the ability to invade us. They have to have the capacity to occupy us. Now let’s look at these qualifications one at a time.

DESIRE:

I have do no doubt that the leaders of certain countries harbor wonderful fantasies about invading and occupying the United States, though more likely most of them just have some vague idea of “destroying” America, ignoring the fact that with the War on Terror we’re doing a good job of destroying ourselves. Having the desire is the first step, and it’s one that I’m sure many people have taken.

ABILITY:

In order to invade a country the size of the United States, millions upon millions of troops will be required. Turning to Wikipedia we find, after about 45 seconds of searching, an article that lists the sizes of various nations’ armed forces. Let’s have a look, shall we?

If we sort this list by “active military” we find China has the largest number with about 2.3 million soldiers. America is second. North Korea, who for some reason has become our boogeyman of choice lately, is fourth, ahead of Russia, but behind India. None of these numbers seem especially large nor interesting, so let’s instead sort by “total”, which includes active, reserve and paramilitary.

Well, doing that is much more interesting, yes? Suddenly Russia has 22 million active and potential soldiers, while North Korea jumps up to number two with about 9.5 million. The US is a lowly number seven, with a mere 2.3 million. Surely, then, we’re screwed if any of the nations with more soldiers (which includes Iran, India, China, Vietnam and South Korea), decides to invade us, right?

Wrong, and here’s why. In order to get the required number of troops to the United States mainland, a number which would have to be in the millions, whatever country decides to bring them here would have to have a way to do so. Now when we invaded and occupied Iraq and Afghanistan, we did so with a large number of soldiers, but that was only after quite a long time of setting up forward operating bases and mobilizing our military to physically get them into staging areas. That is not an option that any invading country would have. So they’d have to basically fly all their soldiers in.

Looking on Wikipedia, I find out that the best air transport option is the Antonov An-225. I don’t see anything on there about exactly how many soldiers it can carry, but let’s be extremely generous and assume that it can carry 3,000 soldiers plus all their equipment.

Let’s say that the goal is to take a US port city and hold it as a beachhead. The best choice is likely to be Long Beach, which means that the city in question is Los Angeles. We’ll say that somehow the enemy is able to get their hands on an airport and starts flying in soldiers. If we assume one million soldiers are needed to take and hold Long Beach, Los Angeles and the surrounding areas from Bakersfield to San Diego (not an unreasonable number, given that we used about 1/4 of that number to take Iraq, a place that’s far less densely populated), then that would mean they would have to have 333 flights of 3,000 soldiers each arriving here. That isn’t an impossible number, but remember that my estimate of how many people can be carried on the plane is probably way high, so my number of required flights are probably way low.

That’s assuming, of course, that all the flights get in and land successfully and are then able to offload their troops. More than likely maybe, maybe a few would get onto the ground and then the rest would be shot down. You see, we have these large winged vehicles known as “fighter jets”, and these “fighter jets”, many of which are based in California, are quite capable of shooting down large, slow-moving targets like transport aircraft.

There is just no realistic scenario by which an enemy nation is, at this point in our history, successfully able to invade the USA. Even if I put them at a more “invasion friendly” place like, say, one of the smaller ports along the West Coast, or some place like Alaska or Hawaii, they odds are still insanely high against them actually taking, much less holding, these places.

This is why movies, like the remake of Red Dawn, that show the enemy invading our country have to “cheat” by having high-level EMP explosions that somehow wipe out all our military capability, despite the fact that our military electronics tend to be “hardened” against such things. In any event, I can pretty much guarantee that any invasion would have a timeline like this:

00:01 – Some country decides to invade and sends over a few ships or planes loaded with troops which then arrive and start attacking.

00:03 – We notice this.

00:45 – The entire invasion fleet is wiped out on the ground or in the air by drones, planes, ships at sea and attack submarines.

01:00 – The enemy nation ceases to exist as all their major cities are turned into glow-in-the-dark parking lots.

01:01 – The “Mission Accomplished” banner is hung up outside the White House.

And please notice my use of the phrase “some country”. That’s because Russia, China and India have no motivation to invade us. Russia is too busy with their own problems. China hasn’t been very expansionist except economically (where they are dominating in South Asia and Africa, because don’t really care about doing business in South Asia or Africa). Besides, we buy too much of their goods. We can, in theory, live without China. China cannot live without us. And India wouldn’t are invade us because a: we are their ally and b: as soon as they take their eye off Pakistan, they lose some land. That’s the same reason we don’t need to fear Pakistan invading us.

As for North Korea, fuck North Korea. Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear fame recently posted up a tweet saying, “Things that have more computing power than a North Korean missile. #1: My dishwasher.” Bill Maher had this to say on North Korea.

He also compared them with a chihuahua barking at you from inside a parked car. They pose zero (0) threat to us here in the USA. Now they do pose a threat to South Korea, but, so far at least, China is sitting on North Korea and forcing them to behave, more or less. This is because they know the result of a war between the Koreas would be North Korea losing and unified US ally with borders on China. For North Korea to try and invade the USA, they’d first have to secure South Korea and since that won’t happen, an invasion of the United States won’t happen.

CAPACITY:

Now onto the third point. Let’s say that somehow some country does indeed invade the United States and somehow wins. Now they have to occupy our country which is about 3.7 million square miles in size. By contrast Afghanistan is 251,000 square miles and Iraq is 170,000. With the large number of soldiers we’ve had over in Iraq and Afghanistan we’ve barely managed to keep a lid on the countries.

I don’t know how many millions of soldiers would be required to hold down a country the size and scope of the United States, but I suspect the answer is “a lot”. To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever even tried to hold down a hostile nation our size. I strongly suspect that the North Korean army, comprised largely of undernourished midgets, is not going to be the first to pull it off.

CONCLUSION:

The reality is that no one who can invade us wants to. Those who might want to, can’t. Even those who might want to at some future point, and could, wouldn’t be able to keep a lid on us for any length of time. Even if there were a realistic chance of this happening, it’s still a bad idea to base our laws on this hypothetical. We know that right now about 30,000 Americans are killed by guns every single year, and about 900,000 Americans in the last thirty years. If this were because of terrorism, we would have dealt with it long ago. But because it’s guns, we haven’t, and we need to.

Universal background checks are the bare minimum of what we need. If that leads to a national registry, who the fuck cares?

Suppose They’d Had Guns?


Imagine, if you will, that the attacks on the Boston Marathon had been done with guns instead of with bombs. That’s the “what if” scenario presented in The New Yorker. In an article on their website, John Cassidy asks what might have been different and comes to some interesting conclusions.

Well, for one thing, the brothers would probably have killed a lot more than three people at the marathon. AR-15s can fire up to forty-five rounds a minute, and at close range they can tear apart a human body. If the Tsarnaevs had started firing near the finish line, they might easily have killed dozens of spectators and runners before fleeing or being shot by the police.

The second thing that would have been different is the initial public reaction. Most Americans associate bomb attacks with terrorists. When they hear of mass shootings, they tend to think of sociopaths and unbalanced post-adolescents. If the Tsarnaevs had managed to carry out a gun massacre unharmed and escaped, their identities unknown, would the first presumption have been that the shooters were Islamic extremists? Or would people have looked in another direction?

I think this is a fascinating question. Just imagine if it had gone down this way. We’d likely not have had the entire city of Boston shut down (which was really an overreaction), we wouldn’t have Muslims in America having to live in fear, or at least not as much, we likely wouldn’t have the Fox News crowd talking about all the various parts of the Constitution that would should suspend, and quite possibly we might have been able to get gun control.

But for some reason, the same act, carried out with bombs instead of guns and, as the article suggests, likely killing fewer people, is something that causes our country to collectively go nuts. I have been wondering why this is, and I think I’ve reached a conclusion.

We’ve gotten used to mass-shootings.

I remember at a particularly low point late last year hearing about a mass-shooting. My first thought was, “Another one? Is it Tuesday already?” I’d become pretty accustomed to them, and rather blase about them. I still think they’re bad, I still want them to stop, I still want sensible gun control…but beyond that, I just kind of shrugged at went about my day. These things have happened so often that I just kind of accept them as a horrible background noise on our cultural landscape.

Terrorist bombings, while commonplace about 100 years ago, are pretty rare in this country. And so we haven’t gotten used to them like, say, the British got used to IRA bombings in the 1970s and 1980s. Because we aren’t used to them, we still treat them as something other than a crime, and we still lose our collective shit when one of them happens.

I do hope we never get used to bombings. I’d like us to stop being used to mass-shootings. And I’d like our responses to both to be much more rational and grounded in reality. It’s unlikely, but I can dream.