Ask Auntie Pinko
January 19, 2006
By Auntie Pinko
I am a fairly new convert to the left. I am a long-term supporter
of what the right wing once claimed to stand for; balanced budgets,
less intrusive government, isolationism. Instead, we get an 8 trillion
dollar deficit, an enormous new security apparatus, and war and
(badly failed) nation building in Afghanistan and Iraq now that
the right wing holds a monopoly on power. My opinions have changed
about "free trade" and privatisation, and I now accept the need
for government to level the playing field.
But one thing I don't embrace is gun control. I am a hunter
and also shoot in NRA "Service Rifle" competition. This is the form
of competition that most closely matches the traditional military
rifle qualification course, and allows me to keep a link to the
Marine Corps I once served in. To me it is the most traditional
sport we have today, in the sense of the ancient roots of sport
itself, a demonstration of military prowess where no one gets hurt.
So changing over to skeet shooting would not be a satisfactory replacement.
It is also the sport most at risk of being legislated out of existence.
You see, Service Rifle by its nature uses "assault weapons" to shoot
at bulls eyes as far as 600 meters away.
My question is this: Why is gun control a liberal issue? This
is an inconsistency. One would expect a movement that believes in
unlimited executive power and militarized law enforcement would
be the ones fighting for a disarmed populace, and one that fights
for human rights would oppose disarmament. But since the New Deal,
the opposite has been true.
Like it or not, individual possession of arms is a basic human
right. That it is denied most people in other nations does not diminish
that fact. Most nations abridge or deny other rights as well. But
even the ACLU states "Except for lawful police and military purposes,
the possession of weapons by individuals is not constitutionally
Gun Control is a wedge issue, and kept me in the Republican
party for 35 years. Now that I am a Democrat (with the conviction
of a convert!) I get in a lot of arguments that I'm helping to destroy
an important civil right. My unionized workplace is probably more
than 75% Republican, with religion and gun control being the primary
reasons. I can't begin to defend the Democratic Party against that,
but have to point out that the Republican package deal is not worth
it (union busting, uncontrolled deficits, wholesale exportation
of jobs overseas, etc)
Thank you for reading this, even though my views might be anathema
to some factions.
Welcome to the left! It can be confusing territory, as you're
finding. For one thing, there are lots of liberals over here on
the left who are against banning firearms possession by private
citizens. Auntie grew up in a hunting family and my father was a
Marine, so I have been exposed to several perspectives on the issue.
And while a good many liberals (and a good many conservatives of
Auntie's acquaintance) do favor the regulation of firearm sale and
possession, it is not necessarily a "liberal issue" (although the
Republican Party has been extremely successful in labeling it so.)
I'm very frustrated by this issue (like most Americans, it would
seem) but the root of my frustration isn't that I can't impose "my"
agenda on the Democratic Party or on the nation. Instead, I'm frustrated
almost to the screaming point by those who hold strong views for
good reasons and who absolutely cannot listen to, or admit the
validity of, other views held for equally good reasons by other
The side concerned with safety simply will not listen to
the very reasonable concerns of law-abiding sportsmen and collectors,
who in turn simply will not listen to the very reasonable
concerns of people concerned about crime and violence, especially
in our cities. Both sides utterly refuse to see shades of gray,
to embrace compromise, or to sacrifice some part of their agenda
to address the perfectly legitimate concerns of others. Really,
it makes Auntie want to clonk some heads together, sometimes.
And it is not helpful to devolve the issue to one of "rights"
and/or "Constitutional protections," either. The Constitution does
not protect anyone's right to infringe on the rights of others,
as I have to continually remind my Libertarian friends. All of the
rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights have some limitations - free
speech may not be abused to slander, con, or corrupt others, freedom
from search and seizure is confined to "unreasonable" instances
thereof, etc. There is ample room for definition and disagreement
in the second amendment, just as the definitions of "speedy trial,"
"impartial jury," "cruel and unusual punishment," and even "establishment
If your notion of "bearing arms," for instance, includes storing
a few nuclear warheads in your garage, I think we can probably both
agree that it's pretty iffy whether the second amendment protects
that. There's a world of difference between someone keeping one
or two hunting guns properly secured and someone keeping dozens
of unsecured guns in the front hall closet in a densely-populated
urban neighborhood. It's not at all unreasonable for Americans (especially
those who live in cities and high-crime areas) to want some controls
on the number and types of weapons accessible to their neighbors.
Neither is it unreasonable for responsible sportsmen and hobbyists
to collect and use a wide variety of firearms for various recreational
And the attempts of both sides to impose their agendas on each
other has resulted in a ludicrous patchwork of legislation littering
the legal landscape and creating nightmares for law-abiding firearms
collectors and law-enforcement personnel alike.
Each side cherishes the gravest suspicions of the other side -
and each side's behavior does much to confirm those suspicions.
The pro-regulation side suspects that the real agenda of
the anti-regulation side is driven by insecure, knuckle-dragging
Neanderthals who need the comfort of a big, bad, "piece" close at
hand to prove their machismo. The anti-regulation side suspects
that the real, agenda of the pro-regulation side is to eliminate
private ownership of firearms altogether, never allow the slaughter
of another deer or duck, and probably forcibly convert everyone
to vegetarianism in its most hideous macrobiotic form. And every
time one side offers a compromise and the other side slaps it down,
those suspicions are further confirmed.
For example, without getting into the definition of "assault weapons"
(don't get me started on the disingenuousness of both sides
on that issue!) let's stipulate that certain types of weapons pose
a much greater threat to public safety if they fall into
irresponsible or criminal hands. Yet as you point out, William,
those weapons also have perfectly legitimate sporting uses (your
"Service Rifle" competition, for instance.) Is there a way to make
those weapons available to legitimate sportsmen training for, and
competing in, such events, while making them highly inaccessible
to potential misuse?
I can envision several ways, the easiest being to store those
weapons in a special facility where the practices and competitions
can also take place. The facility, and the storage, could be monitored
closely by law enforcement, and the weapons released to their owners
only for use on those premises. Yet that would interfere, to some
extent, with a legitimate sportsman who owns such a weapon's ability
to fully and privately enjoy the use of that weapon. Rather than
discussing the valid issues on both sides, the most likely
scenario would be for some well-intentioned pro-regulation group
to propose such a compromise, and the affronted anti-regulation
folks to loudly and indignantly refuse. You can bet that the pro-regulation
folks will walk away (regardless of the outcome) with their suspicions
about knuckle-dragging Neanderthals reinforced!
On the other side, take a news story about the gun collector whose
collection was stolen from a highly-secured, specially-built facility
in his vacation home by thieves who had to work for two solid days
to circumvent the security. The pro-regulation folks who immediately
speak up and demand even more stringent regulations on the number
of guns that can be stored in one household and the types of security
required, etc., do a fabulous job of reinforcing the anti-regulation
folks' worst stereotypes and fears.
I don't think gun control is a left vs. right, liberal vs. conservative,
Democrat vs. Republican issue, William. There's lots more to it
than that. Urban vs. rural, blue-collar vs. white-collar, even some
factors of race and gender enter into it. Lots of people living
in high-crime urban areas (those who are most likely to have sharp
and immediate safety concerns that they don't want to address
by turning their neighborhoods into a latter-day Dodge City with
everyone having to have a six-shooter on their hip to feel safe)
are Democrats. Lots of suburban and rural sportsmen are Republicans.
But the opposite is also true.
Until we all start listening to each other, and concede that everyone
will have to accept some compromise, things will only get worse.
But as you point out, it's only one issue. And there are too many
other important issues for us to allow this one to be the wedge
that keeps us from re-building our democracy! Thanks for asking
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