Understanding How We Got Here

I read ugly comments on Facebook from people who are not happy that Barack Obama is our president, and from gun owners, many of them likely completely reasonable people, who won’t agree to perfectly reasonable responses to all the gun death in our country — even last night, on the live chat between people watching Eldad Hagar and Shaggy, people were fighting about how to care for Shaggy. Not simply disagreeing, but getting nasty and personal.

People are insane. It’s not enough to have a big heart, or a big brain. I mean, look at freaking Thomas Jefferson, the man who wrote that we all have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. He was not only a slave owner, he was apparently not a kind slave owner, completely unable to have any compassion for his slaves who were desperately seeking a little life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness themselves (see the new biography, Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves).

Jefferson wrote this in a letter to Samuel Kercheval:

“I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

Such mind-blowingly visionary words! What hope is there for all of us when the man who wrote them is the same man who put his child slaves to punishing work, allowing them to be beaten and mistreated? How hard was is it to see that was wrong?

I’m watching the series on PBS now about abolition. When I see how horribly the first people to call for the abolition of slavery were treated, something so clearly and obviously wrong, it’s less surprising to see people, many of whom are completely decent people and not idiots, fighting over reasonable gun control, gay marriage, or how to care for a frightened dog.

The tearing up of Perry Street continues. They were working last night, and they started up again at least as early as 7am this morning.

Stacy Horn

I've written six non-fiction books, the most recent is Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York.

View all posts by Stacy Horn →

7 thoughts on “Understanding How We Got Here

  1. This is a thoughtful comment by a gun-owner I respect, made on Facebook re: why compromise on the issue is so difficult:

    (in response to original comment “When have you ever heard the NRA or related interest groups say, “You know what? That sounds reasonable. Ok.” “):

    “…nor have I heard gun haters say “well, we banned assault weapons, we’re pretty much done here.” The reality is that there are sensible compromises that _could_ practically work, and that many gun owners actually might believe in. But they (and increasingly, I) believe that there is really no good-faith negotiator on the other side, just someone who will take an inch when they can get in support of their ultimate goal (i.e. to get rid of everything except flintlocks). The rhetoric from the NYT commentators and the prominent figures in the gun-hating community have said, over and again, that the only people they want to have guns are the police, military, and their personal bodyguards.

    If we can figure out a way past that barrier of distrust, we might have a chance to have a useful conversation. Otherwise, given the choice between two unappetizing options, I’ll take the one that maximizes liberty.”

  2. (((((((hugs)))))

    Have you read my last blog post? If not, try to do so.

    Human beings…it’s enough to drive you to drink. But then again, life is not all sorrow and misery; there is good in the worst of us, and bad in the best of us.

  3. Hi Stacy,
    an interesting post, but a rather broad one, as it is impossible for me to address issues concerning, guns, gays, Thomas Jefferson, the reason humans are so insane, and cruelty to dogs all at once.

    Tagryn is so brilliantly on point with this fellow he quotes that he should receive an award for sanity.

    A commitment to defenselessness is neither a virtue nor very prudent. I have known some genuine and sincere pacifists, and I actually respect them. However, I’m a very nice guy, but I’m not a pacifist, and I insist of the right of self-defense.

    About a mile from here someone tried to break into the second-story window (over a shed) in order to get at the young lady inside. She threw a shot through the window, and the perpetrator fled for his life, but was never apprehended.

    I doubt very seriously if he will ever try to kick out another of her windows.

    A fellow I know got a new job that required him either to drive miles out of his way or to drive through a bad neighborhood late at night.

    He got away with it for a few months, then some of the local gang bangers decided to move on him.

    He later told me that he was “extremely frightened, but not terrified” because he knew he had one in the chamber and 12 more right behind it.

    Fortunately, his display of the weapon was enough to chase off the gang bangers.

    Needless to say, like the old commercial, now he never leaves home without it.

    These are just a couple of examples that are repeated by the thousands every single day in the United States.

    So I say that a commitment to defenselessness may be what some Americans choose, and God bless them. But we would say to government authorities not to even begin thinking about insisting through the force of law that those of us who emphatically believe in self-defense participate in an anti-gun policy.

    Tagryn is right. If someone said something like “OK, look, let’s restrict assault weapons, and let’s think about some issues concerning clip capacity. However, if we do this as an acknowledgement of the need for self-defense, and someone is over the age of 35 and has no mental health or criminal issues they can carry a revolver for protection anywhere they go. With a restriction on places that serve alcohol and perhaps a few other places.”

    Then you would have some kind of an issue that could be a basis for beginning constructive discussion. However, with the polarization all that happens is that both sides get demonized.

    In the public sphere scarcely anything productive occurs or is discussed anymore. Just two sides with no intention of compromise and every intention of defeating things that they don’t agree with.

    Incidentally, I sort of like President Obama in terms of his personality, but I disagree with 90% of his policies.

  4. But most of America, including the recommendations from the Obama Administration, are not about gun-hating (I’m not a gun hater!) or taking guns away. Obama is calling for:

    – Background checks on all guns sales.
    – Reinstating the assault weapons ban.
    – Banning high-capacity ammunition magazines and armor-piercing bullets.
    – New gun trafficking laws (I don’t know the specifics here, so maybe you have an issue with this one?)
    – Funds for more mental health treatment.
    – Funds for more police officers.

    But the point of my post was about having a conversation about this, or any other even barely controversial subject, and it’s not directed at people like you or Tagryn. Also, I include myself when I say people are insane. I am not immune to the imperfections of our species.

    If good and decent and smart people can’t agree about slavery, what hope is there for gun control? Except most of America supports the recommendations I posted above so maybe there’s hope for compromise.

  5. Hi Stacy,
    I’ve been trying to figure out how on earth I could clarify this issue for those of you on the left who are open to trying to understand those of us on the right.

    You are one of the few people I have bumped into who prefers to understand over criticizing. I thought maybe I could give out a couple sort-of axioms that might help you understand where the right is coming from.

    For the right, two things must be accomplished for any discussion about guns to be considered.

    1. The Bill of Rights, including specifically the Second Amendment, is not something can be dismissed. The Supreme Court recently ratified gun ownership as an individual right.

    It is alarming to people on the right when people on the left begin to scramble about for “something to be done” and give the impression that the Bill of Rights can simply be laid aside. Believe me: this freaks out people on the right. It might be something like people on the right saying that a few tragic outcomes have occurred after abortions, so the entire Roe v. Wade decision has to be put on the shelf.

    2. For gun sympathizers, which includes many more people than simply gun owners, gun ownership equals survival. If a movement begins to divest gun sympathizers from their right to own guns, it says to gun sympathizers that they have no right to survive. And that their families have no right to survive.

    For those on the right, to survive means the ability to protect is up there with the ability to eat. Well, close…

    It easily can be, of course, that one inadvertently survives, but for those of us on my side, the literal right to survive has been undermined.

    To survive requires the ability to protect. Protection requires the right to own firearms. Firearms have to have the capacity that violent criminals use against the citizen population.

    In other words, if the bad guys are using them against us, we have to have the same guns in order to have parity with the bad guys.

    This doesn’t always happen, of course. (I once asked a cop about their new Glock pistols in fighting violent crime. He sniffed and said, “We got Glocks. Drug dealers have close air support.”)

    I’m not trying to argue a point here. I’m trying to give you some insight into the thinking on the right about this issue.

    Today Diane Feinstein set out legislation that is intended to ban 450 different kinds of firearms, some of which are in use by police departments.

    It is a bad simile, I appreciate, but how would the left feel if John Boehner suddenly announced an initiative to restrict a wide variety of abortion procedures? Would the left really believe he had the left’s interests at heart after hearing this announcement? Well, that’s how we feel.

  6. Thank you taking the time to explain. Any sort of compromise is going to be difficult for both sides.

    Gun owner’s rights to protect themselves must be balanced against our rights not to be shot by less responsible gun owners (although the one time I was almost shot was by a trained responsible gun owner whose handgun went off by accident).

    Even the second amendment says “well regulated,” so surely a compromise is possible. Someday.

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