Guest post by Venessa Verduga
Super heroes will save us. Since the first comic book heroes began infiltrating news stands, this perception has taken a life of its own. Super heroes will protect the innocent, defend the helpless and safe guard justice for all. The ideal super-hero is everywhere, all the time. Crime does not rest, and super heroes must be ever vigilant to keep the villains at bay.
Realistically, however, that’s spreading our super-heroes pretty thin. While they are battling the forces of evil intent on destroying metropolis, common hoodlums have a field day harming their victims and inflicting trauma to their survivors. Super-heroes are mobile, but their focus is on the immediacy of the greatest harm. In a world where crime never rests, that still leaves a lot of innocent, helpless citizens waiting in vain for that last minute rescue from a gun wielding or more powerful criminal.
We live in a nation sharply divided on issues of abortion, gay and lesbian rights, immigration and International affairs, yet of all the debates to put Americans at cross-currents with each other is question of gun control. Both sides make some valid points, and an open-minded person would be remiss to ignore the relevancy of any of them. Nearly everyone is well aware of the dual sides. As fast as anti-gun proponents put up their slogans concerning the need to control gun ownership, pro-gun lobbyists provide slogans of their own.
The premise of anti-gun proponents is that guns are weapons. A hunter may protest that the gun is an essential tool for his subsistence life-style, but the purpose of the gun is to kill. While the hunter may be using a gun for one reason only, it does not change the purpose of the gun’s technology. It was designed to fire a projectile at high-velocity to create grievous harm. A person who owns a gun is prepared to maim or kill. In this light, it can be difficult to view a gun owner as a peace-loving citizen.
While gun supporters are leaping into the band wagon of guns for self-defense, an entire, and rather large sub-group, is stating the intention is not to remove all guns; just automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines. Unless the home was being invaded by fifteen members of an assault gang of hoodlums, there is very little reason to believe a person must fire off fifteen rapid rounds to defend body and loved ones.
The rebuttal examines the very spirit of the Constitution. Our second amendment rights guarantee us the right to keep and bear arms without infringement. What’s missing from the average gun owner’s argument is the critical first portion of the amendment right: “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state”. This short phrase not only brings up the question of the government’s right to control guns at all, but the rights of the people to form militias for the protection of their states.
Adding all the assets of demographic areas and resources, it’s doubtful the federal government would favor very well the formation of separate state militias. Nor has it dealt kindly with self-appointed militias that have sprung up randomly through-out the U.S. There is a high level of distrust on both sides, a suspicion that either the population will turn on the government or the government will turn on the citizens.
Gun advocates point to the history of our fore-fathers and their advocacy of guns as a means of deterring corruption in the government and destruction of Constitutional rights. Actually, this isn’t entirely accurate. The framers of the Constitution had gone through a terrible war with their Mother country in pursuit of more equality in opportunity, yet before their call to independence, they had fought nobly, with their colonial militias, in the French Indian wars. These same militias were the volunteers of the Revolutionary War, giving theses framers first-hand knowledge of how beneficial a well-trained militia could be. There was a vast, hostile wilderness on one side, a technically advanced civilization on the other, and the colonies were caught in the middle.
Their Constitution was carefully pieced together by modeling it on aspects of the Magna Carta, by studying the Enlightenment thinkers, and by carefully weighing the strategies of other European Countries. Their main concern was in crafting a document that would safe-guard the natural liberties or unalienable rights of the American citizenry. Realizing there could be internal as well as external danger to the citizens, they crafted the Second Amendment with the vision of a militia similar to the one that served and continues to serve Switzerland, a country that trains its youthful citizens in warfare, encourages the ownership of weapons, and teaches their volunteer militia how to mobilize quickly.
State regulated militias would certainly be cheaper to maintain than the burgeoning role of Homeland Security, but the burden of defense over the years since that first signature was placed on a declaration, has shifted squarely to the backs of the federal government. A stand-off has occurred as individual states have questioned the rights of the federal government, some to the point of petitioning for secession, and others remain nervous that the formation of militias could ignite more civil unrest and violence. Whether you side with the rights to form militias or with the federal government’s right to dissolve them, you are placing your trust in guns.
An Education in Defense
Most people would describe themselves as peace-loving citizens. Most do not go out of their way to offend others, take unproved action against them, or willfully do bodily harm. In a population of 100,000, you have a .004% chance of being a victim of homicide. In that same population, you have a 2 ½ percent chance of experiencing aggravated assault and a 4% chance of becoming a victim of any other violent crime. While you’d probably prefer to see the odds reduced even further, the percentages do illustrate that the vast majority of citizens are not actively seeking violent episodes. It is that small percentage that do commit aggressive acts of violence, however, that shocks our senses.
Violence becomes more personalized when demographics are taken into account. The percentages for violent crime are greater in urbanized zones than they are in suburban and rural areas. The greatest majority of violent crimes are perpetrated against men, minorities and youths. In a city of half a million people, there is an expectancy average of 20-25 victims of homicide before the year is over. The ripple effect of alarm becomes greater, the closer it strikes home.
It’s this ripple of alarm that has basically paralyzed America into inaction. Quiet towns with very little violent crime history have long memories when an action shocking enough to make the newspapers occurs. Survivors of violent crime take years to come to terms with their trauma, as do their family and other loved ones. The family and friends of a homicide victim may never completely recover. The ripple effect grows wider.
Nearly everyone has been at the effect of a violent crime in one way or another. Along with the anguish, comes the determination, or at least ambition, to prevent a similar occurrence within the home, family or community. Many survivors of violent crime become activists, joining organizations that shelter and protect women, minorities and youth, or work on committees dedicated to changing policies and laws regarding their particular type of offender. Laws against hate crimes are an example of this type of change. In recent years, there has been an ongoing campaign against bullying.
Bullying is a particular form of aggression that can, but is not always accompanied by physical blows. It may be as subtle as pushing, shoving, tripping, name calling and petty vandalism, but it is still an aggressive action designed to humiliate and degrade the victim.
Our peace-loving nation has tried various means of coping with bullies. Walking away from a fight, reporting bullies to the authorities, standing up to bullies have all been tried with varying degrees of success. The success rate, however, has not been enough to stem the rising tide of bullying. Internet bullying has been great enough to trigger suicides in vulnerable personalities.
Bullies notoriously exploit weaknesses and what they perceive as weaknesses. Their goal is to shame adversaries into submission. If they saw walking away from a fight as an act of cowardice, they now see the advantages of provoking a fight with the ones who stand up to them. From the schoolyard, where they could make their own victims appear culpable, to the working world, where they found avenues of shelter for their bullying in gliding through the ropes of the system, taking advantage of social biases, learned non-involvement and public policies to continue bullying unscathed by recriminations.
There is a weakness in the way we have learned to defend ourselves. Basically, we do not know how. From shielding ourselves from the effects of bullying to witnessing murder in the streets, we have very little education in the arts of defense. Even among those who did go out and buy a .38 revolver, stuffing it in drawer next to the night stand, the chances they know anything more than just how to use it are small. They may not have prepared themselves for gun cleaning, re-loading or gun safety. The chances that they prepared themselves for panic are even less.
Panic can do many things to people; cause them to fire a number of rounds rapidly without taking aim, jeopardizing even family members, taking aim that causes them to kill the perpetrator when all they wanted to do was stop or wound the would-be assailant, and even completely forget there was a weapon available. Panic is what makes it easy for a man with a knife to completely subdue a crowd of onlookers. Panic immobilizes people, prohibiting them from thinking clearly and problem-solving the critical situation. Panic can be avoided with training.
Training is given for a number of situations that require a clear mind and analytical thinking; fire fighting, emergency rescue, medical aid, even training to cope with natural disasters such as earth-quakes and hurricanes. Training ourselves in defense lowers our chances of panicking in a violent situation.
The gay community is one of the minority groups that have been targeted for bullying and violent crime. The gay community has decided to strike back. Deciding it was not okay to target gays for hate crimes, they have formed an organization called the Pink Pistols. Thirty-one states ratify the rights of citizens to carry concealed weapons, and homosexuals are encouraged to exercise this right. The task force teaches its students how to become comfortable with guns, take part in shooting courses and help their members acquire licenses to carry. Although Pink Pistols is primarily composed of LGBT members, it is not all inclusive. Any individual desiring to join can gain acceptance.
They are not a militia. They are not a vengeance committee. Like most gun owners, they are generally polite and considerate of others. Their single goal is to stop being the victims; the easy targets of aggressors. They feel if hate crime perpetrators knew the homosexual community was packing guns, they would be less likely to contemplate committing violent crimes against them. Advocates state the strategy is working.
Many of our super heroes do not depend on or advocate the use of guns. Superman has, to his advantage, enormous strength that makes him invulnerable to anything except kryptonite. Wonder Woman has her lasso of truth. Batman is equipped with advanced technology, giving him an edge over less sophisticated criminals. Others exploit their prowess, their speed or other extra-special gifts that place them at an advantage when battling evil. Unfortunately, except for a few highly skilled in the martial arts, most citizens are completely unprepared for an attack of violence. The help they depend on to arrive often is too little, too late.
Perpetrators of violent crime exploit weaknesses. Their victims are the helpless and the unprotected. Their ability to spread panic would be less effective among a people prepared to defend themselves. Instead of fearing guns and wishing they would somehow go away, we should learn how to use them and learn gun safety. A gun will not instantly turn you into a serial killer if your intent in learning to handle a gun is purely for the defense of your person and family. A prepared citizenry has a better chance of preventing a violent incident and of disarming a perpetrator.
The mental image invokes a scenario of the wild-wild west, with bigger guns and more sophisticated firing mechanisms; most notably, fully automatic and semi-automatic weapons. This image alone is enough to strike sensitive nerves, even among gun advocates. If we allow paranoia to run amok, it would be easy to imagine enough arsenal in the average home to take out a filled football stadium. Nor is it easy to dismiss the random killings and senseless slaughters of innocent victims in the schools, the work place, restaurants and theaters. Our sensibilities tell us there needs to be some kind of gun control, but where do we draw the line?
Alaska recently rejected the 23 executive orders relating to gun control passed by President Obama that could potentially restrict law abiding citizens with a history of using firearms responsibly, from having access to them. Alaska’s contention is that the existing laws involving back ground checks and gun registry are enough. If a crisis occurs, the state will deal with it in the most suitable manner.
Additionally, there are many gun owners who have circumvented the laws for types of legal weapons and registration for them by creating a trust. In his manifesto, before going on a killing rampage, former Los Angeles police office, Christopher J. Dorner, stated he had set up a trust to buy silencers and a shotgun from a gun store in Nevada without a background check.
What can be done to keep guns out of the hands of irresponsible or unbalanced people? There are no easy answers. Should prospective gun owners be required to pass a psychological test? Should there be a limit placed on the number of guns a person may own, as well as regulations concerning high-powered, automatic and semi-automatic weapons?
What is clear is that people are no longer content with inaction. They are no longer sitting on the side-lines, waiting for the issues to resolve themselves. Many states do not agree with the new federal regulations and are willing to draw on their tenth amendment rights to prevent federal interference with their existing gun laws. It’s vitally urgent to find a middle ground; one that protects the rights of law abiding gun owners, yet makes it difficult for the unbalanced to acquire access to lethal weapons.
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Venessa is also a script writer having co-written “Danny First” an award winning film based on her relationship with her autistic brother. She is also writer and producer for “Justice Woman” a comedy-drama series about an Assistant District Attorney determined to figh injustices within the legal system.
Jerry Nelson is an American freelance photojournalist currently living and working in Argentina and throughout South America. To contract with him, email him at: Jerry@JourneyAmerica.org