Sunday, January 27, 2013

Musings about Murder and Other Not Nice Things

A friend of mine challenged me on some of my beliefs the other day.  Friends can do this.  Real friends can do this and remain friends.

The questions, rather loosely was what were my thoughts about what constitutes murder, and eugenics, and government actions such as Waco Texas (David Koresh) and Wounded Knee.

My first thought was about time.  Our vision of the world changes all the time.  Years ago, some things were considered morally acceptable that today most of us would find abhorrent.  Things like poor houses and debtor prisons, or homes for the “feeble minded” and insane asylums.  Things like this were acceptable at one time but not so much today.

It seemed to fit, but it was not a good fit.

I sat on my fingers and admitted that I didn’t really know.

It gnawed at me and then something that I’ve read in the past came to mind. It was something about how the WWI propagandists had said that the Germans made candles out of corpses, and their surprise that in WWII, Nazi Germany actually did.

This helped to clear it up for me.  What is the difference between the Children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Children at David Koresh’s compound, and the Children in Pakistan killed by a drone attack on the wrong house?

The Children at Sandy Hook were the children of nice people like you and me, the Children at David Koresh’s compound were the children of Cult followers, and the Children in Pakistan are the children of people who don’t have the same moral standings that we hold so dear.

But children are just children and none of them deserve to die.

It probably goes back to the cavemen, or at least the Bible, to unite people against a foe, you’d demonize them, make them less than human or at the very least morally inferior to you.

The most recent example that comes to my mind is from Gulf War 1, the first war to be broadcast live on CNN.  Do you remember the reports of how the Red Guard had broken into a Kuwaiti hospital and tossed the babies out of the incubators?  Did anyone ever do a follow up on those stories?  Nope, there is no proof of it ever happening, other than the original news releases.

When a madman broke into a school and attacked children in Newtown, there was outrage and horror.  How could he get a gun?  Why wasn’t the school more secure?  But when a madman in China broke in and stabbed school children we didn’t yell nearly as loud.  The only yelling I really heard was from the pro-gun groups that said that guns weren’t the problem.

Why the difference in reactions?

Aside from the fact that none of the children in China died, they live in a far off place, they don’t look like us, and they’re communists.  They aren’t like us.  The Newtown children look like our kids, their parents look like us.  On our human scale, the Newtown children score 100, the Chinese children somewhat less.

That is not to say that the Chinese people ARE less human than we are, but we still distance ourselves from them.

Much like we distance ourselves from people with disabilities.  At one time it was modern and scientific to consider people with mental handicaps to be inferior to the rest of us, less human.  This was the science of eugenics.  Part of this was the forced sterilization of incompetents, keeping our society purer by making sure that they did not procreate.  Later we were nicer in our talk, it wouldn’t be fair to the children to have handicapped parents… but it was pretty much the same thing. 

Some scientists took this even farther by declaring that the Caucasian race was the epitome of human kind, followed closely by the Asians. It was this idea that Hitler grabbed and used as grounds for purifying the human race by removing the inferior people.  The mentally incompetent, the homosexuals, the Jews, the Roma…

Thankfully we are getting better, but we are still far from where we should be.  We’ve rehumanized these groups with varying success.  We’ve closed most of the Mental Institutions and realized that many of those former inmates can be part of society rather than just locked away.  Some need more help than others.

But where does that put my friend’s questions?

It seems to me a matter of perspective.  The closer that a victim seems to be to what we think is normal, then the more outrageous the act.

The murder of a young middle class woman is worse than the murder of a prostitute, or the murder of a drug user.  They are still somebody’s daughter, but we make a distinction in our minds.  We can all agree the criminal needs to be caught and punished, but our outrage declines as the victim becomes less human to us… less like our idea of how we are.

The distance involved affects it as well.  A crime in our community, especially if it is a nice part of town is “worse” to us than a similar crime in a big city or the wrong part of town, or another part of your province, or another part of Canada…

Finally there is our “moral compasses”.  If a crime is committed against people who have similar beliefs and morals to what we hold, then we are more affected than those who have different beliefs or lower morals.  Oddly, we seem to not care if a drone hits a family home in Pakistan, but the world stopped and noticed when a little girl from the same country was shot by an extremist because she thought girls should receive an education as well as boys.

Her beliefs echo ours, she is good.  What about the family that was killed by the drone?  We don’t know what they believed, we don’t care as much, that is if we care at all.  If the drone had struck a Taliban post, we’d likely be pleased.  The Taliban are bad.

So what about the Branch Davidians in Waco or the incidents at Wounded Knee? 

These events are far too complicated to go into here, but in the end our moral compasses determine where we stand on these cases.

So what of my friend’s question?  I really haven’t answered it have I?  The truth of the matter is that I don’t know if I can.

My world is not black and white.  I know some people who seem to live in that world, where every question has either a yes or a no answer.  But my world has shades of grey, it has countless colours, and to try and give a pat answer is beyond me.

So in the mean time, I’ll consider each event as it comes across my radar, and use my own judgment to try and figure out what I think about each one.  I don’t rely on a media source to give me the answers, neither should you.

Cheers BC

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Guns, Guns, Guns (again)

I got into a bit of a discussion about “gun laws” again this week.  I usually avoid them, but I absolutely hate it when half truths and out and distortions are used to “prove” one’s side.

The discussion I walked into was basically that the US was going to “outlaw” guns and how this was terrible, that the Sandy Hook shootings wouldn’t have happened if the teachers had been armed, and if the Jewish people in Germany had guns, the holocaust wouldn’t have happened.

It was the third one that really rankled me.

The argument, simplified, is that if the Jews of Germany had weapons, then they would have been better able to protect themselves against the Nazis and then Hitler and the Brown Shirts would have gone away.  They did have access to guns, the same access that any other citizen of Germany had at the time.  The ban on Jews owning weapons did not go into effect until after Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass.

The restrictive gun laws that were in place in Germany dated back to the end of WWI and the Treaty of Versailles and were relaxed in 1928 to what many of us would recognize as modern gun laws.

The next bit we covered was the Obama initiative to “outlaw guns”.

Now I haven’t been following the US news on gun control, but I’m pretty sure they are not looking to outlaw guns.  It looks a lot like they want to put restrictions on guns that would make their gun laws more in line with what we have in Canada.

Things like background checks before you can purchase a firearm only make sense to me.  We do this in part by requiring people to have a permit to own a weapon.  Our views on hand guns are somewhat different.

A limitation on magazine size is another issue the US is looking at.  I cannot see the need to have a 30 round magazine for a rifle, much less a hand gun, especially if your intentions are to improve your accuracy at the range or to bring down a deer to have meat for your table.

I’ve asked gun owners in the past, how many shots do you need to bring down a deer or other game.  One fellow told me only one. 

I asked another why anyone would need a 30 round magazine, his reply was so you don’t have to reload as often.  It didn’t seem to bother him that if a sport shooter can buy a large capacity magazine the bad guys can as well.

My only real issue with assault type weapons is that most of them are basically military weapons adapted to civilian use.  They can still easily handle high capacity magazines.  Most modern hunting rifles are designed to use a 5 to 10 round magazine.

Look, when we sent our boys overseas in WWII we equipped them with Enfield 303s with 10 round magazines.  We helped win a war with such little magazines.  Why so small?  Well part of the reasoning is that it forces you to conserve your shots.  Another part is that smaller magazines are less prone to misfiring and jamming, not good things to have happen in a war zone.

The shooting in the Aurora theatre could have been worse had the shooter’s one rifle not jammed.

From what I gather, the thrust of the initiatives put forward by President Obama is not to take the guns from the cold dead hands of gun owners, but to force gun owners to think and act responsibly.  And they take issue with this.

Finally we got into arming teachers.  I’m not a fan.

The argument went that if the teachers at the elementary school had guns, they could have shot down the killer before he moved on to the next class.  Now part of this included a mention on how teachers in Israel must carry a satchel with a firearm in it whenever they take the students from the school in order to protect the students.  This is because Israel is pretty much a war zone.

Besides the fact that I don’t think Israel is pretty much a war zone, I’ll admit parts are likely dangerous places to live.  Now the idea of teachers carrying a gun in a satchel when they leave the school does not mean they have a gun in the classroom.  I imagine if they did, the argument would have been change to “Well they have guns in their classrooms, we should too.”

So if teachers were to carry guns, they would have to be securely stored.  When I went to school, teachers who carried a purse would lock it in their desk.  If they had a gun, I would imagine it would be in a locked compartment or a gun locker to prevent accidental access to it.  I really can’t see teachers with holsters in a school, I hope I never do.

Aside from that, I pointed out that all Israelis are required to serve a term in the military when they complete school.  After their stint they are still considered reservists and can be called up in time of need.  Yes I know there are exemptions for contentious objectors and so on, but as a general rule Israelis are trained in the use of firearms, and I’m certain that if there were concerns about mental health that they would screen these people out and they would have difficulty obtaining a firearm in the future.

Besides the fact that unless the teacher was wearing a sidearm, the time required to try and move their students to safety would likely use up any time to fetch their gun.  As for armed guards in the schools, they do have this in some jurisdictions, such as Columbine but it still didn’t help.  It is a matter of time, I don’t recall the shooters wandering around shouting I have a gun and I’m going to shoot people, they just go in and do it.

It might surprise you to know that the person I had this discussion with was a nice young lady who truly feels that it would be safer for everyone if she was able to carry a gun at work.  She works in a store and is in charge at the end of the day and worries that if a bad guy were to come into the store, there would be no protection for her and her customers.

Her other debater, who spent much of the discussion agreeing with me has a restricted permit.  He is legally able to own a hand gun but hasn’t bought one and isn’t sure if he wants one.

My part in the discussion was not to win, I was not going to change her mind, but only to make her think.  Her source was a gun site in Texas run by a fellow who thinks that any restriction on guns is a declaration of war on gun owners.  It is a site where they openly challenge the official story on shootings such as the one at  Sandy Hook Elementary by swearing there were three shooters and that the government was behind the whole thing to ban guns like the Nazis did.

Seriously, if there was any evidence to support multiple shooters do you not think the police would say so?  Do you expect me to believe that the police would allow murderers to run free?

At the end of it all, the young lady thanked me for the discussion.  That surprised me.  It seems that I’m one of the few people she has argued with that didn’t get obnoxious and rude about it.

I’m not like some of the vocal anti-gun group.  I believe that if you want to own a firearm or firearms you should be able to as long as you do it is a safe and responsible way.  If you want to hunt, get your licence and permit and go hunting.  All I ask is that you eat what you shoot.  If you just want a trophy go buy one.  If you want to shoot targets, get your permit, join a club and go shooting.  I’ve been a target shooter, never a hunter, and there is something to be said for the exercise of carefully aiming and executing a shot.  At twenty yards, our bull’s eye was 1mm in diameter.  I was a pretty good shot back then.

I think it is commendable that this young lady wants to protect her customers and coworkers from the bad guys.  But I want her to make a rational decision based on truth and not the half truths and distortions that some of these gun sites and some media sites spin at us.

While we didn’t discuss ammunition, while I was looking for information on President Obama’s ideas, I found an interesting article from Reuters.  You can find it here.

The article says that in some states, such as California, in order to buy ammunition you have to provide a thumb print.  This thumb print can show if you are not legally entitled to purchase ammunition and it can also show if you are buying unusual amounts of ammunition.  There is also an effort to laser etch serial numbers on the individual cases of bullets, which would match the serial number on the box.

The manufacturers say this is too expensive and would drive them out of business, and the naysayers point out that if I have to give a thumbprint or have my serial numbers recorded that the bad guys will just buy out of state, but it would give law enforcement another tool to check the bad guys with minimum hassle to the law abiding gun owners.

Maybe we should consider that here?  Nah, it won’t happen… they freaked about recording the serial numbers on their guns… they’d go ballistic if they had their bullets’ numbers recorded too.

That’s enough for now…

Cheers, BC