The Widdershins

Archive for July 26th, 2012

It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is. If the–if he–if ‘is’ means is and never has been, that is not–that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement….”

Bill Clinton’s Grand Jury testimony.

One of life’s eternal truths appears to be the meaning of the word “is”.  In this particular instance, “is” may refer to a number of things, and your reaction to “is” is defined by your definition of “is”.  For example, much talk and written words have surrounded the latest mass murder in Colorado, and reactions vary greatly.  Everyone feel saddened by the event, and everyone thus far regrets that this has occurred, but that;s just about where this agreement  ends.  To many, this situation “is” the regrettable outcome of poorly defined gun laws while to others this “is” the regrettable outcome of the exercise of  Constitutionally guaranteed rights,  Both sides are (after a fashion)  likely correct, and therein lies the rub.

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

There you have it – the Second Amendment in all of its radiant glory.  The right to bear arms shall not be infringed.  When this was written, a state’s militia was its citizens and their personal weapons which were the same weapons used for protection and for food procurement.  Here is another divergence of “is”:  we know that the Second Amendment does not specifically include fully automatic weapons, but we also know that thanks to the Fifth Circuit Court in United States v, Emerson (2001)  and to SCOTUS via DC v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago (2010), the federal courts have painted individual gun-ownership liberties with a broad brush, albeit asserting the rights of government to regulate weapons sales.  Therefore, the only apparent way to fight the epidemic of gun violence is to be a bit more careful of how and to whom they are sold.

I honestly believe, as a health care professional, that one of the major problems here is that guns and ammunition in appalling quantities is finding its way into the hands of people who are mentally ill.   In other words, mentally ill gunmen do not kill people in a vacuum.    If we realize this, the next problem is how to track said people and said munitions and try to keep them broadly separated.  If you look at so many of these shooters, they are young men between the ages of 16-28, which is the classic age for a psychotic break.  Some, like the Virginia Tech and the Tucson shooters, had attracted previous attention, others seen to share the usual “quiet, shy, kept to himself” description.  James Eagen Holmes has been described as fully meeting the latter criteria, but with a new twist – it seems that he mailed a description of his plans complete with stick-figure drawings to a psychiatrist at University of Colorado.  Sadly, the manifesto lay undelivered from July 12th until it was opened on Monday, far too late for any useful intervention.  I also heard that he believed in the power of the mind to undo things, which makes me wonder if this is why he purchased body armour – he could then fix everything when he was through shooting.  This might also explain why he was calmly waiting outside the theater when the police arrived.  Fits in with  grandiose delusions, in any case.

Most, if not all, states require a background check to purchase weapons and ammunition, but they are as diverse as the states themselves.  Florida checks assiduously on criminal records, but not so much on mental health issues as we have punted the whole gun thing to the Department of Agriculture, and DOA swears that they have no mechanism to do so.    (We do, however, ask if you have mental health issues, and expect a completely honest answer.  What could go wrong?)  I don’t know how much luck we will have, but I know that it’s way past  time to try. It would be nice to close the “Gunshow Loophole”.  If we cannot get proper gun controls, then it “is” time to insist on –  at the very least – enforcement of the laws as they are written.  Then we need to press on try for a culture that concerns itself with the rights of the average American to life, liberty, and the right to attend a movie in peace and quiet.   It “is” also time for Americans to loudly insist that our First Amendment right to life “is”  every bit as important as the right of others to bear arms. 

I understand better than most the Southern sentiments towards guns.  Men inherit guns from their grandparents, and they are cherished as I cherish my grandmother’s china.  I also know that for many, many years after the WBTS, most Southerners did not eat if they did not shoot.  There are areas of the South where this still holds true today.  There are areas of the South, the Midwest and the far west where there is such distrust of government that you will literally get their weapons one bullet at a time – they’re not kidding about that one little bit.  The Guys in the Black Helicopters are never far off  over the horizon, and the loss of rights after 09/11 was enough to give them some  credibility. 

I watched one of the Aurora ED physicians tearfully describe the worst shift of her life, when she treated twelve gunshot wounds.  Not all were successfully resuscitated.  I admire her simple humanity, and hope that that particular shift will be the worst that she ever has, but the realist in me knows that thus far she has spent a rather protected career.

This “is” an open thread.

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