Saturday, December 15, 2012

Y2K, Guns, God, and Love

Part I: Y2K and Guns
(See Part II here)

As a recovering IT professional, I have memories of the late 1990’s when everyone was panicking about Y2K. All these bad things were supposed to happen: planes falling from the sky and nuclear power plants going off line. You wouldn’t be able to get money from ATM machines so you better hoard cash and canned goods. The project I was working on, a fairly important health system, had some Y2K “bugs.” We knew about them, started working on them a year or so ahead of time, fixed them, and tested them. Then January 1st happened and, well, it all worked. Not just for our project, but for everyone. There were a few glitches here and there, but mostly it was a “non-event.“ And then the media started to get on the IT industry’s case about the fact that we were a bunch of “Chicken Littles.” Why were we panicking so much? Even today, when I casually mention Y2K to friends outside the IT industry many will shake their head about the whole “Y2K hoax.”

Except it wasn’t a hoax. And we (IT folks mostly) weren’t panicking. Not exactly. We were working hard. Very hard. And we were worried about getting done in time, certainly. But we were fixing the problem. And turns out, we did a pretty good job of analyzing the problem years before, saw it coming, planned for it, got the resources to fix it, and fixed it.  It actually worked!

And there are some lessons we can draw from that, for us here, on this empty day, as the facts of the truly horrific shootings in Connecticut trickle in. But before getting to those lessons, today, I am going to make a prediction: If we do nothing, I know with certainty this will happen again.  I am predicting another mass shooting just like the IT industry predicted Y2K.

But unlike Y2K, I don’t know when or where the next mass shooting will occur. It may happen later today or not until next year. That is part of the future that is regrettably unknowable. I’m not a criminologist or a sociologist or “expertologist.” But I am pretty smart, I know a little about human behavior and this country. I can look at the historical data and look our out policies and our ability to control evil acts and know, with certainty, in the United States, some day a bunch of innocent lives, and even young children, will be destroyed by a sad individual with a legally obtained assault weapon or semi-automatic hand gun.

With a random act, like what happened in Connecticut, it was just that, random. Well, perhaps random is an imprecise term. Rather, it was not predictable as to time and place. Y2K? We new exactly when and where it would happen.  It was precisely predictable.

Which finally leads me to my point – we don’t do so well with probability.  We really don’t know how to evaluate risks and properly assign actions to manage those risks. For big things like crime, and global warming, that fit in the realm of probability, we get so caught up in emotional biases and prejudices that we are actually unable to solve problems even after new data contradicts what we thought we knew. In fact we are often unable to prevent big problems at all. It is only after some predictable catastrophe actually occurs that we take action. Turns out, we are very reactive creatures (see also: 9/11, Katrina, the Housing Bubble, and 2012 Romney Campaign).

In 2004 we let the Assault Weapon Ban expire. At the time no one could say, “ya know, since the Columbine killings in 1999, mass killings have been kind a low, as low as the early 80s, but starting in 2004 we will see a pretty significant increase starting with a massacre at Virginia Tech in 2007, followed by a whole string a unfortunate killings culminating in 2012 and a frightening body count including a bunch of little kids in Connecticut. And mostly these were done with legally obtained semiautomatic assault weapons and handguns.” (See this Mother Jone's article about mass killings.)

I wonder what we would have done in 2004 if we knew what yesterday looked like back then. If we had the same kind of knowledge and awareness we had with he Y2K bug? But we didn’t know. Not exactly. But we did know something would happen. And it will continue. It just will.  So it is for us to decide: Is the protection of a human created right to own a gun as or more sacred than the innocent lives that will be sacrificed for the right? How much longer can we really hang on to an amendment that was written in the context of fearing European Monarchical Tyranny? Written by men who lived in an agrarian nation of under 3 million people, not an urban nation of over 310 million.  Written by men with no concept of mental illness like we have in 2012. Written when you had to load a gun from the barrel side by pouring in black powder, packing it with wadding, and then dropping a lead ball in.

I’m not interested in parsing the poorly written 2nd amendment and whether the right is an individual right or a collective right or if the “well regulated militia clause” is an independent clause or modifying clause to the “right of the individual” clause. Those are all bullshit intellectual exercises requiring the Chicago Manual of Style and an intimate relationship with the placement of commas. Compare that to the non-theoretical reality of our modern world: A world where most anyone can purchase a military style rifle and where individuals with mental illness wander about because of our inferior patchwork of health care.

So let’s make a choice and be honest with ourselves. It’s a simple one. We can choose, as a society, that we are comfortable with the loss of some innocent lives in mass killing events. We can choose that the loss of life that comes with gun ownership, like the gun ownership we have today, is sad, but a necessary part of a freedom that we believe is superior. For us to all be able to purchase military-style assault weapons and semi-automatic handguns is so important a right that we will allow anyone who wants to, to buy one.  Even though that means, well, each year, some of us will sacrifice our lives to perpetuate that right.

That is the choice we have made, so far, as a nation. And we can decide it again. And each time we choose not to change our gun laws, that is the choice we make.  It’s simple really.  But I hope we make a different choice. One that acknowledges the archaic nature of the 2nd amendment and its lack of relevance in 2012 America. I’m not interested in banning all guns. If you want to go hunt squirrels or shoot targets for sport, I’m fine with that. If you want a gun to protect yourself and keep it safely locked in you home. Okay, fine. But why do you really need a Sig Sauer .223-Caliber Semi-Automatic Rifle?

It’s time for a change. And you know what? We’ve gutted so much of the rest of the Bill of Rights, why we hang on so desperately to those archaic gun rights says something about who we are as a people.

And that is a good segue to part two of this essay for tomorrow where I’ll get into what Mike Huckabee said that we've “systematically removed God” from the public schools. And guess what? I agree! Surprised? Here is a hint: Read 1 John 4 (7-21) .


  1. I appreciate the insight, especially about the "originalist" context of the constitution. The framers weren't only afraid of European tyrants nor armed only with muskets. It was a time when white women and African men & women were property. There existed less freedom for the many, and the 2nd amendment propped up that inequality.

    I let guys rifle my underwear, so I can fly safely. I'm sure that I can live a free life without assault weapons.

  2. Please give me the biblical reference again. There is no 1 John 7...

  3. Hi Anonymous. Sorry for the typo. The correct passage is 1 John 4 (7-12). Link to added too.


  4. Actually, read all of 1 John 4. Focus particularly on verse 16.

  5. You make some points that can be debated and at the end of the day, we will still agree to disagree. These "random acts of violence" as you said may or may not have been prevented with tougher gun laws. They may still have been carried out because of a couple of other reasons. The individual could have purchased the weapons illegally if his mom did not have them, or if he couldn't do that, he could have chosen another method for his madness like knives, explosives or whatever else his twisted mind thought of. This by no means takes away from the awful tragedy and loss of innocent lives. Evil will always lurk around the corners and yes, this will likely happen again unfortunately, but the loss of lives to these kinds of shootings pails in comparison to the lives that are murdered each and every day in this country from abortion. The millions of lives lost to this is considered acceptable, even though it is morally wrong and is considered murder when someone kills a pregnant woman, but none the less, if you want to do away with the 2nd amendment, then lets also put this issue on the table as well. Bet no one on here will even think about that.

  6. Hi Anonymous,
    Believe it or not, I've actually thought about this very issue: Could we come to a detente, of sorts, around abortion and guns. And while I am pro-choice, I am also in favor of doing everything we can to reduce the need for abortion. I grew up Catholic, and no longer consider my Catholic, but do have great respect for the fact that the Catholic Church maintains, generally, a consistent attitude for life. Not only is the church against choice (pro-life), it is also against the death penalty (pro-life). I appreciate that. Unfortunately the Catholic church chooses an unfortunate stance of birth control which just makes the whole abortion stance seem, well, I dunno, naive.

    But rather than debate the legality of abortion and whether it is morally right or wrong, or whether the Constitution grants a right of privacy, or debate the merits of the 2nd amendment and whether it is a value that stands up in modern society, I wish we would approach each, separately, from a perspective of love and compassion. See my follow-up blog post for more on that.

    What if we could honestly say to ourselves: Young kids have sex, they are not prepared to be parents, we need to do something. Let's arm them with knowledge and information so they can make better choices (abstinence AND birth control). What if we could honestly say to ourselves we are a nation that values liberty to the extent that the ability to own a gun is something that people should have, generally, but some people REALLY ought not have access to a gun nor should anyone, really, need a 30-round clip semi-automatic assault rifle to hunt squirrels. Let's get rid of all those offensive military weapons. They are irrelevant the face of tyranny anyway. Let's get real.

    I'm ready to have those debates on those terms and I think a lot of Americans are too. Unfortunately both sides of the aisle are held hostage to ideologues, special interests, and heavily financed lobbyists. And I'm sorry, the Republicans are particularly held hostage by the fringe Tea Party element these days.

    But we can do better. Our nation, imperfect as it is, is an ongoing experiment in self-governance. We build this nation on the ability to make grand compromises. We've lost that skill somewhere along the way. How can restart? Maybe we can develop a compromise here. What do you think?

    Thanks for reading,

  7. John, I would like to add that yes kids are having sex and are not ready, but many parents are not educating their children and the schools can't, so kids don't know the real dangers of STD's and how it can ruin their lives and if they get pregnant, well just have an abortion, problem solved. We have had these talks with our kids and have taken them and shown them what can happen and how expensive it would be to be pregnant as a unwed uneducated person or how if they are with someone who tells them that they haven't been with anyone else when they have really been with multiple partners who had also had multiple partners and now for that few moments of pleasure, has lifelong disease. Didn't mean to go off on that when we started about guns. The debate on the whole "assault" weapons and large clips is rather mute, as you can assault anyone with any gun, and the number in the magazine, so instead of 20 or 30, they have 10 or 5, so, at that point, the sick criminal carries more than 1 gun, or has multiple magazines, which only takes a few seconds to switch. My point still comes down to, there a lot of things that kill people, if we ban guns, and people keep dying, then what do we ban next?
    As far as what you said about tyranny, what is going on in this country right now, really is scary and not a lot different than what we saw through out history, and I hate to say, but the easiest way for the government to control us is to disarm us, and I know you say it can't happen, but it can. Ask Chicago how all there gun laws and bans are working out for them? Did you ever consider if Federal and state laws had not combined to insure that no teacher, no administrator, no adult had a gun at the Newtown school where the children were murdered that maybe the tragedy could have been avoided or at least minimized? This is a side that anti gun people don't want to hear. I am open to talk respectively and cordially about this all day, but sadly, in the end, neither you or I really have a say in the matter, it comes down to our elected puppets, and they will get on their soapboxes, both sides, and bash each other and continue to divide us, when what we both want, you and I, is to not see any more innocent blood shed. Thanks for listening.

  8. Dear Anonymous,
    I'm not going to further engage on the abortion debate. Maybe some later date.

    Meanwhile, regarding guns in this country, here is where I think we are in our conversation:

    Based on your latest comments, I would next cite statistics showing places with gun restrictions have fewer gun deaths. I could cite statistics that show higher murder rates in states with higher gun ownership rates. I could even cite statistics that showed the assault gun ban appears to reduce mass shooting events.

    I could cite statistics regarding the number of accidental gun deaths, increased suicides by guns, and “crimes of passion” gun deaths using guns in homes.

    But I don’t think that will matter because you will talk about Chicago gun laws or the District of Columbia, Arizona, or Virginia, or some other study with data fitting your view point.

    Then I could go on to refute your tyranny protection claims as archaic. I would ask you to cite examples where armed citizens properly challenged overreaching state of federal measures. You would counter with the Civil War argument, perhaps, and I’d counter with that being actually States seizing Federal assets, not citizens rising to protect sovereignty, and that in our 200 plus year history, the best protections of our civil liberties have come through the rule of law, the other amendments to the Constitution, and acts of civil disobedience (ask Martin Luther King, Jr., how much the 2nd Amendment helped him). I would even argue that of all the protections we have for our personal liberty, the 2nd Amendment (and 3rd) offers the least. I might even suggest that the best example of the use of arms by citizens to protect their liberties happened during bloody labor strikes and battles at the end of the 1800s and early 1900s in which citizens fought corporations and their private armies.

    And you’d probably counter with something else you feel equally passionate about.

    And then nothing would change except we’d both think the other was narrow minded or naïve. This is where this discussion tends to lead.

    I wonder if there is anyplace where we could come to some agreement? I’d like to try. So let’s roll back all the typical arguments for and against gun ownership. Can we try that?

    Can we agree that what happened Friday was horrible and that we ought not tolerate it? That arguments that people will still kill people no matter if there are guns or not or how many bullets they have or not, still makes the senseless death of even 1 person intolerable?

    Can we agree that the cost to protect our personal liberties and protect our property and families by keeping and bearing arms as our laws and protections are currently structured includes 30,000 real human lives and that cost is too high?

    But if you think that is an acceptable cost, then I’d like to hear that too. I would love for the gun lobby to come out and say that our liberties are so fundamentally important that we, as a nation, need to accept the reality that some will die each year, as martyrs to protect those rights.

    Because that is what those kids in Connecticut are: Martyrs for the gun lobby so you can keep your guns.

  9. I think in order to understand the opposition to what I would consider minimally sensible gun controls, for example as it might apply to assault weapons, we need to understand the mentality that causes a "run" on buying these weapons when there is some indication that stronger gun control legislation might be on the table. What is the apparently overwhelming fear that causes folks to feel the need to go get one while they can, even though every credible analysis I can find would suggest that you are less safe, rather than more safe, by virtue of exercising this "right?"

  10. Rich C., thanks for the comment. I think you are right on the money regarding fear as a major motivator.

  11. Fear is correct, fear drives your side to want to ban guns, fear of losing our rights drives us to buy something before it is taken away, is one side right or wrong? Or is it a matter of opinion? Neither will agree on this. Yes there are a lot of people who are just wanting to buy something just because they think it will be good get one before they are gone and have no idea on what it truly means to be a gun owner. You may feel safer without a gun while we feel safer having guns for protection. Again, is anyone right? You really do not know until someone tries breaking into your home. I would rather prepare for the worst and hope for the best than do nothing.

  12. Dear Anonymous,
    I think we are getting to something here. Fear. And how much of what what we do and the choices we make are driven by that emotion. In my follow-up post to this one, I encourage a different approach. One motivated by love. That is how I choose to operate. I'm not perfect, and fear sometimes gains the upper hand, but it is an aspiration to let love lead me. Yes, I will not buy a gun and have one in my house. But, as your last line implies, I am not doing nothing. I have a big dog with a loud bark and an alarm system. Both are shown by research to be the better deterrents to intruders. The research I've seen suggests that a gun in the home is as likely if not more-so to be used on someone in the house. Plus we can cuddle with our dog.

    Call me naive, but I am going to take my chances with love.

    In peace,

  13. Hi, I personally have made the same choice John described, for largely the same reasons, but I guess for me there is also another consideration, and one that is not personal to me at all. While you, Anonymous, might be a very responsible gun owner, I am concerned about all of the gun owners who either are irresponsible, or simply through innocent carelessness fail to prevent their guns from being used for some purpose they did not intend. We have seen the result of some of these lapses in the news, and I have also experienced it personally. I believe that such outcomes are simply impossible to prevent, and moreover, that they are very common. Since there does not appear to be a better way to prevent such misfortune, I support stricter gun laws as one way to help do so. I know that this is not a perfect solution and I know that there are many contributing factors, in addition to guns, that should also receive consideration. However, I am willing to forego my own right and hope that others would do so as well, in exchange for hopefully reducing the chances that 20 innocent first graders and their teachers would become victims of such carelessness or irresponsibility. I said "reduces the chances" because I understand that it could still happen, but I do believe that the likelihood would be less.

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