Sunday, July 22, 2012

Gun Control and Other Topics

I have been working occasionally trying to find a suitable replacement for blogger, and have not yet done so. Since I am still able to use the old interface, and I have some things to say, I'm back here for the time being... So without any further delay...

Gun Control & Aurora, CO

Full disclosure: I don't own a gun. I don't like guns - they make loud noises, and I hate the smell of exploded gunpowder. In the wrong hands they're dangerous.

The tragic events in Aurora were not perpetrated by a gun. They were performed by a crazy dude with a beef against the world. I am among those compassionate people who feel bad for those victims of that event and their families. It was a needless, senseless killing spree. Yet another domestic act of terrorism. Yes, crazy white American men are capable of terrorism too, with weapons of mass destruction. Chew on that for a few seconds...

That said, when I see people say that this is a reason for stricter gun control or the outlaw of guns entirely, I see misguided people. In fact, I was extremely disappointed when I saw someone I have (had) great respect for "think on automatic" ... well, let me just quote this and let them say it in their own words:
Outlier or not, the amount of power guns gave him was disproportionate to how much he SHOULD have had. Dozens wounded and killed. By one person. That's too much.

IS the right to own guns more important than those lives? I don't think so. And we have many non-lethal ways to protect ourselves, from pepperspray to tazers to martial arts, to even just a baseball bat. I'm sorry, but the right to own guns does NOT outweigh all those injured and dead. Does NOT.
...and continues to stay on-topic with this line of thinking.

On this line of thinking, we should get rid of everything "unnecessary" that kills people. Let's start with alcoholic beverages. My understanding is that more people are killed as a result of alcohol-involved activity than gun violence. But never mind that. There are many other ways to obtain hydration, so alcohol is unnecessary. One death is too many. Ban it. While we're on hydration, the nannies in government feel that soft drinks are feeding an "epidemic of obesity" that is killing our people. One person who dies because of soft drinks is too many. Ban 'em. Would you like me to go on? (nonononnonono!!) Good. That's my point.

I don't like guns. I am a compassionate person. However, I also understand that many of the things we do can, in the wrong hands, be dangerous or deadly. Guns are tools on ranches and in other locations. There are people who collect guns, because they enjoy it. Hey, it isn't my hobby, but they probably don't enjoy computer networking either. The old cliche is correct: guns don't kill people, people do. In this case, someone who perpetrated one of the worst civilian mass-murders in the history of our country. It is clear that he would have killed in spite of not having access to a gun. The elaborate booby-trapping of his apartment is proof of that. Other gun violence would simply be replaced by other weapons. People who are on a violent power trip are not limited by the availability of guns. Guns are not the problem here.

The question we should be asking ourselves (with a sincere attempt to avoid knee-jerk answers and solutions) is why people in our modern society still have such violent tendencies? Why do we seek-out violence for entertainment? I volunteer at an animal shelter, and it is clear to me that many people treat helpless animals with complete contempt. It has been said that the way people treat animals is a good indication of the kind of compassion they truly have for human life. As I have so eloquently (perhaps?) said in previous postings here, it is time to start asking and looking for answers to these really hard questions instead of banning things as a knee-jerk, feel-good response to violent and inhumane behavior.

Smoking Bans

While I'm speaking about banning stuff, I'd like to now speak out the other side of my mouth for a moment because the topic of smoking bans has resurrected itself a few times.

Full disclosure: I am adversely impacted by so-called "second-hand" smoke, and support most smoking bans.

You'd think with what I just said about gun control, I would be against smoking bans...and on that, you'd be wrong. I have a great deal of respect for Penn & Teller and their program Bullshit!, but I feel they missed the mark with smoking. Why? That program, and those who are pretty much against smoking bans, point to bad and misleading research about the negative effects of second-hand smoke. I have not done the investigation they have, so I'm going to assume that they are correct, even though my gut feeling is that there is likely better evidence to show that second-hand smoke does present some significant health risks. I'm going to take it from a different angle. A significant number of people, I being one of them, do have adverse reactions to smoke. I don't just dislike the smell. It causes serious respiratory distress to me.

Just for a moment, let's replace tobacco smoke with mud, and let's replace the delivery device (cigarette, cigar, pipe) with a straw (or someone's hand). Anne is an adult who likes to sling mud around to relax herself. Mud is a legal substance, and there are no laws on the books that specifically outlaw the slinging of mud. Anne has a great time sucking up mud in a straw then blowing it all over everyone and everything in her path. Then, when she's done, she tosses the straw on the ground and walks away. Betty walks by during one of Anne's mud-slinging activities and her clothes become spattered with mud. She has mud all over her face, and now needs to go home and clean it off and clean her clothes. She smells like dirt. She has gotten dirt in her mouth, and it isn't clear whether this will have any future health effects. Betty gets angry with Anne for being inconsiderate and slinging her mud all over the place. Anne asserts her right to sling mud since mud is a legal substance and there's no law preventing her from doing so.

This is how I see this situation with smoking. In reality, Anne has the right to sling her mud so long as she doesn't impact the rights of others around her. She can sling mud in her home, in her back yard (again, provided the mud remains in her yard and not those around her), and where people gather for slinging mud. However, to do so in a public space or where people who would not reasonably expect to be spattered with mud would probably be considered (in legal terms) as assault...or maybe a destruction of property. Throwing the straw on the ground is littering. People who smoke do the same thing as Anne. They adversely impact those around them with little means of escape. People end up with their clothing smelling like smoke, and for those who get respiratory distress, leave them with that distress. It is tantamount to assault. For those majority of cigarette smokers who simply throw their used butts on the ground, it is littering all the same.

If someone wants to smoke, they can do so in their home, or in a place where people would typically gather to smoke. You want to open a cigar bar, go right ahead and do so. Understand, though, that smoking tobacco products, whether or not you believe the research about second-hand smoke or the use of it is misleading or wrong, still has a negative impact on those around the smoker. This is why I support the ban of smoking in the workplace and in most public places. Your right to smoke ends where my right to clean air begins.

Drug Legalization

Full disclosure: I don't do drugs. I don't like drugs. I think people under the influence are problematic (no, I won't elaborate). I feel alcohol is a drug. I really don't enjoy being around people doing drugs, in spite of how entertaining their drug-induced state may be.

It's funny how every time someone decides they want to infringe on the rights of someone else to do something they don't like, it becomes a "war on {something}." The so-called war on drugs is among the most insane ineffective waste of money ever initiated by the US government (the war on terror, however, is overtaking the drug war). Look at what the prohibition of drugs has given us: Mexican drug cartels, people in jail because they used drugs (only to come out as more hardened criminals), loads and loads of laws and law enforcement entirely centered around drug use. Has it prevented people from doing drugs? Nope. Has it created lots of black markets for drugs and associated criminal violence that comes with it? Yup. So instead of Johnny getting high and maybe doing something stupid (potentially even hurting someone in that state), we have Mexican drug cartels and many deaths of innocent people. Does anyone else see what's wrong here?

Enough already. Legalize pot. Seriously. The State of California can place stickers all over the stuff saying that they know that taking these substances will cause one to act stupid, or (for other drugs) become seriously physically dependent on the substance. For heaven's sake, just end the madness already. The only caveat I have is that anything you do on drugs you're fully responsible for. That's right, if you take "bath salts" and start chewing on someone, then it's assault. You get arrested and thrown in jail for that. So pick your drug of choice wisely. We also won't have any sympathy when you become hooked on heroin, and you're going through withdrawl, or you overdose and die. Don't get in a car and drive under the influence, or you'll end up (minimally) with a DUI, and perhaps even with a vehicular homicide charge. Stay at home, put on some headphones, play some groovy music, and take your pot or other drug, and just leave everyone else alone.

Keep teaching that drugs are bad. They are. People have the means at their disposal to do all kinds of stupid things with what they have available to them. The best way to combat that is to teach them how to be reasonable, functional, rational human beings. The money we get back from the war on drugs could be much better spent on education, to get people where they're smart enough to not do drugs. If you give a person a fish, they eat for a day. If you teach a person to fish, they eat for a lifetime. Unless, of course, they don't fish. Teach them to pick berries instead!

Summary

I chose these topics because they deal with bans of all kinds. Sometimes you just have to prohibit certain behavior, because it's harmful. Sometimes you need to let people just do what they're going to do, and try to show them how to be responsible. Sometimes, you need to realize that while it is tempting to ban some thing to solve the problem, the right thing to do is to get at the root of the problem itself and start working on it.

Be good. Be good to each other and the Earth around us. It's important.

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