Ben's New Study/Writer's Retreat/Super Villain Lair/Childhood Dream

You may have had this experience when you were a child. Some adult gave you a piece of paper, probably that kind that has lines on the bottom half and a space to draw on the top half, and asked you to draw/describe your ideal house or bedroom. If you are like me, you drew a castle. With robots inside. And lots of guns and swords and bows and arrows. And maybe a water slide snaking in and out of the windows, and a system of tunnels allowing for easy entry and escape underneath the moat filled with sharks and alligators. The adult did not tell you you could never achieve this dream. He/she did not say, "Um, Ben, that's a dumb idea. The water slide looks structurally unsound. Alligators and sharks probably wouldn't live together like that. I'm a little disturbed by all the weapons. This is a childish fantasy, and you should really get over it as soon as possible." If the adult had said that, we would all think that adult is a jerk.

But the world does say that, and we all accept it. Or most of us do, anyway.

Not me. I say the world is a big fat jerk.

My family just bought a new house. It's nothing too grand, just a cookie-cutter house that's virtually indistinguishable from the other houses on the street. Seriously, we've discussed what kind of tasteful lawn ornamentation we can buy that will help us identify our own house without making the new neighbors think we're too weird.

Inside, I get to be weird. I now have my own study/writer's retreat/super villain lair, and it is a childhood dream come true.

Warning: Some of you may find the images that follow to be childish. That's because you have been given advice from somebody who accepted some variation of the Apostle Paul's decision to become a man and "put aside such childish things." Sucker! The joke is on you! Do you know Paul's life story? He spend his adult life first helping the Pharisees and the Romans persecute and kill Christians. Then he went blind for a while. Then he spent the rest of his life building Christian congregations, getting shipwrecked, heckled, tossed in jail, and writing letters until his previous employers had him executed. But you know what he did to support himself financially while he was building those congregations? He built tents. Do you know what a three-year-old calls it when he tosses a blanket over the couch and a chair? A fort. Now, Paul was a true believer, so I'll bet he didn't look back over his adult life and wish he could trade in all the letter-writing and shipwreck-surviving for more time building forts. I'm sure he was happy with his choices. Personally, I'm a skeptic, so the whole executing people and then being executed thing does not sound glorious to me. It sounds unpleasant. Building forts? Cool.

The purpose of this epistle is not to evangelize for extended childhood. It's to show off the room that makes my wife shake her head and wonder how she could end up stuck with a man who has gone bald and grown a gut but somehow managed to get less mature during their fifteen years of marriage.

I started with a room. It looked like this, but slightly bigger and in three dimensions:

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Then I painted some lines on the walls. 20150226_015034 (800x450)


And more lines. Then I added color to some of the spaces.

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Then I did some sponge painting.

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Yep. I made a castle.

Then some friends helped my bring in my bookshelves and boxes of books. (Thanks to my moving buddies!)

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I populated the shelves.

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My college friends will like this one.

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Here's my book with statues of a couple of the characters (the Egyptian gods Sobek and Khepri).

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Here's a couple of my favs. Yoda. And Shakespeare. And Star Wars in Shakespeare's style.

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I like turtles.

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I think Virginia Wolf described this project succinctly.

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Not pictured but included in the room: swords, bows and arrows, guns, and lots of toys.

And yes, I do have a robot.



Is this room ridiculous and childish? Yep. And awesome. Should I put aside such childish things so I can be a normal soon-to-be-40 dad with a mini-van and a fantasy football team drowning his dead dreams in ironic Pabst? Nope. Should I get shipwrecked and tossed in jail and executed by Romans? Hell no! Adulthood blows. Build yourself a castle with a robot. Or whatever you wanted when you were 6. Because it's probably a whole lot more fun than what the world tells you to want now.

Now I'm going to go ask my wife if we can distinguish our cookie-cutter house by digging a trench, flooding it, and populating it with alligators and sharks. Just little ones. Classy, like a koi pond, but capable of repelling very small Visigoths. Wish me luck!



Return of the Liberal Gun Owner

In a previous post (“A Liberal’s Defense of Gun Ownership”), I tried to explain why an avowed lefty would own a gun (or a bunch of them). That was prompted by a direct challenge from my mother in the wake of the Aurora theater shooting. After the shooting in Newtown, I have been hesitant to weigh in, not because I don’t have strong feelings about the political issues that have arisen as a consequence, and not because it’s somehow impolite to talk about an incredibly important news story while it’s still news, but because I needed to spend some time reading the responses to this tragedy in order to formulate my thoughts. As a liberal, I am on a bunch of e-mail lists wherein pundits and politicians keep me up-to-date on the mainstream liberal party line and the radical left-wing version. Because I’m a gun owner and read up on gun-related subjects, I’ve also found my way onto the e-mail lists of the NRA and their ilk. As a public school teacher, I have been reading about how schools are supposed to respond. I’ve also been talking with real teachers who know a lot more about real schools than so-called “school reformers,” and I have a pretty good idea about the broad spectrum of responses teachers are voicing. Oh, and I’m also a human being, so thinking about those children and parents in Newtown is still emotionally overwhelming. I don’t have any insight into that grief, but I hope the confluence of a liberal, gun-owning, public school teacher might offer something useful to others.

First off, to my liberal sistren and brethren, please, please stop using the phrase “assault weapons.” I understand that you are referring to the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act of 1994, and I know that is commonly referred to as the “Assault Weapons Ban,” but you must understand that this doesn’t just close the ears of responsible gun owners because they have some knee-jerk antipathy towards a specific piece of legislation. It closes their ears because you sound ignorant. There is no such thing as an “assault weapon.” Don’t believe me? Go into your local gun store (I recommend that you don’t wear your Obama T-shirt for this outing) and see if they have a section marked “assault weapons.” Ask to see if there are any boxes for any guns marked “assault weapon.” When you find that there aren’t, ask the proprietor which of the guns in the store are, technically speaking, “assault weapons.” She may laugh at you. She may calmly explain that the term has no specific meaning. Either way, the answer will teach you a lot. You will come to understand why the 1994 “Assault Weapons Ban” was such a loophole riddled piece of legislation that it only successfully banned some dozen individual models of guns. You will also quickly deduce why gun owners are so resistant to talk of limited gun bans from people who clearly know so little about guns. After all, for all the talk about protecting the rights of hunters and other responsible gun owners, if the anti-gun advocates know so little about guns, isn’t it entirely plausible that any legislation they propose might be another toothless collection of loopholes? And isn’t it equally possible that legislation written by people who believe in mythical “assault weapons” might ban far more than they intended? As I tell my students, if you want to be taken seriously, you have to do your homework first.

For the sake of being “Fair and Balanced,” to my fellow citizens who find themselves on the other side of the political aisle, especially those who allow themselves to be swayed by the Fox News talking points, please, please try and be a tiny bit realistic when you blame violent movies and video games. First of all, this line of reasoning inevitably makes you sound a good forty years older than your real age. What’s next? Criticisms of the length of boys’ hair? The volume of rock and roll music? Pass me that crystal dish with the hard candy please, grandpa. Much like the mythical “assault weapons,” your definition of violent video games is so amorphous that even us casual gamers worry you’ll be banning just about everything. You do understand that Pac Man was about a yellow blob who was running for his life because he was being chased by murderous ghosts, only when he would devour a magical pill he gained the ability to incapacitate those ghosts temporarily by consuming them whole? Super Mario Brothers starred some plumbers who jumped on their enemies’ heads, stomping them to death, in an effort to rescue a kidnapping victim. The aforementioned Mario also starred in the game Donkey Kong, where he charged directly at an oversized primate who was trying to kill him by throwing barrels at him. What games would be left if violent video games were removed? Tetris and Pong would still be fine. And sports games like Madden Football… oh, wait.

And what about these violent movies that are corrupting our youth? The Godfather is probably the greatest movie ever made. In it, about twenty people are killed, more than half with guns, some with semi-automatic pistols, others with machine guns (those are assault rifles, which are real things, and not “assault weapons,” which don’t exist). Oh, and a really violent thing happens to a horse. Should we prevent people from seeing The Godfather because it is violent? What about Saving Private Ryan? Or Schindler’s List? Ah, you say, but those have historical, artistic, and socially redeeming value. Agreed. But did Steven Spielberg’s first short film, the one that led to Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List, have that same value? I don’t know, because I haven’t seen it. You probably haven’t either. But if we banned violent movies, I’m guessing it wouldn’t have seen the light of day based on nothing more than the fact that it was a Western titled The Last Gun. I’ll bet there’s some gun violence in it.

And if we’re going to even consider banning the viewing of violence because it could lead to real world violence, we should certainly start with 24 hours news networks that make their money by keeping their viewers continually angry and afraid.  Pundits spewing toxic amounts of vitriol and doom are far more dangerous than episodes of Tom and Jerry.

Now, to my teacher friends, here in Oregon, we have our resident rhetorical-bomb-throwing-boob in our state legislature who has suggested that teachers should arm themselves. I’m sure there are some teachers who would feel more comfortable if they were armed, but I have two reasons why I, as a responsible gun owner, would not. First, a big part of my job is making students feel comfortable in my classroom. Contrary to those who look back fondly on nuns hitting kids on the knuckles with rulers, I firmly believe that children learn better when they are not scared. People should have a healthy fear of guns. So when kids have that fear, and some have it exaggerated by the fact that they are kids, and other have it exaggerated by the fact that their home lives have given them even more reason to fear guns than should be warranted, their ability to learn will be diminished if they know I’m packing heat in class. Second, I would be afraid some kid would grab my gun and use it. Kids are impulsive, some dangerously so. The proximity of other teenagers makes kids more likely to do stupid things. I wouldn’t want one of those stupid things ending with some kid pulling my gun out of my holster while I’m trying to help another student correctly place a comma in a sentence.  So if Newtown inclines any teacher to consider carrying a gun into a classroom, especially one of my son’s classrooms, I hope that teacher will also remember Columbine or Kip Kinkle here in Oregon and imagine his or her own gun falling into the hands of someone like that.

As to the NRA’s idea of a police officer in every school, I think it’s a great idea, but not for the same reasons the NRA likes it. They like it because it gets the conversation away from gun bans. I like it because it’s government stimulus spending on unionized workers in every community in the country. I know that it might not prevent something like what happened in Newtown. As many critics have pointed out, Columbine had an armed guard. But as long as it means more cops in more schools showing kids that police officers are not scary, distant enemies but friendly, relatable public servants who keep them safe, that’s all to the good. My only caveats would be that the officers’ salaries and all their expenses must be fully funded by the feds so the money doesn’t come out of the local or state education budgets, the legislation has to be written so the police will be there for the long haul and not just until the next round of budget cuts, and the police officers must live in the communities where the school is located. If the deficit hawks in Congress will go for that, Obama should sign it immediately. Take the money out of the Homeland Security budget and call it an anti-terrorism measure. Because what we saw in Newtown is indisputably domestic terrorism.

Police in schools cannot be the end of the discussion, though (sorry, NRA). We need to massively beef up our mental health services in this country. My wife is a mental health counselor who works at a live-in facility for severely mentally ill children. The stuff she sees would break most people’s hearts. But you know what breaks hers? You know what broke the camel’s back the one and only time I saw her job bring her to tears? It was when a kid who needed care had to be sent away because his parents private insurance wouldn’t cover his care any longer. Yes, high quality mental healthcare is expensive. The facility where my wife works has a two-kids-to-one-adult ratio, and that’s spendy. But parents, good parents who love their children and are trying to do what is best for them, should not have to give up custody of their children and turn them over to the state just so the kids will qualify for state-sponsored insurance. These parents shouldn’t have to quit their good paying jobs where they contribute to their communities and pay the taxes that fund those services just so they can move to other states with better care and go on the public dole in order to get their kids the care they need. That’s stupid. That’s backwards. And that’s the system we have. Ramping up our mental healthcare infrastructure isn’t sexy and it won’t show an instant payoff in lowering mass shootings because the future killer you’re treating is still a little kid getting the help he needs today to avoid that fate years down the road. But when it comes to preventing mass shootings, even with its high price tag, robust mental health infrastructure is still going to be the biggest payoff. We just need politicians willing to do things that won’t show results until after their term has ended, and we need a public willing to admit that taxes are investments in our society’s future.

While we’re being realistic, we can do some serious things about guns without making up fictional categories of firearms. There is no good reason that the same background check that I have to go through when I buy a gun at a store shouldn’t be mandatory when I buy one from a friend or from a “friend” who sits behind a card table at a gun show. I understand that the most extreme conspiracists worry that a more robust national background check system is just a means for the evil government to find out where to come take guns from. Furthermore, they worry that limiting the ability of the mentally ill to acquire guns would be a means for a nefarious government to keep guns out of the hands of law abiding citizens. To both critiques, I say, cut your losses, guys. Just as teachers’ unions need to do a better job of making it clear that we don’t protect bad teachers (We don’t. It’s a lie that’s been repeated so much people think it’s true. We protect the contract and the process to keep it fair, but bad teachers CAN be fired if administrators do their jobs.), gun owners need to make it clear that they do not support putting guns in the hands of those who would hurt others or themselves. As we beef up mental health services, counselors should have to report those who are potentially dangerous or suicidal, and those people should not be able to buy guns. From anybody (see the gun show/ private party loophole above). People who sell guns to criminals or the mentally ill should be criminally liable as accomplices if those people commit gun crimes or shoot themselves. Keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people will do more to protect innocent people than trying to ban this gun or that gun.

To my fellow liberals and conservatives who’ve found common cause (or at least a common talking point) in protecting the rights of hunters and sportsmen, you are missing the purpose of the Second Amendment, and I think you’re doing so willfully. The Second Amendment is not about hunting. It’s about protecting yourself, your loved ones, and your property from your own government. Liberals don’t tend to like this amendment, but I think they should reconsider. I’ve made my share of jokes about the practicality of standing up to the U.S. military, with its complete arsenal of nuclear weapons, using common, handheld firearms (“assault weapons” or otherwise), but there’s something very real going on there. I’m not a hunter yet. The only thing I’ve ever killed with a gun was the gopher in my mother-in-law’s garden that she’d winged but was unwilling to shoot point-blank with a .22 to put it out of its misery. I plan on learning to hunt goose and duck during this next year, though. But even as I’m serving some succulent duck to my family (let’s be honest: I’ll probably overcook it the first few times, so I’ll be serving dry duck to my family), I’ll be fully aware that the founding fathers did not write the Second Amendment to make sure my family had duck to eat. They wrote it because governments can do horrible things to their own citizens. Just ask Japanese-Americans. And who, in our modern America, is most likely to be labeled as a potential traitor who should be rounded up and shipped off to a camp? Though I’m proud and grateful that I’ve never been involved with any group that has even hinted at armed insurrection (peaceful protest is not only more moral, but more effective), those of us who have marched in pro-union rallies and Occupy protests shouldn’t be too quick to believe we wouldn’t be on the short list if a very small, tyrannical minority ever managed to take power. As I’ve said many times, I hope to live my whole life without ever pointing a gun at another human being, but if that 1% of tyrants had a hard time rounding up jack-booted thugs to drag Americans out of their beds because they had very complete data telling them that a lot of those Americans were armed, if that knowledge made them think twice about kicking down the doors of “traitors” and “subversives” and liberal public school teachers, then the Second Amendment is doing its job, and in that unlikely (but not impossible or even historically unprecedented) dystopia, we’ll be glad it was there in the Bill of Rights. 

Lastly, let’s acknowledge that we could do everything in our power, beef up mental health care, close every gun purchasing loophole, ban this gun and that gun, hell, ban the sale of every gun and start kicking down doors to get the old ones melted down, and we still might not be able to prevent the next Newtown. We also wouldn’t be any closer to understanding this terrible, tragic, and ultimately incomprehensible act. If the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School has compelled us to reevaluate some public policies, let’s harness that energy to make good ones, but let’s acknowledge that we will be more successful at preventing some of the thousands of other deaths in this country than at preventing the kinds of mass killings we simply cannot comprehend. If we maintain a focus on doing what we can do, and on doing it well, we might manage wrest a little bit of something meaningful from this mindless horror. I worry that, if we only focus on this one tragedy and the specific models of guns chosen by a madman, we’ll fall back into pointless bickering, do nothing, and insult the memories of those we’ve lost.

A Liberal’s Defense of Gun Ownership

In the wake of the shooting in Colorado, my mom voiced a question I expect many people are asking right now.

 "Can someone please tell me why the NRA would defend anyone's ‘Constitutional Right’ to own two 40-caliber Glock handguns, a Remington 870 single-barrel pump shotgun, and a Smith and Wesson AR-15 assault-style rifle? Benjamin Gorman, I just don't get it!"

I owe my mother an explanation, partly because I'm her son and she asked, partly because I'm a gun owner who was raised to fear and detest guns (especially handguns), but mostly because, when I got my concealed-and-carry permit and they asked me for the name of reference, I wrote down my mom's name. I think she deserves a reply.

Mom's question is actually three questions. Why should anyone have these guns? Should this be a right? And, if it is a right, why should the NRA defend that right?

First off, let's address those guns specifically. I don't own a Glock because there are specific things I don't like about them, but I have a Ruger 9mm semi-automatic handgun. I don't have an AR-15, but I have a carbine which some people would call an "assault-style" gun. I own a .22 and a youth 410 (that will be my son's when he's old enough). I don't own a pump action shotgun, but that's the next thing on my gun buying list. There are myriad reason for owning firearms, and I can't speak for all of them. Personally, I had multiple reasons. First and foremost, I started researching guns because I write novels (nothing published) and I wanted to be able to write as knowledgeably as the story demanded. The more I learned, the more I realized there's a whole world of knowledge I was unaware of. Could I have done all my learning simply by reading about guns? Certainly. A decent writer could also write believably about bicycles without ever riding one, and a moral writer should be able to write about murder without committing one, so if I felt that gun ownership was wrong, then my writing would be no excuse. But I'd also come to believe that gun ownership is not immoral. Few question a hunter's right to own a gun. Even fewer question a police officer's right to carry one, even in an urban setting. We allow these people to carry guns because we believe that most of them will be responsible. They will use these firearms to feed their families and to protect themselves, and us, from those who would do us harm. Implicit in this permission is an acknowledgement that there are those who would use guns to dangerous ends. Not only are there hunters who misuse guns (and police officers, too) but there are those who would use guns to do us all harm. Consequently, as I see it, we have three choices: We could try to create a society without any firearms. We could allow people to have guns and hope they will be responsible citizens. Or we could have some mixture in which guns are regulated but those who prove themselves responsible (mind you, prove themselves to some government official) are permitted to have guns.

I used to argue for a society without guns. When my in-laws first heard I'd never fired a handgun, their jaws dropped to the floor like something out of a cartoon. But even after firing some of my brother-in-law's guns, I would argue for strict handgun bans by saying I would give up that enjoyable experience to bring back just one innocent child killed by a handgun someone irresponsibly left sitting on their coffee table. That was a pretty effective (emotionally manipulative) argument, but it rang more and more hollow in my own ears as I grew older. Taking guns away from people responsible enough to follow the law doesn’t bring back the dead, and it might not prevent future tragedies. Certainly every accidental death caused by firearms is a tragedy, but would I give up my right to own a gun if it meant I couldn't protect my own son's life? And do I have the right to make that choice for anyone else? Even a world with no guns at all wouldn't entirely alleviate this concern. Sure, I'm no ninja super-hero myself, but do I get to tell a five-foot tall, 100 lb. mom that she has to defend her children from a much larger armed assailant without a gun? (My wife is one of these five-foot tall, 100 lb. moms. I wouldn't dare tell her what she couldn't do in defense of our son.) Plus, can we please admit that the notion of an America without guns is painfully naive? As a liberal, I'm horrified by the notion some hold that we should round up 15 million illegal immigrants and deport them on cattle cars. To me, the idea of police breaking into and searching every house in America in search of guns that haven't been voluntarily turned over is equally repellent, and even more impractical. There will be guns. And let’s remember that a word without guns wouldn't necessarily be a safer one. This guy in Colorado may have killed a dozen innocent people with his guns, but Timothy McVeigh did a lot worse with a van and garbage cans full of fertilizer. The terrorists who killed all those people in the Tokyo subway system lived in a country that's a model for handgun control. And the 9/11 terrorists used box cutters.

(Now, if I’m being totally honest about my motivations, I should also confess that, despite my ridicule of the paranoia of the right, I also harbor concerns some would dismiss as paranoia. Though I maintain my commitment to a kind of open-minded skepticism, I find supernatural apocalyptic scenarios exceedingly unlikely. I’m not concerned with the Rapture, the return of Quetzalcoatl, or the misreading of a Mayan calendar, but I do worry that our civilization is more tenuous than we like to admit. Possible man-made causes, like Peak Oil, a series of severe natural disasters precipitated by global warming, or even massive currency devaluation caused by a shaky international monetary system could potentially lead to circumstances that would make government overreach look like the better alternative. In that chaos, I’d like to know how to use a gun safely and effectively to protect my family. To me, this seems just as sensible as having a fire extinguisher or a first aid kit, but I know that even speculating about the fall of our civilization would cause some people to dismiss me as a kook. Oh, and then there’s always the potential Zombie Apocalypse…)

So, if we acknowledge the reality that we can't get rid of all the guns we already have, we could adopt a complete laissez faire attitude toward guns. I think that might be the position of the NRA, or at least of many of its members, but it's not mine. If the rationale for gun ownership is based on this free-for-all attitude, and is inspired by the Founders' idea that people need guns to defend themselves from their own government, then people should be able to have any weapon accessible to the military. That's madness. I may be comfortable with my neighbors owning guns, but I don't trust any of them with nuclear weapons, least of all the kind of neighbor paranoid enough to get into an arms race with his own government.

Since we can't get rid of guns and shouldn't take away a person's ability to defend him or herself in a world with guns, but also can't allow anyone to have any weapon they want, we need to find a balanced approach that preserves ownership rights for those we find to be most likely to handle the responsibility, while keeping guns out of the hands of people likely to misuse them. We also need to be reasonable about what guns we allow people to purchase legally. This tragedy in Colorado doesn't shed much light in the latter question. The guns he had were not only legal, but should be legal within such a balanced framework. Glocks are self-defense weapons, the most popular choice of police departments. The AR-15 is certainly a military grade weapon, but semi-automatics are practical for home defense, too; you wouldn't want to have to rack a round between each shot if you were being attacked. Lastly, the pump action shotgun, in my opinion, is the best weapon for home defense because it has the added feature of producing a universally recognizable sound that can ward off an intruder before a single shot is fired. As someone who hopes to never fire a gun in the direction of another human being, I find that very attractive, and I would expect that those favoring gun regulation would, too. Unfortunately, this particular act could have been carried out if the man had carried in a coat and belt full of loaded six-shot revolvers from the late 1800s. Though this instance doesn't tell us much about what guns to outlaw, it certainly tells us that we need to beef up our mental health services. I don't know anything about this assailant yet, but I can perform a layman's diagnosis and assert that he was ill. Now, I have heard concerns from more ardent gun-rights supporters who are even leery of limiting the rights of the mentally ill. Their rationale is that a corrupt government could use the pretext of mental illness to systematically take away gun owner's rights. I find this unpersuasive. Any government that had the ability to systematically separate massive numbers of people from their guns without the consent of the majority wouldn't need any pretext at all. Conversely, a government still beholden to its people couldn't successfully convince them that all gun owners were diagnosably mentally ill without broadening the definition of severe mental illness so much that it would be meaningless. Consequently, I have no problem limiting the right to bear arms to prevent the severely mentally ill from purchasing guns, much as we prevent felons from doing so. I know our purchasing systems are porous, and unlike some on the more extreme fringe, I don't have a problem with background checks, waiting periods, and other measures that keep guns out of the hands of criminals or (potentially) the ill.

But even that relies on a certain trust in the government's commitment to the right to own guns. I think gun-rights advocates undermine their own case when they go too far, always presupposing the worst form of tyranny. If the right to bear arms is to be protected, it's most easily done by working within the system, with the government, to show the people that gun rights are designed to help law abiding citizens. All the "from my cold, dead hands" rhetoric presumes a government that wouldn't be cowed by a constitution anyway. As long as gun owners want to maintain a legally protected right, rather than having it obviated by an anti-gun majority, we should seek to promote, enforce, and maintain the kinds of regulations that keep guns out of the hands of the kinds of people who would turn the majority against gun ownership.

But that's political tactics and policy, not the underlying principle. Most fundamentally, we do have the right to bear arms (just ask President Obama, the first democratic president and former constitutional law scholar to assert that he interprets the second amendment to guarantee an individual's right) and furthermore, we should have that right. Beyond hunting and self-defense, a well-armed populace is a check on the government. Our government has been beholden enough to its white, male, land owning citizens, that it's easy enough for some of us to forget some of its excesses and injustices. But think of all the Americans who haven't been afforded the most basic rights. We have to acknowledge that those rights could be removed again. After all, Japanese Americans had their rights suspended during the internment. So, since we know it's possible, we should also acknowledge that the government is far less likely to do something like that again knowing so many of its citizens are armed. It's a raw check on government overreach, I'll admit. It has none of the beauty of crisp, fresh, free newsprint , none of the biting wit of satire, none of the nobility of an independent judiciary, none of the simplicity of the ballot box. It's not my favorite check on government power. It's not even the most efficient. But it is the last check.

If it's a right worth having, it's a right that needs defending. In just the last few years, we've seen what happens when people won't stand up for the right to habeas corpus; extraordinary renditions, parallel courts, torture. You might not like gun owners any more than you like people accused of being in Al Qaeda, but just as those people deserve to have their rights protected, gun owners deserve to have theirs protected, too. And for the same reason: Just as you could someday be falsely accused of a crime and be protected by those brave enough to stand up even for accused terrorists, you could someday find yourself in a position that causes you to second-guess your decision not to own a gun, and those supposed villains who defended the rights of this crazy guy in Colorado would instantly become the heroes who defended your rights, too.
Now, as for the NRA, I can't speak for them specifically. As much as I respect those who stand up for all our rights, I can't stomach the NRA’s complete submission to the Republican Party. I also don't understand their irrational antipathy towards President Obama. He's actually been very good to gun owners, not only asserting the individual right to bear arms, but opening up federal lands to hunters under their individual state laws. I'm not positive, but I'm pretty sure he opened up more previously restricted land to guns than any president ever. So why are they so devoted to getting rid of him? Partly it's the paranoid style of the American right which always assumes that, despite any evidence, the other shoe is about to drop and the communist plot will be revealed. Also, they hate this new UN restriction on the illegal international firearms trade, despite the fact that it explicitly allows for the import of any guns that meet the laws of the receiving country. Personally, I think that’s pretty weak, since some of the receiving countries would turn those guns over to terrorists immediately, but then we don’t look to the U.N. because of its track record of strong enforcement. There’s some concern among gun owners that the ban will create bottlenecks in the legal supply chain, but this presupposes that some of that chain depends on the illegal import and export of firearms, something that should be curtailed anyway. Beyond these fears, the ban plays into paranoia about some evil UN led “One World Government,” the kind of conspiracy theory I find ridiculous because politicians and bureaucrats, in my experience, just aren't smart enough or well organized enough to pull something like that off.

Despite my disdain for the NRA, I am a card carrying member of the Liberal Gun Club, and I'm glad there are people on both sides of the aisle protecting our right to bear arms. Tragedies like the one in Colorado, much like the events of 9/11, incline us to make reactionary decisions based on our horror and our fear of our own inability to explain the circumstances. Those who want to prevent violence would do well to take a deep breath and remember that such snap judgments all too often lead to even greater horrors. After all, we responded to thousands of deaths on 9/11 by killing or displacing a million people in Iraq. Since murder rates in this country have been consistently declining for decades, we can’t allow our outrage at this anomalous event in Colorado to motivate us to do anything, especially curtailing our most fundamental rights, without carefully weighing all the potential consequences. 

Addendum: Apparently my fellow liberals aren't the only ones who are inclined to be reactionary when it comes to guns. Here's a great take-down of one of Bill O'Reilly's uninformed rants: "Bill, You Ignorant Slut" by Robert Farago. 

Addendum II: And I'm not completely opposed to this proposal, either, though I don't think it would have had any bearing on the events in Colorado. "Regulate Guns Like Cars"