Why Fox Sports’ Jason Whitlock is Wrong About Guns
By Ken K. Gourdin
Foxsports.com columnist Jason Whitlock weighed in on the recent murder-suicide committed by Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher against his girlfriend (and the mother of his child) Kasandra Perkins at the following address, last accessed today: http://www.msn.foxsports.com/nfl/story/jovan-belcher-kansas-city-chiefs-murder-suicide-tragedy-girlfriend-self-leave-orphan-daughter-why-still-playing-sunday-120112.
Whitlock writes, “What I believe is, if he [Belcher] didn’t possess [or] own a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.” Whitlock errs in concluding that limiting one’s choice of weapon is capable of rooting out the evil impulses from the human heart which so often result in acts—acts which are malicious by the perpetrator, and which are tragic for victims—such as this. If one is determined to end another’s life, that perpetrator will find a way to do so even if the only weapon available is one’s bare hands.
As the son of a career law enforcement officer who spent 43 years on the job and who responded to more than his share of scenes involving loss of life (the majority of those involving death by one’s own hand), I can testify that someone bent on murdering others or on harming himself will find a way to commit those deeds regardless whether the list of available implements is reduced by one.
“Handguns do not enhance our safety,” Whitlock writes. “They exacerbate our flaws, tempt us to escalate arguments, and bait us into embracing confrontation rather than avoiding it.” The problem with all of those assertions is that they are gross overgeneralizations. Whether handguns enhance safety or whether they place it further at risk depends entirely upon how they are used and upon the user’s mindset. The same is true of whether handguns escalate arguments and whether they tempt us to seek out confrontation or whether they persuade others to avoid it.
Granted, in every case in which it is possible to do so, one should leave the neutralization of deadly and highly dangerous threats to those who are best trained to confront them who have taken oaths to do so: soldiers or law enforcement officers. There are rare occasions, however, in which it is not possible to leave such protection to professionals, and in which one must take such protection into his or her own hands. That’s part of the reason why there’s a Second Amendment in the United States Constitution, and why Whitlock is wrong to call for disarming the general public. Having said that, I’ll concede that most often, threats calling for the use of deadly force by private citizens occur not in public places, but rather in private homes and before there is time to summon law enforcement.
Still, I’ll further concede that even where the law permits one to meet a threat of deadly force with like force, if one can neutralize a threat without resorting to such extreme measures, he should do so—not because resorting to such force would be wrong, but rather because, unless one is a psychopath or a sociopath, one is neither psychologically nor sociologically “well-engineered” to use deadly force on his or her fellow human beings.
The prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder even among professionals who are tasked with protecting the general public and who have been involved in incidents calling for the use of deadly force would seem to illustrate the potential harmful psychological effects of using deadly force experienced even by a user who is well trained, well prepared, and well equipped. Contrary to the widespread public perception, very few law enforcement officers and soldiers are “trigger-happy.”
Some may ask the question, how can one neutralize a threat of deadly force without resorting to deadly force himself? There are occasions, however, in which one may be seriously outgunned by an exceptionally well-armed, well-prepared, determined perpetrator—a perpetrator such as James Holmes, who shot dozens of moviegoers in a theater in Aurora, Colo. What, then, besides deadly force, might neutralize even such a grave threat as that? The answer is, anything which serves to distract him from his murderous purposes, and such a distraction need not be a weapon: it may be as simple as a portable bright light or something which emits a loud noise, thereby disorienting him. Such distracting and disorienting measures can buy precious seconds needed for people to make their escape.
Nor is calling for disarming the general public Whitlock’s only mistake. In a radio interview after publishing the piece, Whitlock equated gun use with racism, and the National Rifle Association with the loathsome Ku Klux Klan: “I believe the NRA is the new KKK,” he said. (See the following address, last accessed today: http://www.opposingviews.com/i/society/crime/audio-gun-control-columnist-jason-whitlock-compares-nra-kkk.) Whatever room for disagreement there may be with the NRA’s aims and with acts the organization takes to further those aims, not only is such a comparison inapt, it is reprehensible. It removes the personal responsibility of sentient beings capable of free choice from the equation entirely, placing it, instead, upon inanimate objects. It degrades his own race by casting its members as incapable of such free choice. And it ignores logic by implying that only whites are perpetrators and only blacks are victims, when abundant evidence exists that most blacks are murdered, not by whites, but by other blacks. See page 13 of the PDF document located at the following address, last accessed today: http://www.bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/htus8008.pdf.
One cannot arrive at a successful solution to a problem unless one first can correctly characterize it, as Whitlock fails to do. And even if one correctly characterizes the problem, one cannot effectively respond to it if one employs faulty logic, as Whitlock does.
Update, December 15, 2012: Reaction in Light of the Mass Shooting/Suicide at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. – With the recent mass shooting/suicide at a Connecticut elementary school, calls to restrict possession of certain types of weapons no doubt will be renewed. True, one may (rightly, in my view) question the wisdom of permitting the sale, possession, and use of high-capacity, high-power, rapid-fire weapons by private citizens. It is difficult (if not impossible) to imagine legitimate reasons why non-military, non-law enforcement members of the public at large would need to possess or to use such weapons. However, three considerations mean that such restrictive measures are unlikely to be the panacea their supporters claim: changing the law will not persuade those who violate laws already on the books suddenly to become law abiding; changing the law will not change the human heart; and, at most, changing the law simply will force a would-be mass killer to resort to other (equally-deadly if not more deadly) methods.
First, regardless of what the law says, if someone wants such a weapon he will find a way to get it. It defies logic to suggest that, although one is determined to violate the law by killing people on the one hand, if the weapon or ammunition he wishes to use to facilitate that killing is outlawed, he will suddenly turn into a law-abiding citizen on the other hand and will cease his efforts to obtain what the law has now rendered contraband.
Second, as I pointed out in the main body of my response to Mr. Whitlock, banning a certain type of weapon will do nothing to eradicate the evil impulses of the human heart which lead to such weapons being used for destructive purposes. As long as such impulses emanate from the human heart, innocent people will always be at risk. As much as the law tries to eliminate such risk, total elimination is impossible: the best the law can hope for is mitigating the risk and compensating the harm resulting from the risk.
And third, an especially determined, well-prepared, ingenious perpetrator will find a way to cause mass death even without such a weapon. The law is not agile enough to keep up with that ingenuity, nor will it ever be: perpetrators will find new ways to cause death (including mass death) even if, as I note in my response to Mr. Whitlock, the list of available implements is reduced by one.
Update: 14 January 2013
Oda’s and Vilos’s proposal to arm teachers misses the mark
Author’s Note: Response to the Connecticut school shooting has been swift and voluminous. Among the respondents were Curt Oda and Mitch Vilos, who published an op-ed in the December 18, 2012 edition of The Salt Lake Tribune. While headlines ultimately are the responsibility of editors rather than writers, and while I do not recall what the headline was in the print edition, the headline may illustrate part of the problem: “The simple solution to school shootings.” Potential solutions to such complicated problems rarely are simple. The volume and rapidity of responses to this incident lessened the likelihood that my op-ed would be published, so I did not submit it anywhere for publication (nor did I finish it before its timeliness diminished).
This is in response to Curt Oda’s and Mitch Vilos’s Dec. 18 op-ed regarding the Sandy Hook (Conn.) school shooting,“The simple solution to school shootings”), available on line at http://www.sltrib.com/csp/cms/sites/sltrib/pages/printerfriendly.csp?id=55481892, last accessed today.
Oda and Vilos are right in their assertion that more laws aren’t likely to solve gun violence, including mass killing. Those who propose a legal solution to the problem err in logic: those who are determined to break the law by committing murder will not suddenly turn law abiding once the weapons they wish to use to do so are outlawed. However, Oda and Vilos are wrong to overstate the likelihood that an armed member of the general public will neutralize an armed would-be mass murderer in a public venue such as a mall, a school, or a movie theater.
Oda and Vilos also are right that a legal solution isn’t likely to solve the problem because the fact is, if someone wishes to secure high-capacity, high-power weapons and ammunition in order to inflict mass pain and death on innocent people, that person will find a way to do so regardless of whether those items are legal or not. (If such a person were interested in obeying the law he would not plan to murder anyone in the first place, and thus would have no need of such items).
Even if one bent on inflicting such mass pain and death is unsuccessful in obtaining his weapons of choice due to a ban, he will still find a way to carry out his murderous purposes. Try as it might, the law cannot keep up with the evil ingenuity of one who is determined to kill large numbers of people. Once one method is banned, another will be invented.No law can root out the evil impulses which arise in the hearts and minds of those who murder innocent people.
Oda and Vilos are wrong, however, in supposing that one or more armed citizens effectively can repel the threat of an especially well-armed, well-equipped, determined perpetrator. The place where a need of deadly force in self defense is most likely to arise (and to be effective) is not in a crowded public venue such as a mall, a school, or a movie theater; rather, it is within the walls of one’s own home.
Many self defense experts advise that the best counteractive measures against a heavily-armed, well-prepared perpetrator in public are not the light arms and minimal ammunition usually carried by the armed public; rather, such measures are those which distract him (even momentarily) from his murderous purposes. Such measures can be as simple as devices which emit loud noises or pulses of bright light. No special training or licensure is required to possess or use them, nor are there any restrictions on such possession and use, nor is there a considerable risk that they will put innocent people at greater risk, as meeting deadly force with deadly force might.
Update, January 18, 2013: Response to President Obama’s Gun Control Executive Orders Following the Sandy Hook Shootings – President Obama has now issued a series of Executive Orders presumably aimed at combating gun violence such as the Sandy Hook massacre, which resulted in the deaths of 20 children and eight adults in Connecticut. It’s difficult to imagine how the president wouldn’t have wanted a connection to be drawn between the measures he has taken and what occurred at Sandy Hook, since he, shamefully, in my view, used many of the surviving children of that tragedy as props for the photo op which accompanied his signing of the orders.
As I have already noted, most any gun-control measure fatally presupposes that someone who is determined to use guns or ammunition illegally (i.e., who is determined to use them to kill innocent people) will be deterred from doing so by laws (or by Executive Orders) outlawing their mere acquisition. It’s as though proponents of such measures believe that a would-be killer will say to himself, “Dang! I wanted to kill Bill [or a few dozen ‘Bills’], but now that the guns and ammunition I wanted to use to do so are illegal, I won’t be able to do that! Shoot!” (Pun intended?)
As the original purchaser of the guns she owned, Nancy Lanza passed any background checks and other measures intended to prevent those who should not have such weapons from gaining access to (or from using) them. None of these measures, however, prevented her son, Adam Lanza, from stealing those guns and using them to perpetrate the Sandy Hook massacre. Likewise, none of the measures favored by the president which are aimed at (among other things) improving background checks, would have done anything to prevent it. If they cannot get such weapons legally, those who wish to use them for illegal, i.e. murderous, purposes will find a way to acquire them illegally from those who have acquired them legally: they will simply steal them.
While I do not have children, if I did, I would spare no efforts to reassure them (especially following such an incident as this) that I would do everything within my power to prevent such a tragedy as this from happening to them. I would reassure them that most of the adults in their lives (relatives, friends, teachers, police officers, and others) share that same commitment. Our children do need to feel, and to be, safe. However, as their age permits, I would also acquaint them with the sad, unavoidable facts that sometimes people do awful things, and that (try as we might), none of the adults in their lives can prevent those people from doing those awful things. I would teach my children that no one should steal, and that no one should kill innocent people. However, I would also teach them to follow the simple logic that if someone is determined enough seriously to break the law by killing someone else, he’s probably not going to follow any laws which say he cannot have a gun or that he should not steal one.
Update: 19 February 2013
Recent Tragic Events, and Legislative and Executive Responses Thereto, in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s D.C. v. Heller Decision
By Ken K. Gourdin
Given the furor over the meaning of the United States Constitution’s Second Amendment in light of recent tragic events in Connecticut, in Colorado, and elsewhere, as well as President Obama’s recent attempts to restrict the Second Amendment via Executive Order and his encouragement of Congress to restrict it via legislation, I thought that a note on the majority’s opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller would be timely.
I thought that an examination of a majority of the United States Supreme Court in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. _____ (2008) which overturned lower courts’ interpretation of the right as embracing only a collective right to bear arms as a part of a militia, (slip opinion accessed at http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/07pdf/07-290.pdf on February 19, 2013), the Court declared that the Second Amendment’s provision that “the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” is an individual right rather than a collective one, and that individuals have that right separate and apart from service in a militia.
The majority’s analysis is semantic in nature, and includes analysis of the Amendment’s individual terms. The analysis includes, in turn, examination of the term, “the people,” and the words “keep,” “bear,” and “arms.” The majority is critical of the minority’s attempt to confine these terms to idiosyncratic and esoteric meanings (my terms) rather than applying their commonly understood meanings in interpreting the Amendment.
The majority first analyzed the term “the people,” turning for guidance to all of the other instances of the term in the Constitution. It concludes, “[I]n all six other provisions of the Constitution that mention ‘the people,’ the term unambiguously refers to all members of the political community, not an unspecified subset.” 554 U.S. _____ (2008), Slip Op. at 6. The majority then notes, “Reading the Second Amendment as protecting only the right to “keep and bear Arms” in an organized militia . . . fits poorly with the operative clause’s description of the holder of that right as ‘the people.’” Slip Op. at 7.
Interestingly, the majority overlooks the pronouncement of the drafter of the Second Amendment, George Mason. Mr. Mason queried the Virgnia Convention on Ratification of the Constitution, “I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people.” Admittedly, Mason’s entire statement exempted certain public officials from his definition of “militia.” But no modern construction of the Amendment would exempt public officials from the right it confers.
The majority criticizes the minority’s effort to limit the definition of the word “arms” to those implements in existence at the time the Amendment was drafted. “Just as the First Amendment protects modern forms of communications, [citation omitted], and the Fourth Amendment applies to modern forms of search, [citation omitted],” the majority notes, “the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding.” Slip Op. at 8.
The majority then turns to an examination of the term to “keep arms.” “[T]he most natural reading of ‘keep Arms’ in the Second Amendment,” it says, “is to ‘have weapons.’” Slip Op. at 8. The majority then observes that to “‘[k]eep arms’ was simply a common way of referring to possessing arms, for militiamen and everyone else.” Slip Op. at 9, emphasis in original. Respecting the word “bear” in the clause “to keep and bear arms,” the majority notes, “‘At the time of the founding, as now, to ‘bear’ meant to ‘carry.’” Slip Op. at 10.
The Court notes that state constitutions of the era which preserved a right similar to the Second Amendment’s right “to keep and bear arms” embraced both the right of individuals to possess and to carry arms for self defense and as a member of a militia. See Slip Op. at 11. The majority also notes, “[T]he fact that the phrase [“bear arms”] was commonly used in a particular context does not show that it is limited to that context, and, in any event, we have given many sources where the phrase was used in nonmilitary contexts.” Slip Op. at 15.
In summary, the majority then concludes, “Putting all of these textual elements together, we find that they guarantee the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation.” Slip Op. at 19. The majority also notes that the Second Amendment does not create a right “to keep and bear arms.” Rather, “[T]he Second Amendment, like the First and Fourth Amendments, codified a pre-existing right. The very text of the Second Amendment implicitly recognizes the pre-existence of the right and declares only that it ‘shall not be infringed.’” Id., emphasis in original.
It is virtually certain that any effort to curtail the Second Amendment beyond the majority’s analysis in Heller will result in litigation. Provided the analysis of that litigation is in accord with that undertaken by the majority in Heller (and unless the Court’s composition changes between now and then, it likely will be in accord) the result will be the same.
Update – March 28, 2013: All The “Wanting” in the World (No Matter How Sincere) Won’t Solve the Problem of Gun Violence – President Obama today invoked statistical support for his position, claiming that 90 percent of people overall and 80 percent of Republicans support universal background checks on weapons purchasers. But, granting the veracity of these statistics for the sake of argument, even universal background checks will do nothing to address the fact that if someone is determined enough to break the law that he seriously plans to kill one or more of his fellow human beings, he’s not likely to be deterred by such measures.
Again, the original purchaser of the weapons used in the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Nancy Lanza, complied with all the laws necessary for her legally to own the firearms she purchased. If a background check was required, presumably she passed it even though her son, Adam, (hopefully!) would not have if he had been the original (attempted) purchaser. But that did not stop Adam from killing her and from using her weapons to perpetrate his horrific crime. It’s as though the owner of a legitimately-purchased firearm (cum impending victim of firearm theft) now will say, “What’s that? You want to steal my gun, you say? [Sigh!] Well, OK, but first you need to undergo a background check.”
The president, along with those who favor gun “control” measures which will do precisely nothing to deter firearm theft (along with the illegal use of those stolen firearms), apparently are fans of symbolism over substance who doggedly avoid letting a little thing like elementary logic get in the way of allowing them feel as though they are solving the problem of gun violence.