When will I be shot dead?

GunAs we read the news of yet another shooting at a school (the 17th on a college campus this yearthe 45th school shooting shooting this year*), I cannot help but wonder: when will I be among those murdered?  Earlier this year, a roving gunman had the campus of Kansas State University (where I teach) on lockdown. Fortunately, no one was shot, and — since the lockdown began very early in the morning — few people were on campus at the time. But each time I hear of another massacre, I wonder when I will be among the dead. 

Our governor and legislature have eliminated even the most minimal gun safety laws. In Kansas, all you need to get a gun is a heartbeat and a credit card. I’m not kidding. Our wise leaders have even removed the requirement that aspiring gun owners learn how to use their firearms.  In Kansas as in much of America, it is easier to get a gun than it is to get a driver’s license or to adopt a child.  Think about that.  There are no obstacles to buying a device designed for killing other living creatures.  In the U.S., the right to kill is valued more highly than the right to live.

If there were evidence that increased gun ownership made society more safe (as weapons enthusiasts insist there is), then we could rejoice in the indiscriminate proliferation of firearms. However, the evidence is quite the opposite. Guns in the home do not make that home safer; instead, they increase the risk of homicide. Ordinary citizens wandering around with guns do not make the streets more safe. More guns increase the risk of firearm-related deaths. Period.

Contrary to the claims of gun aficionados, the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not say “Every man, woman and child should be armed to the teeth!”  It actually says: “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.” I’d be willing to make an exception to this for, say, hunters, or people who enjoy target shooting. That seems fair. But even that exceeds what the amendment itself allows. According to the Second Amendment, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed” because a free state requires a “well regulated militia.” Guns are for the militia. Indeed, the amendment covers only the militia.  The clause modifying the word “right” is “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state.”  That right is therefore accorded to members of this militia.

No guns. Sign on door of ECS Building, Kansas State UniversityAt the moment, people are not supposed to bring guns into campus buildings.  Our buildings even have signage to that effect.  However, the conspicuous absence of full-body scanners and security guards in the doorways of each building suggests that it would not be difficult to bring guns into a campus building.  In any case, it’s not clear how long even this restriction will hold: our legislature wants guns everywhere. To their credit, the Kansas Board of Regents, though dismissive of faculty and staff’s right to free speech, does seem to want us to remain alive.  They’ve supported an exemption for state universities. The sign you see at left (from the building my office is in) is a result.

And so I wonder: when will an armed white man enter my classroom and begin spraying the room with bullets?  (The shooter is usually a white man, but it could be a non-white man, or — very rarely — a woman.  Since a white man is statistically the most likely, that’s what my imaginary shooter always is.)  How will I react?  Can I stop him by talking to him, perhaps buying myself and the students some time?  If not, will I have time to duck?  And will ducking save me?  Perhaps his weapon will jam or he will have to reload, and one of us can intervene in time.  Perhaps not.

I know that, should this day come, the responsible parties will include: Governor Sam Brownback, the members of the Kansas legislature who abdicated their responsibility by supporting these dangerous laws, members of the US Congress and Senate who oppose sensible gun policy, and, of course, the National Rifle Association.  All of these people will be accessories to my murder.  I don’t imagine that they can be prosecuted for their role in the crime, but they should be.  And I would ask those who cared about me to send all responsible (the governor, legislature, congress, the NRA) a photo of my bloody corpse so that the responsible parties can appreciate the results of their handiwork.  Indeed, I would invite people working towards sensible gun laws to use photos of me (alive or dead or both) to support their cause.

I hope that I somehow evade the violent death that reckless American gun laws (and their advocates) have prepared for us all. However, should I be found among the dead, I want my family and friends to know that I love them, and that I’m sorry our time together had to end so soon.

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* And over 142 school shootings since the Sandy Hook Massacre.

Correction, 2 Oct. 2015, 8:20 am: Changed the parenthetical in the first sentence. It was the 45th school shooting of 2015, not the 45th mass shooting (as I initially stated).  So far, there have been 294 mass shootings in the US this year.

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These Senators Want to Kill Your Children

Shame on You, U.S. Senate

45 U.S. Senators think that massacres like the ones at Sandy Hook and Aurora and Tuscon are acceptable collateral damage.  They support mentally unstable people’s “rights” to have access to firearms.  In sum, if you would prefer to live in a country in which children have a better chance of growing up, in which adults have a better chance of staying alive, these 45 U.S. Senators are saying: “No. Guns have more rights than you do. We do not care. People will die. Children will be murdered. Your right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is less important than allowing criminals and the mentally ill to have access to firearms.”

If you disagree with this position, here are the Senators you will want to vote against during the next election.  Should you wish to contact them, I have also provided links to their websites.  I have not listed Harry Reid (D-Nev.) because my understanding is that he voted against it for the procedural reason that, by doing so, he can bring the measure up again.  If my reading of his vote is incorrect, then please add him to the list.

  1. Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
  2. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)
  3. John Barrasso (R-WY)
  4. Max Baucus (D-MT)
  5. Mark Begich (D-AK)
  6. Roy Blunt (R-MO)
  7. John Boozman (R-AR)
  8. Richard Burr (R-NC)
  9. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)
  10. Dan Coats (R-IN)
  11. Tom Coburn (R-OK)
  12. Thad Cochran (R-MS)
  13. Bob Corker (R-TN)
  14. John Cornyn (R-TX)
  15. Mike Crapo (R-ID)
  16. Ted Cruz (R-TX)
  17. Mike Enzi (R-WY)
  18. Deb Fischer (R-NE)
  19. Jeff Flake (R-AZ)
  20. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
  21. Chuck Grassley (R-IA)
  22. Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
  23. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)
  24. Dean Heller (R-NV)
  25. John Hoeven (R-ND)
  26. James M. Inhofe (R-OK)
  27. Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
  28. Mike Johanns (R-NE)
  29. Ron Johnson (R-WI)
  30. Mike Lee (R-UT)
  31. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
  32. Jerry Moran (R-KS)
  33. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
  34. Rand Paul (R-KY)
  35. Rob Portman (R-OH)
  36. Mark Pryor (D-AR)
  37. James E. Risch (R-ID)
  38. Pat Roberts (R-KS)
  39. Marco Rubio (R-FL)
  40. Tim Scott (R-SC)
  41. Jeff Sessions (R-AL)
  42. Richard Shelby (R-AL)
  43. John Thune (R-SD)
  44. David Vitter (R-LA)
  45. Roger Wicker (R-MS)

To any gun enthusiasts who stumble upon this blog post, yes, I am familiar with the Second Amendment to the United States’ Constitution:

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.

Three points on the amendment that you might wish to consider:

  1. Please note that these arms are to support a “well-regulated militia”; the amendment does not imagine an entire citizenry armed to the teeth.
  2. For those who consider themselves constitutional originalists, the “arms” described here are not automatic or semi-automatic guns.  They’re muskets.  They’re guns that take a while to load and re-load.  So, if you want a strict interpretation of this amendment, then the Second Amendment Rights extend to the types of arms available in 1791.
  3. Laws can be changed to better serve the citizens.  As Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg said in Kennedy vs. Mendoza-Martinez (1963), “while the Constitution protects against invasions of individual rights, it is not a suicide pact.”

Having said that, I would be willing to argue for a more liberal interpretation of the Second Amendment, one that includes the rights to own weapons of a more recent vintage, and that expands the reason for owning arms beyond that of a “well-regulated militia.”  People may want to hunt.  They may enjoy target practice.  Though study after study shows that having a gun in the home makes you more likely to be killed by a gun, I realize that many people believe the opposite — and so I certainly would not oppose people owning (and using) a gun for self-defense.  But military-grade assault weapons?  No.  Those ought to be regulated.

A gun is not a toy.  It is designed to kill.  If we agree that (for instance) driving a car requires the driver to pass certain tests, then surely we can agree that owning a gun ought to require the owner to pass certain tests.  Universal background checks (something which 86% of Americans support!).  No loopholes for guns purchased at gun shows or via the internet.  No loopholes at all, in fact.

If you vote against sensible legislation (such as legislation that the above list of senators voted against today), then you are personally responsible for the high numbers of gun deaths in the U.S.  Please note that I say “high numbers of gun deaths.”  I realize that no law will prevent all murderous people from obtaining guns. Laws do not prevent all people from speeding, or from embezzling money, or from defrauding investors. However, the fact that laws fail to prevent all crimes does not remove the need for having these laws in the first place.

So.  To the above list of senators, I say: Those who support sensible gun laws know where you stand.  You think that killing children should be permitted rather than prevented.  Thank you for making your position clear.  It will make our choice in the next election very, very clear.

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