I come from the internet. For close to 25 years it’s been where I’ve gotten a lot of my entertainment and done a lot of my communicating. For about the past 10 years it’s where I’ve made my living. I have a vested personal interest in how it’s regulated, or isn’t. As a result, I pay attention whenever changes get proposed and have put a lot of thought into a given proposal’s potential effects.
I’ve been thinking about writing this for quite a while. This wasn’t inspired by recent news, but I can’t pretend that its tone hasn’t been affected by world events.
I grew up with guns in the house. My father was federally licensed for concealed carry* and owned several. For my tenth birthday I got an air rifle. For my thirteenth I got a .22. As soon as I was old enough to handle the recoil of each weapon, I was taught to fire it. Before I could fire them, I was taught how to handle them. How to break them down for cleaning and how to carry them. The first thing I learned with each weapon was how to unload it. Every one of the weapons in the house was kept loaded, because “an unloaded gun is a useless gun.”
It’s been years since I’ve lived with one, and I’ve fired fewer than a handful of rounds in the past decade. Living in a more urban environment, I haven’t felt any need to own one. I have felt a desire to own one, but not enough to justify the purchase considering the cost and not having a convenient place to shoot. I feel very little need to have a firearm for protection, but I enjoyed shooting.
I used a lot of words to say that I’m all for gun ownership. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in legislation and regulation. Regulation at the federal level, however, is a difficult thing that doesn’t make much sense. The left-hand rhetoric surrounding the subject, comes mostly (please note that I said mostly) from people with little-to-no hands-on experience with firearms. What they know comes from the media and fiction, and they’re largely from urban and suburban backgrounds. It most often seems to come down to a desire to ban weapons based upon their appearance and features they think sound scary. “No one needs high-caliber rifles that fire more than one shot!” is a cry that comes from someone who has never lived in proximity to large predators. Bears and boars will often take more than one shot to drop. Unlike in the movies, humans usually will, too.
Living in rural areas, guns are a part of life. They’re used for hunting and for defense. When police response can optimistically take longer than 30 minutes, a gun borders on a necessity, right behind a well-equipped first aid kit. Regulation in one place doesn’t necessarily make sense when applied to another. This is a problem with federal regulations and the reason that, for the most part, firearm laws have been left to the individual states. The idea is that, given the size of this country and varying populations, each state best knows how to legislate weapons.
They’re doing a shitty job.
Most legislation and mandated waiting periods have applied to handguns. The logic behind this has been that, though less lethal than a rifle or shotgun, their ability to be concealed made them a greater threat. Even 20 years ago, purchasing a revolver in upstate NY would require a waiting period, a certificate from a safety class, and a permit. A rifle or shotgun could be purchased over the counter with a driver’s license. Because they could be used as tools, and someone being able to sneak a long gun into a crowded area and open fire seemed the smaller threat. This is why sawed-off shotguns are illegal. Emphasis on regulation has always tended to be heavier the more easily a weapon could be hidden.
Events over the past few years may have changed some opinions on the matter.
I’ve probably lost a few of the more liberal-leaning readers by now simply by saying that I support gun ownership. Here’s where I’ll lose the conservatives.
The cry of the right wing in response to nearly any call for regulation of arms in civilian hands has been that to do so would violate the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. I’ll make no claims of the types of weapons available increasing in power. I don’t think that matters. In my reading of the document’s writ, my belief in the framers’ intent, and by my understanding of the law, it most certainly is not. “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.”
My interpretation of that sentence looks to the first half of that sentence as a qualifier. It is clear, to me, that the intention was for the populace to be armed, but to be members of a militia. And not just a militia, but one that is well organized. At the time of the Constitution’s writing the United States were governed by the Articles of Confederation. The articles stated that each state would keep a “well-regulated and disciplined militia”. In the terms of the day, a militia was a volunteer army beholden to its home state, as opposed to the regular army, which was beholden to the nation.
The idea that the Second Amendment was written so that any individual could defend themselves from governmental tyranny is laughable. It was written so that the individual states could call upon an armed fighting force that they kept trained and accoutred. The Constitution itself held provisions for the raising of militias. It was a power of Congress, with the Legislative being in charge to offset the power of the president as Commander in Chief of the military. The provision has been amended, and as of today the United States has two militias. The reserve militia “unorganized militia” is made up of every male aged 17-45 who isn’t in the military or National Guard. The organized militia is the National Guard.
I believe that National Guardsmen are our well-regulated militia, and as such the Second Amendment applies to them specifically. Feel free to read up on it yourself. The Congressional Annals are online and you can review the Secretary’s notes yourself. It’s actually a pretty fascinating thing to read. So, yeah. Unless you’re a member of a state’s National Guard, the Second Amendment provides you with no right to bear arms.
BUT! Even if you disagree with me, or you agree and just think people should be able to own guns, I don’t think the government should take everybody’s guns away. We do need some common sense laws in place, though. I, of course, have some thoughts on the matter.
- Anyone convicted of a felony forfeits their right to purchase a gun. If you think that’s unfair, first consider the fact that they’ve lost their right to vote. Until I see you campaign to get that right returned to them, I don’t want to hear shit about how you think they should be armed.
- Any individual currently charged with a violent crime must forfeit their weapons pending the trial’s outcome and may not purchase a gun until they are proven innocent or the case is dropped.
- Purchasing a gun will require an individual be proficient in its use. That means they would have to be trained by a certified instructor with at least 40 hours of experience in handling, maintaining, and firing the weapon safely.
- Purchasing a gun requires that it be insured. Damages beyond the owner’s ability to pay will be paid for via an insurance policy maintained by a private company.
- The federal government will keep a database of firearms by state. Sellers who are found to have sold multiple weapons involved in crimes will lose their license and may be charged as criminal accessories, as determined on a case-by-case basis. (this should put a dent in so-called “straw sales”) States are already keeping track of weapons. Email the pertinents to the feds.
- All other licensing and restrictions will be left up to the state and/or municipality.
I want y’all to notice something. I didn’t say people’s guns should be taken away. I didn’t say that guns are bad. But, we have to recognize that the world isn’t what it was when the Constitution was written. Most Americans aren’t raised around guns. Duels with pistols aren’t considered an acceptable and legal way of settling a dispute. We live closer together. If people are going to own guns they need to be trained how to respect them and how to use them. They need to be able to make restitution for damages. And firearms sellers need to be held responsible for their business practices.
The vast majority of gun owners in this country own guns because they’re fun to shoot. It’s a hobby. It’s why there are Hello Kitty rifles. The AR-15 is so popular because it looks cool. It’s far from the deadliest weapon available at your average sporting goods store. But, particularly among the novice gun enthusiasts and crazy people, it’s incredibly popular. Because it looks cool and kinda’ scary. Like a Harley.
If you truly believe that owning a gun is a right, you should most definitely be willing to live up to the responsibility that comes along with it. The knee-jerk reaction of “you’ll never take my guns” whenever any sort of legislation is even mentioned is, frankly, stupid, and spurred on by industry organizations who know that it’ll eat into their profits. If Bob would have to spend an extra $100 a year in insurance to add another .30-06 to his collection, he might decide he can do without another. It’s not communism. Recognizing that maybe owning a shotgun should require some training doesn’t mean you’re helping to start a domino effect. Really.
Can we please be reasonable?
*my brother was kind enough to point out that what my father had was not a concealed carry permit. There’s no such thing. What he had was an FFL, which, I HAVE NO IDEA WHY, I somehow thought meant he was allowed to carry concealed in any state. I could edit, but let’s preserve my stupidity for posterity.
It’s political season! Well, considering the American news cycle, political season seems to be perpetual at this point. It seems like politicians are campaigning at all times these days. It’s a presidential election year, though, so the ads and discussions are more ubiquitous than normal at the moment. Those “discussions” are inescapable by anyone who uses social media or goes just about anywhere on the internet. Everyone seems to be talking about the longshot party outsiders who are somehow challenging the political machine. They’re all asking how this happened.
It’s not much of a mystery. They made it happen.
The internet has changed the way people get information and the way that information is served to them. It’s changed the way we talk to each other. I’ve touched on this before when I discussed the clicks for cash system the web economy works on. I’ve also talked about the echo chamber effect a little bit. I didn’t really talk much about the way social media and search results can create conversational whirlpools.
I put the word discussions in quotation marks above because most talk is in the form of image macros and news bites with the odd link to a news article or blog post. These are pieces of content that are easily shared, usually with a quickly typed comment along the lines of “this is the worst/best thing ever”. They make their way around the web quickly, showing up in one feed, then another, and another. There’s a reason this sort of content is referred to as viral. It spreads.
I avoid discussion of candidates I dislike because the internet has turned them into Dark Lords. To utter their name is to give them power. I don’t discuss the ones I like (there aren’t many. None of the frontrunners, actually) because the names of the opposition will invariably be brought up. And that will feed The Beast.
There are multiple factors that contribute to this shitstorm. If a lot of users search for a term, or a variation of a term, search engines notice. They’ll start to react by autocompleting users’ searches based on what other people have searched for and clicked on. This will make users more likely to wind up running the same searches and seeing the same results. The number of people who click on and interact with a page (I say interact because no one outside of Google knows exactly how the calculation is done) will have a positive effect on its rank in search results. To simplify — the more people who click on a page in search results, the more people the search engine will show that page to.
But, there’s more to it than that. Social media tailors content to users. Facebook and Twitter, even Google+ for all 37 of its users, serve advertisements to you based on what you write, share, Like, click on, retweet, or just keep on your screen for an especially long time. They’ll also default your feed to display related content posted by people in your network. Talk about tacos and you start seeing ads for Taco Bell and posts about all the time your buddy spent in the bathroom after eating too many burritos at lunch.
Search engines… you know what? Screw it. I keep typing out “search engines” but we all just use Google.
So. Google takes social media into account when serving search results. The number of people talking about a subject will increase its ranking in news results. Links shared on Facebook and Twitter positively effect the pages and sites they point to. Websites can see what’s trending and will then produce content on those subjects.
What we have is a terribly self-perpetuating cycle. Donald Trump announced his candidacy. All the news outlets and blogs wrote pieces on it, usually mockingly. People clicked on those stories, so they ranked above other candidates’ and were more likely to be seen. More people seeing them meant more people shared them. More shares and comments told content producers (at this point I just can’t think of them as news outlets) that people were interested in these stories, so they wrote more of them. Which effected Google results. The more of an asshole he made of himself the more he’s been talked about and the more his opponents’ results have been suppressed.
A similar effect can be seen on the left with Bernie Sanders. There were so many stories about how he had no chance that they increased his exposure to the point that he suddenly had one. The old saying “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” has been made even more true in this age of social and search engine news. The internet is, in some ways, the very worst kind of democracy. It reacts to the will of the people, often giving us what we hate or fear, not what we want it to. It’s like Gozer and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. By thinking about it we may very well have collectively chosen the form of our destroyer.
*I’ve engaged in quite a bit of hyperbole in writing this post. It was fun! I’ve also simplified some complex stuff. Google’s algorithms take more than what I’ve discussed into account; quality of content, how often the host site is updated, how long the article is, and a ton of other factors. All of those being equal (or close enough to) search results and social media activity can have a very profound effect on what people see.
I planned to apply a more balanced set of memes and take some swipes at multiple candidates. The Trump macros were just so much better I couldn’t help myself. It probably has something to do with art students having a predilection for socialism.
Unpopular opinion time! It’s been thrown about a lot recently. The term white privilege, also white male privilege or male privilege, has been just about everywhere. Often, it’s heard as “check your privilege.” As a white male, I hate the phrase. Not because I’m being called out for something I have and am jealously guarding, or because I don’t think that women or individuals of some races experience prejudices I don’t, but because it’s attacking the issues the wrong way.
Words mean things.
From the Oxford Dictionary:
A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people
Beyond just a dictionary definition, though, are the colloquial implications that permeate a word. They don’t necessarily change a word’s meaning, but add connotations that aren’t always intended. In modern American parlance we recognize a difference between a privilege and a right. One is something that is granted conditionally and the other is applied to all. When someone refers to someone as being privileged, the implication is that they’re not only advantaged, but that their advantage is unearned, unfair, or both.
When a woman tells me “check your male privilege” because I don’t have to worry nearly as much about being sexually assaulted, or even just because I don’t have to put up with as many drunk assholes who don’t understand “I don’t want to talk to you”, at a bar, they’re wrong. I don’t have something special, and that’s the implication. That I’m being treated better than I should expect to be. That’s not the case. WOMEN HAVING TO DEAL WITH FEAR OF ASSAULT AND HARASSMENT IS WRONG! (All caps and an exclamation point? That’s some serious stuff right there.) I’m not subject to a privilege, they are being denied a RIGHT.
Police being more likely to use appropriate force against me if I’m arrested isn’t a privilege that I enjoy. It’s a RIGHT that too many black Americans are denied.
A male superior at work listening to my opinion in the workplace isn’t a privilege, but a courtesy that should be extended to everyone at my level. When women’s opinions are ignored because they come from women, that’s the problem.
Too often, what I’m told are privileges being applied to me are rights that others are being denied. The rules are being applied the way they’re supposed to be in one case, but not in another. We’re not competing with each other, so you having a disadvantage isn’t the same thing as me having an advantage. Unless you’re of the opinion that more white people should be shot, men should make less money, or straight individuals should be beaten in the street more often. If so, please get off my blog.
Language is important. I’m gonna’ set up an example here, and hope you’ll stick with me. There’s a foot race, and everyone lines up at the starting line. One person is rich given a head start, allowed to leave the line 5 seconds in front of the rest of the runners. He has an advantage. A privilege. All of the rest of the runners, save one, are told to run at the same time. They start from the same point at the same time. They are your baseline, all with an equal chance to succeed. That person who was held back is allowed to start running 5 seconds after everybody else. That person is suffering a disadvantage. They’re being forced to compete unevenly.
Gay ladies and gents, my ability to walk down a street at night reasonably secure in the knowledge that I won’t be attacked isn’t a privilege, it’s a right. That means that you should be able to do the same! Saying that it’s a privilege implies that I shouldn’t be able to walk down that street by myself. Saying that you’re denied the right to walk down that street implies that the people preventing you from doing so are wrong. Homophobic assholes who let me pass unmolested aren’t doing me a service. When they prey on gay people for their gender preference, THEY ARE THE ONES DOING WRONG. Anyone who disagrees is a shitty human being. Your disadvantage is not my advantage. We aren’t competing.
Here’s where it gets a bit sticky. Activism and rights movements (Rights! Yes! The correct word!). It’s not a fair world, unfortunately. Everybody in that foot race in my example above is just trying their hardest to get to the finish line as fast as they can. That group who started together? The baseline? They probably didn’t even realize that someone got held back and was forced to start later than they were. It isn’t that they’re callous, uncaring, or don’t want that person to have a fair shot. They’re just so wrapped up in their own run, looking at what’s in front of them and trying to keep from being overtaken, that they didn’t even notice when someone was cheated. The person given the head start ahead of them was given special advantage; a privilege. “You all had an advantage!” isn’t the same thing as “I was given a disadvantage!” Don’t demand that the mass of runners be held back to start with you. Demand that you be allowed to start with them. Loudly enough that everyone can hear.
Telling someone they have an advantage makes them want to hold onto it. Saying that someone else is at a disadvantage can make people want to remove it. Yell about it. Scream about it. In 1960 the Greensboro Four didn’t say “Why does that white man get to sit at the lunch counter?” They asked, “Why aren’t we allowed to sit next to him?” If you can’t spot the difference between those two questions, you’re not going to be very effective at bringing problems to peoples’ attention or changing their minds.
One of the things I was taught starting in elementary school was that the founding fathers of the United States broke from England seeking freedom and a desire to see the Americas ruled democratically, with the people represented by a vote. Anyone would be able to run for office and could be chosen to represent their peers. As I got older, of course I learned about the inherent prejudices and injustices of the time.
I’ll be talking about our actual constitution itself here and its context at the time, as opposed to what we’ve come to think of it. A mythology has sprung up around it, with its writers being granted near-divinity. While it is a wonderfully written one, it remains simply a document put on parchment and its framers were only human. They were not infallible, they were not necessarily altruistic, and in some cases were self-serving.
We are not, in any way, living in the nation that the founding fathers envisioned. In some ways this is good and in others bad, but the simple idea that we should make their intentions our primary concern when deciding law or policy is foolish.
The Right to Vote
There isn’t even any mention of an individual’s voting rights in the Constitution until the addition of the fourteenth amendment in 1868. Previous to that point, the only mention of how voting would take place was in reference to the electoral college in the twelfth. Everything else was left up to the individual states.
Some voting laws can be understood. Age restrictions were put in place to help ensure that people choosing their leaders were mature enough to weigh the decision. A literacy requirement, in historical context, was meant to keep the process accessible to those who could be informed of the issues in a time before radio and television (this is a “benefit of the doubt” view, as the laws were terribly misused later). A requirement that a voter be a citizen made, and still makes, sense. Then, there are the other laws.
Black men weren’t guaranteed the right to vote by federal law for nearly a century after the ratification of the Bill of Rights, though some states did provide the right on their own. Women did not receive federal protections for their voting rights until 1920, though again there were already some states and territories that recognized women’s votes. Asians, Mexicans, and native Americans didn’t get the right to vote until years later, with Japanese immigrants being the last to be specifically provided the rights of citizenship in 1952 and all naturalized immigrants from Mexico getting to vote in 1975.
I learned about all of those things during my schooling, even if some were only presented as a footnote. Do you know what I didn’t learn until I did my own research? Citizenship and voting rights were tied to property ownership. It took 44 years for the ownership of land to be removed at the federal level as a requirement for the vote. However, the requirement was not barred at the local level.
It’s barely been 50 years since poll taxes were forbidden in the Constitution, and fewer since a federal law was put in place that banned literacy tests. Though neither expressly forbids the requirement of property ownership as a pass to vote, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 effectively barred it by assumption.
Why Does This Matter?
Americans are raised being told that at the root of our system of government is our inalienable right to vote. “No taxation without representation!” was the rallying cry of the American Revolution and every citizen deserved to be heard. We’re told that our system of government was designed of the people, for the people, and by the people.
I submit the above as evidence that that has never, ever been true. It began with only the wealthy being enfranchised. In today’s terms, that means approximately 30% of Americans could not cast a vote based on property ownership. No one you know who is a renter would be heard.
The Continental Congress was made up of old rich white men and they framed a system of government that they could control through voting rights.
- Old – one had to be at least 21 years of age to vote. At the time the life expectancy was not yet 40 years. I feel it is important to note that the minimum age for impressment or conscription at the time was sixteen.
- Rich – only the owners of property could cast a vote.
- White – only white people could vote. Asians, native Americans, and free blacks received no protection of that right under federal law.
- Men – if you didn’t have a penis you did not choose your representation.
These truths are self evident. While it had been written that all men were afforded the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, only the wealthy ones were allowed to vote on what those things meant. Instead of nobility, our new nation was ruled by a wealthy elite. The argument that the Congress did not wish to infringe on states’ rights to govern themselves rings hollow when one considers that the first amendment provides the right of all citizens to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” So, the poor were allowed to ask, but the rich were allowed to tell.
I’d like to say that there are innumerable individuals with more knowledge than I on this subject. I claim no expertise on state or federal law or precedent, and this is based entirely on my interpretation of the little I am familiar with.
*http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_transcript.html The Constitution of the United States. I nearly didn’t link this, because it can be found so easily. Personally, I have it on my phone.
*http://archive.fairvote.org/righttovote/timeline.htm my primary source for changes to voters’ rights, outside of those in the US Constitution.
*I was unable to locate a solid source confirming the age of conscription/impressment during the Revolutionary War. I found a few references to fifteen-year-olds fighting and being eligible to join the Continental Army, but most stated sixteen.