Will Florida shootings shift Republican dogma on guns?

Like virtually everyone, I've been in the grip of anger, frustration and confusion over the repeated school shootings that seem to have become our national new normal; together with the furious and unending political debates they have provoked.

I've been reflecting on what history teaches about the natural processes that societies go through when they finally confront long-lasting, powerfully established and emotionally satisfying dogmas. In our instant case, pro-gun control and anti-gun control. And I think that getting an idea about the underlying “dogma dynamics” at play might help us all get through what will certainly be a time of fierce conflict between tribes of Americans.

Start with generally accepted Wikipedia definition of "dogma": "Prescribed doctrines proclaimed as unquestionably true by a particular group." When societies buy into dogma of whatever sort, it's common for them to fixate on all kinds of "objective" evidence intended to confirm or rebut one dogma or another.

So how can you tell when a dogma may be finally losing its hold on a society? One diagnostic test: Look for gradual breakdown of belief in the “objective” dynamics that sustain a dogma.

For example, consider the religious conviction that the sun rotated around the earth. Factual evidence to disprove this particular dogma didn’t appear till the 17th Century, when Galileo Galilei used mathematical calculations and hard physical evidence from newly invented telescopes to show factual evidence that opened the way to our modern conception of the way the solar system works.

So I thought we might find it useful to look at recent examples to help us tell whether the current uproar over the Parkland, Fla., school shooting foreshadows any change in the long widely accepted fundamental dynamics of the arguments over guns and schools.

Based on our recent history, it looks as though the shootings in Newtown, Conn.; Orlando, Fla.; Las Vegas, and Sutherland Springs, Tex., have played out in much the same ways - initial public outrage, followed eventually by political stalemate and widespread (if grudging) acceptance that repeated school shootings is our new normal.

Could it be that new elements have emerged in the Florida case?

The kids have become an extraordinary galvanizing force. High school students around the country seem to be executing the transformation from observers of repeated classroom shootings, to survivors, and finally to drivers of political protest and media presence. Parkland high school students were old enough to form their own strong emotional reactions to the killings; and articulate enough to be powerful spokespeople on TV and cable.

Another element is changes in technology. These days, virtually everybody has a cell phone that can take pictures of ghastly events, just as they are taking place. And those pictures can be distributed in a instant on nationwide TV.

Previous episodes lacked the real-time emotional tale-telling of terrified kids with cameras in their hands.

Another factor is President Trump, who has hardly been the soul of consistency on school shootings. He wants to "harden" schools against nuts with guns, but at the same time says it's silly for somebody to be able to buy a gun when they're on a no-fly list. Pro-gun and anti-gun folks have no real idea where he's coming from. And things are uncertain enough that a compelling presidential statement could make a real difference.

And so maybe a case can be made that things are changing, the result of cumulative blows to pro-gun dogma administered by repeated instances of school massacres that never seem to stop.

Or maybe not. Anybody who looks carefully at the power the National Rifle Association holds over Republican office holders is going to have a tough time thinking much is very going to change quickly in Washington.

There is powerful evidence that the passage of events has powerful resonance over the inner dynamics in the evolution of even deeply held dogma. Back in the 1960's, the government's line was that if we didn't go to war in Viet Nam, the whole of Southeast Asia would fall to the communists like a house of cards. Not so.

And students in the 1960's who marched and demonstrated for civil rights in the South knew perfectly well they were going up against regionally deep-seated dogma of white racial superiority. Yet today, civil rights for all is a powerfully helpful American attitude.

My reading of casual conversation and statistically powerful polling is that most Americans are shocked at how repeated shootings in school have become a banal part of our national landscape. It won't come about overnight, but it's hard for me to believe that any dogma can last that says we need to have AR-15s to guarantee social stability and freedom.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Tue, 02/27/2018 - 10:54am

from the comments made by some in this debate, one wonders of their level of understanding of weapons. What is an assault weapon? In my mind, it is one used in a wartime situation. The current assault weapon used by the US Military is capable of firing 600 to 700 rounds per minute in fully automatic mode, not that it ever would do that as the magazine in use only holds 30 rounds. The AR 15 that so many classify as an assault weapon is a semi automatic that only fires one round with a trigger pull so it fires at a rate of how fast can a person pull the trigger. The round fired by the AR 15is a .223 caliber and exits the rifle at over 2000 feet per second. This is the preferred round used by farmers when controlling varmits in their fields. In WW II, the Rifle used by the military was a semi automatic M1. It’s magazine held about 8 rounds of 30 caliber bullets. Surplus M1’s were distributed to the public through the Civilian Marksmanship Program and are commonly used as hunting rifles, although most hunters have upgraded to a more modern stock.

In my mind, banning “assault” weapons is not the correct path. Fully automatic weapons have been illegal since the days of Al Capone. To ban an AR 15 would be meaningless, as many rifles have the inner workings of being semi automatic and firing a .223 caliber round, identical to the AR 15. The only object I can see that would be meaningful would be to limit magazine size and that would be problematic as magazines are not difficult to make for one who wants a larger capacity.

We must address society if we want to address the killing problem, as mass killers have found ways to kill without even using a gun. Are we to prohibit pressure cookers and cars?

Tue, 02/27/2018 - 1:39pm

With the phenomenal amount of illegal guns available in so many places, even banning many types of guns and confiscation would be of little effect as firearms freely flow between the U.S. and Mexico. It would only be expected any laws restricting the purchase or availability would only enhance the volume of incoming firearms. Additionally, there have been rumors of firearms coming through out ports. A scenario entirely possible as we only inspect 3% of containers coming in to the U.S. A good example as to the volume of trade in illegal guns is China, every year they confiscate about 2 million guns from their citizens and smugglers, then destroy them. Guns with similar capabilities have been available to the public since at least the mid 1960's. When President Reagan was shot, sales of semi automatic Uzi's skyrocketed. The same with AK-47's and SKS's when the Soviet Union fell. No one asks and no one even talks about what happened in the 90's which changed kids, and adults, in to thinking not only is shooting kids in a school is okay, but should be carried out. People talk about the gun ban being lifted, but as a study showed and being so weak, it didn't do anything to reduce gun violence or carnage. I agree something needs to change, but focusing entirely on gun availability will change little as I stated above. The gun ban in Australia did reduce mass shootings, as they are quite rare now. It is interesting to note now there are substantially more guns in the country than there were before the ban, indicating another cause. As well, some of the most recent mass killings were done with either knives or trapping people in a building and burning them to death. People also point to the U.K. as an example. What they don't say, besides the phenomenal number of stabbings every year, is the police are no more than a few minutes away from every school at any given time. People intent on doing evil will not stop just because a choice is taken away from them. Many police there are now armed. I truly wish I knew the solution, but until we get a handle on other problems, the effect of any legislation will be muted, at best.

Tue, 02/27/2018 - 5:45pm

It is communism and socialism being pushed from BOTH sides extremist wings. We are falling for it. They europeans are trying to claim we are the next Nazi regime, and are deathly afraid of us, so they screw with us, economically and socially. I just have to read my FB feed to realize it.

Now, I do believe the second amendment and in fact the whole Bill of Rights was put into place to protect the people from government overreach. There are two reasons for the second amendment, the first is to eliminate the cost, of a standing army, which today we spend 1.1 trillion dollars and run a budget deficit to prop it up. The second more implied right is to give the people a way to fend off the government which they JUST had to do. They knew exactly what they needed to do it. The reason it isn't clearly spelled out is simply, you can't start a new government, and expect it to work by saying "oh here is this backdoor in case of a massive failure." That being said, they also were aware that the longest running democracy only lasted 230 years so it is a -phenomenal- idea to put in the backdoor.

In less then the last 5 years, you have seen people really upset with both the left and the right. Both sides are hypocrites and liars, depending on what subject you bring up. Neither side knows the both sides of the issue nor the history of it, which leads to -terrible- reactionary decision making by uneducated people. Oh wait, the Forefathers -intentionally- designed our government to react -slowly- to get around rash reactionary laws, which, very typically, creates -terrible- laws. All you do is have to think about the salem witch trials to realize how good the kangaroo court of public opinion works. We should always question the government, it is not only our right, it is our responsibility. Should we trust them to be the only ones with guns and run a police state?

The -largest- problem I see, and it extends from gun control to abortion to whatever, is people are trying to use the law to enforce their morality. This prevents people from looking at the actual issue because of their own bias, and come to a rational, logical conclusion of cause and effect of their decision and it's impact on society.

Did "teach abstinence" reduce teenage pregnancies? No. What did work? Free birth control. Why? It simply it forced parents to talk to their kids. And parents are more worried about their kid screwing up their life with an unintended pregnancy. The "just say no" to drugs campaign failed for the same reason.

If you apply the same philosophy to guns, the easiest, cheapest and most effective solution is to teach gun safety in schools as part of middle school phys ed. We did it before as part of ROTC in the 60-70s but it was males only and preferably white. You could eliminate conscientious objector to get out of it, and make it totally non-racist, non-sexist, etc. You can also teach what to do if you have a gun and an police officer stops you. So it could potentially reduce killing people by law enforcement as well.

If you feel it is a -right- for everyone to be able to bear arms, you teach proper safety to -everyone- which should in less then a decade start reducing accidental deaths from mishandling. It gets rid of the stigma (which is what the far left wants so they can push for elimination of guns) and it demonstrates the ability of the far right to say they aren't just a bunch of racist assholes, which is what the far-left is claiming they are. And yes there are more then a few racist assholes to the neo-nazi far right, but the far-lefts policy moves are pushing everyone towards the far-right who merely just believes in the 2nd amendment. By making women, gays, transexuals, whatever included, it gets rid of the stigma of it is a white male only sport, which was part of the ROTC, and the Armed forces essentially racist policy.

Now by making them shoot a weapon as part of the gun safety, it removes the argument, I haven't shot a gun, I don't ever need to.

It also gets rid of the "superiority" of kids that have shot a gun before. It evens the playing field. In most cities, you can't even have a BB gun, and slingshots are banned as well, which -were- the outlet especially for poorer kids. That is kind of how you were supposed to learn safety without potentially killing someone. The left took that away, because kids were getting hurt, but it is -really- hard to kill someone with a BB gun.

"Walk softly and carry a big stick" implies you need to know how to use a stick.

Wed, 02/28/2018 - 7:41am

The biggest doctrinal divide is that the left sees this as an environmental/societal issue, the presence of guns guns are bad, less guns = less. The right sees it as a human/moral one guns are an inanimate object without autonomy and focuses on the human causes and prevention. With equally dogmatic positions and the very small area of overlap, the right believes any concession is just a start toward much broader restriction and the left that doing anything but their prescribed solutions is worth stalling in favor of still future shootings being blamed on their opposition, as is done in this commentary. This leads to further public pressure in their direction since nothing else is forthcoming. This approach leaves us with the ridicules situation of simply checking a box on the NICS form with your statement that you are not nuts and everything left at that and we get what we get, very little action.

Wed, 02/28/2018 - 9:48am

Phil: Dogma clearly has a home on both sides, the Left sees this as an environmental/societal issue, the presence of guns guns are bad, less guns = less crime (despite that guns have doubled and overall crime is near historic lows). With many, any gun (Truthfully now!), not just semi-autos incites a visceral negative response. The Right sees it as a human/moral problem with man being inherently bad, and with guns as an inanimate object without autonomy, a tool, even a badge of self reliance and talk about the human causes (bad guys) and prevention. Ultimately firearm procession is seen as an absolute right which any restriction lead to a further erosion of all rights. A clearly difficult position with few answers or solutions admittedly leading to nothing. As with almost everything today the overlap here is almost nonexistent. This approach leaves us with the ridicules situation of simply checking a box on the NICS form stating that you are not nuts when buying a gun and we get more of these tragedies.