I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed…

Inconsistency makes me just a little bit crazy. This week, I’ve seen two heavily commented on social media posts that were, for lack of a better term, triggering. 

The first, from the NRA, was a post singing the praises of an Iowa school district that had decided to allow some portion of its teachers to carry a firearm inside the school. I don’t have any deep philosophical problems with that if people are willing and able, but I was amazed at the number of far-right commenters arguing that all teachers should be armed or that it should be required in all school districts. I suspect that a fair number of them were the same people who over the course of the Great Plague were busy calling out teachers as groomers, screaming bloody murder about “unsuitable” books in the classroom, and raging that teacher’s sole purpose was to indoctrinate impressionable young minds into a vast leftist conspiracy. Suddenly, teachers are the last, best guardians of their children. If that’s not inconsistent, I have no idea what is.

The second post, once again related to guns, was a bland piece stating emphatically that only the police should have “high powered” weapons. The comments are exactly what you’d expect – agreement right down the line from precisely the same people who during the Great Plague shouted themselves hoarse that the police couldn’t be trusted and should be defunded and disbanded.  Either the police are a trusted agent to apply state sanctioned force or they’re not. The alternative illustrated by this particular meme seems to be that the police are wildly untrustworthy, but absolutely should be armed well beyond the ability of any citizen or group of citizens to resist their power. I can’t be the only one that sees the logical conflict here, right?

Given the level of engagement with both of the subject posts, I can only assume that applying even some cursory analysis to ideas isn’t something most people do regardless of where on the political divide they fall. That probably shouldn’t be surprising at this point… and I’m really not surprised in any traditional sense of the word. I’ve long since given up on the vast mass of people being anything other than dumber than dog shit. 

None of this sad tale of woe is a surprise, but it can’t help but be a disappointment.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Root causes. What the actual fuck is wrong with people? Twenty-six years ago, when most of my cronies and I were about 18, we had ready access to both rifles and handguns. We weren’t particularly well supervised back then and yet we somehow managed not to seed our world with chaos and mass murder. Back there and back then, it was the sort of event that was a true rarity. It’s why I struggle with the idea of blaming the tools people use when it happens now. The first semi-automatic rifle made its appearance in 1779. They became widely available on the consumer market in the closing years of the 19th century. It wasn’t until well into the back half of the 20th century where the commonly described “mass shooting” starts to become a thing that happens. That history is also why I struggle with laying the blame for these events at the foot of the gun. The technology hasn’t changed. It was as readily available in 1930 or 1960 as it is this afternoon. A basic semi-auto was more easily available then given the lack of background checks, permitting, and laws governing who can and can’t possess a firearm that came into vogue in the 80s and 90s. If we assume it’s not access that’s changed, we’re left to consider what factors have changed that lead to these events taking place now more than ever before. That’s a conversation that requires nuance – and since that’s not something that comes in a form of a good soundbite, we’re not likely to see from the political class, the media, the pros, or the antis.

2. Age of adulthood.  One of the first things I read on Twitter this morning was a call to raise the age at which one can purchase a long gun. I saw multiple tweets calling for the age to increase from 18 to something else. Suggestions were 21, 25, 26. Fine. We already declare other “adult” decisions out of bounds for 18-year-olds. If we’re going to be intellectually consistent, though, we need to go further. Eighteen should no longer be considered the age of majority across the board. Raise the age to buy a car, rent an apartment, or sign any kind of contract. Raise the age for enlisting for military service.  Raise the age to sign up for credit or a loan. Raise the age of sexual consent. And for God’s sake, raise the voting age. If those between the ages of 18 and twenty-whatever are too chowderheaded to make responsible adult decisions then just go ahead and delay all the rights, privileges, and opportunities of the adult citizen. Let adulthood start at 45 or whatever other arbitrary age we collectively decide is the right one. We seem to already have a generation that can’t manage to “adult” until they’re in their 30s, so just codify it already.

3. First reports. There’s an old saying about first reports always being wrong. When complex, fast moving events are happening I just assume that all of the details are bogus beyond the basics of where and what. Expecting a second-to-second timeline as events are unfolding is a fool’s errand. I’ve got at least one news feed running in the house pretty much from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed and how often the first details are wrong is pretty much an article of faith here. I’ll cheerfully call out Texas public safety officials if it proves out that they failed to follow local policy or in some way failed to respond appropriately, but I won’t sit at the keyboard and condemn them based on early reports and what people think they know. I’ll be swapping over to financial news until the story – and the reporters – get past the breathless, “breaking news” phase.

Meat, hunting, and home decoration…

A few months ago, I kicked around the idea of starting up a weekly limited feature focused on topics that some people might consider controversial, unpopular, or otherwise not appropriate for polite company. Nothing much came of the idea then, but it has stewed in my head ever since. This is the next of what I like to think will be a recurring series of Friday evening contemplations. If you’re easily offended, or for some reason have gotten the impression that your friends or family members have to agree with you on every conceivable topic, this might be a good time to look away. While it’s not my intention to be blatantly offensive, I only control the words I use, not how they’re received or interpreted.

It’s hard to go out for groceries without seeing another brand that’s introduced a new variety of plant-based ham or some other all natural, vegan certified, socially responsible food product. That’s fine. Some of these products aren’t half bad tasting and I’m happy to allow the substitution where it makes sense. 

Even so, you’d be hard pressed to fully break me of a lifetime of omnivorous eating. If I haven’t been shown satisfactory evidence that bacon can be made from turkey, there’s really very little chance I’m going to suddenly be convinced it can be made from pressed plants. In some cases, taste really is king.

I go through all that to demonstrate that I’m an unashamed meat eater.

I grew up in a place where hunting and fishing were a regular method of supplementing what ended up on the dinner table. Even though my days of wanting to sit in the cold waiting for a deer are long gone, I respect the hell out of people who are out there doing it for the right reasons. Despite what PETA tells you, taking game for sustenance or to control nuisance species are perfectly valid things to do and is considered a wildlife management best practice.

Trophy hunting, by contrast, pretty much makes you a douche. Yeah, I’m looking directly at whoever out there cuts off the antlers and leaves the carcass laying on the side of the road. Look, I love duck and goose hunting – but I don’t enjoy the taste of duck or goose, so I settle for taking clays and staying out of the blind. Going out just for the thrill of the kill or because you need a stuffed and mounted giraffe is about as asinine reason to hunt as I can imagine. 

That’s not the kind of statement that will endear me to some of my gun toting brethren, who would be perfectly happy to keep blasting a hundred ducks at a time with a skiff-mounted punt gun until they empty the river.

To enjoy any kind of legitimacy, hunting has to be about conserving the resource today and for the future. The most dedicated hunters I’ve ever known have approached the whole process with a reverence for the animal and full understanding that an animal was losing its life so that the hunter could eat. If your hunt is all about home décor choices, then honestly, I don’t even want to know you.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Loaded Thursdays. A few weeks ago I thought it would be a good idea if I loaded Thursday from top to bottom with meetings. Getting them out of the way, having the bulk of the week to prep for them, and generally ruining as few days of the week as possible running hither and yon to these sessions really felt like I was on to a winner. Compressing meetings onto one date should free up time and be efficient. Maybe it is, but in my planning I forgot the First Rule of the Bureaucracy: The Bureaucracy must expand to consume all available time and resources. I now have more meetings and less prep time than I did before arranging this new wonder schedule. If someone could step in and hit me in the face with a shovel the next time I have a good idea it would be incredibly helpful.

2. Common sense. If you log on to social media and call for common sense legislation on any topic, but then call anyone who disagrees with you on any point an idiot, a terrorist, or worse, you’re pretty much the reason we can’t have an effective dialog in this country about anything. On issues of social policy, thinking people can have wildly differing opinions about the whole array of ends, ways, and means. Refusing to so much as discuss any idea that differs from your own forecloses any possible avenue for progress. In a republic of free people, what may be “common sense” to you, may well be nonsense to another. There’s no hope of finding a scrap of common ground without the conversation, though.

3. I’m not the decider. Look, I gave up an dreams I ever had of being a professional decision maker a long time ago. I can advise, I can recommend, I can object strenuously, and I can present information in any format and order it needs to form a coherent platform from which to base decisions. What I can’t do is fight city hall. I won’t be the guy who’s tilting at windmills. Let someone else take on the burden of making a decision based on the best data and analysis I can provide them. I don’t want it. But for the love of Pete, once that decision is made can we all agree to shut up and move out smartly? No? Fine. Let’s all just sit around and piss and moan that we think it should be different. That’ll do the trick.

Common sense…

In the wake of today’s presidential decree of executive action on the issue of gun control I keep hearing the refrain that we need “common sense” legislation. That leads inexorably to the discussion of how we define common sense. The very definition of those two words will be very different depending on whether you happen to be one of my gun grabbing friends on the left or my open carry friends on the right. What smells like common sense to me likely wouldn’t satisfy either group. Perception is a bitch like that.

Until we arrive in a place where one side isn’t viewed as wanting to put a rifle in every hand and the other side isn’t viewed as wanting to melt every barrel for scrap, I don’t see a way towards even a basic definition of what “common sense” legislation might look like. Until we find that definition we’ll continue to have what we have today, which is both sides entrenched and able to hold the other largely in check indefinitely.

As long as we’re locked into an argument where the slightest retreat by either side is seen as threatening the collapse of their entire position, I can’t imagine what common sense might look like. I foresee only continued entrenchment and both camps racing away from the middle of the discussion.

What’s changed?

The great debate over the virtue of the Second Amendment rages today as loudly as ever. Both sides scream past each other, fearing that giving an inch of ground will inexorably lead to the tide running hard against them.

There have been firearms in the United States since before we were the United States. The first colonists to wade ashore in Jamestown brought ball and powder in equal parts to hunt on and defend the new world they intended to carve out of the American wilderness.

What you don’t hear about them doing is walking into a tavern or church and taking a pot shot at their neighbors. I’ve not done an exhaustive study on the topic, but I can’t think of a large number of historical example of what we’d commonly call random acts of “mass violence” in schools, businesses, and public places until the latter half of the last century. I have no doubt they happened, what with humans being a particularly violence prone species and all, but a quick look doesn’t point to seeing it happen with particularly great frequency.

So my question, then, is what’s changed? What makes the average American in 2015 more likely to walk into a church to unload both proverbial barrels than his counterpart in 1815 or 1915? Access to firearms isn’t a satisfactory answer. If anything, a gun was easier to get throughout most of American history than they are today. They hung on the mantle, were propped in the corner, or lived in bedside tables without benefit of trigger locks or gun safes. I’m old enough to remember a time when a rifle behind a truck’s bench seat in the school parking lot meant that hunting season was open, not that one of the students (or the teachers) was plotting mayhem and chaos.

What’s changed? Are we intrinsically worse human beings than our predecessors? Are we less able to judge the relationship between action and consequence? Or do we just tend more towards being batshit crazy than our saintly ancestors?

Politics as usual…

First, let me say up front and for the record that the actions of this small excuse for a man are absolutely abhorrent to every right thinking person. I had hoped that we could collectively take at least 24 hours before turning tragedy into something political. Looking around Facebook, Twitter, and the major news sites that clearly was overly optimistic. Instead of focusing on the demented actions of a single coward, many in the amateur and professional electronic media this afternoon rushed to the “guns are bad” banner.

Plenty of smart people, many of my friends included, believe that to be the case. I think they’re wrong, but today still isn’t the moment for that debate. I’ll only leave you today with a single thought: No gun law in existence here or anywhere else on the planet can prevent bad men from performing evil deeds. I’m sure to be roundly criticized for saying it, but the root of our problems isn’t an inanimate object, whether that object is a gun, or a knife, or lead pipe. Deal with the underlying causes, and the profoundly unfortunate effects will largely go away.

Though he was writing specifically about the history and use of rifles, a quote from Jeff Cooper‘s The Art of the Rifle seems particularly relevant to the inevitable discussion of what happens when people and firearms intersect. On days like today, I’m reminded that “The rifle itself has no moral stature, since it has no will of its own. Naturally, it may be used by evil men for evil purposes, but there are more good men than evil, and while the latter cannot be persuaded to the path of righteousness by propaganda, they can certainly be corrected by good men with rifles.”

A question for the masses…

This is probably one of those things that’s “too soon” to rant about, but I’m looking for some guidance from you good and wise people here on the internet. I want to know what the hell goes through someone’s head when they wake up one morning and decide that it’s a good day to go on a shooting rampage at their local college, high school, box social, cafeteria, or other public place. I have a vague recollection of being in high school, and sure, it has its moments of pure suck. I did the college thing and for the most part had a fantastic time although it too had its moments. I also grew up with guns in the house, watching violent movies, and playing early versions of the now-infamous “first person shooter” video games. Somehow, I and everyone I know managed to survive this experience without shooting up 50+ of our friends, acquaintances, and associates. Come to think of it, we didn’t shoot anyone. The worst thing that ever happened was the occasional fist-fight. Brutal? Yes, of course. Deadly? No, not so much.

I’m too damned young to start telling stories that start off “well, when I was in school…” But still, I want someone to fill me in on what the hell has changed in the last 8-10 years, so if you’ve got the answers, now would be the time.