A New Gun Book That Is Different And Should Be Read.

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Firmin DeBrabander teaches philosophy at Maryland Institute College of Art.  Which makes him about the most unlikely person to write a book about guns.  But he has written a book about guns, Do Guns Make Us Free? Democracy and the Armed Society, and the title neatly sums up what the book is all about.  Actually, the book isn’t really about guns so much as it’s a discourse on political theorists and philosophers whose writings contain discussions about the role of arms in defining the relationship of the citizenry to the ruling or governing class.

tea                The text abounds with references to the classic writings of Locke, Machiavelli, Hobbes and more recently, Michel Foucault, John Dewey and Hannah Arendt. DeBrabander describes, in detail, how ‘freedom’ on the one hand and gun ownership on the other often appear to be conjoint concepts but, in fact, are often contradictory and work at cross purposes to each other. Basically the author argues that promoting the idea that guns keep us ‘free’ by protecting us from government tyranny, the gun lobby is, in reality, increasing the possibility that freedoms will be lost as the government finds itself facing an increasingly armed and potentially violent citizenry. He also paints a disturbing picture about how increased government War on Terror surveillance has largely passed unnoticed by the pro-gun community, notwithstanding their alleged concerns about loss of ‘freedoms’ when anyone talks about controlling guns.

This book is the latest attempt to examine the motives and thoughts of gun owners from a cultural point of view.  DeBrabander is aware of Dan Baum’s book, Gun Guys, A Road Trip, which he references at length, but he published too late to include Jennifer’s Carlson’s book, Citizen Protectors, The Everyday Politics in an Age of Decline, which takes up where Baum left off.  These two books share a common theme, namely, the idea that people who identify themselves through their ownership and use of guns are not just ‘nuts’ or ‘weirdos,’ but are making an objective and conscious choice to define their lives through immersion in the gun culture, which invariably means walking around armed.

All three books make the argument that members of the gun culture agree that carrying a gun is an expression of their ‘freedom,’ but DeBrabander’s book is the only contribution to this genre that attempts to view the concept of ‘freedom’ through a two-dimensional lens. One dimension is created by taking these gun owners at their word which basically means listening to a jumbled argument about the no-good government which is a mélange of Tea Party, Limbaugh and Fox News.  The other lens is the anti-government philosophical tradition that comes out of Locke, winds its way through populist political eruptions like Shays’ Rebellion and now is manifested in the rhetorical anger of the Occupy movement.

But what sets the pro-gun movement apart from other expressions of anti-government dissent, according to DeBrabander, is the fact that it is armed, and in that respect becomes a threat to the peaceful and orderly demonstration of free speech and free expression on which a true democracy depends. It is the potential for violence and the frequent calls for violence that lead DeBrabander to insist that guns make us less, not more free.  It’s an interesting and provocative thesis, and makes this book a different and much more interesting text than other books that try to explain gun culture to the literate (read: non-gun) crowd.

I’m going to give this book five stars but there’s one point that needs to be raised.  The NRA does a masterful job using the member’s love of guns to wrap their support around other socio-political issues, but there are many people who hate taxes, hate Obama, hate liberals, but don’t necessarily own guns.  To solve the problem of gun violence, we need to figure out why some folks do and some folks don’t.  Because people who believe that guns are the answer to their greatest fears need to see that those fears are shared by others who don’t need to pick up a gun.


Docs Versus Glocks – Round 2 About To Begin

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In 2011 the Florida legislature passed a law to protect the state’s gun owners from having to divulge any information about gun ownership during the course of a medical exam.  The law, which became known as ‘Docs Versus Glocks,’ soon became one of the main poster children of the pro-gun, anti-gun argument that really heated up after the carnage at Sandy Hook.  On one side stood the NRA, which touted the law as a defense of 2nd Amendment rights; on the other side was Brady and the medical community which viewed the law as interfering with the doctor’s right to know.  The law was struck down in 2012 by a Federal District Judge and was immediately appealed by the Gunshine State to the 11th Circuit which held a hearing in July, 2013.  Everyone’s expecting a ruling soon so I thought I would take the opportunity to discuss the case before all the real experts get into the act.

logomdThe law doesn’t completely deny physicians the ability to talk to patients about guns.  What the law actually says is that a physician “shall refrain” from inquiring about firearm ownership unless the practitioner “in good faith believes  that this information is relevant to the patient’s medical care or safety, or the safety of others….” Yet despite this caveat, the medical community attacked the law, declaring that its language would have a chilling effect on the ability of physicians to talk to their patients about all kinds of safety and health issues, not just about guns.  The District Court sided with the docs, calling the law a “legislative illusion” because there was no connection between questions asked about gun ownership and protecting the 2nd Amendment right to own guns.

logo glockWhile arguments over gun control at the federal level get all the headlines, it’s what happens at the state and local levels that really determines whether or not gun owners can get or keep their guns.  The Sullivan Law has been in existence since 1908, it’s almost impossible to own or carry a gun in New York City and 2nd Amendment ‘rights’ can go fly a kite.  In total dollars the NRA gives out less than half a million to state-level candidates and parties, but this is 30 times more than gun control groups give to the same races.  And in a state-level race where 200 or less votes can make the difference, getting your hands on an NRA phone list may carry the day. I’m not sure that the Florida legislators who voted for the gun bill knew or even cared what the law said.  But they didn’t want to be ‘scored’ by the NRA in the next election because they voted the wrong way.  Before the Tea Party showed up it really didn’t matter whether a Republican toed the line on gun issues because the NRA wasn’t about to support any Blue candidates anyway.  But now that a growing number of Republican office-holders face primary challenges from the Right, everyone on the Red side of the aisle is listening to the NRA.

As for doctors, it took them nearly a century after 1850 to become a self-regulating profession whose guidelines for practice and behavior were largely established and maintained by themselves.  And even though their professional autonomy has of late come into conflict with the market imperatives of insurors and other for-profit enterprises, they still retain sovereignty over defining how to deliver their services at the point that such services matter most, namely, in consultations with patients.  The fact that the Florida legislature didn’t bother to ask their own state Health Department for a recommendation on physicians talking to patients about guns tells me that the motive behind the law had nothing to do with concerns about the delivery of health care at all.  For that matter, it wasn’t that the law threatened doctors who talked to their patients about guns per se, it was the fact that any law which infringes on the professional autonomy of physicians to communicate with their patients threatens the validity of the Hippocratic Oath.

Let’s hope that the 11th Circuit understands what this argument is really all about.

An Inmate Takes Over The Asylum: Rand Paul Says Guns Aren’t A Public Health Issue

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This week President Obama submitted his nomination for Surgeon General to the Senate, a Yale-trained physician named Vivek Murthy, and Rand Paul announced he had put a “hold” on the nomination because of Murthy’s opposition to the 2nd Amendment and his membership in organizations like The Center for American Progress which want to impose stricter controls over guns.

Paul is trying to ferret out every conservative and Tea Party vote to help him win the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, so it’s not surprising that he would pander to the views of the NRA, which immediately sent a message to the Senate supporting Senator Paul’s stand. But Rand Paul is also a licensed physician, an opthamologist, so you think he would at least have the honesty to admit that his declaration that guns do not represent a “public health issue” is nothing more than election-year nonsense even before the election year has arrived.

But why let facts stand in the way of your opinions, particularly when you believe that the loonier your opinions, the better chance you have of ending up living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for at least four years?  The only problem is that if Paul really believes that guns aren’t a public health issue, then he’s woefully ignorant of the determinations made by his own medical profession whose uncontested views and guidelines on gun violence have been on public record for more than thirty years.

The CDC, which is required under law to define and track progress on issues that affect public health, has listed gun violence as an issue since the publication of  “Healthy people: the Surgeon General’s report on health promotion and disease prevention” in 1979.  This publication, which is updated every ten years, defined gun violence as a public health issue because it was the major cause of homicides which are a significant part of a broad category of public health threats known as unintentional injuries and accidents, which also includes, among other health impairments, vehicular accidents, residential fires, drownings and physical assaults.

The interesting thing about gun violence, is that the two categories in which its occurrence is tracked by the CDC – firearm-related deaths and nonfatal firearm-related injuries – have each shown progress in the CDC report, as opposed to health threats like falls, child maltreatment, school physical education injuries and overall homicides, the last of which has moved further away from the targeted goal that was set in 1998.

If Rand Paul was really interested in making an honest contribution to the gun debate, he would cite the 2010 CDC Healthy People report as an example of how firearm owners are doing the right thing when it comes to safe use of their guns.  Because that’s exactly what the CDC report says.  But Paul isn’t interested in an honest debate, he’s trying to out-lunatic the lunatics in order to make sure that nobody else (example: Ted Cruz) can challenge him from the Right.  Of course the NRA isn’t any more interested in injecting reality into the debate.  I just received a fund-raising appeal from them telling me that gun ownership was heading towards Armageddon in 2014. Don’t worry, I get the same kind of emotion-laden appeals from Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense telling me that gun-carrying Americans are out of control.

I think it’s gotten to the point that you can’t talk about guns in rational terms.  There’s too much at stake and what’s at stake is political ambition and money, lots of money, which is used to keep people’s minds focused on things that have noting to do with health, or safety or whether Americans should own guns.

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