Gun Regulation: Balancing The Second Amendment With Responsibility

There is a saying you hear often among certain segments of gun owners: The Second Amendment is in place to protect us from a tyrannical government.

But if the Second Amendment is really about individual defense against the government, then isn’t it time to start treating citizens like soldiers when it comes to armament? Not just anyone can join the military and handle a gun. Similarly, if We The People want to mount a proper defense against a tyrannical government, we need citizens who are properly trained, responsible, and mentally prepared to handle firearms – otherwise said citizens will prove to be liabilities instead of assets.

Freedoms have always come with responsibilities and qualifications (as they say, “freedom isn’t free”). First Amendment protections end with lying – thus why slander and libel are not protected forms of speech. The Second Amendment is the same: Protections end where the inability to demonstrate responsible and clear-headed ownership of firepower begins. The Second Amendment itself states that armament be “well-regulated” – the Right To Bear Arms is not an unqualified free-for-all.

Well-Regulated Armed Citizenry

But what does a well-regulated armed citizenry look like? I propose five core regulations:

  1. Passing a comprehensive health/psych exam
    • Addresses physical and mental ability to manage a weapon (averts gun deaths – especially those from suicide)
  2. Receiving 30 hours of gun safety and human ethics training
    • Weeds out those who are not willing to put in the time to be properly trained with a gun (averts gun accidents)
    • Encourages responsible gun ownership and can instill a sense of civic duty – giving renewed purpose to those considering crimes or suicide
  3. Passing a background check
    • Helps keep guns out of the hands of criminals (averts gun crimes)
  4. Restricting manufacture and selling of large magazines and gun modifications
    • Limits the ability of people to kill on a large scale (averts mass shootings)
  5. Re-evaluation every x-amount of years through a written test, background check, and health/psych exam
    • Makes sure 1-4 are kept in check long-term

These regulations are easy enough that any responsible citizen will be able to properly arm themselves, while also providing actionable ways to reduce gun deaths across the board. Implementing these for all new weapon purchases, trades, and manufacturing immediately would make an impact – though it may take time to see considering the amount of unlicensed weapons already circulating in our country.

What About Weapons Already in Circulation?

Admittedly, trying to get tabs on all the weapons already out there in our country would be difficult if not impossible. That’s why I believe in a grandfathering clause for weapons already in the hands of gun owners. People would only need to get licensed if they purchase new weapons.

However, it would be good to try and get as many gun owners to turn over unlicensed weapons as possible. To that end, I believe we should provide trade-in incentives for those willing to exchange their older unlicensed weapons with newer licensed ones. We could also create penalties for the owners of unlicensed guns that are used in crimes (regardless of if the gun owner participated in or knew about the crime themselves) to further encourage people to voluntarily opt-in older weapons.

Ultimately however, we need to work on moving forward – even if the state of gun circulation we’re building out from is messy and imperfect. We need to understand though that because of the grandfathering clause it will take longer to see results. We may have to wait decades in order to see the fruits of our labors clearly (though I still believe there would be an immediate and observable change as well).

Not Government-Run

The final piece of this regulatory framework that I believe is really required to get backing from both ardent gun owners and the general populace is assuaging fears about the government regulating guns and stripping away rights. To that end, I believe an independent organization should be created to oversee gun licensing in the United States – one that is not tied to either the federal government or the gun industry. I would expect such an organization to be made up of Constitutional scholars, state governors, retired law enforcement officials, and former military leaders.

It is understandable for people to be fearful of something that could impact what they cherish – gun owners are no exception. But the evidence is strong that gun accidents and deaths are highly correlated with gun availability. I believe the framework above can bring gun owners and those worried about gun deaths together to a place where both are getting what they need.

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Bullying, suicide and animalism: A matter of control

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We aren’t just animals anymore. We can reason and understand. And, usually, we are no longer a slave to our urges.

Yet, when it comes to bullying our animal roots gets used as an excuse. “Bullying happens, people need to stand up for themselves. They need to speak up and put their foot down. It’s how, we as animals, are.”

Animals and us

Except it’s not. Animals flee. Animals can be submissive and meek. Not all animals are fighters. And when an animal that isn’t fit to fight goes up against an animal that is, the result is usually getting maimed or killed. And no matter how much physical training someone partakes in, there will always be those at a disadvantage. And that’s not including those with emotional or mental “shortcomings.” And no matter how much therapy, or how many drugs, some people will never be the outgoing, aggressive, confident type.

And even if that weren’t the case, even if people could train to their peak performance, do away with all physical limitations and psyche themselves into being aggressive, animalistic human beings, why would we want that?

Thanks to technology and science, we no longer conform to a “survival of the fittest” mold. We are beyond it. So why would we confine ourselves to such a basic, outdated way of living?

Suicide machine

What’s truly heartbreaking, and what truly shows some people have no idea of the breadth of human makeup and complexity of the human brain, is when people blame a bullying victim for their own suicide, writing it off as a simple choice the victim had to make and one they made poorly. This is justified by admitting that they, too, have thought about killing themselves before.

Indeed, who hasn’t? But there is a gigantic leap from thinking to doing. Someone who actually tries to go through with the act is wired fundamentally different than those who merely think about it:

The … person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing.

The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise.

 Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be or you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains constant. the variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors.

 It’s not desiring the fall; it’s the terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’ can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.

— David Foster Wallace

Suicide is the ultimate engagement of the flight response. Someone who attempts suicide often isn’t thinking in any sort of rational context, they are running on instinct — the same instinct that makes you remove your hand from a hot stove without even thinking about it.

Levels of instinct

“Flight or fight” is one of the absolute basic instincts we as human beings have — and one of the hardest to overcome. At one extreme we have suicidal people and at the other extreme we have people who kill their tormentors. Neither of these are acceptable outcomes.

I’ve been on both sides of the bully equation. I’ve been a bully and I’ve been the bullied, desperate for escape. I know it’s possible to overcome bullying tendencies. I also know that it’s possible to overcome suicidal tendencies and that things get better. But what I’ve discovered is that it is a lot easier to control bullying tendencies than it is to control the basic flight or fight response.

We’re not animals anymore, but there are still some things our brains have convinced us we need to run from or fight. I hope that eventually one of those things will not be our fellow man.

Live and let live: Religion, atheism, and being caught in-between

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Religion has been a part of human life in some form or another for at least 4,000 years. It has provided support for communities, given people a common cause to group around, and been a source of charity and service.

Yet, for those who do not belong to a religion or believe in a God, it has often been a source of pain and suffering. And certainly there have been a number of atrocities committed in the name of God.

The discord between these two groups, I think, doesn’t just stem from a fundamental communication problem, but a fundamental difference in the way both are wired.

A brain hardwired for God

Even 4,000 years later, it’s true that religion continues to be beneficial to humanity. Charity, social support during times of crisis, and a sense of purpose are just a few of the ways religion enriches the lives of many today. There are even indications that humans are hardwired for religion.

So it’s understandable when religious people get angry when Atheists attack their convictions with statements like “Your church isn’t true” or “God is a lie” and retreat into their trenches, often destroying all hope for fruitful and progressive discussion.

But make no mistake, there are certainly things that need to be discussed. While people should be able to believe what they want I firmly believe they must square those beliefs with facts. And the fact of the matter is that religion has also contributed to some truly gut-wrenching things in our modern day: rape culture, suicides and homelessness (especially among gay youth), mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression, and more.

The ways that religious denominations contribute to these and other pressing issues deserve criticism and discussion. And religious people need to understand that criticisms are not a personal attack, or even necessarily an attack on their church.

I’d be happy to see religion flourish more, but I want to see it happen while lessening the damage and hurt it unintentionally contributes to for both faithful and non-faithful people.

But while some of the problem is communication, the other problem is simply how differently we are wired — which never appears to be taken into account on either side.

While religious people may be hardwired for faith, non-believers are just as likely to be hardwired differently. Just as the idea that someone who attends church is an unintelligent sheep is grossly inaccurate, the idea that someone who doesn’t want to go to church is evil or amoral is flat-out wrong and can be incredibly damaging.

In religion, but not of religion

When I was young, church taught me about the golden rule, being thy brother’s keeper, turning the other cheek and judging not lest ye be judged. I feel that I learned some of my most cherished ideas about humanity and life from church.

But even when I was young, I felt oddly out of place in church settings. The older I got the more my anxiety in church settings grew. I felt constantly on guard — that I could not be myself. I was constantly wearing a mask and it was suffocating me. I began to drift away from the church. My family, many of my peers, and my church leaders were understandably upset by this development. After all, my very soul was at stake.

Church leaders handed me responsibility after responsibility, trying to give me a sense of purpose and place within the church. Unfortunately, these responsibilities only compounded the stress I already felt from church and, truthfully, pushed me farther away.

The more I stressed out, the more I found myself thinking, “Is this what God would really want from me? Isn’t church supposed to be a place of serenity and happiness rather than protocol, stress and anguish?”

My parents tried to prod me to attend services. When gentle pokes didn’t work, I was given ultimatums. When those just pushed me away further, they tried gifts and niceties.

The disapproval about my drifting from friends and family was palpable and created a vicious cycle. I could not be at peace in church — and it appeared I could not be at peace outside of church either. The stress of the paradox furthered the anxiety, depression, guilt and anger issues I had been experiencing in church for years. I had already been self-mutilating throughout the latter half of my high school years as a form of self-medication. Shortly after high school I turned to drugs and alcohol to cope.

Up until this point I had tried to maintain some sort of church presence, even if it was a limited one, partly to placate my family and partly because I felt it was what I was supposed to do. However, I soon realized I could not live a double-life. I finally made it clear that I didn’t want or plan to continue attending church.

Immediately, there was an incredible weight lifted from my shoulders. I didn’t feel like I had to hide myself anymore. It was like finally breathing after spending 19+ years suffocating.

Technically, it was a great first step toward sobriety and a healthy life.

However, I still felt a lot of guilt over who I was because of my upbringing. It would be several more years before I’d begin to heal the remaining emotional scars with therapy and finally stop using alcohol and drugs, becoming truly okay with the person I am.

Live and let live

I know my family and friends always wanted what was best for me. The things they did came from a place of love, but ultimately also of ignorance about who I was. They were so worried about my soul that they didn’t understand the way they were damaging me.

I often wonder how differently my life would have been if I had been nurtured to be myself, simply be a good person, and make the most of whatever it is I do believe in. Would I have ever turned to drugs or alcohol? Would I be further along in my career?

Religion can be an incredible force for good and, I believe, even necessary for some people. But just as it may be hardwired into some people, I think there are others who are simply not wired for religion. I hope someday people on both sides will understand to “live and let live” and embrace those who live differently and have found their own way to truth, happiness and health.

More than a frame of mind: Misconceptions about mental illness

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When I discussed misconceptions about drugs and addiction awhile back I brought up mental illness — which can be a factor in drug use. Recent comments I’ve seen and heard made me start thinking of misconceptions people seem to have about mental illness as well. Misconceptions like…

…it’s all in your head

“Why do you do this to yourself?” “Snap out of it.” “You need to cheer up.” These are common refrains I hear people say to those suffering from mental illness.

While it’s true that mental illness primarily involves the brain, it’s not all in someone’s head.

Mental illness is caused by a variety of factors. Hereditary factors can play a large part in mental illness, running in families and leaving certain people pre-disposed to developing a mental illness. Biological factors — such as brain chemistry, abnormal brain function, and hormones — can also contribute to mental illness. Environmental factors, such as psychological traumas and stress, also have a role.

Where mental illness is present, many of these factors exist intertwined — but the most important thing to remember is that it’s not something that can simply be willed away and it’s not a character flaw.

…all you need is love

Some seem to believe that love, attention, and a helping hand will “fix” someone with a mental illness. Others believe that a person simply needs to learn to love themselves in order to be fixed. Often these people will get disgruntled when their efforts fail to fix the problem — sometimes even complaining to the mentally ill person about the lack of improvement.

Love is certainly helpful to people with mental illness, but it’s not a solution. And people should never negatively disparage a mentally ill person, especially not one dealing with depression or suicidal tendencies. Negative criticism from those that are supposed to care about them most can undo the improvements a mentally ill person has made or make them feel even worse about themselves and their situation.

Instead, people with mental illness should receive positive reinforcement for the progress they’ve made — and those around them should be prepared for years of patient love. But even then, they’re largely only dealing with the symptoms. In most cases, in order to really cure a mental illness professional help is necessary.

…professional help makes everything better

When a mentally ill person starts receiving professional help, whether with medications or therapy, people expect them to miraculously change over a short amount of time.

In truth, it can take years for a person’s mental illness to dissipate. Medications can help level a person out, but generally it also takes quality psychiatric care to get to the root of the mental illness and begin to fix it — a process that can take a very long time. And any new negative experiences can set back the process.

This is why it’s so important for friends and family to be patient with those with mental illness and positively reinforce them, while understanding that a lack of improvement is not a failing of anyone — least of all the mentally ill individual.

…progress is a straight, upward slope

This is perhaps the biggest misconception I see concerning mental illness. Even once a person gets help and is making visible improvements, people expect the progress to be a straight, upward slope with no pitfalls or setbacks.

Climbing out of mental illness is much like climbing a mountain: There are ups and downs, high winds, bad weather, exhaustion and a variety of other factors to deal with. As previously noted, negative experiences can stunt or set back the progress made. And while progress can certainly be rewarding for the mentally ill individual, it can also be physically and mentally exhausting — especially if they’re confronting deep-seated issues for the first time in their life.

A true helping hand

A mentally ill person is not the way they are by choice. It’s something they are constantly battling every second of every day — every moment you aren’t witnessing the symptoms of the mental illness is a victory that person has made over their illness. But the war is long and the illness is tireless. Progress can be made, but setbacks are inevitable.

When such setbacks occur or when the illness gets the best of the individual, make sure you are a bastion of patience and hope rather than negativity and disappointment. That is truly helpful.